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Articles

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...

Letters

r6weuThis page has been created to facilitate rapid and timely interchange of opinion between Fellows. Each month (space permitting) a selection of Fellows’ letters will be published in Geoscientist, the colour magazine of the Society Fellowship (both in print and on Geoscientist online, part of the Geological Society’s website).

If you wish to express an opinion, write to the Editor, Sarah Day.  Letters should be as short as possible, preferably less than 300 words. To help ensure rapid publication, please send letters by email (sarah.day@geolsoc.org.uk).  Alternatively, write to:

Sarah Day, Editor, Geoscientist, c/o The Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG.

Please note:
•    Geoscientist magazine is editorially independent of the Geological Society of London.
•    Publication of a letter does not imply endorsement from either Geoscientist magazine or the Geological Society of London.
•    As space is limited, letters will be edited for publication. This particularly applies to versions printed in the magazine.
•    All views expressed are the responsibility of their authors alone.
•    We ask that when engaging in debate, all Fellows abide by the Society’s code-of-conduct (https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/codeofconduct).
•    We receive a large volume of letters and do not have the capacity to publish multiple letters repeating the same argument. We will therefore only publish letters that provide novel, timely and interesting contributions to a debate.
•    The Editors reserve the right not to publish letters, at their discretion.

Ms Sarah Day (Editor), Dr Amy Whitchurch (Editor), Prof. Andy Fleet (Editor-in-Chief), Mr David Shilston (Deputy Editor-in Chief)

This page contains Fellows’ letters from the current year.  The archive of letters from previous years are accessible by selecting a year from the dropdown menu below.

Fossil fuels and the future energy mix 19 February 2020

Received 12 FEBRUARY 2020
Published 19 FEBRUARY 2020
From Colin Summerhayes

Dear Editor, I should point out that while my studies of the geological history of climate change convince me that emissions of CO2 from whatever source cause the atmosphere to warm, sea level to rise, and the ocean to become slightly more acid, I did spend 12 years in the oil and gas business (6 with Exxon Production Research in Houston, Texas, and 6 with BP Research in Sunbury-on-Thames), finally leaving to rejoin academia in 1988. I was proud to be contributing albeit indirectly to the supply of oil and gas that kept the world’s transport system, agriculture, home heating and cooling, and plastic supply going. 

That year, 1988, is when Jim Hansen first demonstrated a climate model indicating (correctly) that the first really clear signs of global warming would appear by about the year 2000. Many such predictions had been made before that, notably by Plass in the mid 1950s, Manabe in the 1960s, Revelle (geologist), Broecker (geochemist), Budyko, Ronov (geologist) and Charney in the 1970s, Ramanathan and Hansen in the 1980s. These concerns were widely aired at the first World Climate Conference in 1979. They led to substantial subsequent investments in research into how the Earth System (atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, biosphere and lithosphere) worked in the past and works now to produce our climate, and what changes we might expect in the future. 

That research led to the formation of the IPCC in 1988 and its first report in 1990. Along the way it involved the development of major multinational research programmes into topics like how the oceans work (World Ocean Circulation Experiment- WOCE) and how the carbon cycle works (Joint Global Ocean Flux Study – JGOFS). Progress also involved the creation of the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS), under the auspices of UNESCO, the World Meteorological Organization, UNEP and the non-governmental International Council for Science. I contributed to GCOS by managing for UNESCO the development of the Global Ocean Observing System. All UN member states were engaged in these processes, as were the world’s space agencies through CEOS (the international Committee on Earth Observing Satellites). 

The combination of ongoing research and ongoing observations has underscored multiple times and in multiple ways that human activities (especially the emissions of gases like CO2, methane and the CFCs) are changing the climate. Little of this was known when I worked in the oil and gas business.  But it has become blindingly obvious from rapidly growing results since the 1980s. Long years of research have made abundantly clear the primary role of CO2 in changing our climate in pre-Pleistocene times, and its subsidiary role in enhancing the effects of orbital change during the Ice Ages of the Pleistocene. 

As yet nobody as far as I know has come up with a plausible and reproducible explanation for the warming we have seen since 1975 that involves entirely or mainly natural causes. The argument that present warming reflects the fact that the climate is always changing is intellectually bankrupt. That is a scientifically based conclusion supported by hard evidence from geology, geochemistry, palaeontology, palaeobotany, and glaciology, and by the very best that numerical modelling of Earth System processes and of the climate system has to offer. These, mark you, are the same sciences and tools that I was accustomed to use when I worked in the petroleum business, and which my former colleagues still use today (yes, oil companies do use climate models, notably to forecast likely occurrences of source rocks, and likely clogging of reservoir pores).

