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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...


GEO COVER_DEC11JAN12 for web.jpgThis page has been created to facilitate rapid and timely interchange of opinion. Each month (space permitting) a selection of these letters will be published in Geoscientist Online , the colour monthly magazine of the Society Fellowship.

Correspondence strings are listed in the order that they are begun, the most recent string at the top. Within each string, letters are listed with the first letter of the string at the top, and subsequent letters below.

This page contains letters from the current year.  The archive of letters from previous years are accessible by clicking the links to the left.

If you wish to express an opinion, please email the Editor. Letters should be as short as possible, preferably c.300 words long or fewer. You may also write to:

Dr Ted Nield, Editor, Geoscientist, c/o The Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG.
  • Please note that letters will be edited for publication. This particularly applies to versions  printed in the magazine.  The Editor reserves the right not to publish letters, at his discretion. Writers should submit their letters electronically to ensure rapid publication. All views expressed below are the responsibility of their authors alone.TN

Helium economics 06 December 2017

Received 06 DECEMBER 2017
Published 06 DECEMBER 2017
From Jeremy Work
Sir, I found the article on helium by Danabalan and colleagues in the January 2018 edition very interesting, and a reminder of this important and often overlooked resource. The authors have evidence of helium being vented from ‘off-spec gas’ during clean-up. This isn’t surprising and is an indication of the complexity of the economics of helium recovery. Oddly the nitrogen content of the gas can be important in the economics of helium recovery in those fields which are predominantly methane.

Helium is extracted from natural gas by fractional distillation at low temperatures. This inevitably requires an expensive gas processing plant that will demand a lot of energy and be costly to run. The economics of this process just to incrementally recover helium can be quite challenging.

This changes in circumstances where the natural gas is mostly methane but contains sufficient nitrogen, roughly more than 4%, to be ‘out of spec’. The nitrogen will need to be removed from the gas stream before it can be sent to the market. Again this is done using cryogenic distillation. Since a cryogenic distillation plant is needed for the nitrogen anyway, only the incremental cost of additionally recovering the helium need to be considered in the economics. Helium recovery could be an attractive bonus to what is essentially a methane development.

Jeremy Lockett

Plate-tectonic revolution - a most welcome side-effect 14 November 2017

Received 14 NOVEMBER 2017
Published 14 NOVEMBER 2017
From Alan Wright

Sir, Your October issue came at a most opportune moment for me, as I had been asked to give a talk to the local Probus Club (an organisation for retired professional and business men, which in this part of Derbyshire is the closest thing there is to the Geological Society Club!), for which I have chosen to tell them How The Earth Works.

Having to write a lecture, after about 25 years of not doing so (I’m 85), has brought home to me what a lucky chap I was to have lived through, and taken a very small part in, the Plate Tectonic Revolution. Without a doubt, working out how the Earth works is as big an advance for Geology as splitting the atom was for Physics about 50years earlier. It isn’t surprising that Physicisists looked down on us at that time and could ignore very convincing geological evidence for Continental Drift. I was lucky enough to study under Fred Shotton at Birmingham, who firmly believed in it, and started a Geophysics sub-department with Don Griffiths and Roy King, who started work on an unsuccessful study, looking for a record of the secular variation in the geological record. They, and Peter Barker, subsequently did map a whole island-arc with a back-arc spreading centre in the Scotia arc and also worked for years, with Aftab Khan, on the East African Rift.

What I found amazing in preparing this lecture, is how dependent on other scientific advances it was. Without the space race, and the emplacement of satellites that gave the Global Positioning System, the accurate mapping of the ocean floor would never have been possible, and the discovery of the magnetic stripes by Ron Mason was because the US navy was surveying the Pacific to look for places where Russian submarines might hide near the US coast.

One of the triumphs of this period in geophysics was the development of a new science, palaeomagnetism, which not only convinced some geophysicists of the veracity of Continental Drift but the subsequent development of the magnetic reversal timescale, back to the beginning of the Cambrian, must be one of the greatest and quickest joint endeavours, by any scientific community from all over the world. It has resulted in a completely independent method of dividing up the geological column, which is also independent of facies variation, so now presumably is being used to make stratigraphers better able to correlate between areas of different facies.

The other very satisfying thing about the working out of Plate Tectonics is that it was a joint endeavour of the whole geological-geophysical community and although the internet credits the coining of the term to Tuzo Wilson in 1968, I remember going to the Gander Conference ( North Atlantic Geology and Continental Drift) in 1967, where John Dewey gave a brilliant lecture on The New Global Tectonics to the great and the good of Gander, with us  visiting geologists as well, which explained How the Earth Worked, but not using the word ‘Plate’.

It seems to me that this revolution is one that should be recognised as a magnificent achievement by the whole geological community, and could actually be the most significant side-effect of the space race, changing as it has done  the way most branches of geology look at their science, because  when you really understand how something works it is much easier to understand the puzzles that, as working geologists, the Earth is continually throwing up at us.

From Alan Wright E:                                                     

CCS - a challenge for the Geological Society 14 November 2017

Received 14 NOVEMBER 2017
Published 14 NOVEMBER 2017
From Hugh Richards

Sir, It was good to see an editorial and 'Soapbox' article in the November 2017 edition of Geoscientist that raise the profile of carbon capture and [geological] storage/disposal (CCS). 

Bryan Lovell’s Soapbox concludes: “We geologists have been set the challenge of finding adequate safe storage for carbon dioxide … We have seldom had a more important job to do.”  I would go further, and posit that the technical feasibility of achieving geological storage/disposal of CO2 at the required scale and speed is the pre-eminent practical challenge for the geosciences in the next two or three decades.  

To be effective in relation to the Paris Agreement goals, CCS needs to be operating by mid-century at a scale comparable with the current global fossil fuel industry and dealing not only with CO2 from power plants and other familiar industrial “point sources” such as cement and steel works, but also from bio-energy production and probably from methane to hydrogen conversion and direct air capture of CO2

But is CCS on such a scale geologically feasible?  I am a generalist applied geoscientist, lacking the time or resources to read into the literature, but from a few conversations with knowledgeable senior geoscientists in recent years I have encountered a bewildering range of opinions from unqualified confidence to dismissive scepticism, rather similar to the range of views on anthropogenic global warming that was available in the geoscience community until about a decade or so ago.

