Lecture Programme

Lecture meetings are held on the second Thursday of every month from October until May at 7:30 pm in the Gregory Building's lecture theatre. 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.
 
Lecture Summaries
 
12th October 2017
Professor Peter Doyle
Disputed earth: geology and the Western Front, 1914–1918
 
9th November 2017
Professor Lorna Dawson, Head of Forensic Soil Science, The James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen
Soil in criminal investigations: investigation and evaluation in current and cold cases
 
14th December 2017
Professor Stephen Daly, University College Dublin
Palaeoproterozoic terrane accretion on the Celtic fringe of the Nuna (Columbia) supercontinent
 
11th January 2018
Dr Simon Cuthbert, University of the West of Scotland
Venus - dark secrets behind the veil
 
8th February 2018
Dr Roger Anderton
From Mid Argyll to Mull: the sea bed geology of the Firth of Lorne
 
21st February 2018
Professor Bob Holdsworth, Durham University/Geospatial Research
Joint Celebrity Lecture with Edinburgh Geological Society, to be held in Edinburgh
Cracked and full of sand: insights into the development of fractured basement reservoirs west of Shetland
 
8th March 2018
Dr Nick Tosca, Oxford University
Re-animating the chemistry of Precambrian oceans: new perspectives on the environmental backdrop to early life
 
12th April 2018
Dr Tony Spencer
T. Neville George Medal lecture
Establishing the glacial record of the Port Askaig Tillite Formation (Cryogenian) in Argyll
Before the lecture, Dr Spencer will be presented with the T. Neville George Medal for services to stratigraphy in recognition of his work on Precambrian glaciations, in particular his work on the Port Askaig Tillite on Islay and the Garvellachs.
 
10th May 2017
Members' Night
 
 

Lecture Summaries

 
12th October 2017
Professor Peter Doyle
Disputed earth: geology and the Western Front, 1914–1918
 
Perceived as a static war, the Great War was a conflict of parallel trench lines facing one another across a piece of disputed earth known to all as ‘No Man’s Land’. The trench war commenced in earnest late on in 1914, and continued almost unbroken until the spring of 1918. While trenches were nothing new, a centuries-old technique of siege, the descent into trench warfare was unexpected.
 
If the trenches of 1914 were intended to do little more than hold the invader, they soon became an over-riding obsession. Siege conditions developed that were difficult to break by the power of an infantry assault, and new and ever-more ingenious means of breaking the lines were planned and developed – some derived from ancient techniques, others more inventive. With military engineers pitted against artillerymen, trenches and artillery pieces became ever more sophisticated. Science had its role to play in this siege war – as it had for centuries – and it was true that the most successful military commanders had the most sophisticated understanding of terrain.
 
As the trench lines snaked across Europe they cut through varied terrain. Every aspect of the ground conditions had a material effect on the war, from the health and well being of the men, the ability of the trenches to protect their occupants and stop attacks, and the capability of the trenches to aid in the assault. With the enduring imagery of the war presenting men mired in seemingly bottomless mud, facing hills, ridges and high ground to be taken at all cost, the significance of geology to its outcome was stark.
To assist in this war, military engineers enlisted geologists, who helped drain the trenches, map out and combat the diversity of unsuitable ground, design and build dug-outs and pill-boxes, supply water and other resources and improve the lot of the frontline soldier. Not surprisingly, geology had a significant role in this defensive war; but arguably it had an even greater one in planning the offence, influencing the effects of artillery fire, naturally, but also in providing a means of undermining the enemy, of controlling the flow of poisonous gas, or in permitting the use of tanks.
 
This talk examines the significance of geology to, and the role of geologists in, the Great War. Using examples from the lecturer’s new book Disputed Earth (Uniform Press, 2017) it takes examples of the significance of the science to the outcome of the war in the British sector in Flanders and northern France.
 
 
9th November 2017
Professor Lorna Dawson, Head of Forensic Soil Science, The James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen
Soil in criminal investigations: investigation and evaluation in current and cold cases
 
Forensic soil science is an increasingly important discipline involving soils, minerals, dusts, plants and rock fragments to determine provenance i.e. to provide a chronology of their ownership, custody or location. Soil materials have been used as forensic trace evidence for many years, and are often highly distinctive from one region to another [1]. Such traces are extremely useful in a forensic context, because of their environmental specificity; their high levels of transferability; their ability to persist on items such as clothing, footwear, tools and vehicles; and their high levels of preservation after long periods of time. This resilience makes soil trace materials, frequently present at crime scenes and forensic exhibits, highly valuable forms of intelligence and evidence that can aid crime investigations and reconstructions. Significant advances in forensic geoscience over the past decade, in the development of analytical approaches, miniaturisation and also in understanding the behaviour, transfer, persistence and preservation of sediments, soils and plant material have widened their applicability. Evidence samples can be analysed using a wide range of complementary methods that address their physical, chemical and biological components with greater precision, speed and accuracy than ever before. This now permits samples of less than 10 milligrams to be accurately characterised, and permits forensic soil science to also contribute to cold case investigations, both in providing intelligence and evidence in court. Examples will be presented of case work where soil has played a pivotal role.

