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Reviews - October 2008

Geology of the Salisbury District – 1:50,000 Map Sheet 298 and Explanation


P M Hopson, A R Farrant, A J Newall, R J Marks, K A Booth, L B Bateson,
M A Woods, I P Wilkinson, J Brayson & D J Evans
Published by: BGS
Publication date: 2007 (explanation) 2005 (map)
ISBN: 075183424-4 (map) and 978-085272543-6 (explanation)
List price: £18.00 for the pack
38 pp (booklet)

This new geological map and explanatory booklet replace the 1903 map and Memoir and are a welcome addition to the literature on the geology of the Salisbury district. The area covered includes the city of Salisbury and the ancient monument of Stonehenge, which adorns the front cover of both map and explanation, and the rolling countryside to the west.

The map is folded and follows the usual BGS format of full-colour map with clearly printed symbols and text. The map occupies only half the printed area with the remainder reserved for two clear cross-sections, two smaller maps showing the major structural elements and the pre-Permian geology, and a useful cross-section showing the relationship with Quaternary deposits.

The explanatory booklet is printed on high quality paper with soft covers and is illustrated in colour throughout. The colour photographs are effective and accurately captioned, although the two on pages 32 & 33 would benefit from being larger. The maps and figures are clear and informative and represent useful summaries. Inside the front cover is a useful geological succession detailing the thicknesses of the various groups of strata and the major tectonic events. This includes the concealed geology of the area.

Following a description of the concealed strata the exposed units are described - including the superficial deposits which are an important feature of this sheet. There then follows a short section on artificial ground that will be of particular interest to civil engineers and developers. Geological structure is described next (not unduly complicated in this area), followed by an instructive section on applied geology and finishing with a short section on geological hazards. The informative, but not comprehensive, reference section is a good start for anyone wishing to research any aspects in more detail.

These guides are not the comprehensive Memoirs of old, but they are aimed at a different audience. The target readership is more the interested amateur or those with limited experience of the use of geological maps, but they also provide the professional with an adequate introduction and a reference from which to conduct further research. In conclusion this is a well produced map and explanation that is a bargain buy; indeed, it is difficult to see how the BGS can publish it at such modest price.

Richard Porter
Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartford


In the Mountains of St Francis – Discovering the geologic events that shaped our Earth


Walter Alvarez
Published by: W W Norton & Co.
Publication date: May, 2008
ISBN: 978-0393061857
List price: £16.99
288 pp

In 1975, Generalissimo Francisco Franco lay dying on a slab somewhere in Madrid as a party of geology students took a diversion to the Basque capital, Guernica. Sadly, had their leaders known just a little more about art history, they would have known that Picasso’s iconic 1937 painting – the object of our detour – was then still in exile in America.

I had already discovered to my dismay that geologists are capable of driving past any wonder of the world just to squeeze one more roadside ditch into the itinerary, and I remember this misguided diversion because it was such a rare event in my personal geological history. After reading this rich and entertaining book, I am sure this would not have gone so wrong if Walter Alvarez had been leading us.

Alvarez was the principal discoverer of the global iridium anomaly marking the K/T boundary. The story of that discovery, and how it became linked to the extinction of the dinosaurs and to the offshore crater at Chicxulub, Mexico, was recounted in his 1997 bestseller, T rex and the Crater of Doom. The particular “roadside ditch” in which Alvarez discovered the iridium layer is not far from the town of Gubbio, Perugia, Italy. Alvarez has spent a career working in the Apennines trying to discover how that range has been, and is being, created. This aspect of his work forms the subject of his second foray into popular science.

The Apennines have long been a geological conundrum. Their structure is characterised by a series of propagating fold-thrust belts and ramp anticlines. Perplexingly, compressional tectonics at the leading edges of these belts is followed by extensional tectonics behind. This is now believed to be caused by “delamination and rollback” - whereby a slab of deep-lying continental crust undergoes mineral transformations and sinks into the mantle. This downward peeling exerts drag on the crust above, creating compression above the slab’s leading edge, and extension on the trailing.

Alvarez works towards explaining this hypothesis via a personal and scientific journey through many scientific, historical and cultural byways. Rather like an extended field notebook, Alvarez mingles the story of his involvement with Italian geologists with accounts of his travels, his discoveries, and what might be called the “Italian history of science” - in which historical figures, many largely unknown outside Italy, receive credit for thinking of things first.

Although this book will not command lay readers’ interest to the same extent as T. rex and the Crater of Doom, and despite the fact that Alvarez makes no mention of recent work that has debunked Chicxulub as T. rex’s crater of doom, those who venture into the mountains of St Francis in his company will not regret it. The book can certainly be recommended as background reading to all Earth science students frustrated by the occasional cultural lapses of those who lead their field trips.

Ted Nield

Oil, Gas and Other Energies – A Primer

Salisbury BGS

Albert Legault (translated by B Chunn & B McFarlane)
Published by: Editions TECHNIP
Publication date: December, 2007
ISBN: 978-2-7108-0905-0
List price: €24.00
286 pp

This slim volume is best viewed as an introduction to the economics and the geopolitics of the energy industries, with a particular focus on the hydrocarbon industry. Legault provides a clear and reasonably concise overview of the transport, supply and demand issues that will influence the global energy industries in the coming decades. The general tone of the book is descriptive rather than predictive, serving as a solid background text from which to explore these complex and often rather convoluted issues.

Legault’s strengths and interests lie in the fields of economics and politics, and it therefore comes as no surprise that these chapters are the strongest sections of the book. Correspondingly, the earlier chapters, containing a series of brief syntheses of energy generation processes, are somewhat basic and this material should already be familiar to geoscientists. However, the entire volume is extensively referenced and any gaps in the text are thereby compensated for. Each chapter is loaded with colour illustrations that complement the text. Unfortunately, the links between the chapters are not drawn out as fully as they might be, particularly in the earlier chapters.

The meat of the book is in chapters 6-10, with the final chapter providing an intriguing look at the dynamics of energy supply and demand in Russia and China, and a clear synthesis of the current geopolitical energy issues. Legault’s writing is factual and unemotional, and avoids the sensationalist or scaremongering tactics often employed when discussing the complex dynamics of the Middle East in relation to the hydrocarbon industry. This approach is also taken in discussing the delicate balancing act required in meeting the needs for energy production and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

As an introduction to the issues surrounding the volatile and dynamic balance between global energy supply and demand, the latter half of this volume is useful reading for all geoscientists. For those geoscientists in the early stages of their careers and directly or indirectly involved with the energy industry, this is essential reading!

Caroline Burberry
Imperial College London