North Atlantic uplift associated with rising atmospheric CO2 and vegetation changes 56 million years ago
About 56 million years ago, Earth experienced rapid global warming in association with a natural release to the atmosphere of an amount of CO2 and methane in the order of all present-day fossil fuel reserves — something between five and ten billion tons of carbon. Average global temperatures rose between 5 to 8 °C.
A study by a team of scientists from the British Geological Survey, University of Leicester, NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory, British Antarctic Survey and the University of Edinburgh, have recently published their detailed examination of a core taken from sediments under the North Sea.
About 56 million years ago, the North Atlantic Ocean was about to be born and the North Sea was an early but ultimately failed basin along its margins. Using the techniques of isotope geochemistry and micropalaeontology (microfossils), the team led by Sev Kender of the BGS found evidence that supports a theory that the trigger of massive greenhouse gas release was related to tectonic uplift of the embryonic North Atlantic Ocean. This uplift might have triggered CO2and methane release, by heating carbon-rich sea bed sediments, or by causing an ocean to sporadically release stored carbon in the form of methane burps .
An examination of ancient pollen within the core also showed that the land-based vegetation changed rapidly, probably in response to both global warming and an increase in precipitation. Swamp-like gymnosperm forests gave way to angiosperm vegetation including ancient hickory and walnut.
These results are published in the international, peer-reviewed journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters:
Kender, S, Stephenson, M A, Riding, J B, Leng, M J, Knox, R W O' B, Peck, V L, Kendrick, C P, Ellis, M A, Vane, C H, and Jamieson, R. 2012. Marine and terrestrial environmental changes in NW Europe preceding carbon release at the Paleocene-Eocene transition. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 353-354, 108-120 doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2012.08.011.
The British Geological Survey (BGS) is therefore working with partners on a national survey to characterise stress and faults in shale. The issue of natural stress and faults was first raised by the Joint Academies report Shale gas extraction in the UK: a review of hydraulic fracturing commissioned by the UK's Chief Scientist.
Britain has a lot of shale. In fact much of the Pennines is made of the shale and sandstone of the millstone grit , and these rocks underlie the lowlands to the east and west of the Pennines in northern England. To extract the gas from this deep shale safely we'll need to know where to drill and where not to drill.
The BGS survey will begin by examining boreholes in the north of England to look for features that indicate natural stress size and orientation.
Results are expected in 2013.
Contact Dr Helen Reeves for further information about the national survey to characterise stress and faults in shale.
More about the BGS Shale Gas project
Cake-baking staff at the British Geological Survey have celebrated raising more than £2000 for the homeless charity Framework by launching their own recipe book.
Scientists and support staff, concerned by the level of rough sleeping in the Nottingham area, have already raised more than £2000 by holding regular office cake-sales. They now hope to supplement that income by launching a new book of their favourite recipes.
Members of the Billy's Basement Bakers club (William Smith was a renowned 19th century geologist) printed a small number of the books in June for the benefit of family and friends and quickly sold out. Now, buoyed by that success, they have ordered another print-run for general sale at £5 each.
Jackie Swift, who helps run the club, explained: 'Framework is a great cause and we have really enjoyed raising money for them. We were wondering how we could take our baking forward and came up with this recipe book idea. It contains over 60 recipes from all of our bakers, including 12-year old Henry!, and is suitable for both beginners and experts alike. We were so pleased with how popular it was that we thought we&rsquo d make it more widely available.'
E-mail Jackie Swift to order a copy of the book.
QSR is one of the top Quaternary journals with an impact factor of 3.973.
More about the Quaternary Science Reviews Editorial Board
BGS Geomicrobiology is a thriving and internationally recognised group specialising in biogeochemical processes, particularly in the context of radioactive waste disposal and carbon dioxide storage. Julia develops science initiatives with academia and industry and organises conferences and workshops bringing together key partners. She is recognised as an international leader in her field and is regularly asked for advice on a range of issues related to geodisposal.
