Research news and awards

Latest news about our research. Project progress and collaboration. Awards and achievements.

Basta Voe on Yell is one site where researchers have found evidence of the most recent tsunami to hit the British Isles
Shetland has been hit by at least two more tsunamis in the past 10,000 years than previously thought, and scientists are working to identify where the giant waves originated.

Around 8,200 years ago, the Storegga submarine landslide off the coast of Norway caused a 20-metre high tsunami to sweep across Shetland. Sands found at various points across the isles, mainland Scotland and in Norway, the Faroe Isles and Greenland proved the tsunami's towering height, and the event has been well-reported.

Scientists funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) have identified sands on Shetland that they say prove additional tsunamis hit Shetland 5,000 and 1,500 years ago. This could mean that tsunamis are a more common occurrence than previously thought in the UK.

Dr Sue Dawson from the University of Dundee and Professor Dave Tappin from the NERC British Geological Survey (BGS) are working to identify what could have caused these tsunamis, using new CT and seismic technology.

Dr Sue Dawson said: "We found sands aged 5,000 and 1,500 years old at multiple locations in Shetland, up to 13m above sea level. These deposits have a similar sediment character as the Storegga event and can therefore be linked to tsunami inundation.

"We are now using a CT scanning machine at the University of Dundee to look at our samples in detail.

"For the first time, we'll have a complete 3D view of the cores we’ve extracted from the ground and from lochs and seabeds. This detail will show us which direction the wave was travelling in, identify the elements present in the sand and much more.

Both scientists agree that a submarine landslide, which is an underwater landslide that moves vast amounts of sediment across the seabed, generated the tsunamis that hit Shetland.

While Dr Dawson has been investigating the sand samples, Professor David Tappin has been focusing on the seabed to try to pinpoint where the tsunamis originated.

Professor Tappin from BGS said: "The younger tsunami sands on Shetland are located quite close together, so we thought the submarine landslide may have originated quite close to the shore.

"BGS's research vessel White Ribbon, which can work in the shallowest waters, was used to carry out seismic surveys of the seabed around Shetland, but we have not yet found conclusive proof of submarine landslides there.

"Identifying landslides on and below the seabed using existing mapping methods is not as straightforward as might be imagined. We plan to test some theoretical models to see if we can reproduce the 1,500 and 5,000 year tsunamis.

"We will be creating a digital elevation model of the coasts of the Shetlands and the surrounding seabed.

"We will then reproduce the landslide movement that will generate the tsunami. The numerical model will flood the land and we'll look at the elevation of the sediments to see if they match with what's on Shetland. That will take us much closer to finding where the actual tsunamis began.

"Submarine landslides are much more poorly understood than almost all types of natural hazards, such as river floods or storm surges. But they can be far larger than any landslide seen on land - the Storegga slide contained 300 times the amount of sediment carried each year by all of the world's rivers combined.

The research is part of the Landslide-Tsunami project, ongoing research that forms a key element of NERC's Arctic Research programme. The project aims to discover what causes enormous submarine landslides, what the impact of slides in different locations and of different magnitude would be on the UK and what the likelihood of such an event might be, given the significant scale of Arctic climate change.

17 September 2018

BBSRC logo

Congratulations to Professor Martin Broadley (Biosciences, UoN) and Dr Louise Ander (Inorganic Geochemistry, BGS) were announced as winners of the BBSRC Innovator of the Year 2018 International Impact category for their work on GeoNutrition: spatial aspects of hidden hunger.

7 September 2018


Congratulations to Tracey Coffey, Sharon Egan, Suzanne McGowan, Murray Lark, Odipo Osano, Christopher Aura, Andrew Marriott, Greg Sambrook Smith, Iseult Lynch and Stefan Krause on their successful GCRF Multidisciplinary Challenge–led Research Project Aquaculture in Lake Victoria – Challenges for the industry. This project combines the experience and expertise within the University of Nottingham with that of the Inorganic Geochemistry department at BGS, the University of Eldoret, the Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute and the University of Birmingham. This project addresses the intensification of the aquaculture industry in Kenya and highlights the major risks to its sustainability. The overarching aim is to identify key pollutants at the "environment: fish: human" interface and to highlight the potential risks to livestock production, animal and human health, food security and the environment. The project's novelty lies in its holistic approach to pollution analysis across this interface, and its potential impact on food security and the animal/human health implications of exposure to each pollutant, with clear health, societal and economic impacts.

7 September 2018

The RESIST project - natural coastal protection
Salt marshes can act as a first line of coastal defence against storm surges. They can even go so far as to lower the risk of the coastline suffering from the impacts of climate change, such as from rising sea levels. But how, why and where does this happen?

The NERC RESIST project aims to determine just that and investigate the variability in the resistance of salt marshes to extreme wave, tide, and storm conditions. The BGS coastal vulnerability dataset will assist in this as it combines multiple hazards found along the coast of England and Wales. It represents the natural geological coastline as if no coastal defences are present. It will be used to develop methods for mapping salt marsh resistance across space and time for any given sea level, wave and tide conditions.

Equipped with this information we can help improve coastal protection and protect vulnerable coastal communities.

