Illuminating Hadrian’s Wall

This weekend I have been up to Northumberland to witness the illumination of Hadrian’s Wall. This is the view eastwards from Vercovicium or Housesteads Roman Fort. A beacon was lit about every 250m along its length across Britain.

The geology angle is, of course, that the Roman’s used the geology as part of the defences, with Hadrian’s Wall running along the top of the escarpment produced by the outcrop of the Great Whin Sill. Below is Housesteads from Google Earth.

The Price Of Coal

Some tragic news from China via Mineweb, that I’ve not come across elsewhere, on the rescue mission for 31 trapped coal miners in the Luotuoshan Coal Mine being called off.

The mine in Inner Mongolia was flooded on the morning of March 1st. There were 77 people underground at the time. One miner was killed, and 45 rescued, leaving 31 trapped in the flood waters. The Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, himself a geologist, had ordered the rescue effort to proceed as quickly as possible, but the efforts were called off yesterday after two weeks when it was decided that there was no remaining chance of the trapped miners remaining alive.

In January and February of this year there were 115 accidents in Chinese coal mines, but this was down almost 20% on 2009. Fatalities in Chinese coal mines dropped from 3,215 in 2008 to 2,631 in 2009 – but is STILL A STAGGERING 7.2 FATALITIES EVERY DAY.

That is the real price of coal.

Using Gigapan and Photosynth in Geology Teaching

This week I presented some work in progress on the use of gigapan and photosynth to assist mobility impaired geology students at the “Overcoming Barriers to Learning in the Geosciences” meeting of the Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences (GEES) subject centre of the Higher Education Academy (HEA).


The main aim of our MIS:TIQUE project (mobility impaired students : teaching in quite unsuitable environments) is to provide alternative technologies for mobility impaired students so that they can attain an equivalent learning experience to the able-bodied in geology fieldwork. Gigapan and photosynth allow us to mimic the observation patterns that we would like all students to use. This involves starting with an overview to develop hypotheses to what might be going on, moving in and around the outcrop to make more detailed observations and test the hypotheses, and then move back out again to revise the overview.

I’ve embedded the presentation below. Feel free to use any of the ideas but obviously if you use any of it please credit the source. If you have any questions, comments or feedback please use the blog comments. [Apologies for my powerpoint style – I tend to talk over images without using much text on the slides but this wouldn’t make much sense in this context so I have added what I said to the images.]

OpenGeoscience

BGS Make-a-map
BGS Make-a-map

Well, it’s about time. The British Geological Survey has been lagging behind its US cousin for some time now. Like the USGS, the BGS is funded by the taxpayer but unlike the American version the data has always been hard to get hold of and expensive. Bits of data have become available slowly as the BGS has gone digital. The 1:625000 scale digital geology map was released through geoindex and the OneGeology global geological mapping portal and this year I’ve been making a lot of use of their on-line rock lexicon, but up until now the 1:50000 digital geology maps have only been available via a paywall to universities or in paper form for the great unwashed.

Today, the BGS released their OpenGeoscience portal, a free service for non-commercial private study, research and educational activities for viewing geological maps, downloading photographs and other information.

There are six OpenGeoscience sections. The Data section covers parts that we’ve had access to previously like the geoindex graphical front end to the BGS’s data holdings such as maps, boreholes, earthquakes and the like, the lexicon of terms used on BGS maps, their rock classification scheme and their database of mineral and rock samples. The education section also links to stuff we have had before – notably ‘Make-A-Map’ for creating basic geological maps of the British Isles. They also (somewhat bravely) provide a link to their new climate change poster which shows that climate change is nothing new and puts into context the current fluctuations with respect to those over geological time.

The maps section provides three ‘views’. The first, a ‘simple’ view allows a zoomable view down to street level with the 1:50000 geological map (where available – not Northern Ireland yet) as an overlay. The geology layer, the transparency of which is variable with a slider control, is a vast improvement on what was previously available to the general public. However, the street map is several years out of date and the satellite view is quite poor resolution. Their ‘intermediate’ view is actually the 1:625000 geology kml layer for Google Earth that has been available through OneGeology for some time and which I blogged about previously here back in August last year. The ‘advanced’ data allows users to down load the 1:625000 data in in ESRI© and MapInfo© formats and also view the 1:50000 data using their Web Map Service.

As an educator, however, the best part for me is GeoScenic, the browsable collection of the BGS’s photographs. I can see this being really useful for examples in lectures.

Finally, and really something quite interesting, is a downloadable version of BGS·SIGMAmobile, the BGS ‘digital field data capture system’ (geological field notebook connected to a database) designed to run on a rugged tablet PC with integrated GPS units. Effectively this is a heavily customised versions of ArcMap 9.2 and MS Access 2003 and is something I’m going to be trying out in the near future.

All in all, it is good to have everything together in one portal, but much is not new and still lags behind what is accessible for the US.

Extreme Gardening

This weekend I’ve been involved in a bit of geoconservation work a.k.a. extreme gardening. Working with the Staffordshire RIGS group, we were cleaning up a couple of outcrops along the Hamps and Manifold Geotrail at a site called Ladyside Wood (Location 19 on the map below). The parent body of Staffordshire RIGS, UKRIGS (UK Regionally Important Geological / Geomorphological Sites) has just changed its name to GeoconservationUK. Personally I think that this is a poor choice as the RIGS groups do so much more than geoconservation. I would have preferred GeodiversityUK which would have given a feel for the range of things that we do.

But anyway, back to the Manifold Valley …

Part of the Hamps and Manifold Geotrail - Ladyside Wood #19
Part of the Hamps and Manifold Geotrail - Ladyside Wood #19

The map shows that the Ladyside Wood locality should display the transition from the reef knoll facies of the Milldale Limestone (purple), through the bedded facies of the Milldale (dark blue) to the overlying bedded Ecton Limestones (pale blue). Unfortunately the sections have become somewhat overgrown.

Milldale Limestone section before geoconservation
Milldale Limestone section before geoconservation
Ecton Limestone section before geoconservation
Ecton Limestone section before geoconservation

Often in geoconservation we find that there is a certain tension between the geoconservationists who want to expose the outcrops and the bioconservationists who want to preserve certain plants. Before starting clearance on this section we consulted with the National Trust who own the land. Can you spot what was the only plant they asked us to leave? OK, I admit it is difficult from the photos but the answer is the yellowish shrub on the right of the lower image. The bizarre thing is that is a flowering red currant – a garden shrub and not even native to Britain. Apparently it looks pretty when it flowers!

Anyway, after five hours of pruning, scraping, sawing and scrubbing, we managed to get the outcrops returned to some of their former glory.

Milldale Limestone section after geoconservation
Milldale Limestone section after geoconservation
Ecton Limestone section after geoconservation
Ecton Limestone section after geoconservation

This is the first of what I hope to be many geoconservation sessions to be run by Staffordshire RIGS.