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Bruce Yardley appointed Chief Geologist

Bruce Yardley (Leeds University) has been appointed Chief Geologist by The Radioactive Waste Management Directorate (RWMD) of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Chartership news

Chartership Officer Bill Gaskarth reports on a projected new logo for use by CGeols, advice on applications and company training schemes

Climate Change Statement Addendum

The Society has published an addendum to 'Climate Change: Evidence from the Geological Record' (November 2010) taking account of new research

Cracking up in Lincolnshire

Oliver Pritchard, Stephen Hallett, and Timothy Farewell consider the role of soil science in maintaining the British 'evolved road'

Critical metals

Kathryn Goodenough* on a Society-sponsored hunt for the rare metals that underpin new technologies

Déja vu all over again

As Nina Morgan Discovers, the debate over HS2 is nothing new...

Done proud

Ted Nield hails the new refurbished Council Room as evidence that the Society is growing up

Earth Science Week 2014

Fellows - renew, vote for Council, and volunteer for Earth Science Week 2014!  Also - who is honoured in the Society's Awards and Medals 2014.

Fookes celebrated

Peter Fookes (Imperial College, London) celebrated at Society event in honour of Engineering Group Working Parties and their reports

Geology - poor relation?

When are University Earth Science departments going to shed their outmoded obsession with maths, physics and chemistry?

Nancy Tupholme

Nancy Tupholme, Librarian of the Society and the Royal Society, has died, reports Wendy Cawthorne.

Power, splendour and high camp

Ted Nield reviews the refurbishment of the Council Room, Burlington House

The Sir Archibald Geikie Archive at Haslemere Educational Museum

You can help the Haslemere Educational Museum to identify subjects in Sir Archibald Geikie's amazing field notebook sketches, writes John Betterton.

Top bananas

Who are the top 100 UK practising scientists?  The Science Council knows...


GEO COVER_DEC11JAN12 for web.jpgThis page has been created to facilitate rapid and timely interchange of opinion. Each month (space permitting) a selection of these letters will be published in Geoscientist Online , the colour monthly magazine of the Society Fellowship.

Correspondence strings are listed in the order that they are begun, the most recent string at the top. Within each string, letters are listed with the first letter of the string at the top, and subsequent letters below.

This page contains letters from the current year.  The archive of letters from previous years are accessible by clicking the links to the left.

If you wish to express an opinion, please email the Editor. Letters should be as short as possible, preferably c.300 words long or fewer. You may also write to:

Dr Ted Nield, Editor, Geoscientist, c/o The Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG.
  • Please note that letters will be edited for publication. This particularly applies to versions  printed in the magazine.  The Editor reserves the right not to publish letters, at his discretion. Writers should submit their letters electronically to ensure rapid publication. All views expressed below are the responsibility of their authors alone.TN

End of an economic epoch 12 November 2014

Received 12 NOVEMBER 2014
Published 12 NOVEMBER 2014
From David Nowell

Sir, Kristin Vala Ragnarsdottir and her ASAP colleagues took a strangely superficial approach to the relationship between geology and economics (Beyond GDP, Geoscientist, October 2014).   Having conceived the idea of Gross Domestic Product in 1934, Simon Kuznets (see reference below) went on to question its role when it came to unpaid labour and international development.  Furthermore, his 1971 Nobel Prize speech throws up some fundamental questions about growth and unforeseen technological developments - including surprises, which may be positive or negative, such as the onset of anthropogenic global warming.    

Simplistic graphs add little to this debate when logarithmic plots would have made it easier to comprehend levels of historic mineral production.   Given the biggest economic collapse since the great depression, peak oil is a total irrelevance, when without carbon capture and storage even a slump in using hydrocarbons will prove highly dangerous.   With the advent of digital technology and labour intensive services, GDP does not have to be linked to hydrocarbon intensity and depletion of natural resources.   Though the authors are right to question growth which only results in growing inequality and dissatisfaction, this is not inevitable.   Also it is clear from international marketing that life satisfaction depends partly on temperament.   Following quantitative easing and unprecedented falls in oil prices during a period of international turmoil, we may be on the brink of another economic epoch

The Spirit Level is a deeply flawed book:  none of the graphs have any population weighting, for plotting arbitrary straight line least squares fits.   Nor did Wilkinson and Pickett state their exchange rates, when in any case many international comparisons should have been kept in terms of distribution of national income and wealth.   Correlation does not necessarily prove causation, even if I have no doubt growing inequality is socially corrosive. 

David Nowell, 2 Tudor Road, New Barnet, Herts EN5 5PA   


Publish or perish? 04 November 2014

Received 04 NOVEMBER 2014
Published 04 NOVEMBER 2014
From Desmond Donovan

Sir, Many Fellows will agree with Don Hallett’s criticism (Soapbox, Geoscientist 24.10 November 2015) of the system of learned journals which has grown up – I won’t say evolved, for evolution surely implies, at least in most cases, some kind of improvement in function. Hallett does not mention the further blight that many journals are produced by international publishing firms whose aim is to make money. Try to find a short cut to a paper on the web and you find that to access the full text you need to pay a fee. Ok, most of us subscribe to libraries which subscribe to many journals, but it’s a pain all the same.

I am encouraged by the fact that most ‘reprints’ that I now receive from friends and colleagues are pdf files. They have probably been published on paper but that doesn’t concern me, I have instant access. Now at least one journal, Palaeoelectronica, is published only electronically. There may be others. My suggestion is that some of the major societies – the GSL, GSA, European societies and a few others – get together to organise electronic publishing centrally. Perhaps divided into series by major parts of Earth sciences. This would be supported by a paid, professional staff who would perhaps be gradually transferred from the printed journals.

There have been predictions for decades that electronic publishing will supersede paper, but it hasn’t. Perhaps the time has come at last. And if the commercial publishers lose out, my heart bleeds for them.

Desmond Donovan

Hubbert's Peak concept not universally applicable 23 October 2014

Received 10 OCTOBER 2014
Published 23 OCTOBER 2014
From Andrew Bloodworth

Sir, It is a pity that an excellent message regarding environmental limits and social well-being (Beyond GDP, Geoscientist, October 2014) is devalued by apocalyptic references to ‘peak production’ of various minerals and metals. The application of Hubbert’s ‘peak’ concept to metals production is contentious and has been questioned by a number of authors1,2,3.

Historical records show that production of metals is closely linked to prices, with intermittent peaks and troughs driven by economic cycles. Thus declining production is generally driven by falling demand rather than by declining resources. Increasing scarcity will cause the price of metals to increase which, in turn, stimulates increased substitution, recycling and encourages increased investment in exploration and ultimately, new mines. The impending physical exhaustion of various metals which is strongly implied by Hubbert ‘peak’ proponents risks diverting policy makers and their constituents’ attention away from far more pressing issues.

A sustainable supply of the metals we need can be maintained so long as science facilitates us finding and recovering new resources from the Earth and from material already in our society. We also need to manage burgeoning demand by learning to do more with less. High metal prices are a very powerful stimulant to all these activities. Rather than worrying about peak production and physical exhaustion, what should really concern all of us are the looming environmental limits associated with our resource use. Most urgent of all is the need to break the link between energy-intensive metal extraction and human-induced climate change.

  1. Crowson, P.C.F. (2011) Mineral reserves and future mineral availability. Mineral Economics 24, 1-6
  2. Ericsson, M. and Soderholm, P. (2012) Mineral depletion and peak production. Polinares, Working Paper No 7, September 2010.
  3. Graedel, T.E., Gunn, A.G. and Espinoza, T. (2014) Metal resources, use and criticality. In: Gunn, A.G. (ed) Critical Metals Handbook. 1-19, Wiley/ AGI. Chichester.

Proper site investigation indicated! 02 October 2014

Received 17 SEPTEMBER 2014
Published 02 OCTOBER 2014
From Tony Smith

Sir, I have just read the well-illustrated article by Jones and Banks (Geoscientist 24.08 September 2014) on the geodata revealed on a windfarm site in the Peak District.  Although this is a case-study of the mutual benefits to be gained by co-operation between commercial and academic sectors, at least two lessons should be learnt.

