News stories about BGS

A selection of recent news, that includes mentions of the British Geological Survey, reported in online news websites. Click on a heading link to read the full article.

When most of us think of Arabia, we think of rolling sand dunes, scorching sun, and precious little water. But in the quite recent past it was a place of rolling grasslands and shady woods, watered by torrential monsoon rains. The finding could help settle how and when modern humans first left Africa, where our species evolved. If Arabia was once lush and fertile, it would have been an ideal place to migrate to. "There were more windows of opportunity for humans to leave Africa than previously thought," says lead author Ash Parton of the University of Oxford in the UK. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors "wouldn't have been able to exist in many areas of Arabia as it is today," says Parton. "At present the Indian Ocean Monsoon just clips the very southern edge of the peninsula," so the rest of Arabia is desert. His team's findings suggest that the monsoon pushes further into Arabia every 23,000 years, allowing plants and animals to flourish. The findings are published in the journal Geology.

23 February 2015

The Centre will be involved primarily in providing the detailed statistical and analytical support for BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy and its annual Energy Outlook. Heriot-Watt academics will support BP’s economics team to provide an objective snapshot of the global energy market, together with historical data to provide context and longer-term research on energy economics and markets. BP has published its annual Statistical Review of World Energy since 1952. The Review is one of the most widely respected and authoritative publications in the field of energy economics, used for reference by the media, academia, world governments, and energy companies. Heriot-Watt University has worked on its production since 2007.

BP’s Energy Outlook is a highly anticipated industry event that reflects the company’s best effort to describe a “most likely” trajectory of the global energy system over the next 20 years, based on its views of likely economic and population growth, as well as developments in policy and technology. This year’s Energy Outlook 2035 was launched in London on February 17. Professor Dorrik Stow, Head of Heriot-Watt University’s Institute of Petroleum Engineering will head up the new centre along with Professor of Economics, Mark Schaffer. Professor Stow said, “Heriot-Watt is well known for its strong industry links which result in innovative research and enhanced opportunities for students. This Centre will be incorporated into the University’s new £20m Lyell Centre which will be the Scottish headquarters for the British Geological Survey (BGS) as well as a major joint BGS/Heriot-Watt University research centre for geological, petroleum and marine sciences.”

23 February 2015

Doomed King Richard III was stabbed nine times in the head after losing his helmet during the Battle of Bosworth. State-of-the-art forensic technology has revealed a blow-by-blow account of the English Monarch’s final moments in 1485. Analyses of his skeletal remains – found under a car park in Leicester three years ago – show he suffered 11 wounds in total. Of the nine sustained to the skull, two would have killed him quickly along with a pelvic strike. Experts at Leicester university used CT scans and micro-CT imaging on the 500-year-old bones. The results, published in The Lancet, show that Richard’s skeleton suffered 11 wounds at or near the time of his death - nine of them to the skull - clearly inflicted in battle and suggesting he had removed or lost his helmet, and two to the post-cranial skeleton.

Dr Angela Lamb, isotope geochemist and lead author of the paper, said: “The chemistry of Richard III’s teeth and bones reveals fascinating changes in his geographical movements, diet and social status throughout his life. “Richard’s diet when he was king was far richer than that of other equivalent high status individuals in the late medieval period. “We know he was banqueting a lot more, there was a lot of wine indicated at those banquets and tying all that together with the bone chemistry it looks like this feasting had quite an impact on his body in the last few years of his life.” The team, whose work was filmed for a new Channel 4 documentary about the doomed king, also used a body double to prove Richard’s curved spine would not have stopped him fighting in battle. The study by the British Geological Survey, in association with researchers at the University of Leicester, is published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

19 February 2015

When Markus Persson began to code Minecraft one weekend in 2009, he imagined a game without levels, story or points set in a vast, free virtual world, the future of which would be at the behest of its users. In doing so he created a gaming monster which, to date, has been downloaded more than 60 million times and is so popular that videos just discussing the game on YouTube attract 2.4 billion views.

With 16,062 square miles of Denmark recreated in Minecraft, and Ordnance Survey using 83 billion virtual blocks to represent 85,000 square miles of the UK, the British Geological Survey was inspired to get involved, too. It has been incorporating geology into the game, making it easier to understand how the different layers of rock join, fold, overlap, fault or dissect each other. "Minecraft is a fantastic tool because you don't need to do any mental calculations – the rocks are right there and you are able to dig through them, mine out areas and explore the geology first-hand," says Steve Richardson, geospatial applications developer at the BGS.

18 February 2015

A new report out in the UK today (Monday, February 16), based on contributions from over 1,000 members of the public, scientific and government experts and from a series of public dialogue events, offers some key recommendations on best practice actions to deal with the impact of such events in the future. Key recommendations from the report include: - The development of an on-going programme of guidance for the public on space weather, that could perhaps use existing key national and regional weather forecasts as its communications channel - That government should continue to work closely with industries operating systems at risk from space weather to ensure and demonstrate that the UK has overall systems resilience to space weather The report builds on existing work that has been undertaken on this risk to the UK and has been published on the back of a major national public dialogue project that took place in 2014 and which was aimed at informing and talking with the UK public about the threat of the space weather events on modern society. The report was published on behalf of a number of major organisations including Sciencewise, the Science and Technology Facilities Council RAL Space team, the Natural Environment Research council (NERC), National Grid and Lloyd’s of London.