It also seems to me that the longer that geological storage/disposal of CO2 (in whatever form) is portrayed primarily as the potential saviour of the fossil fuel industries, including coal (as was the case in both the November Geoscientist pieces), the greater will be the resistance to CCS among those expressing the greatest concerns about climate change.

I was one of those who called for the Society to issue a statement on the geological evidence concerning the sensitivity of the global climate system to carbon emissions (published in 2010, as mentioned in Bryan Lovell’s article).  I now think the time has come for the Society to educate its Fellows on the geological prospects for CCS, both globally (the scale that matters) and for the UK.  A concise survey of the current scene would enable Fellows to have informed discussions of CCS in their professional and social networks, and help counter false narratives (whatever and wherever they may be).

From Hugh Richards

Remembering the Geological Society-Oil Industry students’ workshop, 1986 01 November 2017

Received 01 NOVEMBER 2017
Published 01 NOVEMBER 2017
From Sarah-Jane Kelland

sdfgjSir, I read with interest the article in the June 2017 Geoscientist magazine by Geoff Townson about the last Students’ Instructional Tour organised by the Geological Society. Although I was not on the 1967 tour, I was on the field trip which was a revival of that one!  Forty or so of us were invited to attend a students’ field-workshop studying the basement and basins of Western Ireland in September 1986, sponsored by oil companies (Esso Exploration and Production UK ltd, Conoco UK Ltd, London and Scottish Marine Oil plc, Ultramar Exploration Ltd, Amoco UK Exploration Company and Clyde Petroleum plc).

I remember so well receiving a letter from the Head of Department at Imperial, Professor John Knill, confirming my place. The ‘all expenses paid’ trip was described as a ‘highly-prized reward’ for ‘the most meritorious’ second year undergraduate (or third year for a four year course) in each British university Geology department. I was also interested to see that John had added to his letter, that he had met his wife on the equivalent tour in 1954.

The field workshop for 1986 was held in Western Ireland for 10 days in early September, after we all had finished our independent mapping projects, and was organised by Dr George Sevastopulo (Trinity College, Dublin), who also led the field work with Drs Paul Ryan, Stephen Daly, Martin Feeley, John Graham, David Harper, Dave Johnson and Professor Ben Kennedy from Dublin or Galway based universities.

The workshop aims were to study the stratigraphical, structural and metamorphic evolution of the Precambrian and Lower Palaeozoic sequences and the Upper Palaeozoic basins and their structural controls. After my eight weeks of independent mapping on rain-drenched Raasay, it was a relief to experience good weather during our time in the field and we saw some excellent geology.

We started on the Galway Granite batholith and worked our way through the structurally complex Dalradian rocks of Connemara which we discussed as a possible suspect terrane. Then onto the Ordovician and Silurian of South Mayo where I remember we ‘borrowed rowing boats’ from the local fishermen one night and rowed around Killary Harbour watching shooting stars. This was followed by a misty ascent up Croagh Patrick respecting pilgrims climbing bare-footed as an act of penance, whilst we booted rockhounds looked at sheared serpentinites and layered chromites. From the drowned drumlin islands of Clew Bay we moved on to look at the Clew Bay ophiolite zone, the Dalradian of Achill Island, the Slieve Gamph Igneous Complex and finally finishing up with the NE Ox Mountains Inlier.

This year is the 31st year since our trip, and I still have my field notebook, course notes, geological maps, attendance list and photo, which I am donating to the Geological Society for their archives (above). We were told that many famous geologists had participated in the Geological Society-Shell excursions of the 40s and 50s and I believe many of us from the trip went on to become professional geologists. I’m still in touch with some of the people I met on the trip- Fergal Murphy, David Latin and Ian Munro, but sadly Stephen Blake passed away last year.

This was certainly a trip to remember and an outstandingly good prize for any high achieving geology student.  I hope that when the oil market improves, companies will consider sponsoring an excursion like this so we can keep these Geological Society-Oil Industry students’ workshops alive and help to develop geologists for the future.

Dr. Sarah-Jane Kelland , Getech plc

Do they really hate us? I don't think so. 01 November 2017

Received 01 NOVEMBER 2017
Published 01 NOVEMBER 2017
From Donald Garner

Sir, I find it disappointing to read such a poorly researched article by Chris Mackenzie appear in Geoscientist. To quote:  “Hence the despair at the wasteland that is the state of mining in the UK in 2017. No investment, no encouragement of explorers to find mines”

I am not sure what planet Mr Mackenzie inhabits, but the UK mining sector (excluding thermal coal) seems to moving along quite well at the moment – with significant investment flowing into the sector. Perhaps Mr Mackenzie is bitter that he is not personally benefiting from the investment.

Projects of note (and these are only in the exciting commodities) – missing off the boring (but economically very substantial) quarrying and industrial minerals sector.

  • Dalradian’s Curraghinalt project in Northern Ireland
  • Galantas Gold’s Omagh gold mine in Northern Ireland
  • Scotgolds Cononish project in Scotland
  • Sirius Minerals world class polyhalite project in Yorkshire
  • Wolf Minerals Drakelands Mine in Devon
  • NAE Redmoor tin/tungsten exploration project in Cornwall
  • Strongbow Exploration – South Crofty project
  • Anglesey Mining – Parys Mountain base metal project in Wales

He (Chris Mackenzie) appears to be annoyed that the UK taxpayer will not fund exploration, nor the EU (but with Brexit looming I doubt we will see EU funds expended in the UK).

If he were worried about a strategic resource being sterilised by a windfarm, then he might have raised money himself to acquire the mineral rights.

Donald Garner



Not lost in the mists at all 31 October 2017

Received 31 OCTOBER 2017
Published 31 OCTOBER 2017
From John Henry

Sir, I read in your magazine (Geoscientists passim.): ‘For reasons lost in the mists of time the President of the Society is an ex-officio Commissioner of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851’. I thought I would attempt to thin these mists a little for readers, for they are no mists at all.

