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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...


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).

If you wish to express an opinion, please email [email protected].  Letters should be as short as possible, preferably less than 300 words.

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 Geological Society’s code-of-conduct (
•    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.

Please also note that in December 2020, the Geological Society of London published a revised version of its statement on the geological record of climate change. Based on a review undertaken in partnership with the Paleoclimate Society and convened by a panel of experts, the resulting research paper is published in the Journal of the Geological Society.

Lear et al. (2020) Geological Society of London Scientific Statement: what the geological record tells us about our present and future climate. Journal of the Geological Society 178(1): jgs2020-239;

For those wishing to submit a letter on this topic, please first refer to this publication and note the guidance outlined above.

Dr Amy Whitchurch (Editor), Ms Sarah Day (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.

A precautionary approach 17 December 2019

Received 11 DECEMBER 2019
Published 17 DECEMBER 2019
From John Heathcote

Dear Editor, Hugh Richards makes some interesting points in his Soapbox article in the December issue. He asks some questions that scientists might be expected to answer. I suspect that the answer to most of them is that we don't really know.  What we do know is that humanity is extracting geological reduced carbon and transforming it into atmospheric oxidised carbon at an unprecedented rate, that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is increasing, ocean pH is decreasing, and there is evidence of climate warming.  

Since there is a suggestion that the consequences will be really bad, such that we and much other life may not survive, a precautionary approach seems to be well justified. I would therefore suggest that the 'politics' is more important than detailed science, but I agree that science communication is critically important.

Communication of bad news to the public is really difficult. I think that politicians need to listen to the difficult science, and then persuade us public that using hydrocarbons is unacceptable, probably through a structured taxation process.  Government also has a role to play in reducing the carbon content of current lifestyles, and in improving the insulation standards of UK housing stock. It's not just a matter of demonstrating and school strikes, but real change in lifestyle that we all have to do together.  No more long-haul holidays!

Attempts to control hydrocarbons by leaving them in the ground would be difficult and would probably only encourage criminal cheating.  Monitoring would be difficult.  What would be easier to monitor is distribution - tankers and big pipelines are readily visible.  However, preventing distribution could be very unfair - some countries do not have much in the way of native energy sources.

A final thought:  if fossil fuel use is so bad for the planet (I think that it is), is it ethical for geologists to be involved in exploration and production of said fossil fuels?

John Heathcote (FGS)

Unreasonable doubt 10 December 2019

Received 06 DECEMBER 2019
Published 10 DECEMBER 2019
From Martin Lack
Dear Editor, I agree with everything in Hugh Richard's recent Soapbox article (Richards, H., Face facts on fossil fuels. Geoscientist 29 (11), 9, 2019 10.1144/geosci2019-059) apart from the final sentence: "... if humanity is going to fail to avert ‘Hothouse Earth’, let it be primarily a failure of politics, not enabled in part by a failure of science communication." 

As many climate science experts, such as James Hansen and Michael Mann, have pointed out, humanity's failure to take effective action to minimise the effects of burning fossil fuels - predicted over 125 years ago, well understood for over 50 years and identified 30 years ago - is primarily due to a multi-decadal, industry-funded campaign to discredit scientists, perpetuate unreasonable doubt and prevent governments from declaring that fossil fuels must be left in the ground. Therefore, I am sure that he will (have) upset the recalcitrant contrarians within the Society who are (or were) predominantly employed in the fossil fuel industry. 

Martin Lack (FGS, CGeol) 

Unfair labelling? 15 October 2019

Received 09 OCTOBER 2019
Published 15 OCTOBER 2019
From Julian Vearncombe

Dear Editor, Your editorial “Halt the decline” (Geoscientist, September 2019) addresses the vital issue of the next generation of geoscientists and a decrease in undergraduate numbers in some countries, especially the UK. It is pleasing that the Geological Society of London, in common with most if not all of the world’s Earth science societies, is not a mouthpiece for the commercial interest of its related industries. But the sentence “The association of geoscience with the oil-and-gas and extractive industries has (not unfairly) led to the subject being labelled as dirty” is outright activists’ prejudice. The Geological Society should be providing balanced debate and encouraging an overarching view of the science, economics and societal-benefits of the oil, gas and extractive industries.

For the record, reticulated electricity is the major driver enabling dramatic reductions in pollution and a middle class that can afford to care about the environment. Global life expectancy has increased by more than five years in the past decade, the fastest rise since the 1960s. The proportion who are poor or vulnerable has been cut to a minority for the first time in human history. As recently as 1940 people who could read and write were in the global minority, but now the global literacy rate is more than 86 per cent. The oil, gas and extractive industries are critical to the generation of a global middle class providing the raw materials and energy for housing, heating and cooling, bicycles, cars, buses, trains, refrigerators and much more.

With due respect, I suggest the issue of falling student numbers could be examined with the use of silica sands found and mined by geologists and manufactured into glass sheet with a veneer on the reverse of silver, similarly found and mined by geologists and other professionals.

Julian Vearncombe

Prohibitive costs? 15 October 2019

Received 07 OCTOBER 2019
Published 15 OCTOBER 2019
From David James

Dear Editor, In the Readers’ Letters section of the October 2019 issue of Geoscientist, Michael McCullough makes a very valid point regarding the Society’s persistent use of single-use plastic to deliver copies of Geoscientist.  I am a little disappointed with your reply which claims that costs of changing to compostable plastic are prohibitive.  The Museums Association and the National Trust for Scotland both changed to compostable plastic wrap over a year ago, with minimal impact on subscriptions, so it is difficult to see how the Geological Society of London can argue that costs are prohibitive.

David M. Bertie

Face facts on fossil fuels 04 October 2019

Received 18 SEPTEMBER 2019
Published 04 OCTOBER 2019
From Hugh Richards

Inadequate science communication risks enabling failure to limit climate change, writes Hugh Richards

Is the UK geoscientific community about to miss a unique opportunity to make a substantive contribution to securing a stabilised Earth system with well below 2°C of global heating? I refer to the hosting in Glasgow in November 2020 of COP26 (arguably the most crucial UN climate summit thus far) and to the short time available for the UK to bring fresh thinking into what is currently a failing process. The Paris Agreement reached at COP21 willed ends, but not sufficient means; COP26 must rectify this. The graphic below illustrates the acute nature of this crisis.

Key questions with inaccessible answers

To my mind, the geoscientific community (working with other disciplines) should be able to give influencers and policy makers clear, accessible, best-endeavours answers to the following questions:
  • How credible is it that the Earth system will (once past about 2°C warming) transition to a highly inhospitable ‘Hothouse Earth’ state within a century or two (as postulated by Steffen, W., et al. (2018) PNAS  33, 8,252-8,259;
  • In that context, how risky would it be to allow global warming to exceed 1.5°C?
  • How much fossil carbon can still legitimately be extracted globally, without putting the Paris Agreement’s goal of ‘well below 2°C’ beyond reach?
  • What would be an equitable apportionment between countries of such a global fossil carbon extraction budget?
  • What is the feasible global capacity for carbon capture and storage (CCS), whether used to extend the global fossil carbon budget, to offset emissions from non-fossil sources or to draw down atmospheric CO2 levels?
  • Which countries should be shutting down their fossil fuel extraction industries or effectively offsetting them with CCS?
  • How easy would it be to monitor a ‘leave it in the ground’ (LINGO) treaty to control the extraction of fossil carbon (with or without offsetting by CCS)?

As we approach the end of the Society’s ‘Year of Carbon’, it seems that useable answers to these questions remain largely inaccessible to those who should need them. I suspect that such answers would be uncomfortable to many geoscientists, as well as to influencers and policy makers. I hope this is not why most of the above questions have not yet been seriously addressed.

In the absence of such information in readily accessible forms, the field remains clear for narratives that lack meaningful quantitative constraints. Once such is John Warburton’s Soapbox article (Geoscientist 29 (8), 9;, which somehow combines acceptance of the need for a ‘transition from our fossil-fuel addicted lifestyle’ with citing examples of only marginal reductions in CO2 emissions, and envisaging no prospect of an end to ‘the World’s insatiable thirst for a petroleum-based economy.’ At least this does implicitly recognise that demand reduction will not deliver global decarbonisation; hence the need for control of supply and extraction.


At the other extreme are the supporters of Extinction Rebellion (XR), demanding UK net zero emissions by 2025. Although it pains me to say so, if humanity wants to limit global heating to 1.5°C with a reasonably high degree of confidence, with the UK playing an equitable role, the XR demand may not be so wide of the mark, and the UK should perhaps already have its fossil carbon extraction industries substantially offset by CCS. To commit to the latter course of action really would represent leadership on the international stage, and demonstrate what a ‘LINGO treaty’ might involve.

Do I think that such an outcome is likely? No, but if humanity is going to fail to avert ‘Hothouse Earth’, let it be primarily a failure of politics, not enabled in part by a failure of science communication.

Hugh Richards works in the UK civil nuclear decommissioning sector, but is here writing in a personal capacity.

An acute crisis

Richards Global Emissions GraphicThe graphic juxtaposes two curves that are rarely, if ever, seen together, let alone on the same time scale. They are not presenting quite the same parameter, but to an order of magnitude and to make the severity of the fossil carbon crisis clear, they might as well be.

In the interests of clarity and convenience, the graphic is hand-drawn, but is traced from impeccable sources. Past fossil CO2 emissions are from The Global Carbon Project’s report ‘Global Carbon Budget 2018’. The illustrative future net CO2 emissions pathway is ‘P3’ in Figure SPM3a&b of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report ‘Global Warming of 1.5°C—Summary for Policymakers’.

