Monday, 29 February 2016

On the Subject of Being a GeoGeek.

Links open in a new window. Some pics are mine, some aren't.

Decided to write a blog post about why I love geology so much! It’s a pretty big part of my life and I’ve written about it before on the Geology Matters webpages but that post really covers my life in Saudi Arabia when I was a child – though living in Saudi was probably the main reason I like rocks so much (it’s no coincidence that my fave rock type is dune bedded desert sandstone…). Writing this post has been inspired by Jen who I follow on Tumblr! In fact, the setting up of a new blog was mostly inspired by her.

My big bro, my big sis, and me! In the wilds of Saudi Arabia.

So, I’ve formally studied geology at GCSE, A Level and I now have a degree in the subject. I’ve travelled all around the UK to look at rocks, been to Italy, Spain, Saudi.. all over the place in the name of rocks. Why do I love it so much? That’s a long answer.

I love being able to read the rocks, I love the link between geology and society, I love figuring things out and figuring out my place in amongst it all. I love turning over a piece of mudstone and finding fossils, I love clambering over scree heaps and up (and then down) very steep deer tracks that were not made for Lauras. I enjoy the being out in shitty horrible sideways rain (seriously, I do) but I don’t enjoy the trying to keep my notebook dry. I love that there is a story in a rock and that I have the skill to read it. I love poring over geological maps to figure out sequences and I love being able to read the maps in the first place. Geology (and earth science) covers SO MUCH and SO MANY different aspects, topics, ideas and specialities.

Dune bedded desert sandstone on the beach at Exmouth, UK.

Geology is a subject that has quite literally saved my life. Through my darkest times with depression, it was always geology that kept me going. The only reason I have any A Levels at all is because it was the only local college to offer geology and so I stayed for that. I didn’t go to university until was 21 – it was geology that made me realise I wanted more than low skilled, low paid jobs. It was geology that made me realise I could have a better life. It was geology that got me through. When I dropped out of uni two years later (thanks, depression!), it was the passion for this subject that made me want to go back. I can’t and couldn’t and probably never will imagine my life without geology. Some of my best and happiest memories involve geology – field trips, mapping, discovering new features in a quarry that we thought we had figured out. So much good stuff!

A lot of people call me a geogeek, which I’ve now turned into my own little thing. Yes, I am a geogeek. Yes, I love rocks more than I love people. Yes, I love sharing my passion and knowledge with others, and opening their eyes to the world around them. So now I’m 27, and my twenties have been mostly geological and I couldn’t be happier. The places I go and the people I meet who all share this passion for rocks makes me realise that I’m not alone in being a geogeek, and that geology is actually pretty awesome. Being able to look at a cliff and figure out a story is pretty neat. Being able to unravel a series of clues and formulate an answer on how it all came to be is pretty cool.  

It’s pretty useful too, geology is the basis for many speciality careers such as geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering for building skyscrapers, underground railways and more; landfill design [PDF] for disposing of our waste and preventing pollution; hydrogeology to get our drinking water; economic geology for having resources to build roads, make smart technology, and move away from non-renewable resources. It also can cover nuclear works and using geology to store our nuclear waste in GDFs. But that’s another story – and maybe a masters degree for the future.

Me in Glen Sannox, Isle of Arran. Before I hiked up-stream in wellies and then nearly passed out with heatstroke!

So while I still haven’t fully decided which direction I want to take with my life, I am currently working towards conservation and hopefully become more specialised into geoconservation. Looking after geological sites of interest for further study by interested parties, preserving sites that show the geological story of the local landscape, and maybe even bigger scale work such as geoparks, geoheritage & geotourism. Being able to share my knowledge and passion for this subject is the main reason I want to work in this sector. Showing people the world in a new way is hugely rewarding to me. How many people don’t realise how geology affects them day to day? How many people just don’t think about it? Mostly it’s so discreet and indirect it isn’t worth a second thought – but your car is made of metals that were found by a geologist. Your smart phone has rare earth elements that were found by a geologist. The petrol in your car, the coal used in our power stations, the creation of strong foundations for skyscrapers, wind turbines, tower blocks – designed by engineering geologists. The fossils you look at in museums – palaeontology. Pretty building stones used as facades – more geology.

Pic from here. Shows the line of the Appalachians across America and into Europe!

Basically, to sum up, I love geology because IT IS SO COOL. It’s all around, it affects us pretty much every day, it has helped create society (what I call geo-socio-economics, by which I mean quarries for aggregates to make roads, stone to make houses, water supplies etc). It’s just… everywhere, and I love it for being everywhere, and I love that I can drive for five minutes (Rubery & Lickey) or for two hours and be at a site of special geological interest and learn something new about somewhere I’ve never been. I love that I can piece together large chunks of time and end up with the story of why Britain is the way it is, or why there’s a chain of mountains that stretches from America to Europe (above pic), or why there are fossils and a coral reef in the middle of Dudley. I just absolutely love it, and it’s helped me do things I never thought I’d do, and it gave me something to live for (cheesy but true), and it fills my days with curiosity and awe and wonder and I hope that never changes.

I stole this from Google a couple of years ago.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Urban Geology in Longbridge

All links open in new windows, and all pics were taken by me!

