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Articles

Bruce Yardley appointed Chief Geologist

Bruce Yardley (Leeds University) has been appointed Chief Geologist by The Radioactive Waste Management Directorate (RWMD) of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Chartership news

Chartership Officer Bill Gaskarth reports on a projected new logo for use by CGeols, advice on applications and company training schemes

Climate Change Statement Addendum

The Society has published an addendum to 'Climate Change: Evidence from the Geological Record' (November 2010) taking account of new research

Cracking up in Lincolnshire

Oliver Pritchard, Stephen Hallett, and Timothy Farewell consider the role of soil science in maintaining the British 'evolved road'

Critical metals

Kathryn Goodenough* on a Society-sponsored hunt for the rare metals that underpin new technologies

Déja vu all over again

As Nina Morgan Discovers, the debate over HS2 is nothing new...

Done proud

Ted Nield hails the new refurbished Council Room as evidence that the Society is growing up

Earth Science Week 2014

Fellows - renew, vote for Council, and volunteer for Earth Science Week 2014!  Also - who is honoured in the Society's Awards and Medals 2014.

Fookes celebrated

Peter Fookes (Imperial College, London) celebrated at Society event in honour of Engineering Group Working Parties and their reports

Geology - poor relation?

When are University Earth Science departments going to shed their outmoded obsession with maths, physics and chemistry?

Nancy Tupholme

Nancy Tupholme, Librarian of the Society and the Royal Society, has died, reports Wendy Cawthorne.

Power, splendour and high camp

Ted Nield reviews the refurbishment of the Council Room, Burlington House

The Sir Archibald Geikie Archive at Haslemere Educational Museum

You can help the Haslemere Educational Museum to identify subjects in Sir Archibald Geikie's amazing field notebook sketches, writes John Betterton.

Top bananas

Who are the top 100 UK practising scientists?  The Science Council knows...

Letters

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

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

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

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

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

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

All things pass away 11 May 2020

Received 21 APRIL 2020
Published 11 MAY 2020
From Ted Nield

Dear Editor, There is no doubt about it – oil and gas made the world a better, cleaner and healthier place.  Right – I hope I now have your attention.

Previous correspondents Mike Ridd, Howard Dewhirst and others are in an even better position than I to remember the grimy, smut-besmirched world of the coal age, and to understand why washday was Monday (the only workday when the air was clean). The post-war, aliphatic petrochemical world that gradually supplanted the aromatic coal-burning and distilling world was infinitely healthier and more convenient, and its welcome plastic products brought us all the benefits of the packaging industry, with supermarkets full of shrink-wrapped veg. And the people rejoiced.

The coal age had been preferable to the wood age because it put more power into people’s hands. The oil age was preferable to the coal age because there was even more, and more flexible, power - and more useful by-products too, once the chemical industry re-tooled.  Oil men were regarded as heroes for achieving this, and were admired for the wealth they created in the process, like the coal barons of old. And they felt, and came to love, the vibe of a great industry, unmatched in its global reach, cash richness, and sheer, awesome scale. And they did some fantastic geology along the way too.

Going from hero to zero isn’t easy, but nobody need feel guilty about any of this. It was what their different ages demanded, and they provided it. We must not measure the past with the ruler of the present. Yet there are unintended consequences to all actions. Unless we are blind or deluded we know what they are, and denying them because we wish to believe otherwise won’t help.

I joined the Society staff in the 1990s when coal was all but dead. The Coal Geology Group fizzled out, even lingering on without officers or members for a number of years before finally being expunged like a sooty stain. Yet, for a while during this limbo, if the Society said anything negative either about coal or mining, armies of retired coal geologists would leap red-faced out of their backwoods, spluttering about resignation. Now, they are gone. Eventually, the same will happen to those of us who once toiled in oil. 

Thus youth and age and all things pass away. The challenge for both camps is to accept the inevitable gracefully.


Fossil fuels and the future energy mix - reply 11 May 2020

Received 11 APRIL 2020
Published 11 MAY 2020
From Mike Ridd

Dear Editor, Among Fellows of the Geological Society, Colin Summerhayes has immersed himself more than most in the science of climate and its changes over geological time. But his letter (Geoscientist, April 2020) contains no evidence that CO2 had a primary role in changing Earth’s pre-Pleistocene climate. It is simply not enough to state ‘.....tens of thousands of  scientists around the world....’ have proved conclusively that humans are changing the climate. After all, millions of people around the world believe in life after death, while millions more believe there is no life after death. They cannot both be right. What is needed (and the Geological Society should take the initiative here) is a comprehensive debate where the evidence for the role of CO2 is subjected to proper scrutiny, instead of the quasi-religious assertions that are the basis of Dr Summerhayes’ letter.


Engage where people go! 08 April 2020

Received 07 APRIL 2020
Published 08 APRIL 2020
From Clive Mitchell

Dear Editor, I read with great interest the soapbox article by Catherine Kenny in the April issue of Geoscientist (Engage! Geoscientist 30 (3), 9, 2020). As a geologist, I am a passionate and enthusiastic advocate of engaging with all ages. I think Catherine is right when she says that reaching the younger generation is the real issue. Igniting the spark of geological curiosity is a wonder to behold - I know from personal experience of showing primary school kids how to use a simple hand lens and the sudden “Oooooo” moment when it all comes into focus. 

However, lectures, field trips, museum tours and careers events (which I hasten to add are fantastic) run the risk of only engaging with a self-selecting audience. To engage more widely, I think we need to adopt the commercial marketing strategy to ‘go where people go’. 