Note the slight kink in the past fossil CO2 emissions curve around 2008. That is what a global economic ‘crash’ looks like, in terms of fossil carbon extraction.

Further reading

IPCC Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C—Summary for Policymakers;

Newell, P. & Simms, A. (2019) Towards a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. Climate Policy;

Richards, H. (2019) A ‘LINGO Treaty’ to control legitimately burnable fossil fuels at source?

Steffen, W., et al. (2018) Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene. PNAS  33, 8,252-8,259;

The Global Carbon Project: Global Carbon Budget 2018;

Warburton, J., Petroleum geoscientists…wanted! Geoscientist 29 (8), 9, 2019;

Great minds think alike 19 September 2019

Received 18 SEPTEMBER 2019
Published 19 SEPTEMBER 2019
From Nina Morgan
Dear Editor, I was very interested to read Murray Gray's Soapbox article (Gray, M., Great global geotourism sites. Geoscientist 29 (7), 9, 2019; about global geotourism sites in the August issue.

Readers might like to know that Tony Waltham—known for his stunning geological photographs that appear on the back cover of Geology Today—is thinking along the same lines. Waltham's new book, World of Geology: Travels to Rocky Places, features 110 pictures of amazing geotourism sites. It's been reviewed on Geoscientist Online (here).  Clearly great minds are thinking alike.

Nina Morgan

Managing the UK’s seamounts 16 August 2019

Received 09 AUGUST 2019
Published 16 AUGUST 2019
From Neil C Mitchell
Dear Editor, I enjoyed reading the article by Tony Watts on the geological processes creating seamounts and their evolutions, the history of work on them and their broader importance (Science, seamounts and Society. Geoscientist 29 (7), 10-16, 2019).

The UK is responsible for managing the resources of giant areas of the oceans containing seamounts as a result of our claim under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) surround our overseas territories, such as Ascension, Tristan de Cunha, St Helena, Bermuda, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory, Falkland Islands, Pitcairn, British Indian Ocean Territory, as well as islands in and around the Caribbean. The EEZ of the UK mainland itself extends from Scotland, over seamounts created by the Tertiary volcanism episode, such as Anton Dohrn. According to, the UK EEZ totals 6.8 Mkm2—the fifth largest globally.

Geology has potentially important roles to play in the UK's management of these areas. Seabed mining has been discussed as a potential solution to recovering strategically important rare metals. Metal-rich deposits lie on seamounts as a result of precipitation from seawater and from hydrothermal activity. Massive sulphides at spreading ridges may be targets, hence the Mid-Atlantic Ridge around Ascension Island could become of interest.

As professional scientists and citizens, we have a unique role to play in considering both the resource and the impacts that mining will have on the ocean environment. Also potentially damaging to the seabed is intense bottom trawling for fish. Geologists can help here too, in our work with high-resolution sonars and photography. New computing methods offer ways to analyse and classify such data more efficiently, which will help widespread biohabitat mapping.

Recognizing the importance of these areas, InterRidge (an international organization devoted to collaboration on mid-ocean ridge research) and SCOR (the Scientific Committee on Ocean Research) have granted support for a workshop on seamounts and islands located near to mid-ocean ridges, taking place from 19th until 21st September this year in Lisbon.

The workshop aims to assess all aspects of mid-ocean ridge islands and seamounts, from deep mantle origins of marine volcanism, to their structures, geohazards, biology, physical oceanography and societal importance. Our line-up of speakers includes researchers that work in these areas and representatives of international programmes focusing on seamounts.

We welcome any contributions to the discussions or to the poster session. Details are available from the InterRidge website:

Neil C Mitchell

The Schmidt hammer 16 August 2019

Received 09 JULY 2019
Published 16 AUGUST 2019
From Graham West
Dear Editor, I was very pleased to read of the use of the Schmidt hammer to measure the strength of rocks in Calabria by Carla Pont in July’s Geoscientist (Pont, C., Bumps in the Med: Landscape Evolution in Calabria, Italy. Geoscientist 29 (6), 16-19, 2019).

The Schmidt hammer was developed by a Swiss engineer, Ernst Schmidt, to measure the strength of concrete, and its use to measure in-situ rock strength in engineering geology was promoted by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory in this country from the 1970s onward (West, 1991). Much more recently, I recall a television programme that showed a BGS geologist using a Schmidt hammer to demonstrate that the Chalk in The Needles is stronger than the main body of Chalk in the Isle of Wight, thus explaining their presence as sea stacks.

The Schmidt hammer continues to offer the field geologist a portable means of quantifying the strength of rocks.

Graham West (FGS)

West, Graham (1991) The Field Description of Engineering Soils and Rocks. Open University Press, Milton Keynes.

Inspired by Morven Simpson 12 July 2019

Received 24 JUNE 2019
Published 12 JULY 2019
From Susan H Treagus
Dear Editor, The obituary of Ian Morven Simpson in Geoscientist (June 2019) brings back happy memories of my undergraduate years at Manchester. It is because of this kind and caring man that I ended up at Manchester as a Geography-Geology student in 1965. So permit me to add this anecdote to his Obituary.

I applied to universities that offered joint geography-geology degrees. I was invited to Manchester for interview, and found my way to a small waiting room with just one other person in it: a homely sort of man wearing an old jumper, whom I assumed was a caretaker or porter. We conversed politely, although his Scottish accent was unfamiliar to the girl from Stoke. I felt a little sorry for him, wondering why he was in the waiting room, so we chatted and I told him I had come by train for an interview. What a nice man, I thought. Eventually, as conversation progressed, it dawned on me that this was the interview. This man was no other than Dr Morven Simpson. I suspect, from his twinkling eyes, that this was an interview style he had used before.
After two fraught interviews elsewhere, I chose Manchester, and fortunately Manchester chose me. I enjoyed the geology part of my first year so much that, with a helping hand from Dr Simpson, I converted to a geology degree. Not only was Morven Simpson a gifted teacher, but he was adored by students, myself included.

Susan H Treagus (nee Beech) (FGS)

The importance of keeping up-to-date 05 June 2019

Received 28 MAY 2019
Published 05 JUNE 2019
From Colin Summerhayes
Dear Editor, Regarding the recent spate of letters on climate change, it is clear that while some of our Fellows, notably those who contributed to the two statements on climate change (2010 and 2013), concur that there is geological evidence for greenhouse gases playing a significant (though not by any means the only) role in modulating the effects of the Sun on our climate, others disagree with this proposition.

As a contributor to the statements, I would hope that all Fellows would take the time to read the statements very carefully, and to refer to the evidence in the references cited in support. We took great pains NOT to rely on the reports of the IPCC, but to take a fresh look at the geological evidence cited. So, when dissenters say that the GSL’s statements on climate change are not supported by a large number of Fellows, I wonder what exactly that means. Did they simply not like the statements because they disagreed with them? Did they disagree with the supporting evidence (which did not come from the IPCC)? If so, what evidence do such dissenters call upon in support of their own position?

Let me take just one example of an error that is popular with dissenters. The letter by Chris Matchette-Downes claims that “It is clear from the several ice core records that are now available that CO2 follows temperature change not the other way around.” I suspect he is referring among others to the original work by Petit et al. (Nature 399, 1999). But more recent reworking of the ice cores by Parrenin et al. (Science 339, 2013), showed that the model Petit et al. used to derive the age of the gases in the Vostok core was wrong, and in fact in the last deglaciation there was no delay between the change in temperature and that of CO2. We referred to Parrenin’s research in the 2013 statement on climate change. The fact that there was no delay is not surprising, because the glacial to interglacial changes were driven primarily by Milankovitch forcing, which drove temperatures up and down. When the temperature of the Southern Ocean rose, CO2 would have been emitted immediately following well known physical principles, and not after some 1,000 or more years as Petit et al. originally thought. Once emitted, the CO2 would have provided a positive feedback to the rising temperature.

All I am asking is that critics of the statements take the trouble to read them very carefully, along with the cited references, to be sure that they are not falling into the trap of relying on out-of-date information (as in this case, with the advance of Parrenin et al. 2013 beyond Petit et al. 1999).

Science is always advancing and we must ALL keep up, or our criticisms will be meaningless.

Colin Summerhayes (GFS)

Parrenin, F., et al. (2013) Synchronous Change of Atmospheric CO2 and Antarctic Temperature During the Last Deglacial Warming. Science 339, 1060-1063.

Petit, J.R. et al. (1999) Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica. Nature 399, 429-436.

Advancing deep geothermal 24 May 2019

Received 23 MAY 2019
Published 24 MAY 2019
From Jon Busby
Dear Editor, John Beswick, Director of the Marriott Drilling Group, in his Soapbox article (De-risking UK geology. Geoscientist 29 (2), March 2019) questioned how we can de-risk UK geology for deep geothermal. He suggested that many geologists are faint hearted in their desire to sample the deep geology of the UK. Nothing could be further from the truth. The thirst for new data to ground truth indirect methods and models has never been greater; the problem is high drilling costs and unavailability of funding for such multi-million-pound boreholes. The main research funding body for Earth sciences research is the Natural Environment Research Council and they have competing demands, a research agenda based on science excellence and limited funding. As such, distribution of funding via a peer-review process is always going to leave a strategic proposal to confirm the stratigraphy at the starting gate. The UK Government has, over the last decades, also shied away from funding deep boreholes; the last being the geothermal boreholes at Marchwood, Southampton, Cleethorpes and Larne, drilled in the 1980s.