The Society of Arts (now the Royal Society of Arts) proposed the idea of a national exhibition of manufactures in 1844. The SA’s patron, Prince Albert, actively backed the idea and was instrumental in forming a Royal Commission to develop and promote the idea. To broaden the representation of the Commission, leaders of industry, the arts and science were appointed. These included, among others, Sir Charles Lyell, then President of the Geological Society and Sir Henry De la Beche, founder and Director General of the Geological Survey of Great Britain.

The Great Exhibition of 1851, which resulted from the work of the Royal Commission, was not only a cultural and public relations success, if earned a large surplus. Although before the exhibition the plan for any profit that might arise had been to support future international exhibitions, the surplus of £505,000 was so large, that it opened up other possibilities. It was decided that future exhibitions could and would be self-supporting and profitable, and that therefore the surplus from the Exhibition of 1851 could be used ‘in the furtherance of the general objects for which the Exhibition had been designed’.

The general objects included ‘measures . . . which may increase the means of industrial education, and extend the influence of art and science upon productive industry’. From this objective flowed the purchase if land in Kensington upon which developed Imperial College and the great museum complex, Albertopolis’ along Exhibition and Cromwell Roads. Within this complex De la Beche’s Museum of Practical Geology was expanded (or absorbed) into the Geological Museum, now part of the Natural History Museum. Investments from the original surplus have expanded and continue to generate income; the forward looking Royal Commission continued, to administer and distribute this income for the furtherance of the objectives of the 1851 project. Charles Lyell’s position on the Royal Commission has been inherited by all subsequent Presidents of the Geological Society.

Source: Hobhouse, Hermione, 2002. The Crystal Palace and Great Exhibition; Art, Science and the Great Exhibition; A History of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851. London & New York: Continuum.

John Henry

Digging ourselves into a hole 04 October 2017

Received 04 OCTOBER 2017
Published 04 OCTOBER 2017
From David Nowell

Sir, Chris Mackenzie does himself no favours setting out his grievances with environmentalists (They hate us, Geoscientist 27.08 September 2017).   Such is the dearth of knowledge about obtaining essential resources, and "sustainable development" coupled with "zero impact", when this is neither possible or desirable if we really are going to maintain a habitable planet for billions of people who have no wish to remain trapped in poverty.   

Given the risks associated with runaway global warming, CO2 phobia is entirely misplaced apart from his own aversion to wind farms.   The Danes and Norwegians trade electricity so that hydroelectric power stations are shut down until their back-up power is needed again.   Nor do wind farms sterilise underlying mineral resources:  the Germans move whole motorways and villages to get at thick lignite seams south of Mönchengladbach.

Perhaps the lack of British government support for renewed minerals production is partly explained by the reluctance of mining companies quoted on the London stock exchange to pay tax.  If governments don't feel they are going to get a return on their money, why invest in expensive drilling which could be paid for by shareholders? 

As for Rare Earth Elements, they are often currently uneconomic to exploit - though it would make sense to subsidize their production on strategic grounds.   The Chinese relaxed export rules, resulting in a collapse in prices which bankrupted Molycorp, with debts of $1·7bn mining in California, only to be bought out by a Chinese-led consortium.  

None of this makes sense.   Governments need to address longer term questions about water, energy and mineral supplies which are far too important to be left entirely to the markets. 

David Nowell

Rare Earths not so common in wind turbines 04 October 2017

Received 04 OCTOBER 2017
Published 04 OCTOBER 2017
From Richard Barnes

Sir, I was disappointed to see Chris Mackenzie perpetuating the ‘wind turbines need rare earth magnets’ myth in Geoscientist (September 2017).

Many people think rare earth materials are a necessary component of wind turbines, but the figures prove otherwise: only about two percent of the U.S. wind turbine fleet uses them.  (See )

Rare earth elements like neodymium and dysprosium are used in a wide variety of products from iPhones and computers to flat screen TVs and certain types of batteries.

Richard Barnes

Hutton and Browne - a reply to Rudwick 16 August 2017

Received 16 AUGUST 2017
Published 16 AUGUST 2017
From Mike Leeder

Sir, Martin Rudwick seems to miss the point of my article, which simply proposes that Hutton adapted Browne's beautiful words in the coda to his own opus.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I made no novel interpretations, simply stating what each quote might imply to any intelligent modern reader.

I would disagree with Rudwick’s assessments of both Browne and Hutton. The former seems against 'alpha and omega'; as the quote I unearthed emphasises, and as does the rest of Section 11 of 'Religio Medici'.  I would differ also from his opinion of Hutton's 'eternalism': the qualifier '...we find', which precedes his quoted aphorism, is surely quite enough to negate this view.

It is not enough to show that others misinterpreted Hutton's careful delineations of his position as 'eternalism'. To my mind, modern geology (in its fundamental ‘planetary recycling’ essence) stems far more from Hutton than anyone else among the 'savantiers', up until the times of Wegener and Holmes (the great modern 'savants' of physical geology).

Mike Leeder

Blue John mines - birthplace of geotourism 02 August 2017

Received 02 AUGUST 2017
Published 02 AUGUST 2017
From Mark Cope

Sir, I was delighted to read Nina Morgan's Distant Thunder article (Geoscientist 27.07 August 2017) concerning the Blue John Stone mines of Castleton Derbyshire.

The article seems to make reference to historical tourism inspired by Blue John Stone mining and the commercialisation of Blue John Stone ornaments as souvenirs. However no connection is made with the concept of geological tourism or 'geotourism'.

I refer readers to a research paper I wrote last year in which the connection between Derbyshire geodiversity, historical geotourism and the 'geocommercialisation' of tourists is explored, particularly with regard to the Blue John Stone mining industry that still exists in Castleton today (Cope, 2016). 

Derbyshire is the birthplace of geotourism (Hose, 2008), and the 250-year tourism interest in Blue John Stone demonstrates how geotourism has sustained, and continues to sustain, an industry that forms the basis of the Castleton economy.

