Thursday 18 July 2024

What is the Younger Dryas?

What is the Younger Dryas?

I stumbled upon THIS ARTICLE and was impressed by its clarity in describing the Younger Dryas. I knew that the Younger Dryas existed but I must have missed the lecture when it was defined. And I was vaguely aware that there was some controversies associated with it.

The Skeptoid web site specialises in debunking the fake science which proliferates on the internet and is well worth supporting - and you get clear descriptions of the Younger Dryas!

Saturday 6 July 2024

Heart of Wales Geopark Opening

 Heart of Wales Geopark Opening

On 27th July the "Heart of Wales Geopark will open. The details are contained in the poster which you can read below or download HERE.

Down to Earth Extra July 2024

  Down to Earth Extra July 2024

The July 2024 edition of Down to Earth Extra has been published. You can download it HERE or you can read it below.

Saturday 29 June 2024

The Best Preserved Trilobites

The Best Preserved Trilobites 

The New Scientist magazine has THIS ARTICLE which is based on the discovery of some remarkably well preserved Cambrian trilobites in Morocco. The original article can be found HERE. Full access is behind a pay wall but you can download a PDF, from the same page, which contains a huge amount of detail, including maps, illustrations and references.

The trilobites were preserved through rapid ash burial in a pyroclastic flow entering a shallow marine environment.

This fossil shows the digestive system (blue), the hypostome (green), the labrum (red) and selected appendages

Arnaud Mazurier/University of Poitiers

The finest details of its exterior and interior have been preserved. The illustration below gives you some idea of the level of detail.

Tour de France Geology

 Tour de France Geology

Some of you may be aware that the Tour de France starts today - Saturday 29th June. One of the joys of following it is looking at the scenery, especially the views from the hovering helicopters. And often the geology is intriguing. A correspondent brought THIS WEBSITE to my attention. This will be giving a geological perspective to each stage.

Just to be contrary, this year the Tour starts in Florence, Italy and the web site talks about the tectonics of the Appenines. THE ARTICLE for today is written by someone who knows what she is talking about and she gives references for further reading. 

Each day of the Tour has a different geological topic and a different author. I hope they will all be so informative.

Tectonic units of the Northern Apennines with indicated buried faults (Figure from Conti et al., 2020). The course of stage 1 in yellow.

Friday 21 June 2024

Is Geological Research Becoming Less Interesting?

 Is Geological Research Becoming Less Interesting?

Over the last while I have been floundering to find things to put in the blog. There has still been a lot of local geological happenings which I am always pleased to highlight, but there has been a dearth of other stuff.

I thought this was just me not looking hard enough but then I came across THIS ARTICLE from a man who has been the source of many of the articles I have published. And he says the same! Why this should be so, neither he or I can think of a good reason. Let us hope it is just a passing phase.

I hope he (and I) find some interesting articles soon. If you came across something notable, let me know and it will appear here.

Friday 14 June 2024

Madygen - a Possible Future Excursion?

 Madygen - a Possible Future Excursion?

I came across THIS ARTICLE in New Scientist because I was seeing many photos of colourful rock strata, most of which looked as if they had been "improved" greatly - see the two examples below - they are photos of the same place!

Eventually I found the following photo which seems relatively untouched by Photoshop.

The accompanying article was equally interesting. It concerns the attempt to get the Madygen area declared a Geopark. Madygen is in Kyrgyzstan and was once part of the USSR.

Geologically the area has a lot going for it - rocks, fossils, a fascinating geological history. It is everything else which is going to make things difficult. If you thought the North West Highlands was remote, this part of Kyrgyzstan is (almost) out of this world. 

To be recognised by UNESCO, a Geopark must have tourist infrastructure, including trails, information signage and places to stay nearby. The Batgen Region of Kyrgyzstan, where Madygen is, is the poorest of the country and almost everything is not there!

