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Mineral Solutions to Global Problems

20 January 2016
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Geological Society Events
The Geological Society, Burlington House, London
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The world faces tremendous challenges to resolve the problems associated with climate change and food supply. In both of these, minerals have a vital role to play. To achieve ambitious carbon sequestration targets, of several gigatonnes per year, we have to consider reactions that may take place on a global scale, and one way to do this is to understand and exploit those that take place in soils, recognising the role of plants as a carbon sink both above and below ground that links the soil and the atmosphere.

To provide the food required by a population that will increase from 7 to 9 billion by 2050, we need to exploit the natural processes by which soil minerals provide essential plant nutrients as an appropriate companion to conventional fertiliser use.  In these and other areas, minerals have a vital role to play in sustaining the human race.


David Manning (GSL President & University of Newcastle)

I’ve been a geologist all my life, following an interest that started at a very early age. I learnt much from field work in the Peak District when I was still at school, and then went on to Durham University to read Geology in the days when Sir Malcolm Brown was the Head of Department, before he went on to lead the British Geological Survey. That shows my age.

After a wonderful time in Durham (mapping on Rum), I moved to Manchester for my PhD (another wonderful time) which was in experimental petrology – preparing the phase diagram for the system Qz-Ab-Or with added fluorine, or (in other words) establishing how fluorine affects the crystallization of granitic melts. To keep my feet on the ground I did field work in the china clay areas of Cornwall (where F-rich granites occur), and that introduced me to commercial clay geology. I’ve kept that up throughout my career.

Postdoctoral fellowships followed – in Manchester (NERC) and then in France (CRPG, Nancy), with experimental work on metal partitioning (tin, tungsten) between granite melt and vapour, and field work in Thailand and Cornwall. Then a few months out of work (but not idle) while waiting to start a New Blood lectureship at Newcastle, and the rest is history as they say. That post involved research on how petroleum source rocks can also be metal ore sources, again experimentally-focused.The Earth Science Review enabled me to move in 1988 to Manchester, with research focusing on clay diagenesis in petroleum systems.

Frustrated by an inability to visit a real drilling rig to take oilfield water samples I went to a local landfill and found what I was looking for there – so I worked on landfill clay reactions. Then, in 2000, my evident trajectory to the surface culminated in taking the Chair in Soil Science at Newcastle University, where I work on mineral reactions in soils, reactions associated with carbon capture and nutrient availability for plant growth. Paradoxically, that has taken me into the world of syenites, and their potential as fertilisers. I’m also closely involved with deep geothermal drilling, so mud is still very much part of my daily life.