However, there may be a glimmer of hope for de-risking deep drilling for geothermal. If the UK Government were to introduce a geothermal insurance scheme, as currently exists in many European countries, then many deep geothermal projects could get under way. The scheme would ensure that drilling risks (i.e. geological risks of less production than forecasted), which currently sit solely with the scheme owner/client, is underwritten by the government. If anyone has any doubts about the effectiveness of such risk-sharing schemes, then just look to the Netherlands—they have seen a transformation in deep geothermal since the introduction of their government guarantee scheme in the mid 2000’s.

Jon Busby (FGS) & Corinna Abesser (FGS)

An end to plastic wrap? - Reply 24 May 2019

Received 24 MAY 2019
Published 24 MAY 2019
From Amy Whitchurch
Dear Michael, Thank you for your letter. We share your frustration and concerns (as do many of our Fellows), and we whole-heartedly agree that the Geological Society of London should help lead the way in terms of environmental awareness.

We have been investigating alternatives to single-use plastic, including the possibility of using compostable plastic wrap for Geoscientist delivery for more than a year now. Sadly, the cost of this relatively new product (associated with the need for new materials and technologies in the automated wrapping process) has, to date, simply been prohibitive. However, we will refresh our publishing contract in the new year and aim to banish the offending plastic wrap.

Amy Whitchurch (Editor, Geoscientist)

An end to plastic wrap? 24 May 2019

Received 20 MAY 2019
Published 24 MAY 2019
From Michael McCullough
Dear Editor, I am becoming increasingly irritated by the constant use of ‘single-use plastic bags’ in the delivery of my Geoscientist and Petroleum Geoscience magazines. As an institute, I feel you should be leading the way and pioneering compostable packaging, instead of pandering to market forces and using plastic bags that go to landfill and may eventually find their way to pollute our oceans.

Single-use plastics are a bane on the environment and should be phased out immediately, and I expect the Geological Society to be leaders in showing the world how to be environmentally aware.

Michael McCullough

Fundamental cyclicity 10 May 2019

Received 05 APRIL 2019
Published 10 MAY 2019
From Ronald K. Harrison
Dear Editor, May I follow up my letter to the Editor (Geoscientist 12/10/2015) on Absolute Time, in which I refer to Roger Penrose ‘Cycles of Time’ (2010). He mathematically models cycles of aeons—births and subsequent development of stars and planets, each aeon commencing with a ‘big bang’ and gradual eventual decline to dark energy and empty space. This underlines the absolute nature of Time as an independent factor.

Here I support this cyclic cosmological model with reference to cyclic processes throughout geological history over 13.5 X 10^9 yr, from actualismic processes (e.g. lunar gravity effects on sedimentation, structures and sedimentology) to orogenic cycles, continental plate formation, separations and reassembly, to cycles of dramatic change (e.g. ‘Snowball earth’). Many of these processes with references are compiled and discussed by Ted Nield in his book ‘Supercontinent’ (2007).

With a fundamental cyclical basis to these and other cosmic processes of Nature, Time as an integral part of Infinity has been modelled as an ‘eternal circle’, and in other mathematical forms including the ellipsoid.

Ronald K. Harrison

Position clarified 30 April 2019

Received 30 APRIL 2019
Published 30 APRIL 2019
From Richard Hughes
Dear Editor, Correspondence received in response to Martin Lack’s ‘Soapbox’ article in the April edition of Geoscientist raises a number of issues to which I would like to respond. 

Readers are reminded that, although the Society funds the publication and distribution of the magazine, Geoscientist is editorially independent of the Society.  A statement on page three of every edition explains that ‘All views expressed, except where explicitly stated otherwise, represent those of the author, and not The Geological Society of London’. Martin Lack’s Soapbox article expressed his personal opinion and was categorically not an expression of Society policy as has been implied by several correspondents.

Other correspondence suggests the Geological Society is assuming the role of a ‘political lobby group’. For information the official advice of the Charity Commission is that ‘any charity can become involved in campaigning and political activity which further or support its charitable purposes, unless its governing document prohibits it’. However, the Geological Society’s position is that it does not campaign or engage in lobbying. The Society does issue statements and consultation responses that communicate relevant geoscience as it relates to policy and broader issues pertaining to geoscience education and the profession ( The process through which the Society produces such statements is explained in the same area of the website.

Richard Hughes, Executive Secretary

Contrarian views 30 April 2019

Received 30 APRIL 2019
Published 30 APRIL 2019
From Martin Lack
Dear Editor, Is nine critical responses in as many days a record for a Soapbox item?  In any event, I do not think it is reasonable for such contrarian opinions to go unchallenged.

Sadly, taken together, these critical responses from Fellows of the Society appear to contain a wide variety of fallacious arguments that have all been repeatedly debunked (including on websites such as Skeptical Science).

However, I would like to express my disappointment if, as would appear to be the case, the Society has chosen to ignore such contrarian views (i.e. rather than take the time to explain why they are unreasonable).  This is because, by failing to rebut their fallacious arguments, the Society is in danger of appearing to validate the conspiracy theories that are the basis of such contrarian views.  Furthermore, it is also failing to point out that those who hold such contrarian views are almost certainly the unwitting victims of one of the many industry-based misinformation campaigns, by so-called 'Merchants of Doubt', that have come to light over the last 50 years.

Nevertheless, since all opinions are not equally valid, I am not suggesting that the Society's statement on climate change should be the result of an opinion poll or popularity contest.  On the contrary, this position statement should—and does—reflect the entirely reasonable conclusions reached after decades of scientific investigation into millennia of Earth history; and the ongoing validation of the consequences of burning of fossil fuels that were predicted over one hundred years ago by Svante Arrhenius.

Martin Lack, FGS, CGeol MSc (Hydrogeology) MA (Environmental Politics)

Dismiss siren calls 18 April 2019

Received 15 APRIL 2019
Published 18 APRIL 2019
From Clive Randle
Dear Editor, The term soapbox reminds me of student days: regularly visiting Hyde Park’s Speakers Corner to listen to Donald Soper, Roy Sawh and others expounding their beliefs. Similarly, in the April issue of Soapbox Mr Lack expresses his beliefs, not science.  A bandwagon is what he suggests the Society should join—doing or supporting something fashionable or literally joining T.P. Barnum’s wagon for his circus band.  The Society, as a body dedicated to scientific enquiry, should dismiss such siren calls to support a politically motivated organisation.

If Mr Lack wishes to learn more about bandwagons and their outcomes, he can do no better than read Charles Mackay’s 1841 book “Extraordinary Delusions and The Madness of Crowds”.

Mr Lack’s article is replete with inaccurate or unsubstantiated assertions.  For example  “….persistent fallacies repeated by…..deniers is that “CO2 is  plant food””.  This is not a fallacy, it is a fact. Is Mr Lack suggesting CO2 is not plant food? His life breath depends on it too.

Mr Lack speaks of the fossil fuel industry adopting the tactics of the tobacco industry.  The accusation is an odd comparison to choose. The production of fossil hydrocarbons has brought many tangible benefits to the life of Mr lack and many others.  How else would our societies have advanced without such incremental energy and its by-products? 

In one breath, he is indirectly commending a member of that industry for work on algal biofuels (10,000 bopd) then later levelling unsubstantiated allegations about the industry as a whole.  In the same paragraph, he speaks reverently about the IPPC and its predictions.  He conveniently forgets to mention that among the panel of experts were those who colluded to not only silence, but malign fellow scientists who held contrarian views, in a completely unprofessional manner.  Perhaps Mr Lack can explain why the models on which IPCC bases its predictions are no longer showing history matches with the temperature records of recent years?  In petroleum reservoir engineering, if the model no longer matches newer data, the model is wrong, not the data.

I am not a denier that Climate Change has existed throughout the Earth’s history and is apparently taking place but I do question the sole focus on Anthropogenic Global Warming as being the cause.

A concerned portion of the membership and past members wrote to the President on 1st June 2018 requesting a review of the Society’s Position Statements on Climate Change. So far, there has been no response. Yet the Society, through one of its publications, gives voice to some unscientific ramblings.

Clive Randle (FGS)

The charitable status 18 April 2019

Received 13 APRIL 2019
Published 18 APRIL 2019
From Gary Couples
Dear Editor, In his recent Soapbox article, Martin Lack advocates that the GSL should lobby government to urge certain political decisions be made in regard to climate matters. I think that lobbying is something that the GSL Charter strictly prohibits? I also wonder if lobbying causes the GSL to fall into a position so as to lose its charitable tax status? Did anyone in the GSL consider these issues before approving the publication of that piece? If it was approved by someone with ‘an agenda’, then the GSL should seriously consider whether that person is serving the Society well, or harming it.

Although I am no longer a Fellow of the GSL, I do regret that the Society has allowed itself to be manipulated by people who have political motivations that over-rule their scientific sense and practice. I have continued to respect the GSL as a premier geological organisation, after resigning my CGeol status. Matters such as this article, and the Society’s failure to respond to the open letter sent to it in June 2018 (regarding its Climate Change Statement), are causing a serious degradation of the Society’s reputation. They may also lead to the collapse of the Society if it commits a crime by aiding and supporting an attempt to lobby Government.