Sediments/soil on footwear and vehicles can indicate where a crime may have taken place, and may provide evidence of a person being at a particular place of interest. Improved analytical capabilities, coupled with the development and availability of relevant databases, allow forensic geoscientists to help police to search for unknown objects or people, prioritise areas for investigation or search, and provide robust and reliable evidence in court.  Forensic geoscience has mainly been used in the past in the context of high-impact crimes such as murder, rape, aggravated burglary and terrorism investigations, where resources allow it. However, techniques are becoming cheaper and faster, and have the potential to become regularly used. With developments in analytical technology, and an increasing understanding of how soils and sediments are distributed within natural and anthropogenic environments, forensic soil science has more power to answer questions such as: “Where did the soil material come from?”, or “Where has this item been?”. Understanding the context of a specific case is crucial to help answer such questions. In addition, being able to explain the significance of the evidence that has been analysed, and demonstrating logically and transparently how a conclusion has been reached, remains important for forensic soil science specifically and trace evidence generally.

[1]  Dawson, L.A., Mayes, R.W., 2015. Criminal and Environmental Soil Forensics. In: Murphy, B.L., Morrison, R.D. (Eds.), Introduction to Environmental Forensics, pp. 457–486.

 
14th December 2017
Professor Stephen Daly, University College Dublin
Palaeoproterozoic terrane accretion on the Celtic fringe of the Nuna (Columbia) supercontinent
 
The Lewisian Complex, generally regarded as a distal outpost of the North Atlantic Craton, is made up predominantly of Neoarchaean terranes welded by Palaeoproterozoic mobile zones, potentially providing piercing points for reconstructions of the Nuna (Columbia) supercontinent. This talk will discuss new results from onshore and offshore outcrops in SW Scotland, NW Ireland and Rockall that shed light on terrane accretion on the southern margin of Nuna. These new data highlight the likelihood that the Nuna margin extended farther south than previously recognised. Its “southern” boundary may be marked by Palaeoproterozoic orthogneisses on Rockall Bank and the Annagh Gneiss Complex in western Ireland. On a broader scale, continental magmatism on the Celtic fringe of Nuna may correlate with the Transcandinavian Igneous Belt.
 
The lecture will be preceded by the society’s AGM and followed by the traditional Christmas social, with nibbles and drinks.
 
 
11th January 2018
Dr Simon Cuthbert, University of the West of Scotland
Venus - dark secrets behind the veil
 
Venus, the familiar bright jewel of the morning and evening skies and our nearest planetary neighbour, should be the most Earth-like of the other terrestrial planets, but how much like our own world is it in reality? This presentation explores the current state of knowledge and will, indeed, reveal many familiar features. However, there is much about Venus that is very strange and decidedly hostile. Venus's brilliant white veil hides a bizarre, scorched volcanic landscape. Its dense, roasting atmosphere makes exploration much more difficult than on other planets, so mysteries abound: Does (or did) plate tectonics operate on Venus? What happened to all the water? Why are there metal-coated mountain-tops? Was Venus ever really Earth-like, and could humans ever visit, or even live there? We'll take a peek under the veil and glimpse the real face of Venus.
 
 
8th February 2018
Dr Roger Anderton
From Mid Argyll to Mull: the sea bed geology of the Firth of Lorne
The geology of the sea bed between Mull, Lorne and Mid Argyll has been interpreted using a new high-resolution bathymetric survey produced by SAMS (Scottish Association for Marine Science). Bedrock ridges are visible over much of the area because of the erosive action of fast tidal currents, although care has to be taken with their interpretation as glacial erosion can produce misleading structural features. As one might expect, the rock units seen on the adjacent mainland and islands are present offshore. Dalradian rocks of the Appin and Argyll Groups underlie the whole area. In the south the distribution of Dalradian formations seen onshore can be inferred, whilst in the north tighter folds and more homogeneous lithologies make interpretation much more ambiguous. Overlying the Dalradian are two areas of ORS (Old Red Sandstone); a small one SW of Kerrera which is an outlier of the Lorne Basin and a large one which underlies much of the western Firth. The latter shows a complex internal stratigraphy which is up to 1.5 km thick and probably forms a half-graben bounded by the Great Glen Fault. The Triassic/Jurassic rocks of Mull extend only a short distance offshore where they unconformably overlie the ORS, the SE coastline of Mull being approximately defined by the base of the Tertiary lava pile. In detail, the sea bed geomorphology of the area is very complex being influenced by the distribution of the bedrock units, faults, fracture systems, Tertiary and other dykes as well as by Quaternary erosional and depositional processes.
 
