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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

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.