  • Cope, M.A. 2016. Derbyshire geodiversity, historical geotourism and the 'geocommercialisation' of tourists: setting the context of the Castleton Blue John Stone industry. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, 127, 738-746.
  • Hose, T.A. 2008. Towards a history of geotourism: definitions, antecedents and the future. In Burek, C.V.,  Prosser, C.D. (eds.) Appreciating Physical Landscapes: Three Hundred Years of Geotourism. Geological Society of London Special Publication, 417, 37-60.
Mark Cope

Hutton owes no debt to Browne 02 August 2017

Received 02 AUGUST 2017
Published 02 AUGUST 2017
From Martin Rudwick

Sir, Historical myths are hardy perennials, and myths about Hutton continue to be propagated in the media, in blissful or perhaps wilful (chauvinistic?) ignorance of a body of historical research that sets his ideas in their contemporary context. Briefly, the very words of Hutton's famous "vestige... prospect..." quote show what he himself was open about: that he was an *eternalist* - a position antithetical to modern geology's developmental model of the history of the Earth (and of the cosmos).

The Browne "but five days" quote shows equally clearly that *his* cosmology was, within the limited time frame of his generation, a developmental one from start to finish ("alpha" to "omega").  By Hutton's time, geologists had adopted Browne's kind of model, having simply expanded it into a far longer - but still *finite* - time dimension.  Hutton's contemporaries criticised him for his eternalism, not his lengthy time. Modern geology therefore stems far more from them than from him.

This conclusion is now obvious to historians of geology, backed by a large body of historical research. Among many books that summarise this work, I dare to cite my own ‘Earth's Deep History’ (Chicago 2014) because it gives a brief bird's-eye-view all the way from Browne (and Ussher's 4004BC) to the present, and includes a "further reading" section that gives references to a lot of other historians' work. A fuller evaluation of Hutton is in my ‘Bursting the Limits of Time’ (Chicago 2005), pp. 158-172, with detailed footnoted references to primary and secondary sources to back it up.

Martin Rudwick

Coal lives! 28 June 2017

Received 28 JUNE 2017
Published 28 JUNE 2017
From Larry Thomas

Sir, I refer to your editorial in the June Geoscientist (Geoscientist 27.05), regarding the demise of coal as a fuel source for electricity in the UK.

The Coal Geology Group of which I was the first secretary was really created too late in that most UK coal geologists were employed by British coal which was in the throes of mine closures. This together with environmental opposition meant that ‘coal’ was a dirty word in western Europe.

However, other coal geologists such as myself who have never worked for British Coal have concentrated on coal geology in other countries. Although the UK is virtually ‘coal free’, other countries such as China, Colombia, Kazakhstan, India, Indonesia and Venezuela have still got an expanding coal mining industry and will continue for the foreseeable future. In addition, Australia, South Africa and USA have large geological departments working in the coal industry.  Over 5,500 million tonnes of commercial coal was produced in 2015, so it is still a significant business.

When you say the world still needs geologists, you will find that a good percentage of them will still be coal geologists for some years to come.

I am currently working on a 3rd edition of my text book ‘Coal Geology’ at the request of the publishers who are happy with the sales, so there are still some out there who are on the case.

Larry Thomas

First 'Student Instructional Tour', 1946 - a survivor writes 13 June 2017

Received 07 JUNE 2017
Published 13 JUNE 2017
From George Bennison

Sir, Please thank Geoff Townson for the most interesting article which reviewed the progress of the 'Student Instructional Tour' headed 'On seeing the most rocks'.  You will appreciate my particular interest as a member of that first tour in 1946.  It was a splendid geological tour and I was lucky having to be given a place. 

I was a lieutenant in R.E.M.E. from 1942-5 and was given an early release to finish my degree at Durham University.

I was a bit foolish.  I left the party two days early to go home to Newcastle where my wife was about to have our first child.  As I left early you would not find my name on the letter of thanks sent from Weymouth.

Of course I sometimes met colleagues who were on that first tour - Derek Ager, Charles Downie, Trevor Ford.  I will be 95 next month.  I expect I am the only survivor of that excursion.  I had lost touch and I am delighted to get so much information in Geoff Townson’s article

George Bennison

MSc courses in Geophysics - not that bleak 13 June 2017

Received 13 JUNE 2017
Published 13 JUNE 2017
From Clive McCann

Sir, John Arthur’s Soapbox 'What on Earth is going on?' (Soapbox, June, Geoscientist 27.05) deplored the closure of MSc courses in Exploration Geophysics at three universities and argued the undoubted importance of geophysical techniques for site investigations.

However, the situation is not as bleak as he portrays it. A review of current MSc courses containing the word ‘Geophysics’ shows that nearly all of them are taught in conjunction with named subjects such as Structural Geology (Leeds), Marine Geology (Southampton), Soil Mechanics (Imperial) and so on. The Departments have recognised the importance of providing geophysicists with a firm understanding of the geology, petrophysics and soil mechanics which our techniques can image so effectively.

Many years ago, Professor Perce Allen recognised this fundamental truth when he founded the Geological Geophysics BSc course at Reading University.  Sadly this course, with its many opportunities for graduates, was closed by the then Universities’ Grants Committee following the 1988 Earth Science Review. However, I think we may conclude that the teaching of Exploration Geophysics at MSc level is not dead, but exists very effectively in conjunction with detailed studies of the geological targets.

Clive McCann

Careers advice - too rosy? 09 June 2017

Received 09 JUNE 2017
Published 09 JUNE 2017
From Jon Noad

Sir, I read with interest the ‘Pathways into geology’ section of the 2016 Annual Review. I live in Calgary, where around 30% of geologists are unemployed, with even higher figures for geophysicists. While I applaud initiatives to attract young students to study geology, I feel there is a certain lack of balance, and of cautionary advice, regarding this topic. I see many young geologists, mostly recent graduates, struggling to find work of any kind in Canada. This is mainly a result of low oil prices, exacerbated by the current slump in mining and mineral prices. They are doing all the right things (volunteering, networking, etc.), yet there are simply no jobs out there.