First, all this invaluable data could have been lost, by failing to record and/or store it, in the public domain; second, (and here, again, we re-invent the wheel), completion of the windfarm was apparently delayed by over 12 months by ‘unforeseen ground conditions’.

As a fortnight's work by a competent geologist would have confirmed the complexity and unpredictability of these ground conditions, perhaps a further article might put on record the financial cost of the initial, and final geotechnical investigations, in relation to the overall project costs, and the costs of the delay?

Edward Howel Francis - Obituary addendum 17 September 2014

Received 17 SEPTEMBER 2014
Published 17 SEPTEMBER 2014
From Jim Briden, Marjorie Wilson, Bruce Yardley, Bob Cliff, Alastair Lumsden, Graham Stuart & Rob Knipe

FrancisSir, We the undersigned, feel most strongly that the recently published Obituary (Geoscientist September 2014, p.28) for our late friend and colleague, the distinguished past President of the Society Howel Francis, did not reflect the final academic stage of his career at Leeds University. We would therefore like to set the record straight.

In 1977, Howel began a second career, making the unusual move in his mid-50s of leaving the Geological Survey and entering academia as Professor of Geology in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Leeds. His appointment was testament to the quality of his research; while in the Survey he was a pioneer in the application of modern ideas from volcanology to the Palaeozoic igneous rocks of the UK, and equally expert in coal geology. Much of this research was carried out in his own time.

In over 12 years at Leeds University (as well as being President of The Geological Society from 1980 to 1982) Howel was Head of Department for more than half that time, steering it successfully through the UGC (University Grants Committee) Review of the Earth Sciences in the late 1980s and subsequent restructuring of the national Earth Science provision in UK universities.

Howel quickly transformed himself into an academic leader and enthusiastic lecturer. Supported by his late wife Cynthia he immersed himself in academic life to the full, sharing in the problems and successes of students and staff alike.

Delivering his first undergraduate course at the age of 53 must have been daunting, but Howel made immediate impact in the lecture room and in the field (notably leading the first year Easter field class to Fife), drawing on his broad experience in classical geology and on his gifts to engage and enthuse students and professionals alike. Equally empathic, Cynthia would often accompany these trips and would find herself in an unofficial pastoral role to students. Howel was highly supportive of young researchers on the staff, seeing them and his students as professional geologists in the making, and expecting them to develop accordingly through their time.

In 1989 Howel was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of University College, Swansea (now Swansea University) upon his retirement from Leeds University. Cynthia died in 1997 after a marriage lasting 45 years.

Howel was a charismatic lecturer, speech-maker and raconteur; he was an adept cricketer in his younger days and continued to pay golf regularly well into his 80s. In retirement he also became a keen birdwatcher. He will be remembered by those who knew him as a fair but firm academic leader, for his warm personality and sense of humour, and, above all, as an honest man.

Jim Briden, Marjorie Wilson, Bruce Yardley,
Bob Cliff, Alastair Lumsden, Graham Stuart & Rob Knipe

Fair play for Playfair 21 August 2014

Received 19 AUGUST 2014
Published 21 AUGUST 2014
From Paul Hoffman
Sir, An unfortunate if inadvertent error has crept into Nina Morgan’s Distant Thunder column on James Hutton and John Playfair (Geoscientist, August 2014).  Playfair was not ‘Professor of Natural History’ when he published his Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth in 1802.  He was Professor of Mathematics and (after 1805) of 'Natural Philosophy' (White 1956), or physics, in modern terms. Natural history scarcely existed as a discipline in Scotland (or England) in 1802, and Hutton was not its champion.

Paul Hoffman, Victoria, BC, Canada.


White, G.W., 1956, Biographical sketch of John Playfair, in Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth by John Playfair, a Facsimile Reprint, with an Introduction by George. W. White. Dover, New York, pp. xv-xix.

Plastic babies and bathwater 11 August 2014

Received 11 AUGUST 2014
Published 11 AUGUST 2014
From John Heathcote

Sir, I fear that Chris Mackenzie has thrown away some babies with the bathwater in his Soapbox article.(Geoscientist 24.7 August 2014).

I agree that there is a growing problem with substances that are chemically benign but resistant to degradation processes in the environment.  Many polymers are in this category, e.g. HDPE, polyester.  We use these materials not because 'Big Oil' makes them, but because they are convenient to use and inexpensive as currently accounted for.  Remember wooden buckets and ironing cotton shirts?

We are also producing articles made from metals in non-natural valence states, e.g. aluminium and stainless steel, that are resistant to degradation in the environment.  Metal has many advantages over wood and stone, and this has nothing to do with 'Big Mining'.

However, a little Googling reveals that 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D are not persistent in the environment and do not bio-accumulate.  The problem is the trace amount of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) present in 2,4,5-T as an unwanted by-product of commercial manufacture.  TCDD is persistent and does bio-accumulate.  It is also produced by burning organic matter containing traces  of chlorine and fires of all kinds are a significant source.  Partly in response to Silent Spring, the commercial manufacture of many persistent organic pollutants has been banned for a long time.

Most non-natural radionuclides have reasonably short half-lives (Cs-137 is ~30 years) and they will decay reliably.  Natural uranium, thorium and potassium have very long half-lives – they are effectively here forever.  In most parts of the planet the radiation dose from artificial radionuclides is trivial compared with the dose from natural radionuclides. 

Nature does deal with carbon dioxide, but rather more slowly than we are creating it.  It would be very good if we were to reduce the rate at which we produce it, very substantially.  Doing so is not going to win votes though.

John Heathcote

Physician heal thyself - Geoscientist and casual sexism 04 August 2014

Received 04 AUGUST 2014
Published 04 AUGUST 2014
From John Milsom

Sir, How ironic that, in an August issue beginning with an editorial noting that ‘Unfortunately, gender stereotyping is too deeply rooted in the subconscious …..’, Geoscientist should be demonstrating how far these attitudes are embedded into its own psyche. On p20, a letter about ‘innumerate geologists’ is illustrated by a picture of just such an innumerate person, totally baffled by a blackboard covered with (mainly GCSE-level) equations. A female person, of course. We blokes know how difficult it is for the poor dears to understand such things.

If this was a one-off, it might pass, but it is not. In April, Jonathan Paul’s terminally depressing Soapbox article about the (claimed) aversion of modern geology students to field work was illustrated by a picture of a student in mortarboard and gown, captioned ‘Somewhere warm and dry, please’. A female student, of course.

This is all not only sexist but flies in the face of reality. Anyone who has been involved in selecting PhD students for field-related projects over the last twenty years knows only too well that the more challenging, uncomfortable or plain insanitary a field area, the more likely it is that the applicants will be predominantly female.

And of course, both the recent letter and the earlier ‘Soapbox’ article were written by blokes.

John Milsom

Mentoring the young - GSL could do more 21 July 2014

Received 17 JULY 2014
Published 21 JULY 2014
From Mark Davis

Sir, As a registered Chartered Geologist and European Geologist - but more importantly as a geologist who first put had to rock professionally in 1979 - I have seen many ups and downs in the commodity industry.  People do, though, still study our subject and still wish to get careers in geology.  With the present economic situation, a situation that recurs regularly (dire for geologists of all levels of experience) what can be done to assist the skills of the current crop of young people and to get them into the marketplace?

I notice that within ‘Linked In’ discussion forum I often see people asking ‘where is the best place to go for a geological education’ - and often the answer seems to be ‘complete an M.Sc. or Ph.D’.  I never find these discussions fruitful because they do not fully address the issue of defining an appropriate approach to education and employment.

The Society of Economic Geologists ("SEG") has, on its website, a ‘mentoring’ section, aiming to bring young geologists into contact with industry experts.  I am listed on this, and probably once or twices a year receive an e-mail – to which I send out a stock answer.  I am duly thanked, but I do not know if I really help.  I am also not sure this is the right way to approach the problem.

The aim of the SEG system is not to help people get jobs but to mentor them while they are in work - to develop a ‘more complete geologist’.  This is especially true in the metals & minerals industry where geologists can move from commodity to commodity and one mineralisation style to another. Therefore the mentoring team is there to help in this transition.  Remember, this might happen within a company and its various projects. The mentoring system, though, does need direction.

