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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

New Executive Secretary Chartered, or 'charterable'? 18 May 2015

Received 18 MAY 2015
Published 18 MAY 2015
From Jonathan Cowie

Sir, Regarding Dick Selley's call  (Geoscientist 25.4, p21) for applicants for the post of the Society's new Executive Secretary to be a Chartered Geologist (CGeol), while most laudable is, I believe, neither the most pragmatic nor necessarily the most ideal criterion.

First, the Society's membership, which has grown over recent decades, is only just over 12,000 and the number of Fellows who hold Chartered Geologist status is many fewer than this.  To restrict applications to just this small pool would most likely exclude many capable and deserving candidates.

Second, it was cited that the Chief Executives of sister societies within the Science Council – relating to chemistry, physics and biology – were Chartered members of their discipline.  Actually some of these, when applying, were not then Chartered (or even non-Chartered) members of the body they went on to serve.  Indeed one of disciplines cited has found its past three Chief Executives among non-members at the time of application - only becoming members, and indeed Fellows of their society, after accepting the post.

Third, some of these bodies have benefited from having a Chief Exec who did not belong to their relevant discipline.  Indeed, one has had a scientist from a different discipline (albeit still a scientific one) and that person's 28-year tenure saw that body's membership increase by over 14,000!

Fourth, Selley concludes by noting that some of our sister science bodies' Chief Execs are 'even PhDs', as if a research qualification was both relevant for an administrative post and a necessary badge of professional belonging.  The Society is no longer even dominated politically by those into research, let alone numerically; the profession is way bigger than that.  Graduates in science carve out successful careers in many walks of life, including: teaching, science communication (journalism, publishing, press liaison, policy analysis and policy-making, in small businesses and, dare I say it, the dark arts of the financial sector, among many other sectors.

Personally, I want to see the best person for the job.  The post requires a mix of skills and getting it right is not easy.  Indeed some (if not all) of our allied professional bodies have seen some of their Chief Execs leave office in less than ideal circumstances (folk who were relevant professionals with PhDs) and those that did so quickly should be praised for recognising that the burden of administration was not for them.

Let us not hamper our Council at this time with restrictive conditions.

Jonathan Cowie

Why HAS local stone become so hard to find? 18 May 2015

Received 18 MAY 2015
Published 18 MAY 2015
From John Heathcote

Sir, Articles in this month's Geoscientist and Geoscientist Online lead me to reflect on the sad state of the UK's stone industry (as opposed to aggregate). 

I'm having a new house built, and there is a requirement that 'the roof shall be of natural slate'.  Clearly quite a few houses have roofs of fake slate, made from fibre-reinforced cement.  The rest is Spanish or even Chinese slate.  All are much cheaper that Welsh slate.  Scottish slate was always scarce as a result of geology, and is no longer extracted at all so is available only second-hand.  Why should Spanish slate be cheaper - notionally part of the European Union - with its much greater transport distances?  I also sought some walling stone, but none of the quarries still working flagstone in Caithness produce walling stone any longer.

The new house is near Dingwall, but no-one is now quarrying the distinctive, red, lower Devonian sandstone from which the town is built.  I have managed to find some usable Moine psammite, which a local quarry saves from the crusher.  It comes in handy brick-sized pieces as a result of close jointing and they have realised that there is a small market.

Why has UK produced building and ornamental stone become such an unavailable and unaffordable commodity?

John Heathcote

Solar variation and climate change - reply 18 May 2015

Received 18 MAY 2015
Published 18 MAY 2015
From Colin Summerhayes
Sir, In response to the letter of 18 March by Stephen Foster, I would like to point out that while the sun is the main driver for Earth’s climate, variations in sunspot activity provide only a minor modification to Earth’s global temperature. The main changes in global temperature through geological time are driven by (a) variations in insolation forced by changes in the Earth’s orbit and the tilt of the Earth’s axis, and (b) variations in atmospheric CO2.