To my mind, there is a need to show both sides of our industry to budding geologists. Currently the dilemma of ‘no job without experience, no experience without a job’ is compounded by the lack of jobs, and even summer positions for students, currently.   I would urge you to include at least one speaker at the Careers and ‘Girls in Geoscience Days’ who can highlight the fact that not everyone studying geoscience-related subjects is likely to end up working as a geologist. I suggest that you should also flag up this fact on your new Geology Career Pathways web page.

I have written an online article providing advice for new graduates:

I hope I don’t sound preachy!  I just want younger readers to be aware that it is currently pretty desperate out there, with many scientists in the oil industry losing their jobs, sometimes their houses, with consequent stress on their relationships. Things can only get better!

Jon Noad


New CPD System - reply 08 June 2017

Received 08 JUNE 2017
Published 08 JUNE 2017
From David James

Sir, I would agree entirely with Mr Talbot and Mr Eccles (Readers' Letters, June 2017) that professional geologists, ie those offering expert services for payment, ought both ethically and in their own business interests to undertake CPD and that where they seek to advertise such services by joining a Chartered body, that body is entitled to insist on this. Whether or not such body has the right to set itself up as a professional regulator is another matter; my preference would be that this function is better performed by public authority / government agency to avoid the 'closed shop' danger. However I believe that the Society has a unique role to play in advising any regulator and setting standards; it was for this reason that I became a professionally active CGeol in 1991.

I am now retired and self-funded; I do not offer service for payment so there can be no legitimate public interest in what CPD I undertake. By most normal definitions (not the circular definition offered by Mr Talbot and Mr Eccles) I am not a professional. When I put data and opinion into published work it benefits from peer review to ensure that it is neither unsubstantiated nor outdated and that my discussion of the views of others follows due courtesy. That production of such work has necessitated CPD should be obvious, the need to report it to central bureaucrats is not.

The GSL code of conduct is, since 2015, presumably that of the AGI Guidelines  (a decision of Council not by poll of the Fellowship I believe). These make no distinction (as worded) between 'professional' and 'scientific' activity and by implication 'Chartered' or Non-Chartered'. Seemingly the only difference between Chartered and Non-Chartered Fellows is by now the requirement for a centralised registration of CPD. However I have always believed that, to the outside world, the designation CGeol adds something that is not immediately obvious in FGS alone, just as a senior degree adds to a first degree. It reflects a qualification milestone and demonstrates one's support (not least financial) for  the Chartership structure as a means of improving professional standards.

Academic degrees are also milestone qualifications that reflect knowledge relevant to the time of their award but universities do not require evidence of continued further study to allow the degree continued validity. The point of any collection of data is surely that there is a use for it. It seems to me that those having attained CGeol status  should be offered a choice, tick the 'non professionally-active' box and save the submission and storage of CPD data that is of no use to anyone (nor their business), or tick the 'professionally-active' box and ensure that their CPD data can be independently corroborated on enquiry for those investigating the possible use of their services (the only legitimate use for it). In the latter case they are surely entitled to the safeguards for use of their data that my Soapbox article mentioned.

The Chartered Geologist movement arose when a group of 'applied' geologists perceived, arguably correctly at the time, that they were somehow less valued than 'academic' geologists and they managed successfully to shanghai a learned society to further their drive for recognition. Much good has come of this but it goes too far when it attempts to regulate serious scientists not offering professional services in the public realm. Many highly qualified academic geologists are not Chartered but earn their living providing a societal benefit with their teaching and research. Does the Chartership Committee consider them professionals or that their standards are inferior to those of Chartered Fellows ?  If so the Society has double standards in its self-stated role.

Man's puny attempts 02 May 2017

Received 02 MAY 2017
Published 02 MAY 2017
From Andrew McMillan

dgyukSir, Nina Morgan’s interesting discussion (Geoscientist 27.4, May 2017) of the original marble tombstone commemorating Joseph Black (1728-1799) in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh reminds me of Archibald Geikie’s eloquent comment in the 3rd and best edition of his volume The Scenery of Scotland (Macmillan, 1901): “As I examined the marble of the tomb and its Latin inscription that records the genius of the discoverer of carbonic acid, I could not but reflect on the curious irony of Nature, that has furnished in the corrosion of this monument her own testimony to the truth of his discovery.”

j,l,.I am pleased to say that the replacement sandstone tomb (1894) for Joseph Black (left), although needing some attention, is in reasonable condition. A more pressing concern is for the nearby sandstone memorial to the Balfour family related to James Hutton through his mother, Sarah. A spout draining the roof of an adjacent building (image, right) regularly wets the surface of this stone and the inscription is fading fast. Fortunately the adjacent plaque erected in 1947 commemorating Hutton as the Founder of Modern Geology is of a polished granite but the inscription still needs attention. Efforts have been made to contact the owners of the building to take remedial action.

As always, maintenance of monuments and buildings is crucial. But as the dear late Norman Butcher was once heard to comment about some crumbling building: ‘……another example of Man’s puny attempts to compete with nature.”

Andrew McMillan

IPCC Consensus and the Geological Perspective 02 May 2017

Received 02 MAY 2017
Published 02 MAY 2017
From Colin Summerhayes

Sir, In response to the letter by Howard Dewhirst (8 March, 2017), I would like to draw readers’ attention to a recent paper by Foster et al (2017) in Nature Communications (details below). Their careful geological study demonstrates that the evolution of our climate on geological timescales is largely driven by variations in the magnitude of total solar irradiance (TSI) and changes in the greenhouse gas content of the atmosphere. The slow increase in TSI over the past 420 million years was almost completely negated by a long term decline in atmospheric CO2, which was most likely caused by negative feedback from increased silicate weathering plus the expansion of land plants, which worked together to ensure Earth’s habitability.