SEAES is home to several internationally renowned research groups including Environmental Geochemistry and Geomicrobiology.
Professor Melanie Leng has been reappointed as an Honorary Professor in the School of Geography, The University of Nottingham, for a further three years from August 2012. The appointment is on the basis of Mel being a distinguished practitioner in the field of isotopes in environmental change research and is aimed at strengthening links between the BGS and the university.
Professor Plant, a leading engineering geochemist, has done outstanding work to reduce the risks from hazardous substances, both to human health and the environment. She was the first female President of the Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. Jane is an international expert on chemicals in the environment, especially naturally occurring radionuclides such as uranium and the trace elements arsenic and selenium. She developed the BGS Geochemical Baseline of the Environment (G-BASE) programme and her methods also form the basis of those used by the International Union of Geosciences Global Geochemical Baseline programme. She has used such data for environmental studies, nationally and internationally. For example, to identify the relationship between a lack of available selenium in parts of China and the incidence of a type of heart disease.
Dr John Laxton of the British Geological Survey has been awarded the IUGS Science Excellence Award 2012 on Management and Application of Geoscience Information.
With this award the international geological community, represented by the IUGS, acknowledges Dr Laxton's work to advance the application of digital techniques to geology, for which the development of a geoscience interchange language (GeoSciML), and the creation of a harmonized metadatabase of geoscience, constitute major contributions.
More about Dr John Laxton
In April 2012, with hosepipe bans in place across much of southern England, and record low water levels in many of our Chalk aquifers, there was a lot of media interest in the drought. BGS scientists helped explain how spring rainfall was unlikely to significantly recharge aquifers.
Three months later the BBC One Show asked BGS hydrogeologist Andy McKenzie to revisit the Chilgrove House borehole, and see how the exceptional rainfall of the last three months had raised water levels in the Chalk aquifer to a new July record of 18 metres below ground, nearly 20 metres above April levels.
The exceptional rainfall, and its exceptional impact on groundwater means that groundwater scientists are having to revise their understanding of how groundwater responds to extreme rainfall.
There are concerns that in the future changes in climate might increase the spread of diseases and threaten human health. For example, a warmer and wetter climate could lead to disease-carrying creatures which thrive in warm, moist environments spreading to new regions. One such is the Plague of Justinian (similar to the bubonic Medieval Black Death). This was the first known global pandemic which struck in AD541 and recurred until ~AD750, leading to the premature death of up to a quarter of the human population in the eastern Mediterranean region.
A new NERC-funded project involving Plymouth, Birmingham and Nottingham Universities along with the NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory at the British Geological Survey is examining the changes in climate that took place at the same time as the Plague of Justinian. The team will use evidence of past climate preserved in lake muds. The muds at the bottom of Nar lake in central Turkey are annually-banded, similar to tree rings, which offers the chance to reconstruct year-by-year variations in climate.
Sediment core samples from Nar show that the onset of the plague coincided with a very large switch from a drier to a wetter climate.  The wetter climate would have increased the numbers of rats and other rodents which carry fleas, which in turn carry the plague bacterium.
In order to test this idea more rigorously, they will measuring climatic indicators in the cores for each individual annual layer during the critical time period around the start and end of the plague, then using the chemistry of the lake sediment layers to reconstruct how fast the climate changed and whether there was any lag between this and spread of the disease.  The cores will also tell them, indirectly, about the consequences of the plague for rural agriculture, via the different types of pollen that are preserved.
Did the reduction in human population lead to a fall in the proportion of pollen from crop plants, such as cereals and fruit trees?
Finally, they will compare their results with information from historical texts which record the date and place of plague outbreaks, to see how well they match up.
The project is being led by Prof Neil Roberts (University of Plymouth) in collaboration with Dr Warren Eastwood (Birmingham University), Dr Matt Jones and Jonathan Dean (Nottingham University) as well as Prof Melanie Leng (BGS).
At the BGS please contact Prof Melanie Leng for further information.
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