So – my question is: what does the GSL do for young geologists either looking for work or looking for assistance in getting a direction to travel in for a career?  My feeling is - not a lot, at present.  Does GSL want to get into this area, or is it afraid to open a can of worms?  Is it worth GSL having a ‘mentoring site’ as part of the current website?

I am unemployed at the moment, so have time on my hands and I am willing to help in any way that is constructive.

EuroGeol Mark Davis MSc CGeol FGS FSEG

Academics should seek Chartership 17 July 2014

Received 02 JULY 2014
Published 17 JULY 2014
From Mark Godden
Sir, as a Chartered Geologist, I can’t help feeling slightly perturbed after reading Philip Allen’s Soapbox column in the current (July) edition of Geoscientist.

Professor Allen lucidly describes two discrete social worlds; one inhabited by independent academic geologists, free from dogma, who do not need to be reminded how to behave, and the other full of professional geologists who apparently need to be bound by solemn professional codes and ethics.

I don’t actually believe that there is so much disparity between the scientific and professional camps. Practitioners in both areas typically collect evidence in various forms and evaluate this evidence to produce hypotheses. The only significant difference I perceive is that when an academic theory is overturned, nobody usually gets hurt.

I think that the main difference between science and profession is that many professional geologists spend a great deal of their time interfacing with non-geologists, while being buffeted by the vagaries of the free market economy. Being chartered may provide a geologist with a little more credibility in a difficult working environment. This is certainly why I put myself through the chartership process and I am very glad that I did.

I definitely do not need a code of conduct to ensure that I behave in an ethical way. Having such a code in place is principally designed to give reassurance to others that I will be ethical. The Geological Society's Code of Conduct simply sets out some axiomatic, base-line professional standards that incidentally, apply to all Fellows, whether they are chartered or not.

I would like to urge Professor Allen and all other eminent academic fellows to consider (or reconsider) becoming chartered, if for no other reason than to add gravitas to the accreditation for the benefit of their more industrial colleagues.

Foster wrong about climate change 17 July 2014

Received 17 JULY 2014
Published 17 JULY 2014
From Colin Summerhayes

Sir, I write to contradict Stephen Foster regarding the greenhouse effect and global warming. It is rather unfortunate that he chose to base his arguments on an extensively criticized paper by Gerlich and Tscheuschner. Not being a physicist myself I do not want to go into the details, but I would advise those who want to delve further into the matter to simply Google ‘Critique of Gerlich and Tscheuschner’. It seems to me from my reading of those critiques that the authors have misunderstood the laws regarding atmospheric physics. I would far prefer to have a debate about global warming with someone who has taken the trouble to familiarize themselves thoroughly with the behaviour of planetary atmospheres – which can be done by reading Professor Raymond. Pierrehumbert’s comprehensive “Principles of Planetary Climate” (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

What I am about to write, by the way, has nothing to do with so-called ‘consensus’ science. It is based on my reading of the available scientific literature.

Dr Foster produces arguments on what the ice cores have to say about the relation between CO2 and temperature. It was indeed thought that CO2 lagged temperature in Antarctic ice cores, but the latest data (Parrenin et al., Science 339, 2013) suggest that it did not. Our understanding of glacial to interglacial warming now is that insolation changes made the ocean warm, which immediately (i.e. at the same time) released CO2 into the atmosphere, which immediately provided a positive feedback to the warming. The two moved in lockstep. This is not surprising if you look at geological history. It is difficult to explain the cooling from the mid Eocene at 50 Ma to the current Ice Age, without calling on changes in CO2 caused by the changing balance between emissions of CO2 from volcanism, and its extraction by weathering and eventual storage in sediment. That has been known as the main mechanism governing climate change since Ebelmen in 1845 and Chamberlin in 1899.

In my view Dr Foster, like many global warming contrarians, makes a mistake in assuming that CO2 and temperature should be tied together tightly over the past 100 years or so if the greenhouse theory of anthropogenic global warming is correct. It is not only CO2 that affects atmospheric temperature. Volcanic dust does too, cooling the atmosphere, as do aerosols emitted from our own industrial processes. It is the emissions of these aerosols, well documented by the Russian climatologist Milkhail Budyko in the 1970s, that would seem to explain at least some of the mismatch between temperature and CO2 in the period 1945-1970.

Equally, it is well known that large El Niño events emit oceanic heat into the atmosphere pushing global temperatures above the climbing temperature trend, while intervening cold La Niña events create a cold Pacific Ocean that cools the atmosphere below the trend. The longer and slower Pacific Decadal Oscillation has the same effect on the 20-year time scale. It likely played a role in the cooling between 1945-1970 and in the present slow down in global warming since the year 2000. So there are good reasons why the CO2 and temperature signals will not be precisely coupled. This is not a single-issue game.

Dr Foster goes on to make several assumptions about how CO2 will interact with infrared radiation in the atmosphere. Unfortunately he does not seem to be aware of classic papers like that of Augustsson and Ramanathan (J. Atmos. Sci. 34, 1977) that explain how absorption works at different concentration levels for both the weak and the strong absorption bands of CO2. While the greenhouse effect due to the 15µm bands does increase logarithmically with respect to CO2, that due to the weak bands increases linearly. Hence “the warming effect of CO2 on the global surface temperature may never saturate out even for large increases in CO2 concentrations”.

Dr Foster mentions Prof R Lindzen of MIT. I heard Dr Lindzen speak not long ago at a meeting in the Houses of Parliament. He was quite clear that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that it does cause the atmosphere to warm. Where he disagreed with the ‘global warmers’ was that he did not believe that the projected temperature increases would be as large as the IPCC suggests.

Dr Foster then brings in the sun. We have ample information about its behaviour over the past 2000 years from the distribution of cosmic-ray induced 10Be and 14C. These data (Steinhilber et al, PNAS 109, 2012) show that the medieval warm period and other warm intervals within the Little Ice Age correspond with periods of high solar output. One of those solar output events began around 1900 and continued to about 1970, then a decline began that continues to this day (Lockwood, Proc. Ropy. Soc. A, 4676, 2010). Thus solar energy has been going down while global temperature has been going up. Equally, global temperatures were going down or staying flat while solar energy was going up from 1945-70. Ergo, there is no obvious link between the sun and our temperature since about 1940.

The IPCC numerical climate models do, contrary to Dr Foster’s assumptions, take these various sources of information into consideration in their numerical models of the climate system. Those models’ outputs match recent meteorological data well up to the present time, so it cannot be said that anthropogenic global warming has been disproved by the models’ performance. Rather the opposite.

I should close by reiterating an observation from the addendum to the GSL’s climate change statement (2013). Insolation controlled by the Earth’s orbit and axial tilt has been decreasing for the past 10,000 years, driving us into a neoglacial period characterized by the Little Ice Age, which was especially well developed in the northern hemisphere. That insolation is still low. If insolation is not rising, and solar output has been falling since about 1970, what has made global temperatures increase if not greenhouse gases? The answer, I am sure, has nothing to do with politics.

Colin Summerhayes

More women contributors please 17 July 2014

Received 17 JULY 2014
Published 17 JULY 2014
From Sarah Nice

Sir, As a woman geochemist and avid science communicator, I was sad to see the lack of contributions from women in the “Hole load of trouble” issue of Geoscientist. This does nothing to dispel the myth that geologists are all middle aged men with beards, socks and sandals* and I would imagine is fairly off putting for female geoscientists out there.

It would be great to see a better balance of male and female contributions in each issue, so I implore all females out there to put pen to paper and ensure that we get a fair representation in the future!

*this by no means implies that the male contributors to this issue had beards, socks and sandals. 

Sarah Nice

Supply and demand govern coal price 17 July 2014

Received 02 JULY 2014
Published 17 JULY 2014
From John Theobald
Sir, I read your July 2014 editorial "The wages of cheap" with interest as someone who has worked for over thirty five years in the global mining industry I share your obvious anger if not your analysis.

Coal is currently cheap because we are producing more coal than the world currently consumes, we have record production from Australia and a rise in exports from the Indonesia and the USA and there is more tonnage in the pipeline. At the same time the market for coal, while still growing in Asia, is under pressure in Europe and North America due to alternatives such as shale gas and concerns about global warming. As a result the price of thermal coal has fallen around 45% since 2011, it is good old fashioned supply and demand at work and not some Machiavellian action by energy suppliers.