Where does that leave us? The forecasts are dire. We do have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels quite quickly. Geo-engineering is not the answer, not least because nobody knows who will benefit from and who will lose from things like mirrors in space, or seeding the stratosphere with sulphuric acid droplets (the immediate side effect from which would be acid rain). No. We need alternative energy sources and new forms of energy storage. Young scientists around the world (and I stress the word ‘young’) are striving to make a name for themselves by inventing this new future. 

As in the establishment of any new technology, its rapid implementation will likely require subsidies. The fossil fuel industry itself benefits globally from subsidies. Moving subsidies from one energy source to another may assist the world in making the transition faster than it would otherwise be. I am well aware that many of my former colleagues in the oil and gas business don’t want to accept that, but I think they are fighting a rearguard action. In doing so, it puzzles me that they cannot see that there is enormous potential for petroleum companies to widen their horizons and turn themselves into energy companies. 

We are all in the same boat, and ultimately share the same values. Above all, I am sure that my fellow petroleum practitioners do want, like me, to safeguard the interests of their grandchildren. The sciences of climatology and palaeoclimatology make it clear that this will not be possible if we stick resolutely to the fossil fuel option, even though we may still require some fossil fuels as part of any future energy mix. 

None of this requires that we demonize those who work for the fossil fuel industry, whose products we still utilize on a daily basis, and will do for years to come – even if in progressively smaller amounts.


The challenge for geologists 10 February 2020

Received 30 JANUARY 2020
Published 10 FEBRUARY 2020
From Mike Simmons

Dear Editor, John Heathcote’s letter in the February 2020 issue of Geoscientist ends with the provocative question “…is it ethical for geologists to be involved in exploration and production of fossil fuels?” One might equally ask is it ethical to deny global society access to energy and materials to create prosperity? A billion people on the planet lack access to electricity and the benefits this brings. Developing nations are trying to grow their economies to enjoy the societal benefits that developed nations already enjoy. Thus as global population continues to grow, so the demand for energy is predicted to grow. This demand will continue to in part be fulfilled by fossil fuels for at least the next few decades. The challenge for geologists is to ensure that these resources are found and produced efficiently and with as low a carbon footprint as possible. Geoscientists will also contribute to solutions that may help achieve carbon neutrality targets. Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is entering prime time and will only grow in importance. Secure storage will require geoscientists who can model subsurface repositories, the behaviour of fluids injected into those repositories, and undertake ongoing monitoring of the subsurface. 

Universities are seeing fewer students studying geology, especially applied geology, partly one may assume because they, like John Heathcote, are concerned about the ethics of doing so. Ironically, the energy transition we are living through requires geoscientists as much as ever. As a profession, we need to make sure that message is heard – we are integral to creating a prosperous, yet sustainable world.  

A broad swipe 10 February 2020

Received 28 JANUARY 2020
Published 10 FEBRUARY 2020
From Ivan Inchenko

Dear Editor, I refer to Martin Lack's "Unreasonable Doubt" narrative in the Readers' Letters section of the above referenced issue of Geoscientist where he uses Hugh Richard's, Geoscientist 29 (11) Soapbox article, "Face facts on fossil fuels" to deliver a broad swipe at the fossil fuel industry. I am surprised that such a discourse has been included in Geoscience but the Editor has considered it worthy, so be it. Of course Mr. Lack is entitled to have his opinion and we can all argue a case for or against the industry which over the last 100 years or so has provided humanity the greatest range of avenues for progress and development. However, there is a reasonable manner in which we must develop and deliver our case for an argument and I am sure what we must not to do, is to cast unreasonable assertions through invective towards any section of the membership in our Society or indeed more generally. Undoubtedly, there will be other fellows that will agree with me that Mr. Lack has failed in this regard, particularly in the last sentence of his narrative, notwithstanding the range of opinion that exists on the complex and unsettled issue of the nature and level of human contribution to climate change.



Code of conduct - reply 10 February 2020

Received 07 JANUARY 2020
Published 10 FEBRUARY 2020
From Andy Fleet

Geoscientist is the independent magazine of the Fellowship of the Society and tries to reflect the views of Fellows. It is not an organ of the Society but does, on some occasions, work with Council and the Society executive to inform and update Fellows about the Society’s views and activities.

Geoscientist’s ability to reflect the views of Fellows is, of course, dependent on the letters, Soapbox pieces and articles it is offered by Fellows (and others). The balance of views received may or may not reflect the overall balance of views held by the Fellowship. Editorially, we will not influence the balance but will try to ensure that views published in Geoscientist express new points rather than repeat ones made previously.

