Why isn’t the Yorkshire Coast a UNESCO World Heritage site?

I was leading a Geology Hull first year fieldtrip to Filey on Thursday, in the teeth of a gale, barely able to be heard above the wind, barely able to see the cliffs through the clouds, barely able to get to the rocks because the waves were too high, the students struggling gainfully to begin collecting geological data, wondering what it was we were hoping to achieve. And then the wind dropped, and the clouds broke, and the sun came out, and the geology began to reveal itself – Ice Age tills full of exotic erratics; karst pavements on the wave-cut platform; giant storm-tilted boulders of sub-tropical Jurassic limestones, each latticed by a fabric of cemented lobster tunnels – and I suddenly paused, and wondered. The geology of the Yorkshire Coast is amazing, astonishing, stupendous: why isn’t it a UNESCO World Heritage site?

Just look at the burrows on that! Dr Richard Callow admires the amazing Thalassinoides trace fossils of Filey Brigg.

The Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site of Devon and Dorset is fantastic; this is not a competition. But the Yorkshire Coast is easily its equal. The geological, geographical and biological treasures it contains are just as diverse and significant, yet are offered up so much less easily, or obviously. Northerly, east-facing, precipitous, cool, dark, crumbling, brooding: this coast seems to reflect much of the local character. Yet at the same time it has uniqueness and richness, quirks and complexity; great warmth and wonder for those who choose to embrace it. There can be few more picturesque coastal villages in Britain than Staithes, there can be few grander panoramas in the country than Scarborough’s South Bay, there can be few finer coastal cliffs than those of Flamborough Head.

Come on, UNESCO! Get your act together!

Hull’s Lost Fossils

One way or another, 1988 was a momentous year for geology collections in the city of Hull. In March of that year, it was announced that – after a contentious government review – the Geology degree programmes at the University of Hull would cease. Most of the university’s rock and fossil specimens would move to other universities.

Based on this map from the UGC Earth Sciences Review, it’s easy to see how the Hull fossils ended up lost.

Then, in October 1988, workmen digging a drain in a central Hull car park stumbled upon some mysterious artefacts, including dinosaur bones. These turned out to be the remains of the basement of the city’s old Municipal Museum, destroyed in a World War Two air raid some 45 years earlier, and a project to reclaim the specimens took place the following year.

Thirty years on, now that geology degrees are back on the menu at the University of Hull, I have helped us reacquire thousands of our old specimens from the University of Oxford Natural History Museum. Now, my project “Back From The Dead: Uncovering the Hidden Histories of Hull’s Lost Fossils“, funded by the Ferens Education Trust, aims to begin telling the stories of the specimens, their collectors, and the places they came from. Something rather similar happened at the Museum of Somerset a few years ago.

I’m also hopeful that we might use our university collections work to help find out more about the old Hull Municipal Museum collections too. So, watch this space, or this one, or this one, to see how we get on…

Yorkshire Fossil Festival 2018 – update

As the chief organizer of the 2018 Yorkshire Fossil Festival, I ought to have been doing a lot more promotion of the event, which is now less than 3 weeks away. Still, better late than never.

I’m delighted to confirm that the following organizations will be taking part, and bringing their finest fossiliferous activities along:

The Palaeontological Association will be 1) letting you make your own salt dough fossil; 2) taking you swimming* through a Jurassic sea; 3) playing the fossilization board game; and 4) having the brilliant palaeo-artist James McKay bring your fantastical fossil creatures to life!

*not literally

University of Hull Geology group will be ‘Uncovering the Hidden Histories of Hull’s Lost Fossils’ (supported by the Ferens Education Trust) and also panning for gold!

Jordan Bestwick and colleagues from the University of Leicester will be showing how fossil microwear can tell us about palaeo-diets, possibly with a sandpit too.

The Palaeo@Leeds team from the University of Leeds will be playing mass extinction darts!

The Yorkshire Museum science team will be exploring Yorkshire’s Jurassic World.

Hidden Horizons and the Scarborough Museums Trust will be taking you hunting Dinosaurs At Dusk.

Hull Geological Society will be unveiling some of the Ice Age fossil treasures unearthed in East Yorkshire

Oxford University Museum of Natural History will show off the amazing fossil insect discoveries of East Yorkshire’s Hugh Edwin Strickland.