I urge the GSL to give serious consideration to what its role is supposed to be, and to examine whether the Society’s actions in regard to climate issues are appropriate for an organisation that possesses such a long record of independence and fairness. The group that asked for the GSL to review its position continues to attract support, and we hear opinions expressed (by such supporters) about GSL that are rather more negative than those I have mentioned here. I reiterate that the GSL needs to regain its scientific morality very soon before it is too late.

Gary Couples (non-FGS)

Challenging orthodoxy 18 April 2019

Received 10 APRIL 2019
Published 18 APRIL 2019
From Howard Dewhirst
Dear Editor, I support the proposal by Dr D’Olier that the society should explore members’ views on climate change, but not through a petition with a particular agenda. Several dozen concerned scientists (the majority Fellows or ex-Fellows of this Society) wrote an open letter to the President on 1st June 2018 requesting a review of the Society’s Position Statements on Climate Change. We still await a reply to that joint letter. Clearly, there is not a consensus amongst Fellows on anthropogenic global warming (AGW), so a survey of members’ views would seem more appropriate than a petition.

Mr Lack’s spur that the society should ‘Join the decarbonisation bandwagon’ (Geoscientist 29 (3), 9, April 2019) is his opinion, to which he is entitled. This may be the opinion of the current GSL board, but discussion of differences of opinion are central to the scientific method, which we understand the Society embraces. Name-calling (‘deniers’), false analogy between the oil and tobacco industries, and the assertion of personal opinion as ‘expert truth’ without evidence are a departure from the scientific method.

For example, Lack refers to the latest IPCC warning that we have 12 years left, but fails to note that the UN issued a similar warning in 1989, as did Al Gore in 2007. What is different now? Lack notes that CO2 concentrations were much higher in the past, but fails to note that they have been declining steadily since at least the Cretaceous. He differentiates carbon emissions from climate change, when it is the IPCC’s central hypothesis that human CO2 alone produces global warming/climate change.

Here are a few of the many observations about the climate that cry out for investigation and open scientific discussion:
•    The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and other multi-decadal effects, all of which have a significant effect on average global temperatures, have been accepted by the IPCC as not being caused by CO2.
•    Although CO2 continues to climb, global average temperatures have not increased since the beginning of this century, other than by ENSO-driven warming.
•    Half of the warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution began had already happened by 1943, long before the advent of significant CO2 emissions, which only began around 1950.
•    Central to the IPCC hypothesis of AGW, is that the temperature of the upper tropical troposphere must increase, but it has not.
•    All but one of the models that project the effects of the IPCC hypothesis of AGW, consistently fail to predict what actually occurs—such as El Niños and the pause in global warming since approximately 2000.
•    Global temperature variations over the last 2000 years can be replicated more closely than has been achieved by the IPCC models, using a combination of geologically established cycles (e.g. the Schwabe cycle), and an ENSO correction.

None of these issues implies that climate change is not real, for it is a permanent condition of the planet, or that human CO2 emissions may have a role, but they surely suggest that all is not well with the IPCC hypothesis. We believe the Society needs to evaluate the risk implicit in each of these issues and that the Society should be very cautious of appearing to be following the advice in Lack’s soapbox article.

It seems the Society’s first job should be to define and summarise the evidence for natural fluctuations as portrayed in the geological record, and not mimic the IPCC’s restricted mandate to only consider evidence for the human contribution to Global Warming/Climate Change. The Society has a history of challenging orthodoxy, it would be a tragedy if that tradition were abandoned.

Howard Dewhirst (FGS)

Debate before we jump 18 April 2019

Received 16 APRIL 2019
Published 18 APRIL 2019
From Peter Owen
Dear Editor, The recent Soapbox piece by Martin Lack (Join the decarbonisation bandwagon, Geoscientist 29 (3), 9, April 2019) is a disturbing use of the good offices of the Geological Society to promote the objectives of an external organisation, particularly one based on the hypothesis that climate change is caused by human activities.

As geologists, we are all familiar with the concept of the Earth’s changing climate, which has gone on since the planet was born. The proposition, by supporters of the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) hypothesis, that increasing quantities of CO2 in the atmosphere have any significant influence on temperatures is very dubious. It can be shown that at present levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, approximately 90% of the infra-red radiation (IRR) wavelengths affected by the gas have been attenuated. Even in the unlikely event that the increase in CO2 since 1910 (from 210ppm to 414ppm now) has caused all of the warming (1.2 degrees) in that interval, absorption of the remaining 10% IRR will cause a temperature rise of 0.25 degrees. Beyond that point, further increases in CO2 have no effect on IRR, or temperature.

The alarmist pronouncements by the IPCC that there are less than 12 years to go before climate change leads to the extinction of the majority of species of life on Earth are simply nonsense. It would be irresponsible for us geologists to support this idea—temperatures in the previous interglacial periods were between 0.5 and 1.5 degrees higher than at present. Similar fear-mongering prophesies have been made since the 1980’s, by the IPCC and others (Al Gore, for one); as with other predictions by the IPCC, they have not occurred.

The IPCC models forecast/hindcast neither the decline in global temperatures over the last two years, the unchanged temperatures between 2001 and 2013, nor the temperature decrease from 1950 until 1975. In all, their model has failed to match rates of temperature change for 57% of the time since consistent measurements of CO2 levels have shown a continuous rise; this outcome is deplorable—clearly other factors must contribute to climate change. A model, ignoring CO2, but based on summing cyclical changes in temperature from 1860, and incorporating a factor for El Niño, produces a correspondence with recorded global temperatures which is well within the uncertainty range of the measurements. Some 70% of the wavelengths in this model have been detected in geological studies published by the Geological Society.

The Antarctic Ice cores show that the extreme minima of temperatures always lie between 9.5 and 10.5 degrees centigrade below present values, the maxima between 2 and 3 degrees above. It is implausible that the change from declining to increasing CO2 levels would occur consistently at those low temperatures, unless the temperature change itself was induced externally. Indeed, abrupt changes in temperature gradient always precede similar changes in CO2 level; supporters of the AGW narrative claim some published work disproves this, but oddly, the results, on examination, show that either temperature change occurs first (50% of the examples), or are ambiguous (remaining 50%).

In conclusion, it is difficult to see how any thoughtful geologist can support the AGW hypothesis; I suggest that it is time that the Geological Society initiates a debate to review their “position” on AGW rather than jumping on a decarbonisation bandwagon, as proposed by Martin Lack.

Peter Owen (FGS)

Scientific appraisal, not scaremongering 18 April 2019

Received 12 APRIL 2019
Published 18 APRIL 2019
From Joe Brannan
Dear Editor, Has the Geological Society finally given up science in favour of propaganda? It would certainly seem so from April’s Soapbox (Join the decarbonisation bandwagon, Geoscientist 29 (3), 9, April 2019) where Martin Lack is permitted to make the case for decarbonisation by a mixture of unsubstantiated hearsay, hyperbole and innuendo.

To take a couple of examples:

Martin claims that ‘glacier melting has increased six-fold in the last 40 years’ (Rignot et al., PNAS 2018). If he had investigated this claim further, he would have quickly discovered that there are differing views on the mass change of the Antarctic ice cap. An equally authoritative study by Zwally et al. (J. Glaciol. 2015) demonstrates that Antarctic ice mass has been increasing since 2002. Why the contradiction?

Well, because the change of mass is trivial compared with the total mass of the ice sheet, and we are arguing about decimal places. Even if Rignol et al. are correct that Antarctica is losing mass at 250 Gt per annum, that represents less than one one-hundred-thousandth of the total ice mass. To all intents and purposes Zwally and Rignol are in agreement—Antarctic ice mass is more or less stable. So why the hysteria?

Martin also regurgitates the claim that the fossil fuel industries conspired to thwart action on global warming by a campaign of disinformation. He should better justify or withdraw this claim, which resonates with media coverage by outlets such as the BBC, the Guardian or the Daily Mail—channels that have fed us a non-stop diet of alarmism for most of this century.

Before rushing to cripple our economy by a too-rapid phasing out of fossil fuels, we need to clearly understand the scale of the threat posed by Anthropogenic Global Warming. That calls for a hard-headed scientific appraisal of the evidence, not the emotional scaremongering favoured by the mainstream media, and now apparently the Geological Society of London.

Joe Brannan (FGS)

Rignot, E. et al. (2019) Four decades of Antarctic Ice Sheet mass balance from 1979–2017. PNAS 116 (4) 1095-1103;
Zwally, H. J. et al. (2015) Mass gains of the Antarctic ice sheet exceed losses. Journal of Glaciology, 61 (230): 1019-1036;

Learned society or populist movement? 18 April 2019

Received 13 APRIL 2019
Published 18 APRIL 2019
From Chris Matchette-Downes
Dear Editor, I, and perhaps and a significant portion of the Geological Society of London, do not wish to join Martin Lack’s faux science bandwagon (Join the decarbonisation bandwagon, Geoscientist 29 (3), 9, April 2019), nor wish him to use the GSL to promote baseless, alarmist Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) thinking that it is less than 12 years to the 6th mass extinction event. This is all based on a failure, deliberately or otherwise, to understand the physical properties of CO2 and ignore the-past-is-the-key-to-the-present thinking. It is little wonder that children are so traumatised today.

A concerned portion of the membership and past members wrote to the President on 1st June 2018 requesting a review of the Society’s Position Statements on Climate Change, because there is not a consensus for the position taken by Dr D’Olier foisted on the membership. There has been no response.

The debate is far from over. It is a debate that is needed and one the Geological Society should not shy away from, else it runs the real risk of not adhering to expected scientific rigour.

