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Newsletter - March 2010

A PDF version (350KB) of this newsletter is available for download.


We've just come to the end of a very busy MGA winter session and now look forward to getting out "in the field". Attendance at lectures has been at a record high, thanks to Jim's super programme, and membership has increased, thanks to Fred's diligence. At the very well-attended AGM, the proposed changes in the MGA Constitution were all unanimously passed (see mailing sent out with the AGM agenda).
Dr Tony Adams was elected as our new President, and Peter del Strother as our Vice President.
All the council were re-elected and were thanked for their service. Peter Giles was welcomed as our Web Manager and there was an internal reshuffle: Jane Michael is again our Field Meetings Secretary and Sue Plumb is our General Secretary, Marjorie Mosley will continue her work with RIGS.
Our retiring President, Dr Christine Arkwright, was warmly thanked for her presidency. After the AGM she gave us a wide-ranging talk about the various volcanoes she has visited and worked on.

Marjorie Mosley has prepared a splendid outdoor programme for us this year which Jane Michael will now oversee. Jane asks all participants to contact her (phone or email) before coming on a trip: some trips are limited in numbers, and there is occasionally a cancellation or change of meeting place.

We would like volunteers next winter to join a rota of "Meeters and Greeters" and tea makers. Someone has to be on the door at meetings to sign members in and we all enjoy our cup of tea or coffee during the break and it is felt that we need to spread the load a little, more about this in September.

Members have suggested that we endow a Fred Broadhurst memorial of some kind, however, there is already a Fred Broadhurst prize in the Geology Department (set up when he retired), so we shall keep his memory green by having a Fred Broadhurst Memorial Walk every summer, a "Rocky Ramble", and a Fred Broadhurst Memorial Lecture each winter.

Here's hoping for a sunny spring so we can all get out and enjoy the rocks!

Mary Howie, MGA Newsletter Editor

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'Darwin and Geology Day' at the Manchester Museum

On Wednesday, 17th February 2010, the Manchester Geological Association, along with Greater Manchester RIGS Group, took part in the Museum's 'Darwin and Geology Day'. This was family day with craft activities provided by the Museum and hands on geology provided by the Earth Science Department of Manchester University. The MGA boards attracted interest because people recognised the field trip locations, and many were interested in obtaining information for geology walks and trails. Jim Spencer disseminated information about the Association; GMRIGS provided geological word-search and crossword activities, and David Green and Fred Owen provided various hands-on rock specimens, all which proved to be very popular with the children. An enjoyable day was had by all.

Marjorie Mosley RIGS
Fred Owen and Jim Spencer and the MGA display at The Manchester Museum
Fred Owen and Jim Spencer and the MGA display at The Manchester Museum (Photo: Marjorie Mosley)

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Darwinism and the Manchester Moth

The case of the melanistic (or Manchester) moth is well documented and understood. But I was astounded to discover that not only did the Manchester Museum not have an adequate display of the gradations of melanism, but neither did any other UK Museum! I found this out quite by chance.

I had always fancied having such a display case on my study wall, so having read a recent article by Mike Majerus, from the Cambridge Dept. of Genetics I rang him up and asked where I could buy one - fondly assuming that there would be a plentiful supply from a standard scientific supplier. No chance! We chatted about the lack of adequate display material - anywhere - awhile, and then he offered to make me just such a case from his large collection! I was humbled by his generosity; and couldn't say "YES, PLEASE" fast enough. But it took a further three years for him to finish it (the Harlequin Ladybird got in the way) but eventually he delivered it for me to a friend of mine in Cambridge, with a collection of scientific papers detailing the history, evidence, and evolutionary significance of the "Manchester Moth" : the best known case of rapid, modern evolution taking place under our very noses - here!

But tragically, soon afterwards, Mike Majerus died. And the display case, with his beautiful specimens, sat in my study, with me gloating over it, uneasily. Because I got to thinking: "This should be in the Museum". So, I chose my moment...

I'm a member of the Greater Manchester Humanists, and to celebrate the 150th year of the publication of "Origin of Species" we invited A C Grayling up here to give us a talk on the impact of Darwin. I suggested to our Secretary that the display case should be formally presented to the Museum by A C Grayling, and last November - he did. I'm really pleased about that.

And I think Mike Majerus would be pleased about it, too.

James E Siddelley MGA member
Manchester Moth display case

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Book Review: Vesuvius - A Biography

Vesuvius - A Biography
Alwyn Scarth
Terra Publishing 2009, ISBN 978-1-903544-25-9
Hardback : £24.95

Vesuvius is a dangerous volcano, though I was unaware quite how dangerous until reading this book. Most will recall specifics of the AD 79 eruption that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum and, true to form, this book details this eruption, but only as one of the many events that has transformed Naples and the surrounding Province of Campania. For Alwyn Scarth, well known to us for his many books on the subject of volcanoes, has written a biography of Vesuvius from its birth long before mankind first settled in the region, right up to the present, with some worrying speculation about the inevitable future events.

The book was written in 2009 and is currently only published in hardback by Terra Publishing - well known to us to be specialists in producing readable books in the Earth sciences. This book is no exception and consists of 13 chapters chronicling the daily history of each major event, not only of Vesuvius, but also the Campi Flegrei caldera to the west. This is based on the latest geological research, backed up by contemporary historical accounts. Each chapter is well illustrated with black and white satellite images, photos, maps, diagrams and art that give a much needed spatial dimension as the various stories unfold. Most of these are written with the immediacy of an eye witness account and Scarth has graphically detailed the eruptions, sometimes on an hourly basis. The chapters are well referenced with further reading at the end and an extensive bibliography. I particularly like the many aside notes, blocked in a different background colour, which further develop a geological point, some social comment, or simply an interesting piece of historical perspective.

So we read that "Soon after 10.00 a.m. on 17th December (1631), it seemed indeed that the Last Judgement was about to be delivered.... An old women in Granatello described how the flow had emerged completely white, 'like a silver baton' and had rolled over the ground at first (as a pyroclastic flow)." Written in this way the science is secondary but implicit in the narrative for those with a geological background. And it makes a great read.

Campania has one of the longest recorded human histories anywhere in the world, and volcanoes have played a dominant role in fashioning the human environment. This is, therefore, not just a biography of a volcano but, also bound up in the pyroclastic deposits, mudflows and lava, is a biography of the changing social, spiritual, intellectual and political development of Campania as it finds its place in the changing world. So in addition to the letters of Pliny the Younger and the aid relief organised by the Roman Emperor Titus following the AD79 eruption, we read about the archaeological work of Giuseppe Fiorelli in excavating the remains at Pompeii, and learn of the work of Sir William Hamilton (of Emma Hamilton and Admiral Nelson fame) in the 1760's as one of the founders of modern volcanology. And there are many more.

In all, this a very readable book for the non specialist as well as those with a little more geological knowledge and a great book to take with you should you be intending to take the equivalent of the eighteenth century "Grand Tour". You are promised explosive stuff and this book delivers. And with this view of the volcanic history of the region, the overriding impression is that, inevitably, this is something of which we have not heard the last!

Peter Loader
St. Bede's College, Manchester

Front cover of Vesuvius - A Biography

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