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Newsletter - June 2011

A PDF version (2MB) of this newsletter is available for download.


I do hope that you are enjoying your geological outings this summer.. despite the weather.. though I managed to have 5 stunning days in the SW of Ireland in May. We've several reports of holiday geology this time.. please do keep them coming.

The field trips are filling up rapidly, if you intend to go along on any of the rest, you will need to book in with Jane very soon, there's also a possibility for an exciting trip next year. Reports from the first two outings will be in the September newsletter.

Sadly no one contributed a geological limerick for the newsletter, I tried but failed. However we do have some splendid "verse" from an ex-pupil at St Bede's.

The proposed programme for next winter is available here. The December date is still to be confirmed, but there will be more information in September's newsletter.. looks like Jim has a super session for us!

If you already receive by email (or formerly by post) the excellent Geoconservation Earth Heritage magazine you may wish to take part in the GA consultation on its future.

Well that's all for now folks! Enjoy the summer...

Mary Howie
MGA Newsletter Editor

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The Fred Broadhurst Plesiosaur Appeal

You will be pleased to hear that Percy the plesiosaur will be in his new home very shortly. The appeal has raised enough funds to cover the cost of a suitable case, (the MGA has donated £2000 towards it). Just waiting now for planning approval etc. ...

... meanwhile Percy himself swims on. He is the subject of a recent paper (Benton et al. 2011) in which he has been described as a new species of Hauffiosaurus, Hauffiosaurus tomistomimus, distinguished from the other known species from the Posidonia Shales of Germany by a proportionally shorter neck and strongly concave pre-axial margin of the tibia.

The specimen was found south of Robin Hood's Bay, Yorkshire, in 1960 by a party of undergraduates from Manchester University, led by Fred Broadhurst. The skull was spotted protruding from a wave-cut platform. Part of the skeleton was removed with ease, but the rest of it had to be extracted on a second visit. It was taken to Manchester Museum for preparation, where it remains on display.

The specimen was originally described as Macroplata longirostris, but in this first detailed description, the authors feel that it is distinct from Macroplata and more closely related to Hauffiosaurus from Holzmaden.


Benton RBJ, Ketchum HF, Noè LF, Gomez-Perez M. New Information on Hauffiosaurus (Reptilia, Plesiosauria) based on a new Species from the Alum Shale Member (Lower Toarcian, Lower Jurassic) of Yorkshire, UK. Palaeontology 2011 May;54(3):547-571. Abstract

Broadhurst, FM, Duffy L. A Plesiosaur in the Geology Department, University of Manchester. Museums Journal 1970;70:30-31.

Our thanks to Andy Broadhurst and Jim Spencer for this information and very interesting to those of us who visited the Hauff museum in Holzmaden on an MGA trip to Germany.

(I was in Fred's WEA class soon after and well remember the dramatic black and white slides of Percy's recovery. He had to be cut out between the tides and stretchered up the cliffs on an improvised sledge, in the winter, in the rain!! Good to know that he'll have good and secure home. Ed.)

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Geologists' Association Consultation

The MGA is affiliated to the GA and hence we have been asked our opinion on the future of the Geoconservation magazine Earth Heritage. The magazines can be viewed on the web. If you wish to express your views on the future of this interesting magazine please tell Jane Michael and she will send an email on behalf of the MGA. (Some MGA members are individual GA members so will know about this) From the President of the Geologists' Association
Membership consultation: possible GA involvement in the continued production of Earth Heritage magazine

Members of the GA and some of its affiliated groups might be familiar with this magazine, which is an outlet for news and views on Geoconservation. Previously this magazine has been produced jointly by the Government conservation agencies and has been distributed free of charge to interested parties, with a circulation of over 5,000, including international destinations. In the present climate of economical restraint the funding stream for Earth Heritage has been cut back, with the result that future issues will be produced as pdf electronic versions only. Even this will not guarantee continued production of the magazine at the present standard of content and layout, so the Editorial Board of Earth Heritage has invited the Geologists' Association to consider becoming a full partner in its production (knowing that the GA has a long-standing interest and involvement in Geoconservation).