In August 2018 the research team head to Hannover and one of the largest indoor flumes in the world: Large Wave Channel of the Coastal Research Center. There they will simulate the impact of storm waves on salt marsh soil and vegetation under laboratory conditions.

More information can be found here, and at the links below.

21 August 2018

Geospatial Commission consultation
The BGS is a partner body of the Geospatial Commission that was announced in November 2017. The Geospatial Commission is an impartial expert committee that aims to promote the more productive use of public and private sector geospatial data. This will maximise the value of 'location data', which could generate £11 billion a year.

By using location data, geospatial technology is transforming services across the private and public sectors. From emergency services, transport planning, and 5G networks to housing, smarter cities and drones, the UK’s geospatial infrastructure has the potential to revolutionise the UK's economy.

The government is urging the geospatial sector to take part and share views to set the future geospatial vision for the UK. A consultation was launched on Wednesday 15th August. Follow the link below for more information and to contribute:

16 August 2018

Helen Bonsor
I am delighted to announce that Helen Bonsor has been appointed as our new Chief Geologist for Scotland from 1 September 2018. The post of Chief Geologist for Scotland has recently been reformed to focus more heavily on developing strategic relationships with the relevant parts of the Scottish Government and its regional initiatives, such as the National Planning Framework and Energy and Climate Change Directorate, as well as improving relationships with key regional partnerships and local councils across Scotland.

Helen joined the BGS in 2008 as a hydrogeologist, and over the last 10 years her groundwater science has been focused on developing understanding of groundwater resources in Africa and Asia. In recent years, she has been focusing on improving understanding behind poor functionality of hand-pump supplies in Africa, as part of the DFID–NERC–ESRC-funded UPGro research programme (Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor). Within Scotland, Helen has contributed to regional surveys, such as the Groundwater Baseline Scotland project, and the large, cross-cutting Clyde Urban Super Project led by the former Chief Geologist for Scotland Diarmad Campbell. Helen will embrace this key strategic role with determination, and she has committed to bringing together our science and expertise across our disciplines in Scotland in new ways, building on our key external relationships in order for our science to directly inform new regional research and spatial approaches.

In this interim period please direct all enquires to the co-director of the Lyell Centre, Tracy Shimmield. Helen officially takes up the post on 1 September 2018.

Professor John Ludden, BGS Chief Executive.

10 August 2018

Dr Andy Chadwick

Andy Chadwick has been awarded the MBE is in recognition of his services to the science of carbon capture and sequestration

The BGS has been a world leader in the science of underground carbon dioxide storage for more than twenty years and Andy's MBE reflects the high quality and high profile research that he and colleagues have developed over this period.

12 June 2018

Carbon dioxide molecules

The 13th CO2GeoNet Open Forum (of which BGS is a co-organiser) – Climate change and the science of geological CO2 storage

To help address the pressing need to reduce CO2 emissions, from 24 to 26 April, an international conference was held on the Island of San Servolo in Venice (Italy) to share the latest findings on CO2 Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS).

Scenarios from the IPCC and IEA show that CO2 capture and storage (CCS) is key to achieving our climate goals in time. The technology is proven and there are 17 large-scale projects worldwide. The cost per tonne CO2 avoided is comparable with other climate mitigation technologies. It is now time to rollout the technology, as the theme of this year's Open Forum 'Growing CCS for a sustainable future' indicates, in order to realise the contribution that CCS can make to meet the Paris Agreement targets.

More information

4 May 2018

Jennifer Jamieson-Ball

We are pleased to announce that Jennifer Jamieson-Ball MCIPR has been appointed to the newly created role of director of communications and external affairs. As part of the executive team, Jennifer will develop the new communications, public relations and government engagement strategies for the BGS. Jennifer will be joining us on 9 July 2018.

Jennifer has led integrated communication teams in a number of organisations. She is currently head of global corporate communications at Heriot-Watt University, and has held senior roles at the Scottish Ambulance Service, BAA Scotland and the Royal Mail.

Jennifer is an accredited member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

13 April 2018

Energy and Climate Change: An Introduction to Geological Controls, Interventions and Mitigations book cover
My new book Energy and Climate Change: An Introduction to Geological Controls, Interventions and Mitigations is all about the cycles that connect energy and climate change, and the vital importance of geoscience in understanding, mitigating and adapting to these challenges. It’s also about where I think geology, as a science, might go in the future’. So it’s partly a book that makes connections — and partly a manifesto!
I think a major role for geoscience in the future is in establishing measuring and observation of the subsurface that links with already comprehensive atmospheric and oceanic observation — in short to establish a ‘geological macroscope’. I also think that to understand how we transition to low carbon, we need to know how past energy transitions have occurred, and that involves working with a wider range of specialists than we, as geologists, have worked with before.
For survey organisations like BGS, the role is clear — in doing the geoscience that establishes the underground as a part of decarbonisation (for example in CCS and geothermal), and as part of environmental change adaptation (for example groundwater in surface water-stressed regions). The book is aimed at geoscientists, environmental scientists and students, but I hope that policy makers, energy professionals and economists will also take a look.

The new book is available from Elsevier, Amazon and shortly online (free to subscribers) through Elsevier's ScienceDirect.

28 March 2018