World climate, debates about the future of the planet and the responsive changes humanity should or should not make, and at what pace, have inevitably sparked different views from Fellows. The debates will continue.  Peter Easton’s letter is a timely reminder that the views contributed to these debates should be respectful to others, conscious of the Society’s Code of Conduct, and clear about what is supportable science and what is opinion. Geoscientist will seek to contribute innovative and constructive ideas and points of view to the discussions in this spirit. 

Andy Fleet (Editor in Chief, Geoscientist)

Moral pressure 10 February 2020

Received 29 JANUARY 2020
Published 10 FEBRUARY 2020
From Howard Dewhirst

Dear Editor, Considering the Society is not prepared or to canvass its members opinions on the matters behind John Heathcote’s letter ('A precautionary approach', published 17/12/19) it would appear that the Society considers the science ‘settled’, and is clearly unaware of the very large numbers of “unethical” scientists around the world who do not hold this view.  Or is the idea to put moral pressure on those of us who have worked in the fossil fuel industry, to resign from the Society?

The benefits of fossil fuels 29 January 2020

Received 25 JANUARY 2020
Published 29 JANUARY 2020
From Michael Ridd

Dear Editor, Many Fellows of this Society will share my resentment of the vilification in this magazine of the petroleum industry and those whose careers have been in exploring and producing petroleum. Putting aside whether or not burning fossil fuels is causing climate change, I would challenge any of those who criticise us  (most recently Hugh Richards, Martin Lack and John Heathcote; Geoscientist, February 2020) to state whether a day goes by when they have not enjoyed the benefits of fossil fuels. Even if they boil their kettles and heat their homes with renewable energy, and travel only in electric cars, fossil fuels will have played a part in making those possible.  My entire career has been spent exploring and producing petroleum, and I am proud that in my small way I have made the world a better place.

Code of conduct 29 January 2020

Received 17 JANUARY 2020
Published 29 JANUARY 2020
From Peter Easton

A new flurry of climate change correspondence has been inspired by Hugh Richards’ recent soapbox article - a periodic recurrence which confirms differing views among fellows on this major subject. With near universal agreement on the principal facts: CO2 is a greenhouse gas, human emissions contribute to global warming, and we need to be cautious about the consequences - the differences (here and in wider scientific community) are principally on the scale and rate of impacts, how to mitigate and how quickly. 

Given the confrontational and accusatory tone of some of the correspondence, I appeal for a more grown-up approach to discussions while respecting our Code of Conduct, including the following expectations (paraphrased for brevity):

  • to practice the highest standard of integrity
  • to act in all matters to all others in an honourable and ethical way
  • to treat colleagues fairly and honestly and to not injure or discredit the professional reputation or personal standing of any others. 

Some correspondence and articles breach the Code through name-calling, motive questioning and conspiracy theories. I feel Geoscientist fails in its editorial responsibility by publishing such breaches in place of reminding the writer of the Code. 

Commentators should also recognise their own responsibility, as scientists, to distinguish between science and personal opinion – whether their own or that of others (though most scientific conclusions involve an element of opinion – we are all human!)

If we cannot maintain respectful discussion between an educated and professional membership on the leading scientific, environmental, social and political subject of our time, we fail in our claim to be a world-leading scientific society and community.

Earthquake prediction 29 January 2020

Received 03 JANUARY 2020
Published 29 JANUARY 2020
From Stephen Foster

Dear Editor, It is a widely held belief that major earthquakes (>mag 6) and volcanic eruptions cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty: only probabilistic estimates can be made at best. This is based on a belief in the mechanisms and processes which the theory of plate tectonics advocates: that many major earthquakes and volcanoes are the consequence and products of subduction of ocean plate under continental plate. It is axiomatic to this theory that the movements which cause large magnitude earthquakes are inherently unpredictable and that at best only very short term (hours) predictions can be made from a number of surface measurements. 

In the late 1960s Claude Bott and John Grover independently discovered that major earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can be predicted up to 1 year in advance, and that very accurate predictions of major events could be made within a time frame of a couple of hours, days, or in some cases weeks, before the actual event. Both Blott and Grover's discoveries and accurate predictions were suppressed, in part at least because they did not conform with the dominant plate tectonic model.

I wish to bring to the attention of the members of the Society the following link to the International Earthquake and Volcanic Prediction Centre which has published its record of earthquake and volcanic eruption forecasts, and ask them to consider the data presented therein and draw their own conclusions about the heresy of accurate prediction of major tectonic hazards and the validity of plate tectonic theory.

http://ievpc.org/prediction-scorecard.html

Further information and a complete description of the method of prediction is contained in J. C. Gover's book Volcanic Eruptions and Great Earthquakes, CopyRight Publishing, 1998.

Let the facts take precedence over theory.