It is clear from the several ice-core records that are now available that CO2 follows temperature change not the other way around.

There are several inconvenient truths and several unanswered questions that the Society should be grappling with:

During the last interglacial when temperatures were far higher than the current interglacial, with hippopotamuses grazing off NW Scotland, CO2 abundance was less than it is today. So too was the situation during the Roman Warm Period and the Medieval Warm Period, the latter being a time when Greenland was green.

CO2 levels have dropped steadily since the Cretaceous period to the dangerously low levels we see today. Some C4 grasses became extinct at the end of Tertiary period because CO2 concentration was so low.

During the last global ice age, CO2 levels were over 5,000 ppm. CO2 does not cause global warming.

The highest CO2 level is thought to have been 8,000 ppm during the Cambrian period.

There is not enough available carbon to reach these levels and there are many sinks to take any excess away, notably plants, weathering and carbonate formation.  

The coincidence of rising global temperatures from the end of the Mini Ice Age, circa 1850 ,with rising CO2 due to human’s activities is just that, a coincidence. The UN ICCP have mixed up cause with coincidence.  

Half of the warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution began had already happened by 1943, long before the advent of significant CO2 emissions, which only began around 1950; most of the rest was between 1976 and approximately 2000, despite the accelerating CO2 emissions.

There is no denying the climate changes and the world has generally warmed up, albeit in fits-and- starts, from the end of the last ice age, some 11,000 years ago, and there has been warming following the Mini Ice Age and that CO2 has risen sharply since the 1950’s.  However if one digs into the data, it’s clear that CO2 is not the culprit.

For Martin Lack to compare the oil-and-gas industry to the cigarette industry was also bizarre. The former have and continues to provide feedstock for pharmaceuticals, heat, energy (including electricity) and fertilizer, and the latter provide a real way to extinction. 

For the record, levels of CO2 during the Carboniferous—a warm period—were stubbornly low at 150 ppm.

Should the Society continue to ignore the request to debate this important issue and allow itself to be steered by extraordinary popular delusions, then one can’t help thinking that the GSL has crossed the boundary from being a learned society to become yet another populist movement, a political party perhaps? 

Chris Matchette-Downes (FGS)

Political lobby group? 18 April 2019

Received 14 APRIL 2019
Published 18 APRIL 2019
From Philip Mulholland
Dear Editor, When I joined the Geological Society of London I had no idea that I was joining a political lobby group. There are plenty of such political organisations already that are far more concerned with being effective than being right.

I want to be a member of a society that is more concerned with the truth than with political expediency.

Martin Lack should direct his green energy bandwagon elsewhere.

Philip Mulholland (FGS)

No room for political posturing 18 April 2019

Received 13 APRIL 2019
Published 18 APRIL 2019
From David Bodecott
Dear Editor, Special interest pleading from Martin Lack (Join the decarbonisation bandwagon, Geoscientist 29 (3), 9, April 2019) does not stand scrutiny. The language is political, emotive and not worthy of a scientific society that does not have a consensus on the issue of decarbonisation. The science is not settled, that's why there is a debate.

In the history of the Society, contrarians have usually been proved right. Crass statements of doom within 12 years, or ignorance of the rapid natural changes in climate, flora and fauna since the last ice age do not serve the debate well. Verbal attacks on sceptics, wrongful accusations against energy companies, lack of humility and introspection, confirmation bias and wish-fulfilment by Lack do not make a sound argument.

The Society's position papers on climate change are not supported by a large number of Fellows. As we know, targets (as Lack proposed) become failed strategies. The very worst this society can do is ignore the scepticism and failed predictions of the political climate lobby. The Society should distance itself from the energy policy of the lunatic asylum that this government purveys. Virtue signalling by the elite, which simply creates energy poverty and has zero impact globally, is a futile exercise in groupthink. Keep political posturing out of the Society, yet keep healthy scepticism alive. Then in 30 years, perhaps the society will have retained credibility and constancy.

If Lack believes like some brainwashed French teenagers in "Brulée déjà", perhaps he should check out the coldest winter in Canada, New York and California for 60 years and explain that? Or explain the physics of why natural carbon sequestration does not work. To state "humanity has less than 12 years to radically change the way we generate power" is a gross misrepresentation of reality. There is no such thing as a perpetual motion energy machine.

David Bodecott (FGS)

Has the GSL has succumbed? 18 April 2019

Received 15 APRIL 2019
Published 18 APRIL 2019
From John Dewey
Dear Editor, I am astonished that the Society would print a Soapbox Letter such as that of Martin Lack. The letter is promoting lobbying, not an appropriate role for the GSL.

Lack assumes that the science of climate change is complete and solved; it is not. It is a political movement based upon appalling science and demonstrably inaccurate modelling. It is also a question upon which a large number of Fellows of the Society disagree with the popular standard "accepted” view promulgated by scientists the media, political organisations, and children on the street.

The "accepted” idea of Anthropogenic Global Warming/ Climate Change (AGW/ACC) is probably wrong, certainly not “proven”, and is doing a great deal of damage to the global economy, especially to third world and developing nations.

I protest at Lack’s letter appearing under the GSL banner. It is especially appalling that no geologists with real expertise in the science of palaeoclimates are members of the relevant panels; if any lobbying is to be done, the GSL should be arguing for this.

It is also time that the GSL organised a “disinterested” international conference during which the whole questions of AGW and ACC can be debated thoroughly without bias or rancour, and certainly not as a show-down between the "alarmists" and "deniers'.

I believe that the GSL has succumbed and gone along with the prevailing view of the sort of pseudo-science promulgated by Al Gore and his absurd hockey stick. One might classify it as “science by ignorant committee” rather like that of the medieval catholic church, where things were decided as “settled, and not to be challenged”. It is shocking that “science” is being done in this way in the modern world. However, it suits the agenda of the unthinking and ignorant so-called environmentalists and anti-capitalists, and is truly loved by the politicians as a new way to tax people.

Most of the work of the AGW community is in lobbying not science, of which Lack’s Soapbox article is an egregious example. Most people who argue for AGW know little or nothing of science but simply ape the fashionable, illustrated by that splendid children’s book “The Sneetches”. I hope for an uprising of the so-called denial community to present the case against CO2. If the GSL persists in its AGW position, I believe that it will end in tears on the wrong side.

John Dewey (FGS)

Petition for Council debate 09 April 2019

Received 06 APRIL 2019
Published 09 APRIL 2019
From Brian D’Olier
Dear Editor, I write to express agreement and delight at the Soapbox contribution by Martin Lack (Join the decarbonisation bandwagon. Geoscientist 29 (3), 9, April 2019). As he suggests, I also would ask the Society to foster support for the campaign by the Climate Coalition in order to persuade our politicians to legislate for a 2050 Decarbonisation Target. Following the Bryan Lovell meeting of the 21-23 January, it might appear an opportune time for such a move.

Can I suggest that perhaps a petition could be started amongst Fellows to see if there is a groundswell for such a move by our Society? This could be along the lines of Government Petitions whereby if 100,000 signatures are achieved, the subject becomes mandatory for Parliament to debate. As our membership is a fraction of the numbers who are eligible to put their name to a Government Petition, could I suggest that  if 500 sign a Society Petition it requires Council to debate it and if Council agrees, then more active support for the Climate Coalition campaign follows? If it were too difficult to organise/finance such a petition, then perhaps a call for members to notify the Society could be made through Geoscientist?

Though there are only 54 ’science’ trained MP’s of the 649 in Parliament at present, a prestigious body like our Society, with quite possibly, formidable backing from its members, should be able to impress that minority and because of that, many others.

Dr Brian D’Olier (FGS)

P.S.  Hopefully ‘Brexit’ will have been finally resolved in the near future, and our Government can then turn its attention to far more important matters, such as this!

Climate for conversation 09 April 2019

Received 07 APRIL 2019
Published 09 APRIL 2019
From Michael F Ridd
Dear Editor, The Soapbox by Martin Lack (Join the decarbonisation bandwagon. Geoscientist 29 (3), 9, April 2019) repeats assertions and apocalyptic predictions to support the prevailing orthodoxy: that mankind’s emissions of CO2 are causing climate change, and that something must be done about it.

He labels as ‘deniers’ those who challenge the assertion that “….change is happening faster than at any time in Earth’s history.”  And he warns that if we wish “…to prevent climate change from leading to the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history, we have less than 12 years to change the way we generate power.”

Both of those statements are questionable, and should be addressed by scientific debate. Sceptics are not calling for alarm-peddlers like Martin Lack to be silenced, but simply for the Society to open itself to discuss the phenomenon of climate change. In June 2018, my Soapbox article (Fear of controversy. Geoscientist 28 (5), 9, June 2018) urged our Society to do that, but sadly that urging has so far fallen on deaf ears.

Michael F Ridd (FGS)

Geology at Aber lives on 01 April 2019

Received 14 MARCH 2019
Published 01 APRIL 2019
From Bill Fitches & Tim Palmer
Dear Editor, Many Fellows will remember that a couple of decades ago Geology at Aberystwyth University was set to decline. Yet it lives on, vigorously, with its diaspora spread throughout academia, institutions and industry. The Society News in last month’s Geoscientist, for example, shows that several Aber graduates and postgraduates are officers of the Geological  Society: Vice President Nick Reynolds; Secretaries Kate Royce and Rob Strachan; and Geoscientist Editorial Board member Tony Harris. Conspicuously, not one but both presidential nominees Jonathan Craig and Mike Daly are Aber old-boys!

