‘GEMS of North Yorkshire’ project launches in Scarborough

North Yorkshire’s rocks, fossils, and changing environments will be the stars of a newly formed science project based in Scarborough. ‘GEMS of North Yorkshire’ brings together the University of Hull’s Geology Hull and North Yorkshire Partnership Hub teams, and Scarborough-based education and outreach specialist, Hidden Horizons. The project will use school activities and public events to promote geological, environmental, and marine science (GEMS), with the aim of widening participation in these fields.

Dr Liam Herringshaw, Geology Hull lecturer, said “the ‘GEMS of North Yorkshire’ project offers a terrific opportunity to engage North Yorkshire schools and residents with the amazing landscapes on their doorstep. It’s really exciting to be working with Hidden Horizons and the University of Hull’s North Yorkshire Partnership Hub to deliver the activities.  We will also team up with Scarborough & North Yorkshire Children’s University to provide learning opportunities for primary-aged children.”

Starting in 2020, the project will offer a series of school activities and public events, delivered alongside educational web resources uncovering some of the GEMS of North Yorkshire.

For further details, contact Rich Adams (North Yorkshire Partnership Hub) on 01723 383884 (Twitter: @UniofHull_NYPH); Liam Herringshaw (Geology Hull) on 01482 465349 (Twitter: @GeologyHull), or Will Watts (Hidden Horizons) on 01723 817017 (Twitter: @H_Horizons).

About Geology Hull

Geology Hull is the geology teaching and research team in the Department of Geography, Geology and Environment at the University of Hull. We won the university Faculty of Science and Engineering’s Outstanding Team award in 2018, and our degree programmes were ranked 7th in the UK in the 2020 Guardian University Guide.

About the North Yorkshire Partnership Hub

The University of Hull’s North Yorkshire Partnership Hub is based in Scarborough. Our team is dedicated to building active partnerships to shape a brighter future for North Yorkshire. Our programmes in primary and secondary schools help to raise aspirations through our Scarborough & North Yorkshire Children’s University and the North Yorkshire Coast Higher Education Collaboration (NYCHEC). Our post-16 work helps to provide students with information, advice and guidance to help them make the best decisions for their future. Alongside a range of partners from business, the public and charity sectors, we’re helping our region fulfil its potential.

About Hidden Horizons

Established in 2013 by Will Watts, Hidden Horizons offer an exciting range of public and school events based on the outstanding geology and natural history of North Yorkshire. With sessions covering fossil hunting, stargazing, Forest School, Beach School, Bushcraft and more there really is something for everyone, with each session led by passionate experts in their field including three University of Hull graduates. In addition to the public and school sessions the company provides consultancy services to museums and heritage organisations including exhibition and interpretation support.  Hidden Horizons also operates a sister company, GeoEd Ltd, one of the world leaders in the creation of replica fossils for education and museum settings. 

A brief history of Scarborough landslides

In the summer of 2018, I was filmed in Scarborough by a TV production company making a series for Channel 5 about Sinkholes. As the episode has never been broadcast, I can only assume my performance was so dreadful, or so controversial, that it cannot be permitted to see the light of day, but I thought I’d blog about it anyway.

Warning! Non-landslide expert alert!

It all began when a Hull colleague of mine was contacted by the production company, who were trying to find a geologist who could tell them about coastal landslides in Scarborough. The 25th anniversary having just passed, I assumed the company was interested in the Holbeck Hall Hotel landslide. However, when I talked with them on the phone, this wasn’t the case. They’d heard only about a landslide in the spring of 2018, which I had to confess I knew nothing about.

From such inauspicious beginnings, our conversation piqued their interest in the Holbeck landslide, and mine in what was going on now. Both parties went away to do a bit more research, and when we spoke again a day or two later, it seemed there was enough of a story for them to want to do some filming, with me, in the South Bay.

Pretty much the best view in the world.

The following week, I found myself in the legendary Clock Café, holding a plastic box containing a miniature reconstruction* of the local geology. After nearly 40 years of yomping up and down the South Cliff on family holidays, suddenly I was there to explain its geological structure to the world. Well, to the viewers of Channel 5 at least.

(*comprising two beach cobbles, builders’ sand, some Plasticine and a Lego hotel. Sadly it will not make the cut.)

Now, I am definitely not a proper expert on coastal landslides, so – if the show is ever shown – writing this is perhaps a pre-emptive strike against looking like a dingbat on national telly**.

**again

Nonetheless, I found the research really interesting, and turned up a history of landslides in Scarborough and the Yorkshire Coast that people might want to know about, So, rather than have it all go to waste, here are my findings.