The reasons for coal mine deaths in Turkey, China, India and Russia have common themes, poor legislation, poor enforcement, poor management, vested interests and complex socio-economic factors. Most of these mines supply coal into their domestic markets (rather than export) often at a prices and quality lower than the global seaborne coal prices and quality. The bulk of the seaborne coal is produced at modern, efficient and safe mines which UK mines can't compete with for reasons well understood. Higher coal prices would not lead to a renaissance in the British coal industry nor would it stop the deaths in coal mines in China or Turkey as recent history has shown when coal prices were double what they are now. Change has to come from within problem countries themselves and needless to say there has to be the political will to do it.

Worlds apart? 17 July 2014

Received 17 JULY 2014
Published 17 JULY 2014
From Rick Brassington
Sir, Philip Allen’s ideas set out in his Soapbox piece (Geoscientist 24.6 July 2014 p 11) suggesting academic geologists are some form of superior being living on a different planet to the rest of us and too highfalutin to bother about professional qualifications seems to be predicated on his novel interpretation of the Society’s slogan ‘serving science and profession’. Of course ‘Science’ actually means those branches of the natural sciences that relate to geology and ‘Profession’ means those who engage in the pursuit of ‘Science’ whether by academic research and teaching or by the application of geological principles to the solution of real-world practical problems.

Prof Allen may not feel a need to take the ‘geological version of the Hippocratic Oath’ although as a Fellow he is already required by the Society’s Regulations to follow the Codes of Conduct prescribed by Council. (The Society’s web site sets these out for those who wish to refresh their memories). It is also important to recognize that our professional qualification is far more than a simple adherence to these Codes. Increasingly, modern society requires those that provide professional advice to be regulated by a system administered by the members of the profession. The Society first offered the professional title of Chartered Geologist in January 1991 and has greatly developed the process of validation over the intervening years. Each candidate is required to demonstrate by examination the attainment of academic qualifications; the ability to apply geological principles to solve practical problems; to have gained a minimum period of experience and achieved a sufficient standard for chartership; to appreciate his/her responsibilities and duties to employers /clients, colleagues and also to society at large; to undertake Continuous Professional Development and maintain a record; and of course, to adhere to the Society’s Codes of Conduct.

Not all academic geologists share Prof Allen’s views; indeed many played a leading role in the establishment of the Chartered Geologist qualification including eminent people from Imperial College; and today many actively support the principle of the Society regulating the geological profession. However, those that do think like Prof Allen perhaps should reflect on their duties - both moral and professional - towards the students they teach most of whom will be planning a career as professional geologists in the world outside academe. By becoming Chartered Geologists not only will they show leadership but will also be supporting the Society in its important work in regulating the geological profession for the benefit of society at large.

An important part of ‘serving science’ is the Society accrediting undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses. This is a process that involves interaction between the Society and the academic school and this joint effort has often resulted in the course being improved. It seems to me that accreditation by the Society should include a requirement for those teaching accredited courses to be Chartered Geologists or if their geological credentials are not adequate be Chartered Scientists or hold similar appropriate qualifications such as Chartered Engineer.

Those without maths should not despair 28 May 2014

Received 27 MAY 2014
Published 28 MAY 2014
From John Waters

Sir, Ken Vines is quite off the mark when it comes to his “and maths is always going to be the most important”.  I have always considered geology to be an art as much as a science. As a retired senior geologist with Anglo American my working career was on several important Copperbelt mines and prospects. We had the geophys and geostat chaps when we needed them but there was one amazing occasion when a quite senior chap who had come up the geo-maths ladder looked at the specimen I had picked up and said “what’s that”. I said it was the local tillite. He said “don’t be ridiculous we are in the middle of Africa, it’s hot around here”.

I certainly achieved a maths ‘O’ level but further studies were limited to biology, chemistry and physics to “A” level. I entered University quite late having been through Teacher Training, qualifying in biology and rural science, and then teaching general science.  My university course was intended to be biology and chemistry. I missed the first chemistry lecture and was told to read chapter one of a physical chemistry book. It was quite unintelligible mainly due to the maths content. My personal tutor said “I think there are still places on the geology course”.  I have never looked back.

To those without maths, do not despair.

Gravity and Mind – Human Response to Tectonic Stress 21 May 2014

Received 21 MAY 2014
Published 21 MAY 2014
From Alan Watson

Sir, I find the tacit acceptance of my article [Geoscientist 23.10 November 2013 - about the unusually high incidence of riots in the fourteen days before earthquakes in England and Wales between 1980 and 2012], highly encouraging.

Thank you to Richard Batchelor for his supportive letter in the online pages and naturally, any further comments or suggestions would be welcomed.

Apparently, the readership does not object to my conclusion that the probability of the stated hypotheses being wrong is substantially less than 1%.

The Hypotheses I tested were:

‘There is a significantly higher incidence of riots and disorder in the 14 days immediately before earthquakes of 2.5ML or greater [in England and Wales 1980 to 2012] than would be expected by chance.’


‘There is a significantly lower incidence of riots and disorder after more than 140 days has passed since the last most recent earthquake and when more than 14 days remain before the following earthquake of 2.5ML or greater [in England and Wales 1980 to 2012], than would be expected by chance.’

I am delighted that the geological community is apparently accepting - or at least not dismissing - the results of my research into this little-known phenomenon.

The only way IS ethics! 19 May 2014

Received 18 MAY 2014
Published 19 MAY 2014
From Chris Jack

Sir, I am writing in support of Roger Dunshea's Soapbox article in the May edition of Geoscientist, The only way is ethics, in which he suggests that the Geological Society's professional code of ethics should be revised to support 'very long-term global economic sustainability'.

For example the Institution of Civil Engineers already has a Charter for Sustainable Development with the stated aim of 'meeting the needs of today without compromising those of tomorrow' and requires that 'all grades of membership must aim to develop and maintain a high standard of sustainability awareness and to continuously improve sustainability performance within their professional activities'.

It seems to me that the Society could explicitly support such uncontroversial aims.

AGW models 'empirical and therefore wrong' 16 May 2014

Received 10 MAY 2014
Published 16 MAY 2014
From Stephen Foster

Sir, I am writing in response to the letters of C. Summerhayes  (7/11/13) and J. Cowie (11/12/13) to try to set a factual foundation for debate as opposed to assumptions and models which disregard established scientific laws. I wish to make clear that I regard the current environmental problems associated with the emission of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere and water, the extinction of species and the general degradation of our environment caused by overconsumption among a small number of privileged individuals as extremely serious and in urgent need of attention. The myth of AGW is an unhelpful distraction from these problems.

The Earth's temperature is the consequence of a chemical process system: temperature affects CO2 levels, CO2 levels do not affect temperature. The solubility of CO2 decreases as the temperature of water increases, so as the air temperature increases so does the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. This is exactly what we see in the ice core data where temperatures change before CO2 levels change. Whether the lag time between the changes in the temperature are in the order of 800 years or only a few decades is irrelevant: temperature leads the CO2 levels and the latter are a direct consequence of the former. Furthermore since 1800 CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have increased, yet during this period temperatures have fluctuated by at least 1 degree C both downwards and upwards. Since 1940 the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have risen sharply, yet global temperatures fell between 1940 and approximately 1980: the impact of Mankind putting more CO2 into the atmosphere has been to decouple the hitherto relatively linear link between temperature and CO2

With reference to the greenhouse gas models which assume that CO2 has an impact on temperature, the following facts are of some importance. The first 50 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere will absorb about half of the tiny fraction of the total solar radiation energy to reach the Earth's atmosphere. Each additional 50ppm will absorb half of the remaining fraction, so that at 380-400ppm concentration of CO2 the total additional solar radiation which is absorbed will be close to zero. If CO2 concentrations were to reach 1000ppm there would be no discernible difference in absorption/emission of solar radiation energy. This follows the Beer - Lambert Law which states that the intensity of radiation decreases exponentially as it passes through an absorbing medium. The evidence that suggests that CO2 levels in the geological past were associated with higher average global temperatures is not a proof that the former were the cause of the latter. From basic physics this causal link does not exist. I do not know what caused the remarkable increase in temperatures at the Palaeocene - Eocene boundary, but it seems from physics that the high concentrations of CO2 associated with this event were a consequence of the increase in temperature and not a cause. The problem with using analogies from the past is that we cannot know of or measure all of the variables that were operating then, and as we do not even know about or understand the complexity of modern geochemical and geophysical systems, trying to understand the complexity of the past through our limited knowledge of the present is naive.