And to make things worse, most of the geological knowledge of the area is held in the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

I hope that the area becomes a Geopark but I suspect it will be a few years before I will be advertising excursions to the area.

Saturday 8 June 2024

Down to Earth Extra June 2024

 Down to Earth Extra June 2024

The June 2024 edition of Down to Earth Extra has been published. You can download it HERE or you can read it below.

Saturday 25 May 2024

Mammoths in the Cellar

 Mammoths in the Cellar

A correspondent sent me a link to THIS ARTICLE. It concerns an Austrian winemaker who was renovating his wine cellar when he discovered the bones. The researchers called in, date the bones to 30 to 40 thousand years old and think they may have been hunted by early humans.

And they are very excited by it as they are able to use modern techniques to investigate them.

I got the link while exploring wine cellars in the Southern Rhone but what I found was in a different area of interest.

Wednesday 15 May 2024

GeoWeek 2024 on Ham Hill - May 25 - June 2

 GeoWeek 2024 on Ham Hill

A correspondent has sent me details of the events on Ham Hill from May 25th to June 2nd. You can read all about them below.

25-26 May Learn the art and craft of dry stone walling
Together with a little geology, through hands-on experience of the unique Ham Hill

Cost £100 for the weekend
Booking essential
 South West England Dry Stone Walling Association (SWEDSWA) for more details and booking arrangements.

30 May 10:00am-11:30 Fossil Fun
More details
Cost £6.00 per child
Aimed at families with children aged 4-9. All children must be accompanied by an adult at all times, accompanying adult free (max 2 adults per child).
More details:

Please email with the number of places you require and a contact phone number.  We will check the availability and confirm your place. Payment needs to be made by cash on the day please. We will respond to all emails, please check ‘junk mail’ if you haven’t received a reply.

1 June 10:30am-3:30pm: The Geology of Ham Hill Guided Walk

Following a brief introduction to the geology of the region, an opportunity to explore one of the best inland geological locations in Somerset.
Expansive views over the Somerset landscape, sculpted by the environmental upheavals of the past 400 million years.

We’ll then visit the Yeovilian Substage of the Early Jurassic, around 177 million years ago, as exposed in a number of disused quarries in the Ham Hill Limestone. These include a nationally important geological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) together with a number of Local Geological Sites. 

We’ll also consider how the geology has underpinned the archaeology, history, industry, agriculture, and biodiversity of Ham Hill – and how our volunteers are working to conserve our geoheritage.

Cost £2.00 per adult
Supported by National Heritage Lottery Fund

Booking essential

Please email with the number of places you require and a contact phone number.  We will check the availability and confirm your place. Payment needs to be made by cash on the day please. We will respond to all emails, please check ‘junk mail’ if you haven’t received a reply

Any time: Self-guided walk along the Ham Hill Geology Trail.
See below. Leaflet also available from outside the Ham Hill Centre and Rangers Office, Ham Hill Road, Stoke-sub-Hamdon, Somerset TA14 6RW


Part of GeoWeek 2024 Active Geoscience


Monday 29 April 2024



Simon Carpenter has asked me to advertise this and I am happy to oblige. 



Sun 19 May 2024 9:00 AM - 11:30 PM

The Cheese and Grain in Frome, Somerset BA11 1DS

The Frome International Climate Film Festival, now in its 3rd year is being held in the Cheese and Grain in Frome, Somerset on the 19th May. Doors will open at 09.00 and close at 23:30.

This year the FREE festival will include even more inspiring films being screened all day plus we will have a family focused morning with Eco-Arts and activities for children, Technology Zone, Knowledge Cafe, Sensory Zone, Music and Movement Zone, Workshops plus Walks and Talks by the River.

We then end the day with the red-carpet Frome International Climate Film Awards celebration and the Post Awards Party with local award winning bands.

It is a festival for all interested in the Life, our Future, Community, Climate, Nature and the Environment. Let’s connect, share, support and inspire green change together we can change the world. 