A Brief History of Scarborough Landslides

Although the East Yorkshire coast is eroding much more rapidly, landslides are common in North Yorkshire, as summarized by E. Mark Lee in Chapter 6 of his co-authored book Geomorphological Processes and Landscape Change: Britain in the Last 1000 Years (Higgett and Lee 2008).

In 1682, he notes, at Runswick Bay, “the entire village slipped into the sea”. On Christmas Eve, 1787, there was then a “great landslide” at Haggerlythe, Whitby, and in 1829, at Kettleness, “the whole village slid into the sea”.

For Scarborough’s South Bay, the landslide story begins in 1737, when buildings in the Spa area, which had only recently been rebuilt, were destroyed. No major events seem to have occurred for the next 250-odd years, until by far the most dramatic landslide in Scarborough’s 20th Century history – the collapse of the cliff beneath the Holbeck Hall Hotel in June 1993.

The landscaped site of the 1993 Holbeck Hall Hotel landslide (from Wikimedia Commons)

A detailed webpage on the Holbeck Hall Landslide is provided by the British Geological Survey, so there’s no sense in me rehashing their expert information. However, it is worth pointing out that the rotational landslide occurred because soft Ice Age sediments, into which rainwater can seep and pond quite readily, sit on top of well-lithified Middle Jurassic bedrock. The Scarborough Spa marks a spring line, where the waters can seep out, but if – as in 1993 – the volumes of water are large, and they accumulate rapidly, their escape can be catastrophic.

I found this photograph of the hotel (from a BGS blogpost marking the 25th anniversary of the landslide), taken by the British Geological Survey immediately post-landslide, particularly amazing, though the classic footage is this video, starring Richard Whiteley:

Countdown to collapse

And so we move to 2018, and the South Cliff landslip.

It appears that the incident the production team had been alerted to had occurred over the weekend of March 17th/18th 2018, following the wild weather of late February and early March. A retaining wall below the Clock Café was pushed onto the chalets beneath, leaving cracked pavements above it, the wall leaning towards the sea, and the listed chalets listing. It attracted a bit of press coverage:

20th March 2018 (Scarborough News) “Landslip warning in Scarborough

21st March 2018 (BBC) – large crack appears in Scarborough cliff path.

19th April 2018 (BBC) South Cliff cracks ‘could take a year to repair

25th May 2018 (Daily Mail) – Scarborough beach chalets in danger of crumbling into the sea.

South Cliff chalets, Scarborough, summer 2018.

In June 2018, with rumours abounding that the Clock Cafe would have to be demolished, a series of new announcements were made. Firstly, the Clock Café demolition rumours were quashed. Then the Scarborough Borough Council announced that the incident was an “isolated wall movement that occurred in the spring behind the South Bay chalets”. It wasn’t a landslide, or a landslip. Overlooking my uncertainty over whether landslides and landslips are one and the same, perhaps it should simply be called a slope failure.

Either way, in late November 2018, a new movement of soil behind the wall caused further collapse of the chalets, and the borough council decided to demolish them as a matter of urgency. In February 2019, it was reported that they would be coming down imminently, but I’ve not been down to check.

Cordoned off South Cliff chalets (photo credit: me)

At the same time that the South Cliff chalets slope failure occurred, remediation works were about to begin, to try and stabilize the cliffs above the Spa Complex, a short distance to the north. This South Cliff Slope Stabilization Scheme was not set to include the Clock Café area, but instead try to secure the long-term stability of the gardens above the economically and historically important Spa area. As explained in an October 2016 consultancy report:

“The South Cliff upon which the proposed works area lies is inherently unstable…Ground modelling and stability analyses undertaken previously have found that the slopes are close to failure, with potential for both shallow and deep-seated failure. Such failure could result in the loss of parts of the Spa Gardens, damage to the Esplanade and damage to or complete loss of The Spa Complex. There is also clear potential for injury and loss of life.”

The contract was awarded to Balfour Beatty, and work began at the end of May 2018. The most recent update from the contractor reports that all is ‘going well‘. Presumably it has to be finished by March 2020, as a £7m South Cliff gardens regeneration scheme is due to begin then.

Are you putting any money on these gardens lasting a century? (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Given the predictions of warmer, wetter weather, higher sea-levels, and increased storm frequency, one can only wonder how this coastline will cope with Anthropocene climate change. It was only just over a decade that a fairly large landslide occurred at Knipe Point, at the northern end of Cayton Bay, and the last couple of years have seen numerous small to moderate collapses. Whether it ever makes it onto screen, one of my conclusions for the TV company was that, when it comes to landslides on this stretch of coastline, geologically it’s not a matter of if, but when.

Still, should you want to keep an eye on things, the National Landslide Database is probably the place to go.

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.