It's great to see Aberystwyth’s ongoing contribution to the Geological Society and the geoscience community.

Bill Fitches & Tim Palmer

Microbial mats—always ‘waiting in the wings’? 22 March 2019

Received 20 MARCH 2019
Published 22 MARCH 2019
From Robin Bailey
Dear Editor, Catherine Mascord’s account of the late Cambrian-early Ordovician Bell Island succession (Geoscientist 29 (2), 12-17, 2019) provides a glimpse of the later phases in the Cambrian Substrate Revolution (CSR). In this, the benthic microbial biomes that flourished in shallow marine environments during the Proterozoic—in the form of microbial mats, which left characteristically ‘wrinkled’ bedding surfaces—became increasingly rare. The associated increase in the traces of deep-burrowing and grazing metazoans suggests active mat predation and disruption caused by these newly-evolved forms—a ‘survival of the fittest’ scenario. But, was there also a global trend in benthic marine conditions, inimical to the microbial biofilms?

During the Phanerozoic, as Mascord notes, the benthic marine microbial biomes occasionally regained the upper hand, suggesting an environmental reversion to ‘Proterozoic’ conditions, for which these biomes had been ‘waiting in the wings’. These reversions coincided with major global metazoan extinction events and their aftermath (Pruss, 2004; Mata and Bottjer, 2009, 2011), but are also associated with more localised collapse of benthic marine faunas due to environmental stress.

Ludfordian (late Silurian) sedimentation in Wales illustrates a restricted marine basin evolving in the latter fashion. The formerly hemipelagic basin underwent progressive shallowing, first signalled by pervasively bioturbated massive shelly siltstones—a sub-littoral, ‘deep burrower’ facies that eventually developed basin-wide (Bailey, 1969; Bailey and Bailey, 2019). These sediments give way transitionally to a c. 70m thick terminal Ludfordian shallow marine facies typified by an impoverished, washed-in, shelly fauna and a general lack of bioturbation. The transition also features the increasing importance of: laterally-extensive, decimetre-thick, laminated ‘tempestite’ siltstone beds, event deposits that lack bioturbation and show either grading, or pronounced hummocky cross stratification (HCS); and ‘minutely rippled’, that is microbially wrinkled, grey-green, micaceous, shaly siltstones (first described by Straw, 1937 and Earp, 1938).

A close association with siltstones or fine sandstones showing HCS is a feature of the rare Phanerozoic occurrences of wrinkled horizons (Mata and Bottjer, 2009). This led to the suggestion that storm-induced sediment gravity flows transported the microbial biomes from shallower waters and provided a quartzose sediment substrate suitable for colonisation (Noffke and Awramik, 2013).  The occurrence of the wrinkle traces on the upper bedding surfaces of the Ludfordian tempestites supports this idea, while the HCS suggests that the microbial biomes colonised a basinal environment between fair-weather and storm-wave base. The lack of bioturbation and the persistence of the wrinkle traces in the inter-bedded, centimetres-thick shaly siltstones suggests that in the tranquil intervals between storm events, burrowing and grazing metazoans were excluded from the basin. The microbial mats blanketed the seabed; and each wrinkled, or non-wrinkled, micaceous shale lamina may represent a microbial accretion, recording suspended sediment captured by the filamentous elements of a single benthic biofilm (Noffke and Awramik, 2013).

But, why were the marine metazoans that evidently still survived in contemporary shallower-water environments (as shown by the washed-in shelly faunas) largely excluded from the storm-wave-stirred basin? The progressive failure of the deep-burrowing faunas during the later Ludfordian suggests that, as it silted-up, the basin became increasingly hostile to benthic metazoans.  This trend could have involved general factors such as water salinities, temperatures, degrees of oxygenation and primary productivities. However, the associated stresses were later reinforced by increased storm frequencies, a climatic effect indicated by the increasing numbers of decimetres-thick, rapidly deposited, tempestites. This repeated blanketing of the seabed could have been a further restriction on metazoan colonisation. And the microbial mats, themselves, though generally seen as a response to ‘Proterozoic’ environmental conditions, when once established, may have reinforced these conditions and promoted their persistence.

Mascord’s account of the Bell Island fossils and the above outline of the late Silurian evolution of the Welsh basin underline the importance of searching for later Phanerozoic signs of the resurgence of benthic microbial biomes. ‘Proterozoic’ microbial mats are still with us; so why are their traces rarely reported from the post-Jurassic record? Have Fellows perhaps found such ‘counter-revolutions’ in later Phanerozoic outcrops and cores?

Robin Bailey


Bailey, R. J. (1969) Ludlovian sedimentation in south Central Wales. In : Wood, A. (ed.) Pre-Cambrian and Lower Palaeozoic rocks of Wales. University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 283-304.
Bailey, R. J. and Bailey, W. J. (2019) A late Silurian crisis in the Welsh Basin. Submitted to Mercian Geologist.
Earp, J. R. (1938) The higher Silurian rocks of the Kerry district, Montgomeryshire. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, London 94, 125-160.
Mascord, C. (2019) The fossils of Bell Island. Geoscientist, 29, 2 (March) 12-17.
Mata, S. A. & Bottjer, D. J.  (2009) Paleoenvironmental distribution of Phanerozoic wrinkle structures. Earth Science Reviews 96, 181-195
Mata, S. A. & Bottjer, D. J.  (2011) The origin of Lower Triassic microbialites in mixed carbonate-siliciclastic successions: Ichnology, applied stratigraphy, and the end-Permian mass extinction. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 300, 158-178
Noffke, N. & Awramick, S. M. (2013) Stromatolites and MISS – Differences between relatives. GSA Today 23, 4-9.
Pruss, S., Fraiser, M & Bottjer, D. (1994) Proliferation of Early Triassic wrinkle structures: implications for environmental stress following the end-Permian mass extinction. Geology 32, 461-464.
Straw, S. H. (1937) The higher Ludlovian rocks of the Builth district. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 93, 406-456.

Priorities for Australia 21 March 2019

Received 10 MARCH 2019
Published 21 MARCH 2019
From Viv Forbes
Dear Editor, Poor policies are taking Australia into tough times. There are four priorities for the coming election:

Firstly: Decimate the Feral Green Snakes in the Grass
The climate/emissions obsession started with unelected foreigners in the UN and the IPCC who drafted deep green agendas to be imposed via elected Federal, State and Local governments. Australia must immediately withdraw from the Lima/Paris/Kyoto agreements, reject the 2030 Agenda, and repeal all the green tape they spawned. This costly mess creates no measurable climate or environmental benefits.

Secondly: Build more Reliable Base-Load Power Stations
Green extremists want to destroy the carbon energy that powers our industries, supports our life style, funds our welfare and provides our jobs. They want to take us back to primitive green energy that can never support modern civilised life.

We have played with weather-dependent wind-solar toys for too long. They will never power an advanced economy, nor will they lift poor nations from poverty. And they provide no demonstrated benefits for the climate, the landscape or consumers. All taxes, subsidies and energy targets that prop up unreliable intermittent energy must be abolished.

Thirdly: Build More Dams and Weirs
Much of our continent cycles between droughts and floods. Both problems have the same solution—catch and store flood waters. The oceans are never short of water, but our land often is.

Finally: Fight Fire with Fire
Every dry season we lose homes, properties, livestock, parks and wildlife to massive bushfires. There is only one solution—copy yesterday’s aboriginals and graziers and use small, managed, early-season fires to remove flammable ground litter. This will require landowners and local fire-fighters (not urban greenies) to manage these fuel-reduction burns.

We must fix these four issues. Stop draining Australian money to support foreign agendas and the bloated UN bureaucracy. Let’s help Australians instead.

Viv Forbes

Further Reading:
More wind and solar capacity likely to make Germany’s energy supply less reliable:

A stalking horse in the election? - Reply 11 March 2019

Received 11 MARCH 2019
Published 11 MARCH 2019
From Nick Rogers
Dear Editor, In response to David James’ letter of 2nd March, I have a degree of sympathy with his view. The regulation he cites (R/G/11) states that Council ‘shall consider all nominations of the President-designate and will vote to reduce the list to two candidates of equal standing.’ (my own italics). Accordingly in this case, Council had no option but to act as they did and as they have done so at other times in the past.

Council could, under different circumstances, act as David suggests and nominate their own stalking horse to undermine and indeed corrupt the whole process. However, we are not a political party and as I repeatedly remind Council, they are the conscience of the Society and are charged as trustees to act ethically in its best interests. That said, that regulation does leave the door open for mischief and, as with other aspects of our bye-laws and regulations is probably overdue for a comprehensive review.

I shall raise the matter at the next meeting of Council.

Kind regards,
Nick Rogers, President of the Geological Society of London

A stalking horse in the election? 04 March 2019

Received 02 MARCH 2019
Published 04 MARCH 2019
From David James
Dear Editor, The Elections to Council notification (Geoscientist, March 2019) reminds us that under Regulation R/G/11 Council may reduce the number of President-designate candidates for the eventual vote to two. I find this alarming as it allows Council to debar any properly-proposed Fellow from the election without informing Fellows of his/her name or sponsors. In effect it says “we do not trust the Fellows to make an informed choice”.

Even in the case of only two valid nominations, all that Council has to do is propose one further candidate (a stalking horse?) and can then debar the unfortunate third nominee whom they deem unacceptable. This is almost carte-blanche for Council to select their own nomination.