The initial proposal envisages a combined management, editorial and funding role for the GA in the continued production of Earth Heritage in electronic form. The suggestion is that two pdf issues would be produced per year and that for £3000 per annum, the Geologists' Association would:
  • take up a role in the management and planning of Earth Heritage;
  • have representation on the Earth Heritage Editorial Board;
  • contribute to the content of the magazine, either through provision of agreed articles or through an allocation of page space;
  • be able to distribute the pdf versions free-of-charge to all Geologists' Association members;
  • receive electronic versions of all back-issues of Earth Heritage
  • have the right to print and sell printed versions of Earth Heritage to generate income for the Geologists' Association.
Thus we might see the magazine as a future outlet for news about the geoconservation activities of GA groups and affiliated societies. We can imagine other positives for the GA, with the wider promotion of the identity and activities of the organization, nationally and internationally. There would be a number of issues to clarify before a formal agreement could be reached but at this stage the GA Council has decided that the views of the wider membership should be sought, to determine the level of interest there might be. Specifically, therefore, I would ask members and representatives of affiliated groups to send written or e-mail responses to the following questions:
  1. Would you be interested in receiving free pdf versions of Earth Heritage?
  2. Would you be prepared to pay a small charge (~£5.00-10.00 per issue) to receive printed copies of Earth Heritage?
  3. Would you support future GA involvement in the production of Earth Heritage?
Respond to:
Mrs Sarah Stafford
Executive Secretary
The Geologists' Association
Burlington House

or tell Jane Michael and she'll collate responses.

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Trilobite Poem

Pete Loader sent us this poem. He says: "This was written by one of my students in a detention for not doing his work! It was presented to me in 1987 by the St Bede's College Geology Society (fondly referred to as the REAL BGS). Currently the author is a very successful business man and wishes to remain so!"

Agnostus' Tale by A O'B

I'll tell you a tale of Agnostus,
A trilobite skinny and small,
Who spent all his life bumpin' into things,
Cause he hadnt got no eyes at all!

Now, Agnostus he were a little chap,
5mm from his head to his toe,
And in Iapetus he burrowed around,
Not seeing where he should go.

It were Cambrian time period in Britain,
An' folks were few, far and between.
Brachiopods, corals, some sponges
Were mainly all to be seen.

In those days the UK were divided,
The North and South split, it were clear;
The North had all the swinging, young rockers
Whilst the South just had flat, lousy beer.

Now feelin' alone and dejected
Agnostus decided a quest -
To search out a loving companion
And together set up a love nest.

He'd heard of Paradoxides,
A lady with long pleural spines,
And was determined that he should meet her,
With seismic ideas on his mind.

But Paradoxides lived up in North Scotland
And from the South that's an ocean away;
Two thousand miles were between them
(and without the M1 motorway).

So leaving the Irish Sea Platform,
From Eurasia Agnostus set forth,
To dig the first channel tunnel,
Avoiding the Midlands of course.

Propelled by turbidity currents
Agnostus was borne on his way.
Off t'shelf, down the rise, and, despite lack of eyes,
He reached t'abyssal plain by midday

He journeyed past seamounts and guyots,
Though these were last on his mind,
With no worry of nodules and oozes,
As he missed 'em because he were blind.

By 530 Ma he reached t'other side,
After scaling the Mid Ocean Ridge.
It were mad to burrow through hard basalt rock.
Why hadn't he thought of a bridge?

Upon reaching t'shores of North Scotland,
Agnostus began t'search for his mate.
But, alas, he just couldn't find her.
Trust a woman to be late for a date!

He sought her here, he sought her there,
He sought Paradoxides everywhere.
Was she in Devon? Or up Scafell?
That darned elusive tinkerbell.
(Well you try rhyming something with Scafell!!)

At last after two months of searching,
He reached Paradoxides lair,
And entered in anticipation
But, paradoxically, found she weren't there.

Ordovician superseded the Cambrian,
And time for Agnostus was short.
Paradoxides died out in mid-epoch.
Would he be the next to be caught?

The journey back home it went smoothly.
Yes, surely at last he were home.
But he spoke much too fast and was gone in a flash,
Shot straight down a subduction zone.

The moral of this tale, it is simple.
After studying Geology for nigh on two years,
We still don't know much about fossils and rocks...
But you can't tell us 'owt about beers!

The Geology Department at St Bede's wishes to disclaim any part in the erroneous geological knowledge of its students or, indeed, any geological knowledge at all!!

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Using the Moine Excursion Guide

an excellent alternative to climbing in rotten weather
An Excursion Guide to the Moine Geology of the Northern Highlands of Scotland
Rob Strachan, Ian Alsop, Clark Friend and Suzanne Miller
National Museums of Scotland £17.99
ISBN 978-1-905267-33-0.

I have recently had a week in Scotland near Fort William with friends. It's our usual Scottish walking week. However, the weather was absolute rubbish - it rained every day, clouds were almost at loch level and so going high was not a thrilling option - for me anyway! So after a couple of days of getting soaked boots, I suggested to my partner, Don, that we could do some geology. We had already spent half a day before we got to Fort William following one of the trips in Jack Treagus' Excursion Guide to the Dalradian and, since we were based in the Great Glen, I'd also taken the Excursion Guide to the Moine Geology of the Northern Highlands of Scotland with me (along with bird, flower, tree, mammal and other rock books!).

