EGU 2014 Day 1 – Volcanoes, good neighbours and career opportunities.

Phew what a day!

Well day one was a cracker here at EGU. I started the day badly – I forgot that I hadn’t changed my watch and with no other clocks here at the Brigittenau Youth Hostel, I didn’t realise I was actually running an hour late (whoops) meaning I missed the beginning of my first session. Note to self – always double check all your clocks!

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When I arrived at the conference centre I went straight into my first session – NH 2.1Quantifying Volcanic Hazards. It was a really interesting session with presenters defending abstracts based on a wide range of volcanic topics, from pyroclastic flow modelling on Mt Merapi in Indonesia, to using the eruptive history of Laki in Iceland to help the UK government prepare for the effects of another Icelandic eruption (which, let’s face it, is just a matter of time). Who knew that actually a Laki-like eruption is ranked as one of the top three risk scenarios, in terms of impact, only preceded by pandemic flu and east coast flooding!

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One of the most interesting presentations for me, was on the subject of a bayesian probability event tree, developed to examine the likelihood of volcanic unrest on El Hierro island in the Canary Islands and relating it to what is the origin of that unrest is, how it would evolve, location of the event, magma composition, size or magnitude of the event, products of the unrest and the extent of those products.

What particularly interested me, was the fact that although there were many geologists, physicists, chemists and other scientists on the team, it seemed like something that could be used by a non-expert planner, or even a civilian resident in the area. After the presentation, I spoke to Dr Joan Marti from the Instituto de Ciencias de la Tierra Jaume Almera, in Spain about the research.

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He told me that the production of a hazard map from the data depends on the reproduction of a probabilistic model for each of a varied type of unrest scenario (bearing in mind the special temporal probabilities), that when combined with an interpretation of the historical activity of the island (which has been dived into zones) produces a qualitative, not quantitative, hazard map of the whole island – given the probabistic liklihood of activity and what type, magnitude etc etc. What Dr Marti also told me was that the new event tree was designed to be used by local government, because the probabilities and uncertainties have been incorporated within the program. The really great thing about this plug-in is that it can be used to calculate risk from any number of hazards, that may be related. All in all, it’s a tool that will improve local government response to geological unrest on El Hierro. You can read more about this work here.

I also looked at the session ERE 3.2 Ore deposits: origin, exploration and mining and although there was a lot of focus on copper ore deposits a couple of presentations caught my eye – the first was a piece of work on Rare-Earth Elements in Pacific seafloor sediments (an interesting idea presented by Jeremie Melleton), but the best presentation for me was by Alexandra Masaitis from the University of Nevada on ‘Good Neighbour Agreements’. The work centred on the idea that above and beyond a social contract, mining companies should be seeking to be ‘good neighbours’ and establish trust with the host community. I was particularly interested because Alexandra’s case study was based in the US, with all the associated legal issues that mining in a developed country can bring. The poster described the implementation process and what was necessary, but didn’t say if the Good Neighbour Agreement was actually considered successful by the stakeholders and the company. One surprising risk that was highlighted was the idea that the company could raise the expectations of the stakeholders to a level beyond that which could reasonably be met, thereby weakening the process.

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Finally at the end of the day I attended a workshop on Enhancing your Career Prospects – adding value to your research experience. The focus of the workshop was on making the most of your time as a researcher by forming your ‘personal brand’ and using networking effectively. Now I must admit I find networking for the sake of networking a bit stupid (Id rather have something to talk about), but after this session I started to realise what it was all about. The most valuable conversation I had though, was about my personal brand. Who am I and what do I want to be? The thing that came out most for me? As an interdisciplinary researcher, I want credibility within BOTH of my disciplines. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone – but how do we achieve this?

Answers on a postcard….

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(One for the office chatters – see, it’s networking really!)

5 films you didn’t know are about geology.

When I’m not wandering the coast looking for fossils, stitching up a mean quilt or just generally musing about how awesome geology is (and it is. Seriously.), I like to watch the odd film. Or two, or many. In fact it was a standing joke with an old housemate that I could start my own DVD rental if I wanted to. In fact I had to join a DVD postal rental service (which shall remain nameless) just to curb my addiction. It does mean that I have a rather nerdy knowledge of films and am quite often asked which is my favourite geology film. THERE ARE SO MANY!! But The Core has to win hands down for sheer absurdity and comedy value. You want to see someone actually destroy a TV through frustration at the scientific inaccuracies? Watch The Core with a geologist. It’s like watching Avatar with a zoologist – brilliant.

But the Core, although being amazing (ly terrible) is quite obviously a geology film. So what about those hidden gems that you didn’t know have great geology in them?

Here are my top five:

5. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The volcano has it...

