Grampian and Northern Highlands

The BGS has been working in the Highlands of Scotland for over a hundred years. Currently we are building digital geological maps and models of two key areas, the North West Highlands and the Great Glen.

Our expertise in Highland geology, together with our extensive data holdings, means that we are able to provide geological information and advice to underpin a range of major infrastructure developments, such as those associated with renewable energy — see Deep beneath the Highlands.

BGS work in the Highlands is described in a range of publications, from peer-reviewed journals to books about the landscape (see Assynt), and we work with organisations such as the North West Highlands Geopark and Lochaber Geopark to interpret the geology for all who visit the region.

North West Highlands

Superb geology in Glen Torridon.

The North West Highlands of Scotland are geologically dominated by the Moine Thrust Zone, which contains some of the best localities anywhere in the world for study of ancient mountain belts.

Over the last ten years, BGS staff have been revising the maps along the Moine Thrust Zone. The team produces bedrock maps that show the geology of the hard rocks, as well as superficial maps that show the deposits laid down during and after the last ice age.

The first revised map to be published was the Assynt Special Sheet, covering an area of complex geology that is visited by students from around the world.

Associated with the mapping work, BGS has collaborated with universities and industry on research into a wide range of subjects. Our research has covered the whole spectrum of geological time preserved in the British Isles, from unravelling the formation of the continental crust (see Laxford Shear Zone) nearly three billion years ago to dating the last glacial advances (see Lateglacial ice-cap dynamics) some 12 000 years ago.

We have found delicate sedimentary structures in some rocks that have been used to reconstruct past environments (see Morar Group), whilst in other parts of the North West Highlands these structures have been destroyed by mountain-building events (see Caledonian Orogeny) that in turn leave their own record in the rocks.

The geology of this area was first described in a classic Geological Survey of Great Britain memoir published in 1907. A conference in Ullapool to celebrate the centenary of this memoir has generated a Special Publication of the Geological Society of London — Continental Tectonics and Mountain Building.

Great Glen and Ben Nevis

The Great Glen is one of Scotland's most distinctive landscape features; it is a deeply eroded trench that runs from Inverness to Fort William along the line of a major fault system.

BGS is developing a range of projects in this area. At the north-east end of the Great Glen, study of the glacial history links in to mapping in the Moray Firth. Further south-west, detailed studies of deformation associated with the Great Glen Fault are underpinning infrastructure development and design.

View along Loch Ness, showing the deep valley of the Great Glen

At the south-western end of the Great Glen lies Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, which has been the subject of surprisingly little detailed geological study, perhaps due to the inaccessibility of its main outcrops.

BGS staff and collaborators are now working in this area with the aim of producing a modern geological interpretation. Ben Nevis was first recognised as the roots of an ancient volcano in the late 19th century, and mapped by the Geological Survey in the early years of the 20th century. It represents an example of a caldera volcano, similar to its geologically better-known neighbour, Glencoe.


Contact Graham Leslie for further information