There are no greenhouse gases in physics. Gerlich and Tscheuschner (2009) proved that there is no such thing as a greenhouse gas because there is no glasshouse on Earth (or any other planet for that matter). The UN IPCC models incorrectly assume that the Earth's radiation to space decreases as temperature increases. This violates the Stefan-Boltzmann Law which states that all bodies radiate proportional to their temperature: as the temperature of a body increases so does its radiation. In 2009 R. Lindzen verified that the Earth obeys this law. The UN IPCC and all other AGW models are empirically based and are therefore wrong. In fact the Earth's temperature cannot be modelled mathematically for control because the mathematical criteria devised in the 1960's to ensure that a system is measurable, observable and controllable are not satisfied.

Meteorologists, climatologists and physicists of the IPCC have tried to discredit the link between solar activity and global temperatures by using highly selective data in support of their assumptions and ignoring other data which show their assumptions to be wrong. The IPCC claim that there has been a 0.1% variance in solar irradiance for many centuries and that this could not have a significant impact on temperatures. Using the data they quote this is true, but importantly it misses the wider picture. If the much more significant extreme ultra-violet radiation variation is measured a very different pattern emerges. This is very closely related to temperature variation both in the measured (i.e. instrumental) record and in the historical record (as measured via proxies). According to the data presented at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union held in 2013, the extreme UV variation has been falling as the current sunspot cycle has declined, and that the fall in extreme UV radiation can be closely correlated with the cooling trend of the past decade. Even more there is a close correlation between temperature variation and sunspot activity since 1600 when accurate records of sunspots started to be collected by direct observation. In particular the Maunder Minimum was a period of severe cold, some of it related to large volcanic eruptions which may in turn have been induced by activity of the sun. Extreme UV radiation varies with sunspot activity and offers a testable hypothesis to explain the medium (c.400 year) variations in temperature that are recognised from historical sources and temperature proxies. By contrast he UN IPCC models do not, and nor does any other greenhouse gas based model.

In conclusion scientific proof is not established by consensus: it is established by reference to evidence correctly interpreted through known and observable scientific laws. Scientific theories are supposed to be testable, and if falsified should be rejected. The theory of AGW has been tested and falsified. It can also be shown to be based on a set of assumptions which are demonstrably wrong to anyone who is ready and willing to challenge them. Politics and the politics of science however have got in the way of people understanding this, so that as I have already written, scientists are in very real danger of discrediting both themselves and the processes that they claim to value and defend.  


Gerlich G and R D Tscheuschner 2009: Falsification of the Atmospheric CO2 Greenhouse Effect Within the Frame of Physics, Int. Jol. Mod. Physics B v 23. no3 Jan 6 2009 pp 275-364. (This can be downloaded free at:

Stephen Foster

Appalled by Paul 15 May 2014

Received 07 MAY 2014
Published 15 MAY 2014
From Willie Towers

Sir, Forgive me - I am not a member of the Society, but I picked up a copy of Geoscientist at the EGU General Assembly in Vienna last week and wish to make some observations on Jonathan Paul’s 'Adapt or die' article.

I found the article frankly depressing; rocks do not occur in computers, GIS or 3D visualization models but out there in the real world.  If geology does not continue to teach basic field observation and mapping skills, it will slowly die.  Geoscientists, whether they choose academia or industry careers or somewhere in the middle, need the basic grounding in the basic disciplines of petrology, sedimentology and palaeontology to name but three.  They will always be there, whereas hardware and software packages come and go.

 Mr Paul recognizes that all disciplines go through phases, using the example of the oil industry as an example.  My early career in soil science (as a geology graduate) involved considerable field work and I am still living off that experience as I moved into the computing environment for much of my work.  And more recently, those same field skills have become fashionable again, but we struggle with under capacity in those skills (and knowledge) due to under investment for around 20 years.

I realize that the thrust of Mr Paul’s article was targeted at geoscience’s stark choice, as he sees it, between industry or academia but he does make some depressing assertions.  Do students today really 'equate fieldwork with manual labour and prefer to stay at home’? I suggest that they have either chosen the wrong career or it is a sad indictment of the effect that the digital age is having on society.

Many days in the field have stayed with me throughout my career (I am 59) both from a professional and personal perspective.  The number of similarly memorable days spent staring at a computer is considerably smaller.  I value the processing power of new technologies but we must have the grounding to interpret what they are actually telling us.

Spencer Compton and Gideon Mantell 08 May 2014

Received 07 MAY 2014
Published 08 MAY 2014
From Anthony Brook

Sir, Philip Compton reported (Geoscientist 24.01 February 2014, pp10-15) on the significant but neglected figure of Spencer Compton (1790-1851), who inherited the title of 2nd Marquess of Northampton on the death of his father in May 1828.  In his fascinating article he has a section headed 'Mantell', emphasising that Gideon Mantell was one of Spencer Compton’s oldest and closest friends, and provides extracts from two letters from Mantell to Lord Northampton in the Compton family archives (21 July, 1832 and 30 August, 1845).

I would like to add a little more substance to the remarkable friendship between Mantell and Compton.  Although they came from very different strata of society, so critical in those days, they were almost contemporaries: born within a few months of each other in 1790, and passing away within a year, in 1851-52).  So their adult lives spanned the same period of rapid developments in the exciting new science of Geology in the first half of the 19th Century.

Spencer Compton returned to England after a decade-long sojourn in Italy in November 1830 as a rich widower with a young family and as a peer of the realm, and resided thereafter at Castle Ashby, in Northamptonshire.  Mantell and Compton became acquainted during the course of 1831 through their joint enthusiasm for rocks and fossils.  By that time Mantell had already made his name and reputation in geological circles, establishing his credentials with Fossils of the South Downs (1822) and, even more so, with his discovery of Iguanodon in 1825, which earned him the coveted designation FRS and membership of the scientific and social elite, social circles in which Lord Northampton moved with consummate ease and political skill.

Lord Northampton paid a visit to Mantell’s Museum at Castle Place, Lewes on Monday 28 November 1831, as Mantell recorded in his journal: “Marquess of Northampton paid me a visit and spent 3 hours in the Museum.  His Lordship was much pleased with his visit; he is a very agreeable and intelligent man”.  Lord Northampton returned a week later, for a further visit, this time with his sister: “they stayed several hours”.

Gideon Mantell and Spencer Compton met, mingled and conversed at the British Association for the Advancement of Science Meeting in Oxford on 19-22 June 1832.  A year later, from 29 June to 3 July, Mantell paid an extended visit to Castle Ashby in the company of other eminent geologists of the era, such as Murchison, and was suitably impressed by the grand house and extensive estate, even more so by His Lordship’s large collection of minerals and fossils.  After Mantell moved to Brighton and established his Museum Lord Northampton paid an extended visit on 4/5 May 1835; a box of fossils from His Lordship from Italy arrived on 1 July.  

The Marquess of Northampton was one of the four Trustees and Vice-Patrons of the Sussex Scientific and Literary Institution and Mantellian Museum, in the latter days of Mantell’s short time in Brighton, and helped to facilitate the forced sale of Mantell’s fossil collection to the British Museum.  Indeed, he acted as one of the valuers of the collection in the summer of 1838, ensuring the best possible price.

In 1838 Mantell moved to London, first to Clapham Common and then, in 1841, to Chester Square.  It was also the year that Lord Northampton was elected President of The Royal Society, serving until 1848.  During the 1840s Mantell attended many soirées and receptions given by his good friend and scientific colleague, Lord Northampton, as in 1846 when he displayed a 3D model of the Isle of Wight and explained its strata and structure to the Patron of the Society, Prince Albert.  Moreover, Mantell presented most of his more important scientific papers to meetings of The Royal Society during the presidency of Lord Northampton, and they were subsequently published in the Philosophical Transactions.