Yorkshire Geological Society will be bringing their rock saw, so if you’ve any rocks or fossils that you’d like to have cut and polished by the YGS teams, bring them along!

The Dinosaur Isle Museum and the University of Sheffield will also be taking part, but I can’t reveal their activities yet. Watch this space (and book your place to attend the Fossil Festival here)!

Geology of York

Permian magnesian limestones in the York city walls.

The slides from my Lifelong Learning class on the Geology of York can be downloaded as a PowerPoint file (Geology_of_York) or a PDF (Geology_of_York).

The paper by Hall et al. (2010) on the glacial and post-glacial geology of the Vale of York can be downloaded here.

The History of York website gives a brief summary of the prehistory of the city.

Sources of Building Material in Roman York (Gaunt & Buckland 2002) can be downloaded here.

The London Pavement Geology website, run by Dr Ruth Siddall, which includes York building stone sites, can be found here.

A biography of Martin Lister on the Yorkshire Philosophical Society website can be read here.

3D Geology of York – the British Geological Survey has produced a 3D model of the geology beneath York, which can be downloaded here.

An Intro To Shales & Fracking (2016)

Utica Shale, New York State (Photo by Michael C. Rygel, from Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joints_1.jpg)

Utica Shale, New York State (Photo by Michael C. Rygel, from Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joints_1.jpg)

The lecture slides for my York Lifelong Learning class on Shales & Fracking can be downloaded here: 2016_intro_shalesfracking_sml

Most of the references I discussed can be found on the website for the 2015 version of this site, here.

The new British Geological Survey appraisal of the shale gas/shale oil potential of the Wessex Basin (Oct 2016) can be found here.

The new ReFINE study (Dec 2016) on how much methane is escaping through natural fault zones in the UK can be read here.

Last but not least, a new study I have been involved with, trying to understand how climate change in the Jurassic led to the formation of organic-rich shales, can be read here. A less technical article on the study can be found here.

 

An Introduction to Shales and Fracking

KimmBay_cliffs2_SML

Upper Jurassic clay- and carbonate-rich black shales, Kimmeridge, Dorset.

The slides from my York Lifelong Learning presentation on Dec. 12th can be downloaded here as a PowerPoint file: 2015_Intro_ShalesFracking_SML.

Useful links

UK & Europe

ReFINE: Researching Fracking. ReFINE is the leading international fracking research consortium, led jointly by Newcastle University and Durham University. The website includes all the group’s scientific papers, research briefs, and newsletters.

Shale Gas – British Geological Survey website with lots of information about their fracking research activities. The BGS is also building up baseline data on UK groundwater methane.

From national to fracktional: will fracking come to Britain’s national parks? A policy briefing I wrote for the Durham Energy Institute.

Whatever Happened to the Great European Fracking Boom? An article I wrote for The Conversation.

North America

US Environmental Protection Agency report on fracking and its potential impacts on drinking water resources. Scientific papers published by the EPA for this report can be viewed here.

US Energy Information Administration (EIA) – World Shale Resource Assessments.

FracFocus – US fracking chemical disclosure registry.

US Geological Survey oil shale research.

Mud & Shales

Indiana University Shale Research Lab, led by Dr Jurgen Schieber, who conducts a lot of very interesting research into how shales form.

More Gaps Than Shale, a paper by João Trabucho-Alexandre on how mudstones form, and how complete mudstone successions are. With perhaps the best abstract in a geological paper: “Ths wht th fn-grnd mrine sdmtry rcrd rlly lks like.”

The 2015 global census of sea floor sediments, by Adriana Dutkiewicz and colleagues, shows just how fine-grained the oceans are. You can explore the globe in their amazing, interactive 3-D model!

The Scale of the Universe – if you’ve ever wondered just how small a clay particle (or pretty much anything else, for that matter) Scale of the Universe is an amazing website to explore.

Professor Herring’s Natural Hystery

He’s not a real professor, he’s not a real herring, but Professor Herring’s #NaturalHystery is really happening this summer, and will be a really different tour of York!

Professor_Herring

Say hello to Professor Herring!

