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Geoscientist Online

Unearthed: Impacts of the Tellus Surveys of the North of Ireland

swr 6uLow-flying (56m) aircraft criss-crossing the country, soil augers and waders were the order of the day. The Tellus project itself is described in the Foreword as a ‘land and air offensive’. It was 10 years of geophysics and geochemistry costing €15 million that systematically covered the land of a nation, and a bit of its neighbour.

It is ground mostly covered with the thick debris of the last glaciation so, with excellent surface geological maps the geophysics takes the reader to a lower level, literally unearthing the rocks. Measured from the air are the magnetic field, electrical conductivity and gamma radiation; and the results can only be described as spectacular, as demonstrated by the many colourful illustrations.

The geochemistry is based on systematic sampling of soils and stream sediments. The list of elements detected and quantified includes not just the likes of gold, silver and lead but dozens of others some of which would help on BBC’s ‘Pointless’. The rarer elements can just as easily effect the health of agricultural livestock as the obvious ones like arsenic.

The book advertises the fact that an enhanced national framework of environmental information is established - and the 30 sections, written by 69 authors, show how the data is already being used in spin-off research. Some is pure research, like the study of the Newry Igneous Complex and that of the Mourne Mountains. Others suggest new targets for mineral exploration, while a large number look at health issues of the environment (pollution/wetlands) and people. The combination of environmental and medical data is discussed, suggesting links with cancer, renal and other diseases; and there is a section on in-house radon measurements. The discussion of geoforensics, where soil on a suspect’s shoes might lead to an area where the swag or the body is buried, smacks of Sherlock Holmes.

It is a book that most people will not read throughout, but will dip into according to their interests. It is well laid out and early on gives detailed information about how to engage potential stakeholders and communicate with the public; critically important these days. Flick through the pages and you will see from the small maps that ‘a picture paints a thousand words’.

The cutting-edge methodologies and statistics point to areas of potential interest or problem rather than closely identifying them. As such it will long continue to stimulate research, be of practical value and generally fascinate.

Reviewed by Tony Bazley

UNEARTHED: IMPACTS OF THE TELLUS SURVEYS OF THE NORTH OF IRELAND edited by MIKE YOUNG, 2016. Published by: Royal Irish Academy 423pp ISBN:978-1-908996-87-9 List Price: €30   W: www.ria.ie