There is already huge public interest in space weather and this project has built on that interest and raised wider awareness of the real threat posed by space weather. It has highlighted how academia, industry and government are working together to develop good engineering solutions and better operational procedures to cope with such space weather events. The general public were invited to take part in a series of workshops and also joined an online discussion dedicated to the space weather dialogue. The dialogue brought together expertise from the following organisations: Met Office, National Grid, UK Space Agency, British Geological Survey, Staffordshire Civil Contingencies, Reading University, Lancaster University, Cabinet Office, Royal Astronomical Society and GO Science. The report is very timely following the launch this week of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) which will, when operational, give forecasters up to an hour's warning on the arrival of the huge magnetic eruptions from the Sun, called Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), that occasionally occur.

16 February 2015

Fracking will be allowed to take place beneath national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, ministers have announced, despite committing to a ban in such areas less than three weeks ago. Energy companies will not be allowed to base their fracking operations on the ground within the protected zones but instead will be able to station their drilling rigs just outside and then drill horizontally underneath them. Preventing fracking beneath such areas would not be "practical" and would "unduly constrain" fracking firms, Amber Rudd, the energy minister said. Fracking typically involves drilling more than a mile down and then horizontally, potentially for more than a mile and a half. Labour warned the change could allow protected areas to become surrounded on all sides by fracking operations.

The North York Moors national park is one of the areas that is particularly promising for shale gas, according to a study published by the British Geological Survey in 2013. Some energy companies already have rights to drill there. Mr Greatrex said the Government had "watered down some of the key commitments given in the Commons". Nick Clack, senior energy campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said ministers had undermined their claim to be protecting the countryside and had "further eroded public confidence".

13 February 2015

What the Prime Minister and I want to secure is a great future for the Midlands – a future as an engine for growth for the whole of the UK. That is what our long term economic plan for the Midlands will achieve. Over the last thirty to forty years the Midlands grew significantly slower than the rest of the UK. Our ambition is to reverse this trend and make the Midlands an engine for growth.

Leading universities, including Birmingham, Nottingham, Warwick, Loughborough, Aston and Leicester, are working on an exciting proposal with the British Geological Survey for a new national hub for energy research.

12 February 2015

THE British Geological Survey say an earthquake was recorded under Kirkby Lonsdale just before midday today (Monday). The quake measured a magnitude of two on the Richter Scale and struck at a depth of 12km. Did you feel anything? Contact our news team on 01539 790 247 or email

9 February 2015

The UK faces a critical dilemma in managing energy supply. Over the next 10 to 20 years coal-fired power generators will go offline and with new nuclear power generation in the UK yet to be constructed along with the depletion of North Sea reserves, the UK’s reliance on imports from Northern Europe and the Middle East will increase. There’s no denying the importance of gas in the UK – around 80% of our heating comes from gas and in 2013, approximately 32% of all energy consumed was gas sourced (DUKES 2014). The UK is dependent on gas and this is increasing – by 2025 we expect to be importing around 75% of the gas we consume. The UK needs to move fast to put in place the infrastructure and supply chain needed to service development and operation of the emerging UK shale gas industry. The British Geological Survey estimates that the shale gas resource (gas-in-place) in the Bowland Shale area of Northern England is 1,329 trillion cubic feet. While it remains to be seen how much of this is recoverable, even if only 10% is retrieved this would provide more than 40 years of supply. Ernst & Young estimate that the development of the industry could be worth a potential £33 billion benefit to the national economy and over 64,000 jobs by 2032.

But it’s not just about the national economy. There is a growing momentum in northern England to develop skills and the supply chain necessary to deliver shale with the Government announcing the new National College for Onshore Oil and Gas, based in Blackpool and linked to The University of Chester. David Cameron has spoken about the importance of ‘rebalancing the economy’ and it would seem that a shale gas revolution could underpin the creation of a Northern Powerhouse. In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor announced details of Sovereign Wealth Fund which would hold tax receipts from shale gas reserves to invest in economic development projects and regeneration in the north. The development of shale gas could help transform the regional economy, unlocking a projected £10 billion investment and over 3500 jobs in the development of shale gas resources in the North West region alone (Amion Consulting, 2014). Development in the unconventional oil and gas sector has been delayed by planning, environmental and other issues meaning progress has been slow. Onshore exploration and development introduces politics, planning and property issues as key issues and there is a heightened anxiety surrounding unconventional gas fuelled by certain NGO’s and focussed “anti-fracking” groups. While the perception of risk is likely to reduce over time as the industry becomes more widely understood and there is real community experience of operating well pads, in the short term the industry needs a robust approach to planning and a commitment to early stakeholder engagement and education. With the 14th license round looming, now is the time to act to ensure this major economic opportunity is not lost.

9 February 2015

The day before the hole appeared, a "dark shadow" appeared in the garden of the family home in Gravesend. Melanie Andrews said her two daughters had been playing near it in the snow and jumping over it. The hole then appeared overnight on Wednesday. Surveyors are due to assess it next week to find out whether it has been caused by subsidence. BBC reporter Ian Palmer said the Gravesend area was known for so-called deneholes which could appear after heavy rain. Dr Helen Reeves, of the British Geological Survey, explained how deneholes appeared, and said: "What happens is you have the soil above a void in the ground and water ingresses into the ground. "It takes the soil down and obviously falls into the hollow. And you usually need an excess of water for this to happen." Mrs Andrews said: "My initial reaction was, 'where has the earth gone'? My first question was, where had such an amount of earth just disappeared to?"

7 February 2015