The volcano has it…

So apart from the totally awesome fact that J.R.R. Tolkein based the structure of Middle Earth on modern (at the time) theories of contiental drift, let’s not forget that the One Ring that ruled them all was forged in the fires of Mount Doom – not a really badly named forge, but a kick-ass volcano, brilliantly visualised erupting in a strombolian style at the end of the movie, with fantastic volcanic bombs flying all around the outcrop of basalt that Frodo and Sam lay on until they got rescued by the eagles (and did anyone else think ‘why didn’t the eagles just fy them there in the first place?’).

So no volcano, no Ring, no movie.

4. Superman

Watch out for the meteorites Superman!

Watch out for the meteorites Superman!

The original version here not any of the reboots, though I was pleasantly surprised by Man of Steel. One of my favourite recent discoveries was that of actual Kryptonite (OK technically described in Superman Returns, but we see it first in Superman). Yes Kryptonite, or sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide, is an actual mineral. Unfortunately it isn’t green, but white and it doesn’t come from the planet Krypton, but still…. cool huh?!

Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it's sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide!

Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it’s sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide!

3. Billy Elliot

It's all about the coal...

It’s all about the coal…

Another film where the geology is in the background, and yet a central part of the whole film. Billy lives in Everington (a fictional town) in the north east of England and he wants to dance, but his coal miner Dad doesn’t like the idea of it. The film is set during the Coal Miner Strikes of the mid 80’s and actually depicts what happens to a town when the mineral wealth runs out. The coal miner storyline is integral to the emotional plot and you wouldn’t get that without the mine. Plus facing a little of the realities of coal mining in the 80’s is a little scary – it was not a fun job.

2. The Shawshank Redemption

All you need is a rock hammer...

All you need is a rock hammer…

‘Oh, Andy loved geology. I imagine it appealed to his meticulous nature. An ice age here, million years of mountain building there. Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes really, pressure, and time.’

Basic motto of this story, if you want to escape from jail – make friends with the geologist. If Andy Dufresne had been a taxidermy enthusiast instead of a geology enthusaist, the story would’t have ended in quite the same way me’thinks.

1. The Poseidon Adventure

Watch out for that giant wave!! And Gene Hackman!!

Watch out for that giant wave!! And Gene Hackman!!

‘From the seismographic station in Athens, sir…..Subsea earthquake, 7.8 on the Richter Scale, epicentre 130miles northwest of Crete…’

So begins one of the best disaster movies of all time. And it HAS to be the original – the modern one doesn’t hold a candle in comparison. For one thing, given the fact that right up until the Asian tsunami of Boxing Day 2004, tsunamis were called tidal waves and were depicted as waves crashing on the beach, this film has a lot of good information in it. From the seismographic station giving details such as the epicentre of the quake as well as it’s magnitude, to the way the wave behaves as it approaches the ship, this is a classic hidden geology film. Plus you get to see Gene Hackman playing the PERVIEST preacher ever and Leslie Nielsen, as Captain Harrison, gets one of the best conversations of the whole film

Captain Harrison: [about the oncoming tsunami] It seems to be piling up in those shallows… By the way, Happy New Year.

First Officer Larsen: Thank you, sir. Same to you.

Harrison: [back to business] What’s its speed?

Larsen: 60 knots, sir.

Harrison: It must be mountainous…

Tsunami, what tsunami?! He is so cool!!!!

Anyway, those are my favourite ‘not so obvious’ geology films, what are yours?!

How to use a geological map (or where to find an ammonites armour).

When you go fossil hunting, one of the most important things to do is to know what you are looking for. There is no point in looking for a Mammoth skull in a place where the geology is not old enough for Mammoths to be buried there. It’s the same idea as not going fishing in a desert (though geologists sometimes find fish in deserts, but that’s another story). No, in order to know what fossils you expect to find, you need to know about geological maps.

Geological Maps of Britain 1:625 000 Scale BGS

These maps show the bedrock geology – the geology under the soil – for Scotland, Wales, Engand and a bit of Northern Ireland (sorry – overlap is obscuring most of NI)

This is a geological map of Britain. You may realise that it looks a lot like a normal map, except that instead of roads and countryside it has strange bands of colour swirled across it. These bands of colour represent the geology, but I’ll get to that in a minute. First you need to find out where you are on the map.

For argument’s sake I am going to choose Whitby, because I know that is a good place for fossil hunting, but you could start by looking where you live, or somewhere you really want to go looking for fossils (by the way if you don’t have a geology map of your own and can’t find one in your library you can use the digital one on the British Geological Survey website – it’s not as detailed, but you get lots of great extras).

The geology of Whitby

This shows a close up of the geology around Whitby.

So take a closer look at your area. As you can see in this photo the colours on the map around Whitby are:

  • A purpley brown with the letters J1 written in the space
  • An orangey beige with the letters J2-3
  • A light purple with J4
  • A yellow with J5

Which is all well and good, but what does it mean? And how does this help us find our ammonite? Well just to give us context, if we zoom out from Whitby a bit you can see that the nearby area also has greenish bits with ‘K’s on them and pinkish-orange bits with ‘T’s on them.