Foster et al’s geological data and conclusions are amply supported by the palaeoclimate literature, which I recommend to all Geoscientist readers. Examples include one by the GSL’s Lyell medallist for 2010, Bill Ruddiman (see short list below).  Indeed, it is fair to say that several of our recent GSL medallists wholeheartedly agree with Ruddiman’s (hence also Foster’s) take on how our climate system works, and the role of greenhouse gases in it (e.g. Lyell medallists Nick Shackleton, 1987; John Imbrie, 1991; Al Fischer, 1992; Mike Leeder, 1993; Harry Elderfield, 2003; Nick McCave, 2009; and Eric Wolff, 2012; Wollaston medallists Wally Broecker, 1990; James Lovelock, 2006; and Maureen Raymo, 2014; and Murchison medallist Bob Berner, 1996).  

This is not new science – indeed among the first geologists to explore the link between CO2 and climate were Sweden’s Arvid Högbom and the USA’s T.C. Chamberlin, in the 1890s. Much of our understanding of the role of CO2 in contributing to the control of our climate comes from the publications of geochemists (e.g. Bob Berner) and palynologists (e.g. Dana Royer and Dave Beerling, FRS), which may be unfamiliar to our ‘regular’ geologists. Indeed, much of this new understanding was unknown when, like Howard Dewhirst, I studied geology in the 1960s. CO2 and its potential effects on climate rate hardly a mention for example in the great Arthur Holmes’s Principles of Physical Geology (1965).

A vast body of geological, geochemical and palynological literature bearing on past climate change and its implications for the future has emerged in the past 30 years, much of it shut away in the scientific journals and so unfortunately available only to those few with paid access. It was to remedy that deficiency that a group of us helped the GSL to put together its climate change statements in 2010 and 2013 (which the reader can access on the GSL web site’s Policy page), and that I summarised much of the relevant literature in my book ‘Earth’s Climate Evolution’, in 2015.  None of this has anything directly to do with the so-called IPCC consensus, nor is it informed by what the IPCC has to say. It is geologically based, as are the publications listed below, and as is the work done by the medallists listed above. So before we opt for Howard Dewhirst’s suggestion that the GSL hold a meeting on the topic, perhaps we could persuade him to catch up on the geological literature, rather than worrying about whatever the IPCC may say.

Allow me to finish by pointing out one of the key findings of that recent literature. In 2013, Frederic Parrenin and colleagues reported in Science that a careful re-examination of the ages of ice and air bubbles in Antarctic ice cores demonstrated that there was in effect zero delay between warming and the natural emission of CO2, not the 800-year delay in CO2 emission quoted by Howard Dewhirst. The old paradigm has been overturned.

That helps to underline the point that while scepticism does indeed have its place in science, our geological knowledge is moving on. We must all keep up, or our scepticism will be misplaced. Let’s all read the relevant and up-to-date geological literature on climate change, starting with the GSL statements.

Colin Summerhayes, Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge

Further reading

  • Foster, G.L., Royer, D.L., and Lunt, D.J., 2017, Future climate forcing potentially without precedent in the last 420 million years. Nature Comms. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms14845.
  • Ruddiman, W.F., 2014, Earth’s Climate: Past and Future.  W.H. Freeman.
  • Beerling, D., 2007, The Emerald Planet. Oxford Uni. Press.
  • Bender, M.L., 2013, Paleoclimate. Princeton Primers in Climate. Princeton Uni. Press.

Anthropocene urban geology 02 May 2017

Received 02 MAY 2017
Published 02 MAY 2017
From David Nowell

dsthjSir, From the perspective of the next species to evolve geologists, within the next hundred million years, what will they make of our Anthropocene geological record?  From their point of view within the geological time scale, these geochemically distinct Asphaltian deposits will have ubiquitous sediments derived from brick and concrete rubble with occasional asphalt concrete (and occasional tarmac) pavements preserved beneath disconformities such as this set of cross-cutting relationships.    What on Earth will they make of a water trench cutting across a pavement, in turn cut by a cable duct 14cm wide?

David Nowell

A new CPD system - official response 19 April 2017

Received 19 APRIL 2017
Published 19 APRIL 2017
From John Talbot Chris Eccles

Sir, We write in response to David James (Soapbox, Geoscientist 27.4 April).  From his article, it seems to us that he misunderstands CPD, and how the new system is intended to function. Mr James raises a number of issues to which we respond via bullet points.

  • Firstly, from a comprehensive global survey of professional organisations across the English-speaking world, it was found that CPD is a universal requirement, to the extent that a simple definition of any professional is, inter alia, someone for whom CPD and its recording is a necessity.
  • All Fellows should have been carrying out CPD in line with the Code of Conduct, and the new system brings its ongoing practice into the C21st.
  • Before its approval by Council (see November 2016 Minutes, available at the new system was approved by both the Chartership and Professional Committees in March 2016. The report’s recommendations were also reviewed by teams appointed by each of the Regional Groups.
  • The announcement to accept the new CPD recommendations was delegated to the Chartership Committee.
  • Being ‘retired’ does not necessarily equate to being professionally inactive. What about occasional consultancy assignments, or pro bono advice to, say, charities?
  • Mr James’s research activities most certainly come under professional activities; thus, they qualify as CPD.
  • All CPD should be designed by the individual to suit his or her own needs and never for central bureaucrats – this latter has never been part of the old or new systems!
  • While CPD most assuredly does not ensure competency, it is self-evident that competency demands that CPD is undertaken.
  • Checks are made by an annual audit of 3-5% of Chartered Fellows CPD, selected at random, and to a set formal procedure.
  • All CPD information submitted by Fellows remains strictly confidential to themselves, apart from information essential to be able to perform an audit.
  • The new CPD is designed to be simpler and wider -ranging and will not need many hours of recording. It should take not more than 2-5 minutes per event, additional to planning and reflecting time (say 1-2 hours per year).

EurGeol Eur Ing John Talbot, Chartership Committee Chair; Professional Accreditation Committee

EurGeol Chris Eccles, Vice-President, Chartership; Chairman, Chartership Committee

Of cricket and rocks 18 April 2017

Received 18 APRIL 2017
Published 18 APRIL 2017
From Bryan Lovell

This morning I put down a copy of Nature Geoscience and picked up the new Wisden, which arrived last week to join the previous 153 editions. For the first time in print these two huge chunks of my life came together. Here are the words that did it:

"But something is missing, something that more than 97% of climate scientists agree on - from NASA to the Geological Society of London, and the nearly 200 countries who signed the Paris agreement in December 2015. Climate change is real, and it is extremely likely to be man- made."