As shown by Wanner et al. (2015), orbital forcing has declined significantly over the past 10,000 years, in parallel with global temperature, as deduced from a wide range of proxies. It can be considered the main driver for Holocene climate change, because CO2 changed very little over the same period. The changes in insolation due to solar activity are much smaller than those caused by orbital change, so are superimposed as wiggles on this downward cooling trend. Following a Holocene Climatic Optimum, about 4,000 years ago, this cooling led Earth into a neoglacial phase, characterized by glacial readvance, which culminated in the Little Ice Age (LIA) (1250-1850). The coldest phases of the LIA occurred during periods of prolonged sunspot minima (Wolf Minimum: 1280 to 1345 AD; Spörer Minimum: 1420 to 1540 AD; Maunder Minimum: 1645-1715 AD; Dalton Minimum: 1790-1820 AD; and Gleissberg Minimum: 1890-1910 AD). The orbital data suggest that this neoglacial phase should persist for the next 5000 years (Loutre and Berger, 2000). Indeed, recognizing the dominance of the orbital signal, we should still be in the LIA – albeit in one of its warm phases.

Foster is correct in drawing attention to the current decline in sunspot numbers, which may be leading towards a further grand sunspot minimum like those mentioned above. We can see the pattern of recent sunspot activity in Figure 1 (from Clette et al., 2014). Clette et al. (2014) recalibrated the original sunspot series to show that by the mid 18th century solar activity had returned to levels typical of recent solar cycles in the 20th century, but is now in decline (see Figure 1, which shows sunspot groups rather than actual sunspot numbers - for explanation see Clette et al., 2014). Aside from the 11-year sunspot cycle, the Figure shows some of the grand sunspot minima mentioned above, which are caused by the fluctuations of either the 208-year Suess (or de Vries) Cycle, or the 88-year Gleissberg Cycle, along with their ‘combination tones’ (where signals of different wavelengths interfere with one another to accentuate or diminish the underlying signal) at 152 and 62 years. 


Foster assumes from the current decline in sunspot activity from its peak in 1990, that “this energy reduction has initiated an expected reversal from the past warm era to a new cold era”. Is he correct? In fact, global temperatures have been more or less stable for the past 14 years, with 2014 at least as warm if not warmer than preceding years. Argo float data show that the ocean continued to gain heat at a rate of 0.4-0.6W/m2 between 2006 and 2013 (Roemmich et al., 2015). And observations by satellite radar altimeter show that the loss of ice from ice shelves around Antarctica was minimal in 1994-2003 (25±64 km3/yr), but rapid in 2003-2012 (310±74 km3) (Paolo et al. 2015). Arctic sea ice also exhibited a decline through the 2000s. These are not signs that the world is cooling. It seems counterintuitive that Antarctic sea ice is expanding slightly, but that expansion may be connected to the melting of West Antarctic ice shelves, mentioned above, which freshens the surface waters around the continent.

So what is going on? I suggest that what we are experiencing is a balance between the cooling to be expected from a growing sunspot minimum (which may or may not turn out to be long), combined with the warming to be expected from growing emissions of greenhouse gases. If I am right, then Dr Foster’s calculation that temperatures will cool by “1.0 and 1.5 degrees C lower than the peak year of 1998” may turn out to be a poor guess.

Dr Foster seems not to be convinced (despite experimental evidence) that CO2 has any effect on atmospheric temperatures. I recommend that he examine carefully the record of climate change across the Palaeocene-Eocene boundary, 55 million years ago (Zachos et al., 2008). There we find ample evidence for a massive increase in the emission of carbon into the atmosphere, a significant rise in temperature, acidification of the ocean causing a rise in the carbonate compensation depth, and a significant rise in sea level. There is no extraneous cause for the rise in temperature, so it is highly unlikely that it drove the rise in CO2.