The geology between Hartlepool and Flamborough Head

This map has zoomed us out a little bit to show some of the other colours in the area.

To find out what this means we need to look at the legend at the side. This is like the key and tells you lots of useful information. Let’s start with what the colours mean.

BGS Bedrock Geology North UK 1:625 000 legend

This is the legend for most of the rocks on this map (there is more but I couldn’t fit it easily on one image)!

Well the first thing that I always notice when I look at the legend of the map is that the colours are all arranged roughly together (there are oranges, blue-greens, beiges, and purples), and that the letters are grouped together as well. So if we think about the ‘J’ letters we were looking at, you can see that they are in the purple-brown section and are linked to an era called Jurassic. This is the geological age of the rocks in this area – it means that all the rocks with a J on them are Jurassic.

This word will probably be familiar to you if you go fossil hunting because here in this country we get a lot of fossils from the Jurassic – including ammonites! So we know we are on the right track. If we look around the Jurassic section, you can see those pinkish-orange colours by the big T are related to the Triassic and the greenish colours above with the K are related to the Cretaceous. Now although you can find fossils in these areas they are a bit far from Whitby, and I think we will find some interesting fossils in the Jurassic age rocks; let’s stick with them.

Zoom in on the legend

This is close up of the part of the legend that relates to Whitby on the map.

So going back to Whitby, if we want to find some fossils we need to know what kind of rocks to look for. Now to start out at the basic level, we already know we need to find a rock made of sediments (mud, sand, clay etc – the sedimentary rocks) because any rock that has crystals in it (like a granite or a marble) can’t have fossils (those are the igneous and metamorphic rocks). I’ll go into that more later, but first we are thinking about Whitby. So if I look back at my map I can see that the rocks immediately around Whitby are purpley brown with J1 on them. If I read that section of the legend it says:

Early Jurassic {  J1   Lias Group  mudstone and limestone

Ok well the first part (Early Jurassic) is just telling us the age of the rocks. This means these rocks are the oldest in the Jurassic period – if you look to the left a little you can see that the Jurassic started approximately 200 MILLION YEARS AGO!! The second is our letter that led us here. The third is the geologist’s name for these rocks – the Lias Group – it helps geologists to link different rocks together and match them across different parts of the country. The fourth part is the most helpful. Mudstones and limestones.

Shale with bivalves and ammonites

This is a type of mudstone – a shale – with lots of little fossils in it.

This tells us the type of rocks we are looking for – mudstones are stones made of mud (obvious huh?) that are brilliant at preserving fossils and limestones are rocks that are pretty much made of fossils. As a quick guide, mudstones are usually grey (especially in this part of the country) and form lots of layers in rocks. They can look a bit like slate but are very easy to break apart. Limestones can be grey, white or cream coloured depending on the fossils, but fossils in them can be pretty small and sometimes are really broken up, so we are going to focus on the mudstones.

So we know where we want to look – Whitby – what era the rocks will be – Jurassic, specifically Early Jurassic – how old they will be – about 200 million years old (specifically between 201-175 million years old) – and what type of rocks we are looking for – mudstones.

So when we go searching here do we know what kind of fossils to expect to find? AMMONITES! Just like Dactylioceras. This means we probably aren’t going to find a mammoth skull here, the rocks are too old! Same for looking for desert rocks, these rocks are too young for that period of our history. So by looking at a geological map you can know what type of fossils you should expect to find.

Geological maps are useful for lots of other things too, but I just want to go back to those bands of colour we saw on the first image. If you are really interested in finding ammonites, but had already looked in Whitby; a geological map can show us where in the country to find rocks of the same age (Jurassic) or type (Lias Group). You see that big purple swathe across the country down to Dorset? Those rocks are all Jurassic. So in theory you could find ammonites anywhere along that line! But remember only some places are safe to collect in, so check before you go running off to your nearest patch of purple-brown!

One final thing to point out is that if you live in certain places you aren’t going to find any fossils. These are places that have igneous or metamorphic rocks and you can spot them on your map initially by looking for the big red blobs.

Igneous provinces in the Lake District

These big red blobs mark where volcanoes used to be and are a sure fire way to find some brilliant rocks and minerals – but no fossils.

Although you are not going to find any fossils in the red blob areas you will find some fantastic volcanic rocks and some amazing and even sometimes really rare minerals and crystals.

If you want to find out more you can check out the British Geological Survey‘s webpage, they have loads of info on the maps they make and even lots of digital ones you can take with you. Check out this pamphlet they produce as well for more in depth information.

BGS - A short Guide to Geological Maps

This pamphlet on geological maps is produced by the BGS.

So there you have it – maps, a geologist’s best friend – and that is how you find an ammonites armour.

Have a rockin’ day!

(this post was moved from my old site, so sorry for any inconsistencies)