For more details, visit this link:


Saturday 27 April 2024

Two, One Day Field Courses in June, with Nick Chidlaw

 Two, One Day Field Courses in June, with Nick Chidlaw

Nick Chidlaw is proposing two Field Course in June which sound rather interesting. Nick gives the details below.


I am offering two 1-day field courses to be run in June, if there is sufficient interest and enrolments to make them viable. 

These courses are independent of one-another  - you can enrol on either or both, according to your interest and availability. 

The courses are being offered on the same weekend: some people who live a substantial distance away may be interested in both courses and this would make attending them more workable. 

Hope you find these proposals of interest, and to hear from you soon.

Nick Chidlaw 


Saturday 22nd June  10.00 am - 5.00 pm

In the south west English Midlands the main ridge of the Malvern Hills forms a dramatic feature, particularly when viewed from the much lower country to the east. The main ridge is orientated north-south, narrow, and about 8 miles long; it reaches 425m above sea level; lower parts of the Hills lie to the west. 

The types of rocks and their age here are (un)usual (my correction) for southern Britain. Most of the main ridge is composed of rocks formed late in Precambrian times, between c. 680 - 670 million years ago, during the Cryogenian period. These rocks are referred to collectively as the Malverns Complex, and they comprise an almost bewildering variety of metamorphic types, colourfully-patterned, and exposed in numerous old quarry workings and natural crags. They have drawn the interest of geologists for generations. The Malverns Complex is understood to have formed during a tectonic plate collision, and when the southern British crust was located in the southern hemisphere about 60 degrees from the equator; the climate was cold and the plate collision zone likely had numerous snow- and ice-covered active volcanoes. The Complex itself was formed far below in the depths of the crust, where a succession of magmas were forming, cooling and crystallising, and becoming altered by continuing episodes of plate compression.  These rocks were subsequently uplifted and their overlying rocks eroded away, exposing them on the present land surface.

The Hereford & Worcester Earth Heritage Trust has for many years operated to record, conserve and promote the geology of the county. Recently, it has undertaken clearance of vegetation and pressure-cleaning of a number of key exposures in the Malverns Complex, in order for the rocks to be better studied and understood, at all levels of education.. This proposed course looks at some of these exposures, while the clearance work remains at its best.         

No prior geological knowledge or of the study area would be assumed. 

Tuition fee: £32.00

Contact tutor Dr Nick Chidlaw to enrol and for any queries. 

Deadline for course viability: Friday 10th May. If the course has become viable (minimum 10 enrolments) by this date, enrolments will be able to continue until 1 week (Saturday 15th June) before the course runs.  

Image: part of Dingle Quarry in the Malvern Hills. The rock faces have recently been cleared of vegetation and exposures improved. The rocks include sheets of mafic and felsic igneous rocks within a diorite host, shearing is evident.  



Sunday 23rd June 10.00 am - 5.00 pm. The course includes an exposure dependent on tides; the date and times have been chosen to include safe access.   

This course looks at locations in the NW of Gloucestershire where can be found strata that are part of the 'New Red Sandstone Supergroup'; they were deposited in a variety of environments under a tropical arid climate during the Permian and Triassic periods between c. 300 - 200 million years ago, when Britain lay just N of the equator. We look at exposures of rocks interpreted as being laid down as desert dunes, in seasonal braided rivers and lakes, in estuaries and on coastlines. Reference is made to alluvial fan deposits (not included in the itinerary due to accessibility problems) also present in the area. Marine incursions into this desert environment were initially absent, but became  increasingly common over time.  

No prior geological knowledge or of the study area would be assumed. 

Tuition fee: £32.00

Contact tutor Dr Nick Chidlaw to enrol and for any queries. 

Deadline for course viability: Friday 10th May. If the course has become viable (minimum 10 enrolments) by this date, enrolments will be able to continue until 1 week (Sunday 16th June) before the course runs.  

