Lecture Programme

Lecture meetings are held every month from October until May at 7:30 pm in the Gregory Building's lecture theatre. The meetings are generally held on the second Thursday of the month, but the April 2017 meeting will be held on the third Thursday (April 20th) to avoid clashing with the Easter holiday week. The lectures usually last about an hour, and are followed by tea/coffee and biscuits, with a chance to chat to members of the society and to look at the publications in the society's bookshop. The meetings finish at around 9:30 pm.
 
The final meeting of the session (Members' Night, 11th May 2017) will not be held in the Gregory Building, but in the Alexander Stone Building (Lecture Theatre, Room 208) in University Gardens. The Alexander Stone Building is diagonally across University Gardens from the Gregory Building, just beyond the Queen Margaret Union, and is about 100 m from the Gregory Building.
 
Lecture Summaries
 
13th October 2016
Professor Rachel Wood, Chair of Carbonate Geoscience, University of Edinburgh
The Great Dying: what happened 250 million years ago?
 
10th November 2016
Professor Ian Fairchild, Professor of Geosystems, University of Birmingham
Cave deposits (speleothems) as archives of past environments and climates
 
8th December 2016
Professor Tony Fallick, Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre
Planet Earth’s mid-life crisis: carbon isotopes, concretions and the “Great Oxidation Event”
 
12th January 2017
Dr Stephen Brusatte, Chancellor's Fellow, University of Edinburgh
Scotland’s Jurassic Park: the Isle of Skye and new fossil discoveries by the PalAlba group
 
9th February 2017
Dr Diarmad Campbell, British Geological Survey
Making better use of the ground beneath our cities; the Glasgow experience is that it helps to  ASK...
 
9th March 2017
Dr Derek Fabel, University of Glasgow
Extremely rare isotope metrology @ SUERC (Scottish Universities Environment Research Centre)
 
20th April 2017.
Please note that this meeting will be held on the third Thursday of the month, not the usual second Thursday.
Professor John Parnell, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen
An alternative fossil record: evidence for a deep biosphere in Scotland’s past
 
11th May 2017
Members' Night
This meeting will be held in the Alexander Stone Building (Lecture Theatre, Room 208) in University Gardens and not in the Gregory Building. The Alexander Stone Building is diagonally across University Gardens from the Gregory Building, just beyond the Queen Margaret Union, and is about 100 m from the Gregory Building.
 
 

Lecture Summaries

 
13th October 2016
Professor Rachel Wood, Chair of Carbonate Geoscience, University of Edinburgh
The Great Dying: what happened 250 million years ago?
 
About 250 million years ago Earth saw the greatest mass extinction known, where over 90% of all marine life disappeared. What was the cause of this, and can we quantify its effects? More importantly, does this shed any light on what is happening in our seas today?
 
 
10th November 2016
Professor Ian Fairchild, Professor of Geosystems, University of Birmingham
Cave deposits (speleothems) as archives of past environments and climates
 
A clear understanding of long-term climatic change over the Quaternary has come primarily through studies of sediments in the deep ocean and cores through the major ice sheets, forming a framework to which the myriad more fragmentary and less definitive records can be related. Caves used to be thought of as complex environments unlikely to yield records of widespread significance.  The search for better climate proxies on land, as well as a series of advances in technology has transformed this situation so that well-dated speleothem records now provide definitive records of regional to global environmental change.
 
In this talk, an introduction to Quaternary palaeoclimates is followed by a discussion of how caves function (they have a ‘physiology’!) and the manner of formation of speleothems.  Next we consider the many properties that speleothems display that may be modified depending on an interaction of climate with the cave and karst system.  The crucial role of good dating of the archives is illustrated with a discussion of uranium-thorium radiometric dating combined with counting of annual layers.  Finally, some case examples are used as illustrations of the varied ways in which past climates and environments have been brought to life by studying the underworld.
 
Professor Fairchild has kindly supplied a longer summary of the material presented in his lecture, with three figures. This can be viewed and downloaded here.
 
 
8th December 2016
Professor Tony Fallick, Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre
Planet Earth’s mid-life crisis: carbon isotopes, concretions and the “Great Oxidation Event”
 
Around 2.2 billion years ago, the Earth experienced a series of dramatic upheavals which accompanied the transition from a reducing to an oxidising ocean/atmosphere system. The global carbon cycle was perturbed to an extent unparalleled before or since, with the changes documented in the stable carbon isotope record of carbonate (δ13Ccarb). From concretions in sediments, there is evidence that the manner in which organic matter is remineralised under- went radical change. However, the exact sequence of events leading to this “greatest pollution event of all time” (Lovelock) is not yet clear, and several aspects are paradoxical. It is an open question whether there was one or several excursions to high (δ13Ccarb); the end of the high δ13C record is reasonably well-established at 2056 ± 6 Ma, but its inception is not well defined, so that only a minimum duration (~ 140 My) is known. The interplay of the records of oxidised carbon (as carbonate) and reduced carbon (as organic matter) is especially problematic. Recent drilling in Arctic Russia by the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program FAR-DEEP Consortium has produced a marvellous new archive of 3.6 km of drillcore with which these and other issues are being addressed.
 
