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Year of Water banner

Themed years are at the heart of the Society’s Science Strategy, and 2016 was the Year of Water, with a programme of events that explored a wide range of water-related geoscience through research conferences, lectures, our education programme and other activities.

The themed years are designed to inspire activities around a central theme whether these be organised by the Society or by our extensive network of specialist groups, regional groups and Fellows. 

An understanding of groundwater and hydrogeology is crucial to addressing a wide range of societal challenges, from securing fresh water supplies and mitigating flood risk to extracting shale gas and other hydrocarbons and safely disposing of our nuclear waste. But water also plays an important role in fundamental geological processes, many of which are the subject of continuing research.

  • Dewatering is key to the formation of sedimentary rocks. Studying the isotopic signatures of ancient waters and the organisms that were formed in them can help us characterise and understand past environments.
  • Water affects deep mantle processes, and fuels volcanic eruptions, determining explosivity and propelling eruption columns into the atmosphere.
  • Water is also at the heart of our efforts to look for life on Mars and elsewhere.

The Year of Water provided an opportunity to share and debate emerging research, and to communicate to policy-makers and the wider public the vital role of water in how our planet works and how we can live sustainably on it.

Society Conferences

The Year of Water featured a varied events programme with water related events being held around the country under the badge of the 'Year of Water'. 

In June, Burlington House was host to a meeting on Martian Gullies and their Earth Analogues. This meeting brought together researchers working on Mars' climate, history and geomorphology. Our understanding of martian geology has important implications for research questions such as the history of the formation of Mars, the likelihood of viable martian life and the availability of resources for human habitation. It is also important for designing effective spacecraft missions. 

Many of the gullies seen on the surface are thought to have been carved by liquid water from the subsurface and this has had an important impact on Mars’ surface geology.  

Iguazu Waterfall Argentina In September, the Society ran a 3 day conference entitled Rain, Rivers and Reservoirs, which followed on from the September 2015 meeting of the same name in Brazil.

The aim was to bring together geoscientists and civil engineers with different backgrounds to generate new interdisciplinary approaches to key problem. Conference themes focused on modern and ancient rivers, floods and flood controls, modern rivers and a geographic highlight on India.

Read more about the meeting and find downloads from the talks on the conference page.

Bryan Lovell Meeting

2016 was also the year when we launched the first flagship Bryan Lovell Meeting. The inaugural meeting, held in November, was on the themes of Water and Risk, the chosen themes for the years 2016 and 2017 respectively. The meeting was entitled Water, hazards and risk: Managing uncertainty in a changing world.

The Bryan Lovell Meeting are designed to be a new style of interdisciplinary meetings aimed at bringing together expertise from a wide range of professions and specialisms to contribute to the understanding of societal challenges and how our science can help address them.

The focus of the meeting was the geoscientific aspects of water and risk and how they intersect in the context of societal challenges such as environmental change, water-related geohazards infrastructure development and communication of risk.

Read more about the meeting on the conference page and find recordings of the talks and the full programme.

Education and Outreach Events Activities

In addition to the main Society meetings at Burlington House, there were also a number of outreach and education initiatives associated with the Year of Water.

As part of the resource materials for the Year of Water we put together some water-themed rock sets with descriptions, one of which went on display in the entrance hall of the Society. The other was sent out to a variety of science festivals, classrooms and workshops as an educational tool. 

Water FactsheetsThe Year of Water also caught the eye of the BBC Learning team who were embarking on a primary school level project. Launched in November 2016 'Terrific Scientific' is a UK-wide, mass participation project supporting science topics and investigations for 9-11 year olds. It includes online videos and curriculum-led resources for both teachers and students. One of the experiments in the project is to use dip sticks to analyse the content of tap water around the country.

The Society collaborated with BBC Learning to develop a set of factsheets on 'Hard and Soft Water', 'Water Quality' and 'Groundwater'. You can find these in the Education section of our website.

Imperial Fringe 2016
In September we were invited to host a stand at Imperial College's 'Imperial Fringe' event on the theme of 'Water, water everywhere'. 

Together with volunteers from the Earth Science and Engineering Department at the University, the External Relations team spent the evening speaking to members of the public about the Society, the Year of Water, the rock set samples and the different ways in which geological knowledge informs our understanding of water quality and security.


Earth Science Week Schools event 2016As part of the 2016 Earth Science Week we held a joint School's event, with colleagues from the British Geological Survey, on the theme of 'Sustainable Water resources'.

We invited Year 12 - 13 students from a number of schools to attend and take part in a workshop on how water resources are discovered and the multiple factors influencing responsible water management, from climate change and contamination issues to competing socio-economic needs.

You can read more about the School's event on the event page


Geological Society Blog  

Many of the Year of Water activities were documented on the Society blog. Some of the highlights are below:

  • Sarah Day, the Earth Science Communicator blogged about the launch of the Year of Water back in January.
  • Following Alok Jha's London Lecture on his book, 'The Water Book', Sarah Day interviewed him for the blog.
  • For the third year of the magnificent Great Geobakeoff there were a number of water-themed baking challenges for our excellent geobakers. These included ripple marks, lagoonal cupcakes and the famous Mosasaur scene from the Jurassic World where it leaps out of the theme park pool!
  • In November, Policy Officer Flo Bullough wrote about the upcoming inaugural Bryan Lovell Meeting.
  • Our Education Assistant, Amy Ball wrote about the BBC Terrific Scientific launch that took place in November at the Wellcome Trust headquarters.

London Lecture Series

As part of our annual public lecture programme the 'London Lectures' we ran a mini-series of water-themed lectures in line with the 2016 Year of Water.

This kicked off in April with a lecture by Alok Jha, author of The Water Book and ITV News Science Correspondent. 

This was followed by a lecture in June from Kevin Hiscock at the University of East Anglia on Groundwater and its Global Significance. This lecture focused on the distribution of groundwater around the globe and the stress put on this resource from over-abstraction and contamination.

Further lecture information is on the lecture page with the recording below.


In October, Matt Balme from the Open University gave us a fascinating talk about whether liquid water has ever been present on Mars.

  • Did it have a large ocean?
  • Were the geological formations we see on Mars formed by water?
You can find out more on the event page or by watching the recording of the lecture below.

And then to close the water mini-series and link to the 2017 Year of Risk, we heard from Bill McGuire on 'Waking the Giant: how a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes'. You can watch a recording of his talk below.

Events and Activities across the UK

In addition to the main Society conferences, there were a number of events held by different groups and organisations around the UK throughout the year. A list of highlights is included below.

  • In June, the newly-formed Northern Ireland regional group held a one day conference on the theme of 'Groundwater in fractured bedrock environments' held at Queens University, Belfast. The event was well attended by over 80 people from across the UK, Ireland and delegates from South Africa, Nigeria, Benin, Spain and Malaysia.
  • In July, the Hydrogeology Group, in conjunction with the British Hydrological Society, held a meeting on 'The Hydrogeology of Peat' at the University of Birmingham. This focused on the fundamental role peat plays in some key environmental issues such as the sustainability of carbon storage in peatlands, the hydrological response of uplands with reference to flood risk management and maintenance and restoration of rare wetland plant communities.
  • Also in July, the Engineering Group held an event at Burlington House on water-related case studies in Engineering Geology. The event showcased the work of early career Engineering Geologists or those working for SMEs to learn lessons from smaller scale ground engineering projects.