There is abundant evidence that there were times in Earth’s history when plate tectonic processes provided a CO2 source, through enhanced volcanism, and times when the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere by chemical weathering in growing mountain chains formed a sink for CO2, as part of the slow carbon cycle described elegantly by the late Bob Berner (2004), and that these changes modified Earth’s temperature. Equally, there were times when changes in orbital insolation forced changes in Earth’s temperature, which drove changes in CO2 through the loss of CO2 to the air from warming water, and its re-solution by colder water, which accentuated orbital warming and cooling by positive feedback. Thus CO2 can both drive temperature change and be driven by it. This is all fundamental geochemistry.

To conclude, the graph above shows that the peak sunspot numbers of the late 20th century were about the same as those of the warm periods of the LIA (1780-90; 1840-70). Given that the late 20th Century was about 0.8°C warmer than the warm temperatures in the 1870s, the late 20th Century warmth must have had some other source than solar – most likely the rise in CO2 stemming from the industrial revolution and its aftermath.  If not that, then what?

Colin Summerhayes Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge


  1. Wanner, H., Mercolli, L., Grosjean, M, and Ritz, S.P.,  (2011) Holocene climate variability and change – a data based review. J. Geol. Soc London 172,  254-26
  2. Loutre, M.F., and  Berger, A., 2000 Loutre, M.-F., and Berger, A. (2000) Future climate changes: are we entering an exceptionally long interglacial? Clim. Change 46, 61-90.
  3. Clette, F., Svalgaard, L., Vaquero, J.M., and Cliver, E.W. (2014) Revisiting the sunspot number. Space Science Reviews 186 (1-4), 35-103
  4. Roemmich, D., Church, J., Gilson, J., Monselesan, D., Sutton, P., Wijffels, S., (2015)  Unabated planetary warming and its ocean structure since 2006. Nature Climate Change 5 (3): 240-245.
  5. Paolo, F.S., Fricker, H.A., Padman, L., (2015)  Volume Loss from Antarctic Ice Shelves is Accelerating. Science : DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa0940.
  6. Zachos, J.C., Fickens, G.R., and Zeebe, R E., (2008) An early Cenozoic perspective on greenhouse warming and carbon-cycle dynamics. Nature 451, 279-283.
  7. Berner, R.A., (2004) The Phanerozoic Carbon Cycle: CO2 and O2. Oxf. Univ. Press, 124pp.

Nepal - supply Morrison Shelters! 18 May 2015

Received 18 MAY 2015
Published 18 MAY 2015
From Graham West

From Graham West

trdhyutyeiSir, Once again, the recent earthquake in Nepal has shown that many of the victims were killed and injured inside buildings by falling or collapsing masonry.

During WW2, protecting occupants from building collapse during air raids was provided by supplying them with so-called Morrison Shelters, named for the then Minister for Home Security. These were prefabricated steel cage-like enclosures (picture) in which a family could take shelter and be safe if the house collapsed on them.  They were simple to make and erect (it was said that they could be put up by a pair of boy scouts!).

This, then would seem to be a lo-tech solution to providing protection from earthquakes in developing countries.  Morrison Shelters would be easy to manufacture, should not be too expensive, and people could be taught to erect them without difficulty.

Graham West

New Executive Secretary should not need Chartered Geologist status 14 May 2015

Received 07 MAY 2015
Published 14 MAY 2015
From John Murray

Sir,  That the Executive Secretary should be a professional geologist is indisputable. However, the majority of professional geologists do not have chartered status as is shown by the Annual Review for 2014: out of a membership of 11,606 a mere 21% (2495) are chartered.  Therefore, I do not believe it should be essential for the Executive Secretary to have chartered status.