On 29 March 1841 Mantell wrote to Benjamin Silliman, his transatlantic correspondent, that “microscopical investigations are now all the rage in every department of science”.  Five years later, in April 1846, he published Thoughts on Animalicules: A Glimpse of the Invisible World revealed by the Microscope, and dedicated the volume to The Marquess of Northampton, President of The Royal Society.

Mantell even named a dinosaur in honour of his eminent scientific friend of many years’ standing.  He published an important paper On the Structure of the Jaws and Teeth of the Iguanodon in the Philosophical Transactions (v138, 1848), which has the following Supplementary Remarks (pp.198-99): “I therefore propose to distinguish this fossil Saurian by a name indicative of the district from which, in common with so many relics of the same class where it was obtained, Regnosaurus, with the specific appellant northamptoni, as a tribute to the eminent nobleman whose approaching retirement from the Presidency of The Royal Society is so much to be regretted”.  Regnosaurus northamptoni is still the provisionally valid name for a ‘basal Stegosaur’.

Spencer Compton was found dead in bed on the morning of 17 January 1851 at Castle Ashby.  Mantell wrote in his journal the next day: “Death of M. of N., at Castle Ashby, announced in The Times this morning, after a few day’s indisposition.  The most estimable and kind scientific friend I have is thus taken suddenly from me: I am greatly shocked by this unexpected bereavement”.

Mantell and Northampton had maintained a regular and continuous correspondence from the time of their acquaintance in 1831 until at least 1847, with 64 letters in the Mantell Correspondence Archive, on microfilm, at the East Sussex Records Office.  Together with others in the Compton family archive at Castle Ashby, we have a remarkable repository of a sustained friendship, based on mutual respect arising from a common interest in geology, between an aristocratic patron of the arts and sciences, and a provincial pioneer geologist of humble origins.

The common pursuit of geological matters, rocks and fossils, strata and structure, had overcome the inflexible barriers of class and society of the time.

Don't give up on basic English either! 06 May 2014

Received 06 MAY 2014
Published 06 MAY 2014
From John Heathcote
Sir, Can I add to Ken Vines's plea for basic science skills (Letters, Geoscientist May 2014) a plea for basic English skills too?  Good spelling, good grammar, good punctuation are all important, but most important of all is the ability to construct a concise and logical argument to get your point across before the reader gets bored.  Otherwise we get to the point made in Sticks and Stones!
A significant number of us will spend our professional careers writing reports, even if we do get into the field from time to time.

Egyptian meteorites? 15 April 2014

Received 11 APRIL 2014
Published 15 APRIL 2014
From Mary Harris

Sir, I much enjoyed "Iron from the Sky" in April's Geoscientist but fear the authors may have missed a line for future research.


Field work sells it to us! 09 April 2014

Received 09 APRIL 2014
Published 09 APRIL 2014
From Dan Boatright and Worcester Sixth Form College Geologists

Sir, Having read the article 'Adapt or Die' by Jonathan Paul, one of my AS classes suggested that we should defend the role of fieldwork. As sixth formers, the roaring consensus is fieldwork rocks! We have embraced the cliché and pulled on our waterproofs, jumped into the mud and puddles, and if it is raining sideways, even better! We do not shy away from this 'manual labour' Jonathan seems so desperate to disparage, and Clare from my A2 geology class would like to point out that the 10kg weightlifting exercise she undertook on Penarth beach last February was well worth it - not only did she give her quads a workout, but the giant ripple marks are now pride of place in her bedroom. My AS students, washed out from their Penarth experience this year, are ridiculously enthusiastic about climbing the hills around Martley, Worcestershire, attempting to find trilobites and other exciting marine dwellers. While Jonathan pines for his comfy chair and indoor living, Kyle, another second year, has volunteered to lead our intrepid AS students around the six-mile route.

Every year I take my second years to the Isle of Arran. I cannot deny there were looks of outright hatred aimed at me when I first mention the idea. Their screwed up pieces of paper poised in throwing position leaving me a mere sneeze away from a barrage of paper missiles. But, give my second year students any time to talk about the week-long field school and words such as 'awesome', 'engaging', 'fantastic', and 'life-changing' are bandied around with ease. In fact one student, when asked about his recent trip to Rome, just said 'Good' with an impassive face... compare that to Arran and even the rain, snow and driving wind still has them smiling.

So let us not suggest that all our sixth formers are couch potatoes, nor think that geology is now the domain of computer analysts and let us not suggest that academics and industrialists do not need similar skills. In colleges across the country A level geology includes students with a wide range of skills and abilities. Not all like the fieldwork, but most thrive on it. I have a PhD, work in industry in my spare time and teach. The consensus in this college is simple - no need to evolve or adapt - Jonathan you can keep your books and the comfy sofa, we will all be half way up a mountain measuring strike and dip!

Selling geology 09 April 2014

Received 09 APRIL 2014
Published 09 APRIL 2014
From Peter Gutteridge

Sir, Having read the discussion on ‘selling’ geology to prospective university students in the last Geoscientist. Can I offer this as an outline sales pitch that other people might want to adapt:

There is no other subject that touches more bang up to date political, economic and social concerns than geology. Want to get a long term view of climate change and how and by how much CO2 varies in the atmosphere? How about energy supplies and natural resources? What about natural resources in the Arctic? Want to have a sensible discussion about shale gas? Concerned about relationships with Islamic countries? The answer to all these questions is ask a geologist. Geology has taken me to a wide range of very rich and very poor countries with every type of political system and I’ve also been to countries now in civil war, being a geologist has shaped my world view.

It is an observational rather than experimental science which makes it appealing to people (like me) who can’t do maths and prefer to think in images and like to construct a narrative from physical clues. But you can still be a geologist even if you can do maths. Geologists get to think at micron to global scale and at scales ranging from minutes to billions of years, very few professions need a such a perspective. You can do geology up a mountain, down a mine, in a quarry, down a microscope, in a laboratory, in a library or on a computer, practically anywhere in fact. You may be the best accountant in the world but, unlike geologists, you will never have the chance of discovering something new to science every day you go to work. And you get to do work outdoors in beautiful countryside and on tropical beaches from time to time.

Fieldwork no optional extra 01 April 2014

Received 31 MARCH 2014
Published 01 APRIL 2014
From Roy Gill

Sir, I would like to ask three questions of Jonathan Paul: Does he conduct intimate relations with other humans by remote sensing?   Are his summer holidays spent on virtual reality beaches?  Does he play and enjoy his tennis with a Wii handset?  If he answers 'no' then the real experience wins.

Whether or not fieldwork works as bait, it remains a necessity!  Experience of the real Earth, its past by reading rocks and its present by personally being subjected to its processes, is essential for any thinking geoscientist and is paramount.

If a graduate wants somewhere 'warm and dry' for a career then the local supermarket is but a few steps away.  Geoscientists need to be fit, capable and able to climb mountains, carry loads and be good sailors if they are to truly understand the planet.  They must experience Planet Earth in all its glory.

Of course scientists must keep up to date with technology and industry but getting to grips with reality early on in your career should still be seen as our prime attractor for the most able, lively and creative thinkers leaving school.

Don't give up on basic science for Geology entry 20 March 2014

Received 20 MARCH 2014
Published 20 MARCH 2014
From Ken Vines

Sir, Ben Topley is to be congratulated for his enthusiasm in producing the Soapbox article in the March edition, ‘Geology – poor relation?’, but I can’t say that I agree with his call for the upgrading of status of A-Level geology.

The main problem is that many schools and colleges do not offer A-Level geology, so all university courses have to start at the beginning, making the A-level , if not a waste of time, a time that could be better spent. When I started my geology degree in 1971, I was a mature student with a maths degree and an A-Level in geology, which I acquired while working. At the beginning of the course, those of us with the A-Level were told by one of the lecturers, ‘We shall soon catch you up’, which proved to be only too true.

I left the university with a BSc and a (hard rock) PhD and entered the world of hydrogeology, a subject about which I knew very little. What clinched the job were the maths and computing experience that I had and prospective employers, in general, were more interested in the maths than the geology. In employment, my mathematical background enabled me to reach the technical level of my new colleagues without too much trouble.