 
21st February 2018
Professor Bob Holdsworth, Durham University/Geospatial Research
Joint Celebrity Lecture with Edinburgh Geological Society, to be held in Edinburgh
Cracked and full of sand: insights into the development of fractured basement reservoirs west of Shetland
 
The fractured Precambrian gneisses of the 200km long Rona Ridge form the SE margin of the Faroe-Shetland Basin (FSB). Uplifted during Cretaceous-age normal faulting, it is flanked and immediately overlain by Devonian to Cretaceous cover sequences. Basement-hosted oil is known to occur in substantial volumes in at least two fields (Clair, Lancaster). Re-Os dating of bitumen and new U-Pb dating of calcite fills suggests that mineralization and oil charge occurred over a period of 20-30 Ma during the Upper Cretaceous.
 
A new study of basement cores was carried out to assess the mechanisms and timing of oil charge and other fracture-hosted mineralization. Oil charge is everywhere associated with quartz-adularia-calcite-pyrite mineralization and is hosted in meshes of interconnected shear/tensile fractures that formed during a single protracted, episode of brittle deformation. This association is recognized in all basement cores containing oil and also in locally overlying well-cemented Devonian and Upper Jurassic clastic sequences (Figs 1a-f).
 
Mineralization and oil charge is everywhere associated with clastic sedimentary material which occurs either as vein-hosted injected slurries or as laminated infills in mm to dm-scale open fractures. The latter preserve delicate way-up criteria and geopetal structures. The largest accumulations of oil are found either in the poorly-cemented sedimentary infills or in fracture-hosted vuggy cavities up to (at least) several cm across. All these features, together with the widespread development of zoned mineral cements and cockade textures suggest a near surface (<1-2km depth) low-temperature hydrothermal system. Highly dilated, open fractures developed in strong basement and overlying well cemented sedimentary rocks and were able to act as long-lived fluid channel-ways. There is no evidence for reactivation. Oil saturation likely periodically shut down fracture cementation.
 
The widespread preservation of dilational pull-apart features, together with the development of injected sediment-mineral slurries, and possible silica gels along faults, suggests that Upper Cretaceous seismogenic faulting drove fluid flow through the basement fracture systems. This may have also helped to drive oil migration from the Jurassic source rocks located to the west in the FSB, through the basement ridge and up into the overlying cover sequences. The significance of these findings for fractured basement reservoirs worldwide will be discussed.
 
 
8th March 2018
Dr Nick Tosca, Oxford University
Re-animating the chemistry of Precambrian oceans: new perspectives on the environmental backdrop to early life
The Precambrian era, representing ~90% of Earth’s history, witnessed some of the most critical biological milestones in the history of life. From the origin and evolution of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, to the advent of multicellular and complex animals, these transitions each irreversibly altered the course of biological evolution. But what role did the environment play in ushering in biological innovation? Answering this question requires that we understand how the details of climate and marine chemistry are written in the sedimentary rock record. We have used experimental, theoretical, and analytical approaches to unravel chemical and mineralogical clues in Precambrian rocks that, in turn, lend special insight into the chemical dynamics of Precambrian seas. We are discovering how chemical element cycles such as Fe, Si, and C were connected to one another, and how oceanography exerted a strong control on the availability of key nutrients in Precambrian seawater. Together, these results are painting a new detailed picture of the physical and chemical structure of Earth’s most ancient oceans and how they set the environmental stage for the evolution of ancient microbial life.
 
 
12th April 2018
Dr Tony Spencer
T. Neville George Medal lecture
Establishing the glacial record of the Port Askaig Tillite Formation (Cryogenian) in Argyll
 
Topics to be covered are the Cryogenian geology of the Garvellachs & Islay including the stratigraphy of the Port Askaig Tillite and a discussion of the various environmental interpretations: grounded ice, floating ice, periglacial and non-glacial. The talk will also cover climatically-related stratigraphic episodes, the offshore geology and a history of studies from 1820 – 2020.
 
Before the lecture, Dr Spencer will be presented with the T. Neville George Medal for services to stratigraphy in recognition of his work on Precambrian glaciations, in particular his work on the Port Askaig Tillite on Islay and the Garvellachs.
 
 
10th May 2018
Members’ Night