We decided to follow part of the Glenfinnan to Morrar trip and so took the 'Road to the Isles' - the Mallaig road, passing between the railway viaduct and the Glenfinnan Monument to find the first exposure - a layby. Fortunately we had a GPS to make sure we got the correct one!! Once we had the right start point the others followed as per the book!!

The geology we were looking at comprises the Glenfinnan group psammites, pelites and migmatitles with pegmatites and some microdiorite sheets thrown in for good measure. As the authors of this excursion say, the area is structurally complex! It is part of the Northern Highland Steep Belt and what Don and I mainly looked at were the metasediments with tectonic structures.

Initially at the first exposure everything just looked grey: not helped by poor light (though it wasn't raining at that point) and vegetation covering some of it. However, once you got your eye in you could start to see the structures - some large folds - especially from the far side of the road. Once we got up close and personal the smaller folds became apparent together with cleavage and I was able to identify (as indicated in the book) several stages of deformation. There was a lot of mica clearly visible (both biotite and particularly muscovite) - and collectable! The guide indicated garnets could be found - now I love garnets so I was looking particularly for them but I left empty handed!! We even found the boudins mentioned at locality 3.2 which was a great thrill as I had been trying to explain boudinaging to Don (who is not a geologist). It is so much easier when you can see them!!

We had a great morning exploring just a relatively short length of road. The geology was great, it didn't rain until we got back into the car and I had proved to myself that the Excursion Guide was very good, easy to use for an amateur and I would recommend it to anyone going to that part of Scotland.

Jane Michael

(It has always amused me that "boudin" is French for "sausage" and related to our word "pudding". Ed.)

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Cardiff Senedd

While on a business trip to Cardiff I was taken on a tour of the Welsh Assembly Building or Senedd on Cardiff Bay. An impressive glass and wood structure which is effectively transparent.

On the tour I was quite taken by the art work commissioned to decorate the building. In particular fabric-covered acoustic panels which adorn each wall and essential to stop every conversation sounding like it's taking place in a public lavatory! The artist Martin Richman was inspired by the geology and topography of Wales.

An average panel measures around two metres high by a metre wide, and the artist has worked on approximately 270 of the 600 or so panels in the building.

Each panel is made up of a timber frame enclosing acoustic absorption material, covered by a stretched acoustically neutral fabric. The artist worked with the architects and panel manufacturers to choose a suitable fabric for these 'canvasses', and the material was supplied to the artist marked on a room by room, and panel-by-panel basis. This enabled the artist to create a unique set of panels for each location.

The artist's comments: "The treatment of the sound proofing panels became a means of introducing colour into the new building without compromising the build process. The imagery evolved from a sense of suppressed energy emanating from Wales. The geological strata and mineral deposits have given Wales its particular character, providing a wealth of culture and commerce.

The Senedd building is designed so that the debating chamber is below ground and I thought there was an analogy to be drawn between the energy of debate in the new Wales and potential energy inherent in the landscape. The panels may suggest the seepage and percolation of suppressed energies being released."

Although you have to go through airport like security gates, the building is open to the public without appointment.

Niall Clarke

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America beckons

proposed MGA trip in 2012
Dr John Nudds (University of Manchester) has offered to take the MGA on a 2 week trip to Wyoming and Colorado sometime in 2012 (possibly May or July, depending on preference). We would visit some well-known sites in the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation including the type locality at Dinosaur Ridge, and the notorious Como Bluff, scene of the infamous 'Bone Wars' between Marsh and Cope in the 1880s. Laramie Geological Museum displays some fine skeletons from these localities. We would also have field and museum visits to see the White River Group (Eocene - Miocene early mammals), and the Green River Group (Eocene), famous for its fossil fish and early horses. If time allows we might also travel to Rapid City in South Dakota to see the original specimen of 'Stan' the Tyrannosaurus, and have a beer with the Larson brothers, well-known dinosaur hunters and collectors of 'Stan'. If so, we will also visit Mount Rushmore to see the presidents' heads carved in granite. A traverse over the Big Horn Mountains (Precambrian to Cretaceous) will take us to the lazy cowboy town of Ten Sleep where we can visit a private dinosaur dig if the weather allows (off road driving).

And - Germanophiles and palaeo-twitchers will not be disappointed - we can even see the 10th specimen of Archaeopteryx on display at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, followed by a relaxing bathe in the thermal springs. Who could resist all that ! Prices will be kept to a minimum and will include flights to Denver, hotels, minibus hire, entry fees etc.

If you are interested please let Jane Michael know as soon as possible as places will be limited. First come-first served !!

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