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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...

Tell me a story

Iain StewartIain Stewart* thinks the answer to raising the geosciences’ public profile is to exploit the narrative essence of historical science

Geoscientist 22.2 March 2012

The party is going nicely. Then an innocent asks: “So what do you do?” The reply induces mild panic. “Geologist - ah yes - family trees and stuff?”. Most geologists have stories like this, which remind them just how peripheral their science appears to be in most people’s lives. Yet such lack of familiarity ought to come as no surprise. ‘Most people’ last visited science in school, decades ago, when along with some physics, chemistry and biology they may have enjoyed glimpses of plate tectonics (or endured the rock cycle) in geography classes. Even if they did geology at university, they would find it hard to recognise modern Earth system science - a holistic fusion of scientific inquiries targeted at a dynamic planet whose history is not simply ongoing, but evolving at a quickening pace. As environmental thinker Thomas Berry notes: ‘The planet that ruled itself directly over these past millennia is now determining its future largely through human decision...’. Never has geoscience been more critical to people’s lives.

But do ‘most people’ know that? Probably not. The brave new world of Earth science is a bewildering place. Familiar rocks and fossils have been augmented by isotope excursion curves and seismic tomography to reveal how our planet works. Such intricacies may make for hard going at informal social gatherings; yet for me, despite the complexity, modern Earth science is ripe for public consumption. Ironically, this ripeness stems less from ‘pressing social relevance’ than from an inherent sense of narrative.


In mass popular culture (television!), the flourishing areas of science are not the reductionist, experimental ones but the ‘historical sciences’ - cosmology, geology, palaeontology and archaeology. For at the heart of all these lies a compelling narrative of Homeric proportions. Geology’s backdrop remains one of epic tales of lost worlds and clashing continents stretching across unfathomable time. And centre stage is the revelation that society itself is now a formidable geological force capable of imposing change at a planetary scale. Humans are now part of the geological story.

The lesson from ‘the box’ is that to get our message across, we geoscientists need to gift wrap it in wonder. The vital importance of metals is interesting, but the fact that most of the world’s iron originated in a burst of oxygenation two and a half billion years ago is fascinating. The importance of coal is interesting; but that Carboniferous rocks reveal a world with an oxygen-rich atmosphere that fuelled giant insects and global fires is captivating. Triassic salt mines are interesting when icy roads need gritting, but entrancing when seen as relics of a time when shallow seas dried across a parched supercontinent. Dull gravel pits become amazing as the melted remnants of once kilometre-thick ice sheets.

The industrial geology that employs so many geoscientists and underpins our economy may seem boring, but we must not forget that we do not mine rocks. We mine the planet’s past, replete with magic, wonder and awe.

*Prof. Iain Stewart (University of Plymouth) presented his latest series How to grow a planet on BBC television  last month.