The lecture will be preceded by the society’s AGM and followed by the traditional Christmas social, with nibbles and drinks.
 
 
12th January 2017
Dr Stephen Brusatte, Chancellor's Fellow, University of Edinburgh
Scotland’s Jurassic Park: the Isle of Skye and new fossil discoveries by the PalAlba group
 
Believe it or not, you can find dinosaurs in Scotland. And these dinosaurs turn out to be important on an international scale. The Isle of Skye is one of the few places in the world that preserves fossils of dinosaurs, crocodiles, lizards, turtles, and even tiny mammals from the middle part of the Jurassic period, about 170 million years ago. Over the last few years the PalAlba team - a collaborative group of Scottish palaeontologists - has been conducting fieldwork on the Isle of Skye. This talk will explain the importance of the Isle of Skye fossils and describe new discoveries made by the PalAlba team, including a remarkable dinosaur tracksite left by colossal long-necked dinosaurs moving through an ancient lagoon.
 
 
9th February 2017
Dr Diarmad Campbell, British Geological Survey
Making better use of the ground beneath our cities; the Glasgow experience is that it helps to  ASK...
 
Knowledge of the subsurface is a vital element in delivering successful construction and regeneration projects — yet poor understanding of ground conditions is widely recognised across the UK and Europe as the largest single cause of project delay, as well as overspending. To help address this, the British Geological Survey (BGS) has, through its Clyde-Urban Super-Project (CUSP), developed highly visual, and easy to use, city-scale 3D subsurface models and other geoscience datasets (geochemistry, groundwater, engineering geology etc.) in the Glasgow area. These have been providing new insights into Glasgow’s complex superficial deposits and bedrock, the impacts of its industrial legacy, and opportunities for harnessing heat energy that lies beneath the city. Glasgow City Council (GCC) has been a key strategic partner throughout this work, as have many others involved in the development and regeneration of Glasgow. The models are the most comprehensive of their type yet produced in the UK. To make the models and related data more accessible, and to encourage greater use and re-use, of subsurface information, BGS and GCC have established ASK (Accessing Subsurface Knowledge). ASK is a data and knowledge exchange network involving local and regulatory authorities, private developers and their consultants and contractors, and researchers. ASK promotes a digital free flow of subsurface data and knowledge between its partners, for their mutual benefit. The lessons being learnt in Glasgow are also now being shared more widely through a related European COST Action (Sub-Urban) which focuses on sustainable use of the urban subsurface.
 
 
9th March 2017
Dr Derek Fabel, University of Glasgow
Extremely rare isotope metrology @ SUERC (Scottish Universities Environment Research Centre)
 
Precise and accurate measurement of isotopes in minerals and rocks is key to understanding the Earth. Radiometric dating is the principal source of information about the absolute age of rocks and other geological features, or the age of the Earth itself, and together with stratigraphic principles, has been fundamental in establishing the geological time scale. Stable isotope analysis supports research in applied minerals, geological hazards, environmental change, pollution, hydrology, human-landscape interactions, and biological evolution. The procedures used to isolate and analyse isotopes involves isotope ratio mass spectrometry in a variety of forms depending on the isotopic system being utilised. Radiocarbon and surface exposure dating rely on being able to measure the abundance of extremely rare radioisotopes in the sample material using a technique called accelerator mass spectrometry. This presentation will take you behind the scene of extremely rare isotope metrology at SUERC to illustrate the complexity and effort involved in making these types of measurements.
 
 
20th April 2017
Professor John Parnell, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen
An alternative fossil record: evidence for a deep biosphere in Scotland’s past
 
Scotland has numerous fossil deposits of international importance for their contribution to understanding the evolution of life. However, the story of life on Earth is largely subsurface: only since the evolution of land plants in the last 10% of Earth's history has the locus of biomass shifted to the planetary surface.
 
Over the last two decades, the life sciences community has recorded a huge body of evidence for a global subsurface biosphere extending today to several kilometres depth. Scotland offers strong potential for the study of this deep biosphere in the geological record, using a range of evidence such as organic biomarker evidence for subsurface biodegradation; isotopic evidence for microbial colonization in the subsurface; metal concentrations in red beds attributed to bacteria; and preservation of microbial filaments in fracture-fill vein minerals. We will look at examples of this evidence from Scotland, and put them in a wider context of planetary habitat.
 
Reference
McMahon, S. & Parnell, J. 2014. Weighing the deep continental biosphere. FEMS Microbiology Ecology, 87, 113-120.
 
 
11th May 2016
Members’ Night