Image: part of the cliff of the River Leadon near the village of Red Marley D'Abitot, exposing fluviatile deposits of the Helsby Sandstone Formation (Early / Middle Triassic). 

Saturday 6 April 2024

Mike Benton Lecture

 Mike Benton Lecture

A few weeks ago Mike Benton gave a lecture to Bristol university alumni. My wife is a Bristol graduate so we watched it and it was very good. Suitable for people of all ages. It is linked to his recent book "The Dinosaurs Rediscovered" and covers the latest scientific advances on dinosaurs.

You can see it HERE and below.

Wednesday 3 April 2024

Curling Stones

Curling Stones 

A correspondent brought this story to my attention - thank you.

Despite what the man says, it is a microgranite and unusually contains riebeckite and arfvedsonite. The composition and small grain size lead to the curling stone not being prone to chipping. You can read more about the rock HERE.

Down to Earth Extra April 2024

 Down to Earth Extra April 2024

The April 2024 edition of Down to Earth Extra has been published. You can download it HERE or you can read it below.

Saturday 23 March 2024

How Did Duckbill Dinosaurs Get to Morocco?

How Did Duckbill Dinosaurs Get to Morocco? 

I came across THIS ARTICLE and found it intriguing. Duckbilled dinosaurs are a North American family and they live on land. You can't walk from North America to Morocco. They developed long after the break up of Pangea

North American duckbills are large, the earliest Moroccan ones are small, but they got bigger later. (Geology speak here: later means millennia.)

There are duckbills in Europe, the article does not discuss how they got there. But you could not walk from Europe to Africa at that time - the distance was greater then than now. Tethys was much wider than todays Mediterranean.

So how did they get to Morocco? We do not know how, but they did; the author says that it must be by some extraordinary means. Floating, rafting, swimming are discussed in the article and the author goes on to suggest that freak events, although rare, can have major effects.

Amazing to think what finding a bone can can lead to!

Distribution of duckbill dinosaurs in North Africa and Europe. Nick Longrich

Saturday 16 March 2024

Anthropocene - the Ongoing Story

 Anthropocene - the Ongoing Story

The Anthropocene Working Group recently decided not to recognise the existence of the Anthropocene - much to the disgust of some members of the group - see HERE.

If the Anthropocene had been recognised it would have marked the end of the Holocene, the current geological epoch, which began 11,700 years ago at the end of the Younger Dryas. There has been much discussion about when the putative Anthropocene would be deemed to start. I had a strange wish to straddle two Geological Epochs! 

The wish for the new epoch has a great deal to do with environmental concerns. Perhaps it should be considered an Event rather than Epoch, similar to the Great Oxygenation Event of the Proterozoic, the Snowball Earth Events and the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. 

And as THIS ARTICLE suggests, global warming has been caused by a small number of people rather than humanity as a whole and would be better named Plutocracene!

Tuesday 5 March 2024

Earliest Forest in the World in Devon and Somerset

 Earliest Forest in the World in Devon and Somerset

A correspondent sent me the link to THIS ARTICLE, for which I am very grateful. The article is based on THIS PAPER. The papers concern newly discovered fossil trees found in Middle Devonian sandstones in the Hangman Sandstone Formation which is of Eifelian age (393 - 387 million years).

Not only were fossilised trees found but also forests. The trees are of an extinct species related to ferns and horsetails - the cladoxylopsids, which look rather like palm trees - long stem (2 - 4m) with "leaves" like palm fronds at the top. (Here "leaves" means lots of twiglets.)

There are older trees to be found but this is the oldest forest. And it marks the time when vegetation had a significant impact on sedimentation, changing the way the non-marine surface of the earth looked. 