Tanya Aldred, Cricket and Climate Change: How green is your sward?, Wisden 2017, pages 65-70.

To be picked out alongside just one other organisation in the specialist literature on climate change would be deserved recognition of our leadership, but still good going for our Society. To be picked out in Wisden really is remarkable.

Despite the summer conflict of the two field seasons, there are quite a few geologists who play cricket, and many more who follow the game.  Would a geological devotee of Wisden even go so far as to choose cricket rather than rocks as a preferred topic in a quiz?

In 1973 I told my head of department in Edinburgh, the redoubtable Professor (later Sir) Frederick Stewart, that I intended to appear on a Yorkshire Television quiz show hosted by Hughie Green. Fred at first looked apprehensive: this was not the style of television to which a serious scholar should give much attention. Then he relaxed when I reassured him that my subject would be cricket not rocks. Did I have his permission? "Yes, providing you win."

The tax-free top prize was equivalent to a year's salary for a Lecturer in Fred’s department in those heavily taxed days. The pressure was the greater, in that the quiz show involved, Sky’s The Limit, was a successor to Double Your Money. If you made the least error in attempting to double your money, you lost. Week by week during the autumn term the pressure built. Sedimentology and Siccar Point were intercalated with scores and Sydney Cricket Ground.

Lloyd’s, who were snooty, refused insurance on the notoriously difficult final question. I declined the unfavourable odds quoted by friendly Ladbrokes, and quit after winning the penultimate round. I pocketed a cheque for £1050 handed to me by Green, telling him I wanted to buy a new rear wheel for my bike. The next day I cycled up West Mains Road to tell Fred I was even more keen than usual to run his practical on evaporite petrography.

I also bought some earlier Wisdens, to sit with the heavily worn 1973 copy, and now with the Geological Edition of 2017.

Bryan Lovell

A new CPD system 18 April 2017

Received 18 APRIL 2017
Published 18 APRIL 2017
From Tony Bazley

Sir, David James is quite right of course that Fellows CPD forms should be confidential and marked as such. As I read it, they can be kept by the CGeol concerned and just produced on demand by authorised Society members. He is not correct that the new system will take many hours of work. I have tried it as a retired but now consultant CGeol and the new system is really simple. Once the log book is downloaded, the work categories are to hand and you have your own work diary it takes less than an hour a month.

I welcome the change and the recognition that not everyone is in a big company, in their youth (40-60 years of age) or full-time. When I stand in a court as an expert witness and that eagle-eyed barrister asks about the CGeol qualification I want to be confident it is professionally respected. Personal intentions for the future? A grave question indeed for those over 75.

Tony Bazley

IPCC and consensus 08 March 2017

Received 08 MARCH 2017
Published 08 MARCH 2017
From Howard Dewhirst
Sir,  Nobody can disagree that there is climate change. As geologists, we know about the continual, and even continuous changes, that are the stratigraphic record; none would deny there has been an increase (but of ~1oC) in average world temperatures since ~1880, nor that CO2 is increasing; but many geologists and other scientists, do not accept that there is a proven, and unique scientific and unbreakable link, between CO2 and catastrophic, anthropogenic climate change. And it is far from clear that this ~1oC rise is not primarily a product of the repeated fluctuations in temperature recorded over the last 10,000 years - since the ice last retreated.

Climate modellers in the late 1970s changed from prophesying a nuclear winter, which for many years had been the buzz phrase linked to the global cooling that had taken place between ~1943 and ~1973, and particularly so while I was studying geology in the 60s, to warning about anthropogenic global warming. This claim appeared increasingly justifiable as the century aged, for the thirty years of warming showed an increasingly clear trend. Linking this rise to the undeniable rise of CO2 was certainly something to consider, but what was not considered, was that half of the increase in temperature recorded since ~1880, had already happened by 1943, during a period when CO2 increased hardly at all. 

More geologically pertinent perhaps, is that the world’s supply of CO2 has declined steadily for the last 150 million years and that, after the last ice sheets withdrew, was lower at 280ppm, than it has ever been in the history of life since the Cambrian explosion. Global warming sceptics noted that during the Pleistocene glaciation, the apparent link between CO2 and temperature was that, as temperature rose or fell, CO2 moved up or down on a similar trajectory, but only after a lag of up to 800 years.  This simple observation was denounced by the IPCC and others, as demonstrating the mendacity of ‘global warming deniers’, who did not care about the world’s health. This observation has now been accepted as mainstream climate doctrine, even by anthropogenic CO2 driven climate change proponents.[1]  Other inconsistencies suggest that the IPCC hypothesis could be wrong; after the last ice age ended, temperatures rose ~8oC, and CO2 100ppm; since 1880, CO2 has risen by 120ppm, but temperature has barely managed 1oC; how does this fit the IPCC hypothesis of climate change?

As geologists, but not ‘real’ climate scientists perhaps (?), we also know that there is never complete consensus on any hypothesis, and new, initially unpopular ideas – such as plate tectonics, can become mainstream, and increasingly supported by new evidence, or can disappear, like miogeosynclines. Scepticism therefore does seem to have a valued place in science - but not, it seems from your editorial, in the science of anthropogenic climate change?

Looking further at the record of CO2, one third of the total increase since ~1880, has taken place since ~1996, during a time of slow-down, or hiatus in global warming – partially obscured by El Nino warming effects. IPCC’s response to this slowdown, was to drop global warming as a catch phrase, and substitute climate change instead. Is it not reasonable to question why these two examples of CO2 increases not affecting temperature changes, seem to have been studiously ignored in the vast amount of current climate change publications? Put another way, is it not more reasonable to ask, if CO2 does not always result in warming, how does it produce climate change?

