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Newsletter - March 2014

The full, illustrated newsletter is available as a pdf for download. Text extracts are given below.

Herdman Symposium 2014 - Geoscience Frontiers 5

I attended the well respected Herdman Symposium at Liverpool University on Saturday 22 February 2014. This was the first time I had ever been: I'd heard (!!) lots about it and I wasn't disappointed. Organised by the students under the watchful eyes of Professor Peter Kokelaar and his wife, Helen, we were greeted by tea and coffee, giving us ample opportunity to see who else was attending. There were about a dozen from the MGA, which was great: total attendance was around 300 including students.

Our first lecture was by Pete Kokelaar himself, as unfortunately Brian Bluck was unable to attend. His title 'Extreme avalanche mobility: theories, experiments and for real' was fascinating. He and his students had been researching 'avalanching' in its widest sense on low level slopes (1 or 2). Using flume channels and slowed down video, his researches have shown, inter alia, that levees formed behind the head of any flow and that in granular flows, movement is by roll waves. Investigations of the flow of material at Mt St Helens has shown a series of debris flows, not just one (or at least I think that was the conclusion).

Next up was Dr James Hammond from Imperial College talking on 'Science with borders: Unravelling the mysteries of Mt Paektu Volcano, North Korea'. This was not just a talk on Mt Paektu, a volcano which straddles the Chinese/N Korean border but on diplomacy and international politics!! The volcano (whose plate tectonic setting is unusual) doesn't erupt very often but when it does, history says it will cause a lot of problems although the style of eruption is not known so planning for it is difficult. It is showing signs of life!! The North Koreans may have invited the scientists to help sort this out but getting them and their equipment in, was a whole different ball game.

Manchester's Dr Katherine Joy was our third speaker. Her title was 'Moon impacts: unravelling the history of inner Solar System bombardment' and she is involved with trying to sort out the early (4.5 to 3.8Ga) geological history of the moon by using cratering and analysis of moon rocks. This is because what happened on the moon, could well have happened on earth, affecting our atmosphere and biosphere with implications for the development of life. Again another fascinating talk.

After a buffet lunch and more time to chat, Prof Andrew Scott from Royal Holloway spoke about 'Wildfire: the burning issue: the geological history of fire'. Now I knew that wildfires had been around for much longer than human existence but apparently lots of people don't! He spoke about his researches on charcoal. This is a substance found within the rock record from the Silurian onwards although often the pieces are microscopically small. But it preserves information on the type of plant and so much more!! Next time I look at a piece of Carboniferous sandstone and see small 'black bits', I won't assume what they are: they may well be charcoal!

Cambridge University's Prof Simon Conway Morris gave a very humorous but thought-provoking talk entitled 'Eight evolutionary myths: the closing of the Darwinian Mind'. The 8 Myths he gave are (with my comments in brackets): Good fossil record (there isn't always), Missing Links (perhaps: perhaps not), Mass extinctions and lucky survivors (well maybe, maybe not), Randomness (is anything really random?), Simplicity and 'well, it'll do' (should never say that!), Extraterrestrials (we wish), Mentality (ours) and Consciousness (does everything have one or not?). This was also interestingly illustrated (you had to be there!).

The final presentation was by Prof Tim Lenton from Exeter. He spoke about 'Revolutions that made the Earth'. By this he meant rare evolutionary events: each revolution being contingent on the previous one. The three he specifically mentioned were: the Inception of the biosphere, the Oxygen Revolution (when oxygen levels increased and oxygenic photosynthesis started) and the Complexity Revolution (being the development of multicellular Eukaryotes). By the time we reached this point, my brain was so full of information, I found it really difficult to follow what he was saying: there was a 'lorra, lorra' science in there!!

During the day, I heard about more new research and ideas in earth sciences than you could shake a stick at. It was a truly fascinating day: roll on next year.

Jane Michael

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Book Review

An Excursion Guide to the Moine Geology of the Northern Highlands of Scotland
Authors: Rob Strachan, Ian Alsop, Clark Friend and Suzanne Miller
Date published: 2010
Publisher: National Museums Scotland
No of Pages: 298
Price (Softback): 17.99
ISBN Number: 978-1-905267-33-0

This is a beautifully produced and handily-sized (A5) softback book which will fit in a backpack. At 648g weight I wouldn't take it up a Munro but for car trips, it's ideal. It has clear print, many maps and diagrams, a helpful contents page and a list of references at the end.

There are 14 excursions of varying lengths and requiring different amounts of physical effort, covering the whole of the North West of Scotland beyond the Great Glen Fault. It incorporates some Devonian and younger rocks as well as the Moine. The book starts with a chapter summarising the regional geology which I found very interesting and updated my somewhat outdated knowledge of the area. Each excursion is colour-coded so can be easily identified in the book. There is a box giving information such as maps required, terrain, length, weather warnings, SSSIs, stalking and midges. If more than a day is needed, it says so. Similarly the locations for a shortened version are also given. Some excursions also include diagrams, photos and tables as well as maps.

As I had just returned from walking in Glen Shiel, I used Excursion 5 as a 'test'. The instructions seem fairly straightforward with clear explanations. It is very much up to the reader/leader to find the structures but shouldn't be beyond an amateur. Non-professionals might need a geological dictionary on first reading for some technical terms (there is no glossary). The maps appear very helpful. I was pleased to find that I had identified the types of rocks and structures I had seen correctly. My criticisms would be that some of the colour differentiation could be better - there is light purple and a slightly darker light purple - not easy to differentiate between in poor light. I would also have expected that the option of starting from Kyle of Lochalsh would have been considered.

Overall this looks a very useful book and I will be purchasing my own copy as I visit the area at least once a year - it's much easier reading that the BGS memoirs!!

Jane Michael
Bsc (Hons) Natural Sciences with Earth Sciences (Open)

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Augmented Virtual Reality Field Trip round Castleton

Discover Geology - a new augmented reality application designed to guide visitors through the surroundings of Castleton, whilst helping them discover the formation and history of this area, has just been launched.

To make the most of your Castleton visit you can now access the Discover Geology augmented reality information by installing the Junaio browser on your mobile device and scanning the QR code found here.

Then I think you need to be there for the rest to take effect! Let us know how you get on.

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An Offer from Cambridge Journals

To celebrate 150 years since the first publication of Geological Magazine Cambridge Journals is delighted to offer complimentary access to the recent themed issue on Ancient Marine Reptiles until 30 April 2014.

To view the Journal, please go here. No log in or account seems to be needed.

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