The Hangman Sandstone Formation

The tree trunks are preserved mostly as impressions. The most abundant forms show a three-dimensional surface, consisting of longitudinal strips of slightly raised smooth matrix alternating with slightly lower relief strips in which short transverse depressions are closely arranged (A - D). (See pages 12 and 13 of the academic paper)

Saturday 2 March 2024

Down to Earth Extra March 2024

 Down to Earth Extra March 2024

The March 2024 edition of Down to Earth Extra has been published. You can download it HERE or you can read it below.

Saturday 24 February 2024

Predicting Volcanism in Iceland

 Predicting Volcanism in Iceland

It seems appropriate that the people in charge of predicting eruptions in Iceland work in the Meteorological Office. In Iceland, volcanism is like the weather, there is a lot of it and you can't prevent it but you can give forecasts which are very useful.

THIS ARTICLE in Quanta Magazine is an interesting review of what has happened recently on, and in, the Reykjanes Peninsula of south west Iceland. It seems that there may be several centuries of volcanism to look forward to in the area.

What is evident is that what could have been a deadly catastrophe became a well controlled emergency. - Small eruption in Iceland, nobody dead.

The article is well written so I will not attempt to review the review but would urge you to read it.

A 3-kilometer-long fissure opened up and sent a river of lava flowing over a road in southwest Iceland on February 8, 2024 — right on schedule.
Hilmar Bragi Bárðarson

Saturday 10 February 2024

Pterosaur from Skye

 Pterosaur from Skye

There has been a lot lately in the media about a pterosaur from Skye. It is based on research, much of which was done at Bristol University. The main academic paper can be seen HERE, the Bristol researcher writes about it HERE and the BBC writes about it HERE.

The fossil in question was found in 2006 at the location shown on the map below.

The fossil took much preparation and was examined in Bristol University's CT scanner. The bones are thin and fragile and the rock matrix hard so getting to the stage of examining the bones took a long time. Read the academic paper to get a flavour of all the work involved.

The main interest of the fossil is that it is more than an isolated bone and that it comes from a geologic period where a lot was happening to pterosaurs but which is poorly represented in the geologic column.

Be amazed at all the measurements the researchers have made. They have decided that it is a new species - Ceoptera evansae.

 Life reconstruction of Ceoptera evansae. Image copyright Mark Witton.

Thursday 1 February 2024

Looking at Early Life

 Looking at Early Life

A sample of chert rock containing what may be the remains of microorganisms that lived 3.4 billion years ago. Dr. Manuel Reinhardt

Around 3.4 billion years ago, Earth hosted diverse communities of life, as evidenced by exceptionally preserved remains revealing a microorganism ecosystem with various sustenance methods. The complexity of this ancient ecosystem suggests that life had likely existed for hundreds of millions of years, starting early in Earth's history.

THIS ACADEMIC PAPER, focused on rocks from the Buck Reef Chert in South Africa, dating back 3.42 billion years. These rocks are believed to be remnants of the shallow seas around a chain of volcanic islands. The layers of rock contain microscopic carbon-based matter, likely the remains of microorganisms from the ancient seas.

Analyzing the chemical makeup of these remains, the researchers honed in on carbon isotopes, specifically carbon-12 and carbon-13. Living organisms prefer carbon-12, and the ratio between the two isotopes provides insights into an organism's metabolism. The material showed a carbon signature consistent with photosynthesis, indicating the presence of vast quantities of photosynthetic microbes near the sea surface billions of years ago.

However, some blobs exhibited lower levels of carbon-12, suggesting a different metabolic process. The authors propose that these microbes were likely feeding on acetyl coenzyme A. Other blobs with even lower carbon-12 levels indicated microbes producing methane or acetate as waste products, which were then potentially consumed by other microbes.

The distribution of these microorganisms is challenging to determine, but it is suggested that photosynthetic ones lived near the water's surface, while others might have resided in seabed sediments. It seems early life functioned similarly to present-day life.