John Murray,   Ocean and Earth Science  National Oceanography Centre Southampton, University of Southampton, European Way, Southampton SO14 3ZH

New Executive Secretary must be a Chartered Geologist (2) 13 April 2015

Received 13 APRIL 2015
Published 13 APRIL 2015
From Rick Brassington

Sir,   I chaired the Governance Committee in 1996 that constituted the five Vice-Presidents and myself.  Our report to Council recognised the important role of the Executive Secretary in representing the Society and furthering its aims for the science and profession of geology at a high level both in the UK and internationally.  The Executive Secretary provides an important continuity within the Society's governance as the Bye-laws dictate that Presidents, Honorary Officers and Council Members may only serve for a limited time.  For these reasons the Governance Committee recommended that the Executive Secretary should be a professionally experienced Chartered Geologist.

Reading the recently published recruitment advertisement in the April issue of this magazine, it would seem that, 18 years later, this important aspect of the role of the Executive Secretary may have been overlooked and this requirement has not been included in the Bye-laws during the various reviews that have occurred during recent times.  

I hope that this aspect will not be overlooked by the committee charged with making the appointment and am reassured by the comments made by the President in response to the letter from Dick Selley.

Rick Brassington

New Executive Secretary must be a Chartered Geologist 01 April 2015

Received 01 APRIL 2015
Published 01 APRIL 2015
From Dick Selley

Sir, Many Fellows will be as surprised as I am to read that the recruitment advertisement in Geoscientist (Geoscientist 25.3, April 2015, p30) for a new Executive Secretary does not specify that the successful applicant will be a professional geologist; only that ‘He/she will have a strong empathy for the membership, very likely with experience and professional credibility or academic credentials in a related field'.

In 1996 the Governance Committee recommended to Council, and Council concurred, that the post of Executive Secretary should be occupied by a professional geologist. These were the grounds for replacing Richard Bateman with Edmund Nickless.  I was an Officer at the time and know what a traumatic experience this was for the Society. The change marked a ‘seismic shift’, as the profile of the Society metamorphosed from ‘ancient academicals’ to ‘professionalising moderns’1.

The wisdom of the change has been demonstrated over the last 18 years. Furthermore the Chief Executive Officers of our sister societies, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Society of Biology, are all members/fellows of their respective bodies, some even PhDs (Biology, Physics) and one even a professor (Physics).

Surely the Geological Society of London would exhibit retrograde metamorphism if it did not appoint a professional geologist to the high profile post of Executive Secretary.

Dick Selley


  1. Herries Davies G L  2007: Whatever is under the Earth. Geological Society of London. Bath. 356pp.

Professor David Manning, President, replied:

We would be delighted to appoint a Chartered Geologist to this role, and look forward to receiving applications from those Chartered Geologists who feel qualified to meet the requirements of the position.

Solar variation and climate change 18 March 2015

Received 18 MARCH 2015
Published 18 MARCH 2015
From Stephen W Foster

Sir, I write in response to the letter of Prof Sumerhayes of 17. 7. 14, with particular reference to his comments on solar radiance and temperatures. In both of the cases quoted by Prof Summerhayes, he has chosen to ignore evidence that flatly contradicts, if not outright disproves, his arguments, and raises serious questions about the use and reliability of some proxy data sets to reconstruct past temperatures.

With reference to the sun and global average temperatures I include a graph of sunspot activity and global temperatures for the last four (21 to 24) solar cycles with the caption provided by the source (Space Science Research Centre, 2014).

Foster spots 

I quote the SSRC statement of 10. 12. 14. with reference to this data and its implications for future short term (30 years) global temperatures:

"The rate of temperature decline on a 100-year trend line is the steepest seen during that time frame going back to 1914. The most recent multi-centennial climate epoch which began around 1830, has begun to reverse direction from a global temperature standpoint. The past period of generally increasing warmth for the Earth, which was caused by the Sun’s natural and regular cycles of activity, reached an average peak of warming between 2007 and 2008 as measured by global atmospheric temperatures in the lower troposphere. This change was observed in oceanic temperatures as early as 2003. Acting primarily under the influence of a repeating 206 year solar cycle, a new “solar hibernation” has begun, and is marked by a significant decline in the Sun’s energy output. Starting with solar cycle #24, this energy reduction has initiated an expected reversal from the past warm era to a new cold era... There has been no effective growth in global temperatures for 18 years...and polar regions have now displayed a consistent trend of colder temperatures and growth in sea ice."