From volcanoes and cholera to unicorns and Patagonians, the (mostly) scientific tales of the city will be revealed in this unique Festival of Ideas event, kindly supported by the Holbeck Trust innovation fund.

Professor Herring will introduce participants to many strange and interesting characters as we meander around the city centre. Are their tales all true though?

What lies beneath these streets?

Find out on Sunday June 14th…!

 

(P.S. Unlike most guided tours of York, this event is free, and if we see any ghosts all participants will get their money back.)

York: A Rocky History

Whilst you’re waiting with anticipation for the audio recording to go live on YouTube, here is a link to the PowerPoint slides for the Lifelong Learning public lecture I gave on Thursday 19th of February:

York_Rocky_History_SML

Upcoming Events:

Sat. 14th March 2015, 9.30am-4.30 pm – A Geological History of Britain, University of York.

Sun. 14th June 2015, 2pm and 3.30 pm – Professor Herring’s Natural Hystery of York. Festival of Ideas, York Museum Gardens.

Fri. 18th-Sun. 20th Sept. 2015 – Yorkshire Fossil Festival, Rotunda Museum, Scarborough.

A Very Short History of the Earth

Time Spiral (from Wikimedia Commons)

ChronoZoom – an interactive time scale showing the age of life, the universe and everything (if your computer has the right browser!).

Stratigraphy

ICS – The International Commission on Stratigraphy (the latest geological timescale can be found here).

William Smith and biostratigraphy (part of a University of California Berkeley series on the history of evolutionary thought).

John Phillips – the Time Lord of York (my article for York Mix).

Absolute dating

A quick introduction to radiometric dating (University of California Berkeley).

How to calculate the age of meteorites (or anything else for that matter).

Rock Around The Clock (Daily Telegraph article on the 4.4 billion year-old zircon crystal from Australia). The scientific paper can be found here.

Fossils & Extinction

From soup to cells (Berkeley introduction to the origins of life on Earth).

Solving Darwin’s Dilemma – Precambrian rocks really do contain abundant fossils (report of 2009 study by scientists at Oxford University).

First Life – David Attenborough tackles the origins of life, including the Precambrian fossils found near his childhood home in Leicester.

Mass extinctions (NHM guide to the “Big Five”). If you fancy a “Big Five” walking tour of London, you can follow my not entirely serious guide.

Prehistoric fossil collectors (article from the Geological Society).

How will humans go extinct? (article on BBC News, 24 April 2013).

Hidden Horizons website (Scarborough-based company run by Will Watts, offering Geology & Natural History Education and Events. Look out for information on the upcoming Yorkshire Fossil Festival).

 

Bodies of Evidence

Using fossils to examine the origins of animals

I am organizing the Palaeontological Association-sponsored session at the 2013 British Science Festival in Newcastle.

It is called Bodies of Evidence, will run at the Great North Museum on Sunday September 9th, and it is going to be dead great. Literally, as the event will be packed to the rafters with amazing fossils of long-gone creatures.

How do we figure out the origins of animals? What do fossils tell us about the way in which animals evolved different features, such as shells and teeth? And how can we reconstruct what ancient, extinct animals really looked like? Come along to Bodies Of Evidence and we’ll show you!

To whet your appetite, here’s a little taster of the bodies that will be on offer…

Starting with the Cambrian explosion, my palaeontological colleagues from Durham University will take you to Greenland, and the amazing Sirius Passet fossils:

(It's a halkieriid)

What in flippin’ crikey is that?

Professor Mark Purnell and his team from the University of Leicester will offer up some Rotten fish and fossils. If you’re feeling brave, they’ll even let you take a sniff and find out what their experiments smell like!

Progressive stages of decay in the lancelet.

Dr Martin Ruecklin (Leiden University/University of Bristol) will show off his amazing Jaws! Using Synchrotron x-rays he will delve into the origins of our lovely smiles…

Dunkleosteus terelli, an ancient fish much scarier than Jaws.

And as a special bonus, the brilliant model-maker Esben Horn of 10 Tons, Copenhagen, will be bringing along some Heavy Metal and Punk Fossils!

Palaeontology: the new rock and roll!

So come along and inspect our #BodiesOfEvidence on September 8th. You won’t see the fossil world the same way afterwards!