The research also contributes to the growing evidence supporting an early origin of life on Earth, challenging previous fossil record interpretations. While widely accepted evidence for life is around 3.5 billion years old, older fossils from 3.7 billion years ago or earlier have been reported. However, the difficulty in detecting well-preserved rocks from that era makes it challenging to uncover the earliest history of life. But some suggest that life may have emerged during the Hadean eon, around 4.2 to 4.1 billion years ago.

Many readers of this blog will be amazed at the quality of this article. I did not write it! It was written by ChatGPT. I copied THIS ARTICLE from New Scientist and asked ChatGPT to summarise it in about 400 words, and it did it in 359. I modified the output slightly. Be aware that I will not be doing this on a regular basis but did it as an exercise to see the quality of the output - and I am impressed. Back to the less impressive me next time!

Wednesday 31 January 2024

Earth Heritage, Issue 60, Winter 2024

 Earth Heritage, Issue 60, Winter 2024

The Winter 2024 issue of Earth Heritage is available for download on THIS PAGE.

Or you can read it below.

Saturday 27 January 2024

New Dinosaur Species were Evolving when the Asteroid Struck!

 New Dinosaur Species were Evolving when the Asteroid Struck!

Many palaeontologists believe that dinosaurs were on the way out when the asteroid struck at the end of the Cretaceous and the impact was the straw which broke the camels back. (Apologies for the metaphor.)

But THIS ARTICLE contends that new species were continuing to evolve. The perceived decrease in diversity is caused by the difficulty in identifying new species. 

 They illustrate this by describing how museum specimens described as being a juvenile specimen of a recognised species was actually a completely new species which evolved at the relevant time.

And they do this by looking at the spacing of growth rings in the animals bones. If it was a juvenile the rings would be wide - rapid growth. But this animal has closely spaced growth rings indicating it was an adult. 

It had been classified as a juvenile "chicken from hell" Eoneophron anzu. (I think that is the official name of the larger beastie - the article is not very clear on this.) It has been given the name Eoneophron infernalis. 

So new species were evolving right up to the time of the impact.

Teal markers point to lines of arrested growth on the cross-section of fossilized bone. Toward the outside of the bone, the lines are much closer together, reflecting less growth per year. Researchers counted exactly six lines, meaning this animal was between 6 and 7 years old when it died. Holly Woodward

And here is a picture of the animal itself.

Birdlike dinosaur Eoneophron infernalis was about the size of an adult human. Zubin Erik Dutta

Saturday 20 January 2024

I Won't Live Forever Because of the Dinosaurs!

 I Won't Live Forever Because of the Dinosaurs!

Mammals were at the bottom of the food chain when dinosaurs were the top predators and therefore to survive mammals became small, nocturnal and short-lived. They had to reproduce rapidly and did not need processes and genes related to long life such as repair and regeneration.

The same cannot be said for reptiles, amphibians and fish. They die from being eaten, not from old age! Many of these continue to reproduce throughout their lives.

I read about this fascinating subject in THIS ARTICLE

Saturday 6 January 2024

Dolomite - Solved?

Dolomite - Solved? 

Many old rocks are dolomite, younger ones are seldom dolomite - why? 

There has been some activity in the dolomite field which shows that you can grow dolomite in the laboratory relatively quickly by repeatedly washing the growing crystal. 

(Dolomite crystals have layers of calcium, carbonate, magnesium, endlessly repeated. In the rocks there is no magnesium in the calcium layers and no calcium in the magnesium layers. Up to now this was impossible to replicate in the laboratory.)

The original paper which tells how to make dolomite is HERE. And "popular" readings of the paper are HERE and HERE and lots of other places.

This is very interesting but I am not sure that it tells us why dolomite is not being made in nature now.

Another annoyance is that the popular papers are obvious copies of each other - they all tell us that the White Cliffs of Dover are dolomite. At least that is not in the original.

Down to Earth Extra January 2024

 Down to Earth Extra January 2024

The December 2023 edition of Down to Earth Extra has been published. You can download it HERE or you can read it below.