SSRC further predicts that:

 "...unless there is a significant unexpected and rapid change in the present declining solar activity trend, then a period of solar hibernation will follow" and that this will result in "either new 200-year cold weather records or 400-year temperature records and widespread climate and weather extremes. Both of these predictions would result in global average temperatures falling between 1.0 and 1.5 degrees C lower than the peak year of 1998". SSRC predicts that these changes will occur "in the next year or two".

Readers will be able to make their own judgements concerning the value of the graph and the comments made by Prof Summerhayes regarding solar radiation output, the "ample information" about Be10 and C14 values and temperatures in his letter referred to above, and further so in the light of NASA data that shows that maximum solar output occurred in the early years of this century, not the 1970s as Prof. Summerhayes' proxy data suggests.

The well known Maunder and Dalton Minima of solar counts and their possible effects on temperatures can be readily seen on the graph.  Readers may also wish to consider Prof Summerhayes' reference to the GSL climate change statement (2013) and the assumptions upon which that was based. In view of the fact that the data presented in the graph above were available to the authors of that statement, and that these data were evidently either ignored or given little weight leads me at least to the conclusion that a single hypothesis was more important to those authors than an objective analysis and evaluation of all available data and hypotheses.

Prof Summerhayes' statement that because "IPCC numerical climate...models’ outputs match recent meteorological data well up to the present time…it cannot be said that anthropogenic global warming has been disproved by the models’ performance." is simply wrong. I stated in an earlier letter (16.10.13) that there have been over 30 iterations of the IPCC model, and that none of them have made any accurate prediction of temperature change: such "predictions" that have been made have been proved to be wildly wrong and have had to be "adjusted" post hoc in order to match the actual temperature record.

The IPCC have so exaggerated the importance of CO2 that even when they do include other variables in their model the results are hopelessly inaccurate. There are many models other than that of the IPCC which have successfully predicted recent meteorological data accurately - they only require that temperatures rise to the extent that they have done in the past three decades - the causes of those changes are irrelevant. Prof Summerhayes has again failed to make the distinction between correlation and causation and recognise that there may be any number of factors causing variation in global average temperatures, upwards or downwards, which is why we need multiple working hypotheses when trying to better understand complex natural phenomena.

I have also stated that global climate is a consequence of the interaction of two complex fluid-dynamic systems and that because the behaviour of both is chaotic, predicting their behaviour over the longer term is inherently impossible. This means that the close coupling between sunspot activity and temperatures in the past 400 years as illustrated on the graph above is both remarkable and worthy of further detailed analysis and assessment by groups without preconceived notions about what may or may not be causing temperature fluctuations during that time. The lack of coupling between CO2 concentrations and temperature over the same 400-year period is even starker and serves to reinforce my argument. The AGW hypothesis has singularly failed to predict or explain any of these variations and this should be sufficient ground for its rejection. Politics and the politics of academic science are the major impediment to this happening, which was the key to my original letter on this subject.

This brings me to my final point. I have repeatedly asked for but have not been given, incontrovertible evidence that changes in CO2concentrations cause significant changes in global temperature. Reference to laboratory experiments are invalid because these are closed systems whereas the Earth's atmosphere is an open system and by definition will behave in a completely different manner. It has not "been known" that there is a causal link between CO2 concentrations and temperature since the end of the 19th Century (Prof Summerhayes, Geoscientist letters; 17. 7. 14): it has been assumed that such a link exists and it is this that I and others are challenging in the tradition of good scientific practice. Nowhere in the writings of Gilbert is evidence presented to demonstrate that an increase in CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere will cause an increase in temperature, only that the two are correlated.