This approach is at best anachronistic and at worst potentially corrupting; those Fellows sufficiently interested to read the supporting statements from two candidates must surely be capable of reading a third and of putting a tick in one of three boxes rather than two.

David James

Whose geology is it anyway? - Reply 25 February 2019

Received 25 FEBRUARY 2019
Published 25 FEBRUARY 2019
From Robert C Jones
Dear Editor, Peter Styles’s article on 'Whose geology is it anyway?' (Geoscientist 28 (9), 9, 2018) reminded me of a paper published more than 25 years ago, which I believe is the nearest we have to an explanation of the extraordinary nature of the ownership of English mineral rights.  This paper is to be found in Trans. Instn. Min. Metall. (Sect A: Min. Industry) 100 May-August 1991. pp A73-A83. Honey R.M.  Outline of mining law of England, Scotland and Wales. 

Having worked on the nature of mineral rights abroad, I did not encounter any country with such a Byzantine legal structure for ownership of mineral and mining rights, particularly with regard to the status quo prevailing in Cornwall, Devon, The Forest of Dean and the Hundreds of the High Peak, plus the Wapentake of Wirksworth.  Perhaps this reflects the antiquity of some of the legal provisions, which must predate most if not all existing legal codes concerning mineral rights.

Robert C Jones BSc CGeol FGS

Too much fracking carbon 20 February 2019

Received 20 FEBRUARY 2019
Published 20 FEBRUARY 2019
From Martin Lack
Dear Editor, Although I am disappointed to learn that many of the 49 geoscientists who recently signed a letter to The Times asking to raise the 0.5M tremor limit on fracking are academics with ties to the oil industry, I cannot find fault with their argument.
I agree that the 0.5M limit—that currently forces a 24-hour cessation in fracking operations—is bogus; as is the false equivalence posited by NGOs such as Greenpeace that highlight the damage caused by fracking in the Netherlands. The latter is not a fair comparison because, whereas huge amounts of structural damage was caused where buildings were erected on unconsolidated deposits in the Netherlands, this will not happen in the UK where fracking is being undertaken at depth in well-consolidated strata.
However, those same NGOs should be opposing fracking because: (a) investing in new carbon-based infrastructure is incompatible with achieving the UK's legally-binding decarbonisation targets; and (b) allowing fracking is incompatible with the latest Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 that require local planning authorities to reach a reasoned conclusion based on the balance of risks that include the long-term, cumulative and/or trans-boundary effects (see Regulation 26 and Schedule 4).
Now that we know we are in a (climate change) hole, we should stop digging!

Martin Lack FGS, CGeol MSc (Hydrogeology) MA (Environmental Politics)

Volcanism and climate 14 February 2019

Received 29 DECEMBER 2018
Published 14 FEBRUARY 2019
From Wyss Yim
Dear Editor, Further investigations into the Anthropocene period are needed in geoscience. Our planet has never before been populated by 7.5 billion people, yet the regional and global contributions to a warming and cooling climate by natural processes—such as volcanism—compared to anthropogenic greenhouse gases are poorly constrained.

Variations in Earth’s orbit and solar radiation are first-order drivers of climate, influencing interglacial and glacial cycles, monsoons and seasonal changes. However, volcanism also influences climate and can contribute significantly to natural variations, having both a warming and cooling effect.

NASA satellites first became available for tracking volcanic eruption clouds in the early 1980s. This led, for example, to recognition that the El Chichón stratospheric cloud from the April 1982 eruption circled the globe in 21 days. Submarine volcanism is more difficult to track. In the early 2000s, the ARGO global array of almost 4,000 ocean profiling floats to a depth of 2,000 m was established, primarily to observe ocean temperature, salinity and currents. However, this array has also provided a much-improved means of identifying possible submarine volcanic eruption, such as the October 2011 to March 2012 El Hierro eruption in the Canary Archipelago.

In 2019, the Past Global Changes (PAGES) project is launching stage 2 of its Volcanic Impacts on Climate and Society (VICS) program, with one aim of providing information on volcanic forcing for climate modelling studies. The project will provide vital information on the role of volcanism in the climate system.

Wyss Yim

Problems posed by derived fossils - reply 14 February 2019

Received 11 FEBRUARY 2019
Published 14 FEBRUARY 2019
From Graham West
Dear Editor, The letter from Jack Wilkin in February's Geoscientist highlighted the problems posed by derived fossils to palaeontologists and biostratigraphers, but derived fossils can also perplex engineering geologists. In 1957 I was a member of the team from the Road Research Laboratory involved in constructing an experimental section of road on the Great North Road (A1) at Alconbury Hill in Huntingdonshire (West, 2000). The geology of the site was Oxford Clay overlain in places by up to 1.5m of glacial boulder clay that was largely reworked and weathered Oxford Clay. Along the section of the site in cutting, abundant specimens of the Jurassic fossil Gryphaea dilatata could be found scattered on the surface. The derived nature of the fossils was not immediately apparent, but their long survival is no doubt due to their robust and tough composition.

Graham West

West, G. (2000) The Technical Development of Roads in Britain. Ashgate Publishing, Aldershot. ISBN: 978-0754614067 161 pp. hbk.

Plastic and sustainability on site 14 February 2019

Received 08 FEBRUARY 2019
Published 14 FEBRUARY 2019
From Geoff Faro

In the war on plastic, Geoff Faro argues for geoscientists to take a more strategic approach to on-site sampling

Unless you have been living under a rock (excuse the geology pun) for the past 5 years, the war on plastic is forefront in the media with people finding alternatives to single-use plastics and other disposable items. In our household (lead dutifully by Mrs Faro), we now proudly use bamboo toothbrushes, bamboo scorers, bamboo pot brushes, solid shampoo (looks like a bar of soap), metal reusable straws, reusable coffee cups, we choose food not wrapped in plastic and our daughter is the pride of the nursey sporting her finest re-useable nappies. All in all, we’re left with a warm (and yes, probably self-righteous) fuzzy feeling that we do all, or at least a lot that we can.

Ethics on site
Although many of us promote our green ethics, undertake brownfield remediation and brand ourselves as ‘Environmental’ companies, applying an eco-friendly approach at work, especially when undertaking environmental investigations is tricky. Recently, Geosphere Environmental undertook a small, client-scoped investigation using the Institution of Civil Engineers specification with site-specific amendments. The number of sample containers used was considerable. Overall, for four trial pits and two windowless sample holes, we used 90 plastic tubs, 104 glass jars (all with plastic lids), 20 bulk bags, 39 small bags for head space testing, a dozen plastic liners and a plastic bailer (plus a plastic Skoda bumper thanks to sheet ice and a local driving an Audi).

So, on site, as I smugly drink my coffee from my bamboo compostable mug, I can’t help but think all good work that the Faro family and many others are undertaking at home to reduce single-use plastic, pails into insignificance when a few people on site for one day fills up a medium-sized van—and likely only a fraction of these samples will ever be tested.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

During a recent laboratory visit, we asked what happens to the samples and containers. It all goes to landfill as hazardous waste.

If this is the problem, what is the solution? We can’t eliminate sampling.

Reusable containers? They don’t exist as far as I’m aware and emptying and cleaning the containers isn’t going to happen.

Recycling the containers? Maybe possible, but this is labour intensive, so incurs extra cost. With all the laboratories vying for business at competitive rates, recycling is unlikely to happen unless forced.

This leaves reducing. Can we reduce the number of samples we take instead of the ‘shotgun’ approach often taken? Reduction could be achieved with a good desk-study or by having someone on site that is able to make an informed decision as to what will be tested, rather than a recent graduate instructed to blindly sample every half meter. One less tub is the same as one less shampoo bottle and will assist with (but not solve) our reliance on plastic. In the end, every little helps. Of course, this approach isn’t infallible—the environmental impact of returning to site if more samples were needed is significantly larger than a couple of pots—but we must at least try to reduce our industrial impacts wherever possible.

Anyway, rant over, I’m off to look down on the drillers with their single-use coffee cups.

Geoff Faro is a Principal Engineering Geologist at Geosphere Environmental; e-mail: [email protected]

The broader picture 07 February 2019

Received 01 JANUARY 2019
Published 07 FEBRUARY 2019
From Larry Thomas

The Society should support geologists in every sector, argues Larry Thomas

The article by Mike Simmons (Speaking up for geoscience. Geoscientist 28(11), 9, 2018) highlighted the relationship between academic and commercial viewpoints in relation to energy requirements. The petroleum industry has a high profile and still has an active group within the Society. The coal industry has not. The Coal Geology Group alas is no more, in part due to the reduction, and in some cases the abandonment, of coal exploration and mining in western Europe, so that the Society has no voice in this sector of industry.

Embedded coal

The general perception is that the use of fossil fuels is one of pollution and a contributor to environmental damage. Whilst this is historically true in many areas, the undeniable fact is that coal currently provides 39% of global electricity generation. Many countries do not have the finance and/or technology, and in some cases the inclination, to reduce or halt the use of coal. Many lack the knowhow and, more significantly, the funding to undertake renewable energy projects.

The role of the geologist is a double-edged sword. On the one hand their identification and determination of the geological character of coal deposits is appreciated by Governments and shareholders of mining companies, but they can be vilified by protest groups and environmentalists for simply doing their job.