When the water authority, where I worked, was privatised (1989), I moved to a polytechnic, soon to be transformed to a university, where I began teaching undergraduates. One of the subjects I taught, not surprisingly, was hydrogeology. In the course, there was a little bit of maths, a little bit of physics, and a little bit of chemistry. Students who had no better scientific background than geology and/or geography always found the course a struggle and I often received complaints that the course was too ‘mathematical’, when the truth was that the level was no higher than the old O-level. Most of my colleagues made the same observation. We found that students with only a C-grade GCSE maths qualification, now the minimum for university entrance, often had little experience of algebra or trigonometry and knew nothing about interpreting straight line graphs. It’s difficult to make much progress in science without these elementary skills.

I retired 10 years ago and one of the great sorrows of my career is the way that the subject has been dumbed down to allow students with a poor background in science an easier life. Some students found that their A-Level notes were adequate for their first-year university exams, which shows the level to which they have been reduced. In my A-Level, there was an element of crystallography. I was presented with crystals and asked to identify the Miller indices of the faces. Now, as far as I am aware, there is no crystallography in modern A-Levels and it’s not even included in many modern degree courses, and that includes the one to which I used to contribute.

When It comes down to it, there is no science without maths, physics, and chemistry, and maths is always going to be the most important. It may be an obsession to concentrate on these subjects, but it’s bang up to date. It’s probably too late for Ben but there is no better way to enter the study of geology than with a solid background of basic science.

More women needed 20 March 2014

Received 20 MARCH 2014
Published 20 MARCH 2014
From John Ludden

Sir, I have decided to boycott the vote for GSL Council members this year, based on the fact that the slate presented is entirely male.  I know that Edmund Nickless the Executive Secretary has worked hard to find women candidates, but the Society must work harder and I believe, if necessary, impose a quota on the slate.

BGS has worked hard on its equity policy and recently participated in the pilot run by the Athena Swan programme for research institutes.  We were assessed as achieving the equivalent of the bronze award.  If this programme continues we will look to work towards silver status in the coming years (

Part of our action plan is to ensure that women are represented in our meeting groups, and when there is an election or a search for applicants every effort is made to ensure that we encourage applications from qualified women candidates.

 GSL does have women on its Council and other committees, and I realise that to ensure more representative committees requires a lot of work.  However I feel that the Society must try harder.

John Ludden is Executive Director, British Geological Survey

Fings ain't wot they used to be at the Dining Club 13 March 2014

Received 12 MARCH 2014
Published 13 MARCH 2014
From Dave Greenwood

Sir, During the Bicentenary celebrations in 2007, I received a batch of documents labelled “Geological Society Club” from the family of the late Professor J F Kirkaldy (1908-1990) (Geoscientist 17.9 p 4).  The papers covered the period from 1924 to 1959 and a hand written note (Fig 1) by E E S Brown (1892-1959) revealed that one of them had originated with A J Bull (1875-1950).  This was a booklet entitled “Centenary List of the Geological Society Club 1824-1924” containing a history of the Club followed by a series of lists including Founders, Treasurers, Secretaries, Long Memberships, Dining Places, and Members.  The booklet had been updated, presumably by Brown since it includes a reference to the death of Bull.

There were two copies of the Rules of the Club, from 1934 (with amendments dated 1949) and 1954, the 1949 amendments having been added as slips of typescript, no doubt reflecting the economic situation of the time.  Both start with the words “The Club shall consist of gentlemen who are Fellows of the Geological Society of London” reflecting a male chauvinism that would certainly not be acceptable nowadays.  They stipulate that the number of Ordinary Members should be limited to 40 (later amended to 45) with three further categories of Honorary, Temporary, and Supernumerary Members.  The number of Honorary Members is not specified but appears to have been limited to 15.  Temporary Membership covered Fellows who were currently serving on Council but were not members of the Club, whilst Supernumerary Membership was for those who were abroad and thus could not fulfil the requirement of dining at least once over a two-year period.

One item had survived from WWII in the form of a handwritten circular from W J Gordon dated May 12th 1943 expressing the wish that the Club should resume its activities if adequate catering arrangements could be made.  Unfortunately this could not be done externally, but Gordon noted that as an alternative “the porter at the Society’s apartments is willing to set out sandwiches, and his wife will make tea and coffee”.  This was to be tried out on an experimental basis at 12.30 pm on the 19th May at not less than 3/6d (17.5p) per head, with sandwiches from Messrs Lyons.  Clearly conditions were far more austere than those described by Nina Morgan during WWI (Geoscientist 23.10 p 24).

The majority of the papers cover the period from 1949, when Brown was elected, to 1959, when he died, and include details of the 2,000th Dinner, Annual Reports and Accounts, and a miscellany of receipts etc.  The 2,000th dinner was held in February 1958 complete with named menu cards (Fig 2), the circular for the event noting that “by the custom of the Club ladies are not invited as guests”.  The price was to be £1 11s 6d per head (£1.575), but the purchase of a set of three decanters, proposed by C E Tilley, and inscribed “G.S.C.  Commemorating the 2000th dinner February 12th 1958”, resulted in members having to pay a further 12/6p (62.5p), something that Brown clearly did because he kept both receipts!

The most interesting items, however, are the Annual Reports.  These have been heavily annotated by Brown and give an insight into the workings of the Club during their “closed sessions” when new members were elected.  Any vacancies for Honorary Membership were filled (largely based on “Buggins’s turn”) and election of Ordinary Members then followed with members first ranking applicants in order of preference.  Voting started with the most preferred candidate and continued until either the current vacancies had been filled or candidates failed to meet two further conditions.  Firstly there had to be at least 15 Ordinary and Honorary Members taking part in the ballot and secondly a minimum number of votes required was set at three-quarters of the number of members present.  The average number elected each year was two. 

Brown clearly took a great interest in this process and his annotations reveal details of how the voting went with some surprising failures, which it would be unfair to name here.  Successful candidates were not always the ones that one would expect from their academic standing and other criteria seem to have been at work.  For example most of the Geologists that played a part in war-time activities were elected as were all nine of the members of the BIOS Mission1 that examined the state of German Academic Geology in 1946.  Brown, Bull and Kirkaldy were of course close friends and one can only wonder what these eminent gentlemen talked about in the privacy of their exclusive club and what secrets were shared.

* Dave Greenwood is a retired Mining Geologist with an interest in the history of Geology.  The documents referred to have been deposited with the Society together with a DVD of scans.


  1. DINES, H. G. et al.  German Academic Geology.  BIOS Final Report No. 948.  Item No. 21.  British Intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee.  London.  iii + 10 pp.

Tarmac? You mean 'hazardous waste' 07 March 2014

Received 06 MARCH 2014
Published 07 MARCH 2014
From John Bullas
Sir, As a jobbing highway engineer, road characteristics researcher and lapsed geologist (who may even have been tutored at one stage by our revered Editor) I must point out to the authors of the feature 'Cracking up in Lincolnshire' that using words like “tarmacadam” in any report to a highway department will produce shudders and shakes.

'Tarmacadam' is a term for a specific grading of granular material bound with...tar. Tar is a coal-tar derivative, packed full of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) - a hazardous waste that is exceptionally difficult to dispose of (and expensive with it).

If you do not know whether a road surface is an asphaltic concrete (not a cement-bound concrete) or a dense bituminous macadam, or indeed a horrid nasty nasty evil tarmacadam, just call it a 'bound layer'.

If you suspect tar, let the highway team know as soon as possible, as a late discovery could have a significant impact on the road building process: a quick test with a PAKMarker pen or spray with rule it out (hopefully).

There still is a lot of tar bound up in old roads but it is not ubiquitous, so “bound layer” and a photo or “asphaltic layer” or “bituminous layer” and the same all float my boat. Yes I know asphalt sits in lakes and caught mammoth and sabre-toothed tigers, and that bitumen is oil derived, but we won’t get picky!

Tar but no tar, thanks!

Railway Mania 05 March 2014

Received 04 FEBRUARY 2014
Published 05 MARCH 2014
From Ian Harrison
Sir, Nina Morgan’s piece in March’s Geoscientist only serves to accentuate the care that must be taken in assessing anything concerning Victorian railway building at face value.

The “Oxford and South Stoke Railway” was almost certainly a “spoiling” tactic put together by “narrow gauge” (ie standard gauge in present terminology) interests to disrupt the hegemony of the Great Western Railway west of London.