Gilbert's assumption also underpins the books on planetary atmospheric science quoted by Prof. Summerhayes and means that they too are of questionable value: they are based on unproven assumptions which have achieved the status of unchallengeable myth. I have asked for evidence, not opinion, and I am still waiting for it. No matter. because an answer will be provided within a decade when we will all be able to observe directly the global average temperature trend. If temperatures do start to fall as predicted by the solar model above, the reaction of supporters of the AGW hypothesis will be very interesting and informative.

In the meantime I will concern myself with more acute and worrying environmental problems including among others, the pernicious spread of plastic waste, (C. Mackenzie, Soapbox: 7 August 2014).

Stephen W Foster.

Mud in our eye 04 February 2015

Received 04 FEBRUARY 2015
Published 04 FEBRUARY 2015
From Stephen Parker

Sir, I would like to congratulate you on the latest Geoscientist, which at last recognises the significance of the main subject of my career!  The lifetime of mud and X-ray diffraction was in fact quite a jolly one, despite the jokes of my colleagues at Reading, and I still believe it to have been a really significant part of geology.

Andrew Parker

Taking the Keeble road to postgraduate funding 03 February 2015

Received 03 FEBRUARY 2015
Published 03 FEBRUARY 2015
From Morris Stevenson

Don KeeblePicture: D.H.L.  Keeble MC TD EurIng BSc(Eng)(London) CEng FICE FIHT MConsE

Donovan (‘Don’) Keeble established an Educational Charity in 1989.  Following a distinguished career as a professional Civil Engineer in the UK and Southern Africa, as well as military service in which he was awarded the Military Cross for action at Dunkirk.  Don had the vision to establish a charity to award ‘scholarships, exhibitions, bursaries or maintenance allowances ...  for the advancement of education of persons who intend to pursue a career in Consulting Geotechnical Engineering.’

Don consulted closely with Dr Mike De Freitas of Imperial College on the need for financial support for students at that time.  They considered the use to which such support would be put, the things that could go wrong, and the means by which such support might be best directed.  Mike Scott, who was the Managing Director of Southern Testing at that time, was also consulted.

Don donated part of his shareholding in Southern Testing (STL) to the Trust, to fund the educational awards.  The Trust is administered by Southern Testing, and I have had the privilege of being one of three Trustees for the last 24 years.  The awards are independent of Southern Testing and are designed for the educational needs of individual postgraduate students.  Don was keen that application for this help should be simple and straightforward.  We have given awards to over 50 geologists and civil engineers, predominately to assist funding for Masters degrees in geotechnical engineering. 

We would be delighted to hear from candidates who have benefited from our awards, with details of their current employment.  We would also be interested to know how they came to hear of the awards, how it helped them at the time, and their career progression.  Links to Social Media are available on Southern Testing’s Website for this use.

Individual awards vary according to funds available (reflecting the financial performance of Southern Testing) along with the needs of successful applicants.

Funding of postgraduate studies has become limited since the Trust was set up in 1989.  Perhaps it is time for other large and small-scale consultants (and those who feel philanthropic) to set up a similar method of funding, not directly related to their organisation, to finance the next generation of consulting engineers and geologists. 

Don felt a very strong and personal need to do this, perhaps as a way of returning to society something he felt he owed.  Educational philanthropy is going to be needed and should be a significant source of future funding in our profession.

Morris Stevenson

Chairman and Managing Director, Don Keeble STL Trust/Southern Testing Laboratories Ltd.

Year of Mud - let's hear it for bentonites! 03 February 2015

Received 03 FEBRUARY 2015
Published 03 FEBRUARY 2015
From Richard Batchelor

apatiteSir, There is mud (assorted clays and clastics) containing lovely animal and plant fossils, then there is mud (clay) produced by the alteration of volcanic glass. Yes, I am talking about bentonites (mostly smectite/illite), which I have worked on for 30 years.