A couple of examples: Catherine mentioned Minecraft. At the peak of the video game’s popularity the British Geological Survey innocently released the geology of Great Britain for Minecraft – the response was by far and away one of the biggest the BGS has ever had to a release of anything geological! When the augmented reality Pokémon-Go craze was at its height, the BGS discovered several Pokémon on the Geological Walk at its site in Keyworth – this lead to a large increase in visitors who learnt a little geology on the way around! So to paraphrase another Star Trek Captain, James Tiberius Kirk, we need to: Boldly go where no geologist has gone before.

All by my shelf - reply 08 April 2020

Received 08 APRIL 2020
Published 08 APRIL 2020
From Sarah Day

Thank you to everyone who’s been in touch with us via social media and email to let us know how you’re getting on. We very much hope the current situation won’t last long enough to warrant a regular feature – but if you have a home rock collection you’d like to share with us on twitter (@geoscientistmag) using the hashtag #AllByMyShelf, we’d love to see them. If you want to share your experiences of home working, home schooling, and how you're dealing with the current situation, you can tweet us or write to me via the usual address (sarah.day@geolsoc.org.uk). Thanks Alex for the idea, and we sincerely hope all our readers are staying safe and well. 

Sarah Day (Editor, Geoscientist magazine)

All by my shelf 08 April 2020

Received 07 APRIL 2020
Published 08 APRIL 2020
From Alex Booer

Dear Editor, In response to your request for accounts of working from home (via twitter, @geoscientistmag) - as an engineering geologist in the UK construction and transport industries, much of my work is continuing as usual, albeit from home. It’s led me to think about how our working practices might be impacted. For some of my colleagues, particularly those with young children, it’s very difficult but personally I’ve found the whole experience energising. I love working from home. I’ve found motivation and a new lease of life I didn’t realise I was missing.

It's had such a positive impact on my health and happiness, I’m considering making it a permanent arrangement in future. I suspect I won’t be the only one, and that employers will find many of us want to be more flexible in our working locations. It will be interesting to see, should this play out, what impact this has on institutional memory and skills transfer. 

As what I’m still thinking of as the ‘normal’ course of things, a days’ work involves passing colleagues in the kitchen and sharing technical anecdotes and techniques, hovering over each others’ desks and gossiping about the industry and the minutia of soil mechanics. It’s how we learn, and probably the most important way we develop a breadth of skill appreciation, knowledge and eventual expertise. 

While it’s possible for us to all work in separate locations, and while intentional training is also important, we do lose the desultory collaboration that often – in our office at least – results in innovation and a mingling of different points of view and expertise. I hope the circumstances that mean we’re all sheltering in place are short term, but it seems our working practices will be impacted in ways we haven’t yet worked out. I plan to observe carefully and continue to navigate collaboration as best we can – hopefully with better long term results for all of us.

Perhaps the magazine should run a regular feature in which readers share photographs and anecdotes of favourite rocks in their home collections. ‘All By My Shelf’? 

I hope everyone’s staying well.

A precautionary approach - follow up 08 April 2020

Received 24 MARCH 2020
Published 08 APRIL 2020
From John Heathcote

Dear Editor, In reply to various letters, I will admit to making a comment (Letters, rec'd 11 Dec '19, published 17 Dec '19) that was intended to provoke thought, which I hoped would be read that way rather than as condemnation of all those who work in the fossil fuel industries. If I caused offence, I am sorry - that was not my intent.  I admit also that I benefit from the use of hydrocarbons, both as road fuel and as a raw material for manufactured goods like the computer I am using. I do my best to minimise such use, but there is not always a practicable alternative.

But there is also no denying that our planet cannot cope with all of us using earth resources at the rate now used in 'the west'. As geologists we probably have a better appreciation of the larger scale and long time implications of mankind's current behaviour.  We certainly have a role in finding a solution, but in my view that will not be exploiting resources to meet unfettered demand.

I'm comfortable that I've had a career in geology.  It was only happenstance that it ended up in contaminated land management, via groundwater resource management.  The ability to join aspects of the 'pure' sciences together and apply them to the real world is very valuable. I would certainly encourage others to join us.  There is plenty of work for geologists to do and not all of it is not in resource exploitation.

Fossil fuels and the future energy mix 19 February 2020

Received 12 FEBRUARY 2020
Published 19 FEBRUARY 2020
From Colin Summerhayes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The challenge for geologists 10 February 2020

Received 30 JANUARY 2020
Published 10 FEBRUARY 2020
From Mike Simmons

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

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

A broad swipe 10 February 2020

Received 28 JANUARY 2020
Published 10 FEBRUARY 2020
From Ivan Inchenko

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



Code of conduct - reply 10 February 2020

Received 07 JANUARY 2020
Published 10 FEBRUARY 2020
From Andy Fleet

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

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

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

Andy Fleet (Editor in Chief, Geoscientist)

Moral pressure 10 February 2020

Received 29 JANUARY 2020
Published 10 FEBRUARY 2020
From Howard Dewhirst

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

The benefits of fossil fuels 29 January 2020

Received 25 JANUARY 2020
Published 29 JANUARY 2020
From Michael Ridd

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

Code of conduct 29 January 2020

Received 17 JANUARY 2020
Published 29 JANUARY 2020
From Peter Easton

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earthquake prediction 29 January 2020

Received 03 JANUARY 2020
Published 29 JANUARY 2020
From Stephen Foster

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

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

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

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

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

Let the facts take precedence over theory.