Scepticism it seems, is never tolerated by consensus holders, so it is no surprise that a Google Search only produces articles that pay homage to the IPCC position. Popularity however – which is all Google search demonstrates, has, like consensus, never been equated with scientific accuracy or probity. Perhaps President Trump’s new EPA will look more carefully at both sides of the debate before committing the world to a potentially futile but very costly attempt to reduce CO2, which will achieve nothing but a reduction of the recent greening of the planet, and the increased crop yields that are measurable benefits of the increasing CO2 content.

If the sceptics are wrong about everything, let us hear them, so we can put them to shame and get the world’s EPA organisations back on track. I therefore call on the GSL, as representing all of its members, to convene an open climate change conference to hear, without rancour and personal innuendo, the present state of the argument. Failing this, I would like to present you and your colleagues some of the data that concern the many sceptics whose voice is rarely heard. This is not about ‘alternative facts’ but about some unpalatable facts.

Your telling quotation, “In an age of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act” is proof of nothing, as it could just as easily be applied to much of what the sceptics say about what IPCC puts forward, and also to the gagging order which prevents sceptical views being expressed in print, even after they have turned out to be correct, as is implied in the article referenced above “On paleoclimate time scales, however, the cause-effect direction is reversed: temperature changes cause subsequent CO2/CH4 changes.”  It seems unreasonable to accept that these paleoclimate effects have been vanquished by humanity’s 125ppm contribution to atmospheric CO2.

And as to whether or not speakers, geologists and other attendees will be suitably ‘qualified’ to speak, it might be useful to remember that the politicians who are going to have to implement whatever changes are called for, and journalists who write about them, are mostly unqualified scientifically, yet their combined voices carry more weight than those of the scientists whose work they rely on.

Howard Dewhirst FGS

[1] 'On the causal structure between CO2 and global temperature'; Adolf Stips, Diego Macias, Clare Coughlan, Elisa Garcia-Gorriz & X. San Liang Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 21691 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep21691:


Code buried 06 March 2017

Received 06 MARCH 2017
Published 06 MARCH 2017
From John Heathcote

Sir, Martin Shepley’s Soapbox (Geoscientist 27.02 March 2017) raises some interesting points.  I searched on our website for ‘ethics’ and found nothing.  By diligence I found our Code of Conduct, but not by following any obvious link and it was not found anywhere near the top of the list by the search engine; but at least this alerted me to its title.  The Code is binding on all Fellows, not just CGeols.

I wrote to Professor David Manning when he was President, drawing attention to the difficulty in finding the Code of Conduct on the website, and also to the lack of real guidance on how to deal with certain ethical issues.  (I no longer have his reply to hand, but it was along the lines of ‘noted, but not high priority’.)

We are in exactly the same position in 2017 – the Code remains  buried, and there is no useful guidance on how to tackle unreasonable requests to disguise the scientific truth or even to ignore illegal acts. I still find myself in ethically uncomfortable places, even as recently as this week.

The article also discusses the need not to stray from one’s area of expertise - which the Code also stresses.  However, how is one’s area of expertise proved?  My formal qualification in hydrogeology is a PhD.  This means that I was supervised rather than taught, and did not have to demonstrate to my examiners a grasp of all areas of hydrogeology to be awarded my degree in 1981. It was actually about inorganic hydrochemistry. 

I was able to demonstrate a wider grasp of hydrogeology when I applied for my CGeol in 1993.  I learned about groundwater modelling (which is the capacity in which I worked with Martin Shepley) ‘on the job’. Nowadays I do radioactively contaminated land, also worked out on the job. No-one offers a formal qualification in this, although I teach about it.

I can see the point in having a formal approval system for certain limited areas, but I am wary of trying to approve everything formally.  The scope of geological expertise is too great.  In any event, a formal qualification means only that you passed the exam, not that you have a thorough understanding of the topic.

No amount of formal framework will eliminate the possibility of fraud, which appears to be what Bre-X was about, or errors resulting from unknown unknowns, i.e. a professional being unaware of his ignorance of a topic. UK statute law already covers fraud, although professional ignorance involves the grey area of civil law. To what extent is ignorance negligence?

In the era of ‘post truth’ and also of more litigation, can we please have an accessible Code of Conduct and some guidance on its use?

John Heathcote MA PhD FGS CGeol

Hammer horror 01 February 2017

Received 01 FEBRUARY 2017
Published 01 FEBRUARY 2017
From Henk Schalke

Sir, Reading Geoscientist , December/January, 26.11, my particular attention was drawn by the article Tools of the Oldest Profession by Douglas Palmer .  

During fieldwork in the Cantabrian Mountains (N. Spain) I had the bad luck to break my hammer’s hickory shaft. Far away from the possibility of buying a new one (not to mention that my student allowance was gone already!) a local blacksmith offered to repair the hammer by first making 2 extraordinary iron pins and using these to reconnect the shaft to the head. With this hammer all my subsequent fieldwork was done.

In the 1990s that I met, at a geological conference, Giselle d’Ailly - a Dutch painter (once married to the mayor of Amsterdam) who had been asked by our Royal Geological Society here in the Netherlands to paint a portrait of her farther – none other than Willem van Waterschoot van der Gracht, godfather of geology in our country.

Willem van Waterschoot van der Gracht (1873-1943) studied Law, Geology and Mining respectively in Amsterdam and Freiburg (after his stay at the Jesuit College, Stonyhurst, in the UK).

Giselle asked me if it would be a good idea to paint her father in field gear. After some discussion we agreed  - and then she said: “But - I don’t have a hammer, which he always carried with him when doing fieldwork’.  I replied - “Don't worry I will bring you mine!”.

sdgukThe finished portrait was presented to the Geological Survey when their new building was opened by the Royal Prince Clause in 1990 in Haarlem.

You can imagine that we all were very pleased with this portrait, which is shown on the biography of van der Gracht, written by a good friend of mine (picture).

Nowadays the portrait hangs in the building of the Survey in yet another new building in Utrecht, with the real hammer also on display next to it.  (I was asked to donate the hammer so the visiting public could see how a used hammer looks like!).

Dr Henk J W G Schalke,  Oegstgeest.