The Longbridge area of south Birmingham has great industrial history, with a large factory complex here once producing cars, as well as military related work during the war. This factory was hugely important to the history of Birmingham and the local history of this area. Following the collapse of the industry, the land was turned over to residential, community and retail use, and the new high street area has brought a new lease of life to this location. The shop fronts are faced with slabs of beautiful beige limestone, which is the subject of this blog.

The limestone creates the surrounds at each shop.

I first noticed that these were fossiliferous (full of fossils) some time back in late 2015 and I think I’ve probably taken photos of every slab (that I can reach, anyway!). The main types of fossils that stand out are belemnite guards (long black bullets) and ammonites (round curly shapes). There are also some very nice fossil sponges, and all of the slabs contain detritus (fragmented and broken up pieces of shells). All of these fossils indicate that this is a marine rock – it formed under the ocean – and through lots of people on Twitter I have developed more of an understanding of this rock.

A very nice ammonite in a slab near to Greggs & Subway on Longbridge High Street. This fossil is about 4 inches across! The chambers of the shell are clearly visible.

It is a limestone from the Jurassic period of geological time and was formed around 160 million years ago. The fossils show that this was a different environment to today, and the area in Germany where this rock is quarried was once a shallow sea (ammonites are generally thought of as the shallow water relation to nautiloids which prefer deeper water). Ammonites and belemnites are both part of the Cephalopod family. Only the hard parts of these animals are preserved – the soft body parts were either eaten (scavenged) or rotted away during the fossilisation process. The ammonite hard parts are the shell, which in this limestone are found in a range of orientations and show different aspects & views of the shells, and in a lot of cases you can clearly see the different chambers of the shell. 

These two fossils were found near the Mountain Warehouse store. The black bullet on the left is a belemnite guard, with the front pointing downwards. The V-shaped notch is where the phragmocone would have been housed. The spiral fossil above my fingers is an ammonite, which has an area of calcite infill (the white crystals), and it also has nice definition to the chambers! I have included my fingers to give a sense of size. 

The belemnites are represented by the guards – long black bullet shapes which are thought to have acted as a counterweight for the rest of the animal. At the front end of the guard there is a feature called a phragmocone, which is divided into cells and is thought to have helped with buoyancy. This feature can be seen in some of the Longbridge fossils, but is generally rarely preserved – sometimes it just falls out, but most of the time it disintegrates as it is made of an unstable mineral (aragonite). The guard is made of calcite which is more stable and more likely to be preserved. Some of the fossils also have areas of calcite infill, which looks like white crystals.

A very nice, long, well preserved belemnite! This is near the Queens Fish & Chip shop on Longbridge Lane. The back of the animal is to the left and the front to the right. The V-shaped notch is clearly visible, and where it widens out again towards the left is where the phragmocone would have been.

This belemnite has a VERY nicely preserved phragomocone! This is the chambered pale brown structure above the left and middle finger. The guard of the belemnite is the grey end on the right.

I don't know much about the sponges found in these rocks, so most of my pics are ammonites and belemnites!

The fossil slabs at Longbridge are very accessible – they surround the shop fronts along the high street and lots of the fossils are within human height! I tweeted a lot of photographs using the hashtag #LongbridgeFossils and there are also some on Instagram.

An ammonite, with clear chambers. The lines between the chambers are called suture lines, and different types of ammonites have different shaped sutures, and so these can be used to identify fossil families.

An example of a fossil sponge. I don't know much about these!

All links open in new windows, and all pics were taken by me!

Monday, 22 February 2016

A Brief Trip to Charmouth

On my way home from a few days in Devon, I decided to go across to Dorset and have a mooch along the beach at Charmouth! There have been a few storms along the south coast which have caused some cliff falls – perfect for looking among the scree for fossils!

The cliffs at Charmouth, heading (and looking) east from the car park.

The fossils in this part of the coast are mainly ammonites from the Jurassic, though you can also find crinoids and fish. I spent about an hour and a half walking along the beach before I settled on a pile of flat pieces of shale – a pile that had obviously been created by someone using a hammer to break pieces, but clearly abandoned due to lack of finds. Within about 30 seconds I had found ten fossil impressions! One mans trash etc.!

I kept picking up pieces and turning them over, pocketing any good finds. A lady came over to have a look and I told her I’d found loads, and then I helped her daughters find some. I also left a few for other people to find.

A few of the ammonite impressions I found within one pile of debris. Nothing spectacular and no individual, 3D, pyritised beauties - but fossils nonetheless! I like impressions and trace fossils as they are often overlooked by people who want to find The One. These are perfect for display pieces!

In 2014 the Geological Society of London released a crochet pattern to make a mini Mary Anning - so I just had to take her with me to Charmouth!

Mini Mary Anning with her geological hammer and basket for her curios - ready for a geomooch!

The cliffs here are dangerous – I saw evidence of multiple mud flows and cliff collapse, and climbing these cliffs on the hunt for fossils is a stupid idea. Most of the fossils are found on the shore, in the piles of shale at the base of mud flows, or in the pebble area. This site is a SSSI so hammering the cliffs is a no-no, but using a hammer to break pebbles or bits of shale is fine.

Be sure to check the tide times before you visit! The Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre is also a good first port of call – for advice re fossil hunting, hammer hire, and tide times.

All pics belong to me and were taken by me. Links open in new windows.