Notable strides

It is important to realise that in the last 30 years, vast improvements have been made in coal mining and coal cleaning technologies. Additionally, conditions are placed on the geologist, for example, to consider whether coal seams with a sulphur content >1% should be mined or left in the ground. Geological reporting now is accompanied by hydrogeological analysis and geotechnical appraisal of any prospect, and all asset determinations are made according to international standards. Such improvements have been accompanied by the design and construction of modern power plants that control SOx, NOx and particulate emissions.

The industry and their geologists must communicate with others, whilst respecting confidentiality agreements, both within the geological sphere and the public at large, to explain the balance between fossil fuel extraction and the impact on the environment, as well as the financial ramifications.

I note that 2019 is the ‘Year of Carbon’. It is essential that the Society responds to the needs and viewpoints of academia and industry, producing an even-handed approach to presentations and discussions on the use of fossil fuels. There will be geologists in all the industries producing fossil fuels—let the Society recognise them and their contribution to global energy needs.

The Society is our voice in geosciences not only in the UK, but worldwide, so let’s hear it for all sectors of the profession.

Dr Larry Thomas, C.Geol, C.Eng, FIMMM, FGS; Director, Dargo Associates Ltd.; e-mail: [email protected]

The ‘impact’ factor: Can we be more useful? 07 February 2019

Received 19 DECEMBER 2018
Published 07 FEBRUARY 2019
From Phil Heron

Phil Heron reaches out on outreach                                                 

Impact. The section on the grant application that is becomingly increasingly important to funding bodies. How is your project going to benefit people? And by ‘people’ I mean real people. Not those twelve souls in your precise area of expertise that are genuinely interested (some may even say keen) to hear about your new research.  Or the scattering of other geologists in different fields that might find your work useful. Actual people.


For a number of years, I have been going into high schools and primary schools armed with a bag of rocks, spaghetti and marshmallows, and some chat about plate tectonics. I love it. I don’t even do it because I said I would in a grant—I just like presenting things I find interesting to people. And it is impactful. I find a good percentage of students I meet love the exposure to geology. Some would rather I was Brian Cox or Tim Peake, but you can’t please everyone. 

The Geological Society has a comprehensive school outreach programme—the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Ambassador Programme is phenomenal in getting positive role models into classrooms to enthuse students about science. There are a number of national initiatives, like Earth Science Week, to focus student’s attention on our dear subject, as well as a wealth of online material for teachers to peruse for lessons. With that in mind, is it time to start exploring other avenues outside the traditional classroom setting for our required outreach programs?

Other avenues

I live and work in Durham, a city that has, broadly speaking, a university, a cathedral and a few prisons. As part of my outreach activity, I thought I could try and combine one of the non-university institutes. Going in and talking to prison leaders (sidestepping the cathedral), it became clear that there is a real lack of science education on the inside due to a lack of funding and personnel. To try to bridge this gap, I’ve set up what appears to be England’s first science course to be taught inside the prison system.

The work within a young offenders institution will enable the students to gain access to information on STEM apprenticeships, and mentor them in ‘thinking like a scientist’. As the course continues to gather pace, it could be genuinely useful and impactful to the prison system and to the students. I’m encouraging Geoscientist readers to reach out if they have guidance of any sort to young offenders who are keen for rehabilitation through science education. This may be anything from ideas for routes into science employment, to qualities that employers would need to see from non-graduate employees.

Grants demand academics to be impactful with our science and our outreach programs—is it time to expand our portfolio of classrooms and science fairs?

Philip J. Heron is a Marie Skłodowska Curie Research Fellow at Durham University; e-mail: [email protected] (Phil’s science course is called ‘Think Like A Scientist’;

Petroleum Geoscientists Wanted! 07 February 2019

Received 08 JANUARY 2019
Published 07 FEBRUARY 2019
From John Warburton

John Warburton asserts that a new generation is needed to steward the transition to a clean energy future

I read with great pleasure the article Speaking up for Geoscience (Geoscientist 28(11), 9, 2018), by my respected friend and colleague Mike Simmons. Mike recounts how the resource industries have done their brand quality little service though poor communications with the societies that they serve. This he argues has led to a perception that these industries are directly or indirectly exacerbating environmental damage.

Given such negative branding it is unsurprising that school and university graduates may have limited aspiration to pursue careers in resources or in the geological sciences. This is indeed a bleak backdrop against which Mike calls on society and industry to work together to encourage new young professionals to take-up careers in industrial geosciences.

Thirst for petroleum

I have been involved in the petroleum industry since bidding farewell to university in the early 1980s. I have experienced first-hand how petroleum companies take extraordinary measures to reduce environmental harm while winning precious resources.  Such measures are often openly demanded by vocal shareholders and activists.

Technological and ideological advances continue to enable petroleum resources to be exploited from increasingly challenging settings. For example, petroleum exploitation has progressed from onshore to offshore; shallow to deep and ultra-deepwater; conventional to unconventional reservoirs; sedimentary basins to crystalline basement. Furthermore, new sources of petroleum are under consideration (such as hydrates, Arctic basins, deep-basin centres) as the World’s insatiable thirst for a petroleum-based economy and lifestyle grows despite some projections proclaiming imminent production decline.

Addiction transition

Anathema to our addiction to petroleum is the desire instantaneously to recover from it.

Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani was Saudi Minister of Petroleum & Mineral Resources from 1962 to 86 and an OPEC minister for 25 years. In 1973, he predicted that alternative sources of energy would eventually compete commercially with petroleum products famously remarking that "The Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones”.

It is in the context of a measured (rather than an unrealistic, immediate) transition away from a lifestyle addicted to petroleum where I see the next generation of prospective young petroleum professionals finding their voice.

There is a current and projected global emphasis on the role of natural gas, compared with oil and coal. Combustion of petroleum in the gaseous phase bears substantially lower carbon footprint than oil or coal. Advances in production technology increased daily shale gas production in the USA from about 2 billion cubic feet (‘Bcf’) in 2007 to 50 Bcf in 2015 with an attendant 10% decrease in annual CO2 emissions*.  Furthermore, petroleum companies are tentatively but increasingly experimenting with renewable energy sources (such as solar and wind) in an attempt to curtail their carbon emissions. For example, solar panels can generate electricity for powering oil field pump jacks that formerly relied on burning of diesel.

Young professionals

Society needs a next generation of petroleum geoscientists to steward the transition from our fossil-fuel-addicted lifestyle to one predominantly reliant on renewables. Only with a profound understanding of petroleum geology can those elements to be replaced entirely by renewable energy sources be identified and the technological breakthroughs implemented in a sensible timeframe.

Perhaps petroleum geoscience is not so ‘dirty’ after all.

Professor John Warburton is Non-Executive Director of Senex Energy Ltd and of Empire Energy Group Ltd and a visiting Professor at the School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds, UK; e-mail:  [email protected]

*Energy in Depth Oct, 27 2015, EIA May 2016, Monthly Energy Review

Join the decarbonisation bandwagon 07 February 2019

Received 29 JANUARY 2019
Published 07 FEBRUARY 2019
From Martin Lack

The Society should set an example by supporting the campaign for a 2050 decarbonisation target, argues Martin Lack

I was very disappointed when the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) banned an ExxonMobil advert for investment in algal biofuels some years ago. Where land is cheap and sunshine abundant (such as deserts), researchers have already shown that algae can be genetically modified to produce twice as much lipid as is produced normally—lipid that can be made into fuel. However, the ASA apparently objected to ExxonMobil’s assertion that algal biofuels could reduce carbon emissions (i.e. rather than climate change). Sadly, the ASA’s decision betrays a total failure to appreciate that, unlike fossil fuels, burning algal biofuels will not contribute to global warming; thanks to the short-term carbon cycle and the fact that this will not involve adding lithospheric carbon to the atmosphere.

Significant alterations

One of the most persistent fallacies repeated by climate science deniers is that “CO2 is plant food”. Certainly, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were much higher in the Carboniferous era (the clue is in the name) in which plants got very big! However, given that human civilisation is primarily the result of the stable climate and sea levels since the last ice age, there should be very little doubt that it will be bad news for humanity if Earth’s climate is now altered significantly; especially since that change is happening faster than at any time in Earth’s history.

Thankfully, the Geological Society does not dispute any of the above. Indeed, in its position statement on climate change, the Society has cautioned that the Earth may take 100,000 years to reverse the changes that will be caused if humans burn all Earth’s fossil fuels three million times faster than it can recycle them.

As we have now been warned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—a panel of experts assembled in the 1980s, before the fossil fuel industry decided to copy the tactics of the tobacco industry and spend huge amounts of money confusing the public, so as to delay the sensible regulation of their products—if humanity wants to prevent climate change from leading to the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history, we have less than 12 years to radically change the way we generate power.

Given that the rate of glacier melting has increased six-fold in the last 40 years, if we do nothing, they could be melting 36 times faster than they are today by the end of the century. We are already witnessing changes in our climate. This is strong empirical evidence that, unless we take action to prevent them, the changes that occur will—as Sir David Attenborough has warned—lead to the extinction of the majority of species of life on Earth.


That being the case, I suggest that it is now time for the Society to go one step further and—as have esteemed bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management, the Institute of Civil Engineers, and the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment—support the campaign by The Climate Coalition (formerly the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition) to persuade our politicians to legislate for a 2050 Decarbonisation Target. In other words, the aim would be for the UK to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 (that is, allowing for the possibility of carbon sequestration to be greater than fossiliferous emissions)

Martin Lack, FGS, CGeol MSc (Hydrogeology) MA (Environmental Politics)