Picture: Apatite crystal from a Silurian bentonite, containing an oval melt inclusion.

These muds also contain fossils, but these are fossil crystals formed in situ in the original melt. Apatite, zircon and sometimes biotite occur as beautifully preserved crystals which also tell a story, albeit a geochemical one.

zirconsCombined with bulk chemical analysis, the fossil crystals help to date the rock, to identify the magmatic environments and to correlate strata across countries, and sometimes across continents.

Let’s hear it for bentonites!

Picture: Two crystals of zircon from an Ordovician bentonite.

Richard A Batchelor

Online publishing - reply to Don Hallett & Desmond Donovan 03 February 2015

Received 03 FEBRUARY 2015
Published 03 FEBRUARY 2015
From Neal Marriott

Sir, Don Hallet’s Soapbox piece (Geoscientist, November 2014) and Desmond Donovan’s letter (Geoscientist, February 2015) raise interesting issues in relation to scholarly publishing. It is quite right to assert that there are factors at play that might distort author and publisher behaviour, and that commercial competition has led to a proliferation of journals, but most publishers (both society and commercial) make genuine efforts to improve the discoverability of the content they publish via a range of search interfaces, and invest heavily in services that add value to authors’ papers. Indeed, since 2007 the version of record for Geological Society publications has been the online copy hosted on the Lyell Collection (, where both PDF and HTML displays are available, and we have invested continually in author and reader functionality. There is a growing number of online titles for which print is no longer offered - though print versions of GSL books and journals do remain available to those who prefer them.

Desmond makes a pertinent suggestion about centrally organised electronic publishing on behalf of the major societies. In fact the Society has contributed its content to just such an aggregation for 10 years now – GeoScienceWorld (, an online-only collection of 45 full text journals and over 1000 ebooks from 28 society publishers, with nearly 1000 subscribing institutions worldwide.

Neal Marriott, Colin North

War Graves - Hopton Wood Limestone (Carboniferous) 03 February 2015

Received 03 FEBRUARY 2015
Published 03 FEBRUARY 2015
From Mark Cope

Sir, Picking up on John Dixon’s letter regarding Portland Stone substitutes used by the War Graves Commission, I am surprised not to hear Hopton Wood Stone being mentioned at all.  Hopton Wood Stone is a Carboniferous Limestone, off-white to buff in colour, and sparsely fossiliferous, which is quarried in the Wirksworth area of Derbyshire. It has been used extensively in the local area on building facades of public buildings, and is still used today as an ornamental stone in modern fireplace surrounds.

I have read it was used by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as an alternative to the Jurassic Portland Stone, on account of its remarkable similarity.  With reference to a conference paper by Ian Thomas (2008), Director of the National Stone Centre in Worksworth, its historical use by the CWGC was significant, amounting to over 120,000 headstones by 1939.  The paper also refers to 100-200 headstones per year still being produced for the CWGC at the time of writing.  My understanding is that Hopton Wood Stone was also widely used as an alternative to Portland Limestone in the rebuilding of London after the Blitz.

Mark Cope

  • Thomas, I.A., 2008. Hopton Wood Stone, England’s premier decorative stone. 90-105 in Doyle, P., Hughes, T. & Thomas, I.A. (eds.). England’s stone heritage. Proceedings of conference 2005, English Stone Forum: Folkestone.


God or Gaia required 27 January 2015

Received 27 JANUARY 2015
Published 27 JANUARY 2015
From Rob Gray

Sir, One characteristic of the anthropic principle, not addressed by David Waltham, is that it does not work into the future.  If sentient life is here merely due to the chance of Earth throwing 35 consecutive sixes then there is no guarantee of throwing another. Looking at the risks encountered over the last 70 years - totalitarianism; nuclear proliferation; CFC's and climate change for example - would seem to illustrate the point well.  For me the arguments Waltham presents support the need for God and/or Gaia to explain our present day miracle and to underpin our future.

Rob Gray