The fact that George Stephenson was involved makes this a certainty.  The Stephensons (père et fils) had been engaged in a long-running battle with the GWR since about 1835.  There was absolutely no love lost between them and Mr Brunel.  The period 1835–50 is characterised by the “Gauge wars” where the interests of passengers took no place at all in the machinations of the railway builders.

Interestingly, of course, South Stoke is about two miles NW of Goring and I presume that the projected railway would have reached Oxford along the Thames Valley via Wallingford.  The ultimate intention would have been to carry on northwards to join the London and Birmingham railway (built by Robert Stephenson) in the Rugby area.   Passengers and freight would have had to change trains at South Stoke due to the gauge difference.

In fact, of course, the GWR built its own line from Didcot to Oxford (initially to a terminus in Hinksey) in 1844, four years after the London – Bristol main line had opened.

And William Buckland’s involvement?  Just a sop to make the whole affair look vaguely credible.   Most railways at the time were promoted and built by local independent companies and recruited “men of standing” to provide shareholder comfort.   The hope was that a larger concern such as the GWR would buy them out later:  it would have been this “pseudo-chairmanship” that Stephenson was talking about.    Buckland was certainly not in the running to chair the GWR and he probably realised what he’d let himself in for – hence the later use of Stephenson’s letter as a folder.

And PS :   “Rocket” was primarily the brainchild of Robert Stephenson although they did work closely together on her.


Respect for geology A level 05 March 2014

Received 04 FEBRUARY 2014
Published 05 MARCH 2014
From Mark Tyrer
I read with interest Ben Topley's thoughts (Soapbox, Geoscientist v24, 2 page 13) and am reminded of an admissions interview I attended over thirty years ago. I was told that despite an excellent predicted grade in the subject from my college:  "Geology is the last refuge of the innumerate!" a phrase which perhaps still holds a grain of truth. As an undergraduate, I quickly realised that important parts of a degree in Geology are bringing students up to speed in chemistry, physics, biology and maths, in recognition that everyone must be missing at least one of those subjects at 'A' level. Geologists are not alone, as I discovered when teaching an M.Sc. course in geomaterials. At the first coffee break, a graduate civil engineer said to me "I know I should know this, but what exactly is an ion?" I am pleased to report his career has blossomed, despite giving up chemistry at school! I think the key point is that many subjects (Geology, Civil Engineering, Materials Science, Medicine...) are not reliant on studying the subject at 'A' level, but demonstrably fill any knowledge gaps over their period of tuition. I agree with Ben however, that a good 'A' level in Geology is no soft option and firmly believe that inspirational teaching in further education is of the very highest value. To my own FE Geology tutor - I have one word to say if you're reading, Mike - Thankyou.

Radwaste corrections 24 February 2014

Received 23 FEBRUARY 2014
Published 24 FEBRUARY 2014
From Peter Styles

The Editor has made it clear that the recent exchange of views over the identification of possible sites for disposal of radioactive waste in the UK is now closed. It is, I think, well understood that the views expressed in Soapbox article, as with any other article in the magazine unless explicitly stated otherwise, are those of the authors alone, and are not endorsed by the Society. However, some Fellows have expressed concern that simple factual errors may sometimes appear uncorrected in Geoscientist as a result of the editorial freedom extended to authors of Soapbox articles, and that this may be a source of confusion for Fellows and others trying to get to grips with the topic.

In view of this, I would like to take this opportunity as Editor-in-Chief to make the following factual corrections to information presented in the article ‘Fallout over Radioactive Waste’, which appeared in the December 2013/January 2014 issue (Geoscientist 23.11).

The article stated that: “Reports in 1999 by the Royal Society and the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee recommended a national site search, led by geological criteria. However the 2001 Defra white paper Managing Radioactive Waste Safely ignored this advice, proposing 'voluntarism'. CoRWM, the committee set up to develop deep geological disposal for UK intermediate and high-level radwaste, which reported in 2006, contained not a single Earth scientist."

In fact the 2001 Defra White Paper was the launch of a process to decide how government policy on long-term waste management should be developed, following the failure of the previous policy approach based on geological disposal, and it was written partly in response to the 1999 reports. It did not propose geological disposal, by "voluntarism" or any other means, but it did lead to the establishment of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM).

CoRWM was also not set up to develop deep geological disposal. On the contrary; given concern over lack of public confidence in the previous policy approach, its remit was to consider afresh all the possible options for long-term waste management and to "make recommendations for the long-term management of the UK's higher activity wastes that would both protect the public and the environment, and inspire public confidence". Although CoRWM was therefore not charged with a specifically geological task, the Geological Society nonetheless made strong representation concerning the omission of any geological expertise on CoRWM at that time.

The Society organised a meeting in January 2006 on ‘Geosciences and the Long Term Management of Radioactive Wastes’, which brought together global experts in Radwaste Disposal to describe their approach to disposal, which was universally for a deep geological repository, albeit within a range of geological scenarios. This meeting was influential in helping CoRWM with its deliberations. In July 2006, CoRWM recommended geological disposal as the preferred technical solution for higher level wastes, together with a principle of voluntarism and equal partnership between any potential host community and the implementing body throughout the site selection process. These recommendations were adopted as Government policy.

After further public consultation on a framework for site selection, the 2008 White Paper did indeed set out a process based on voluntarism, combined with staged technical assessments. A number of deficiencies in the 2008 process became apparent as a result of engagement with communities in West Cumbria, which had expressed an interest in hosting a geological repository. DECC entered into a new round of consultation on the siting process in 2013, to which the Society has contributed, but geological disposal and the principle of community voluntarism as the basis of policy are not in question. A new White Paper is expected later this year.

Ladies' man 12 February 2014

Received 06 FEBRUARY 2014
Published 12 FEBRUARY 2014
From Hugh Torrens

Sir, The Distant Thunder column 'Ladies' Man (on the supposedly 'private' life of Henry de la Beche) obscures much interesting scandal! The author of the manuscript poem, The Lymiad, was Charlotte Jane Parslow (1785-1872), who married William North Skinner in 1803, and was immediately widowed. Her poem of 1818, mocking social life in Lyme Regis, was addressed to her first cousin, Maria Sarah Wallace (later Ogle) (1791-1844), then living in that other 'den of iniquity', Bath. Charlotte's father was John Parslow (1764-1798), captain in the 3rd, or King's Own, Regiment of Dragoons, who saw much service in Dorset.  He had married a beautiful, and buxom, lass from Tyneside in 1785, who was soon seduced by a cad in the same regiment, Captain Francis William Sykes (1767-1804). Sykes was forced to pay Parslow £10,000 (around half a million today) in damages in 1789, in a scandal which rocked the nation, and filled pages of newsprint, and its libraries with seven different accounts of the trial.

It was this money which allowed Charlotte to holiday in Lyme (where her father had written his will), with a chaperone, in the autumn of 1818, where she met the still unmarried Henry, who later married Letitia Whyte, on 23 November 1818 in Clifton. Charlotte's later footnote comments on that marriage, and on the duck-billed platypus. This relates to the donation of two engravings of this extraordinary animal to our Society on 5 June 1818 (Transactions, 5, p. 639, 1821). 

The Lymiad also records how cousin Maria "knew Madame Trois Maris’s last spouse well". This is Henry's equally scandalous, and beautiful, mother, born Elizabeth Smyth (c.1778-1833), who first became Mrs Thomas De la Beche, then Mrs Henry Metcalfe and finally Mrs William Huddle Aveline. Her second husband was a rich attorney, Henry Metcalfe (1758-1808) of Murton and Seatonville, Tynemouth, where he was born, and had first married, in 1790. But, after this wife’s death, he moved to live in both Bath and Clifton, where he died. He had married "Madame Trois Maris", for both their second marriage, at Clifton in June 1802. Since Maria's father and mother had also been born on Tyneside, these families would indeed have known each other well.

All this

a) confirms Charlotte's authorship and

b) helps shed new light on the sexual, and scientific, goings-on at Lyme in 1818.

At least seven people (six of them female) feature in both The Lymiad, and in the previously rather closed circles which then surrounded Mary Anning junior (1799-1847).