Thursday, 7 September 2017

York (PG Dip) BGS Visit to York 24th July 2017

On the 24th of July, an eager and enthusiastic group of students on the University of York’s postgraduate diploma in ‘The Geology of Yorkshire and Northern England’ visited the National Geological Repository (NGR), at the British Geological Survey headquarters in Keyworth, Nottingham with their tutor Dr Annette McGrath. During the postgraduate diploma (PG Dip) programme, and as part of their second year residential week course, students visit the NGR for a full-day workshop every October, in order to examine key rock cores from several sub-surface boreholes of northern England. During the last workshop in 2016, Simon Harris, a professional Conservator at the BGS, kindly offered the students and myself the opportunity to revisit the BGS for a full tour plus the chance to view the fabulous resources at the NGR – and as you can imagine, we all jumped at the prospect! 
But as you read this blog, you may be wondering ‘what exactly is the PG Dip in ‘The Geology of Yorkshire and northern England?’ and why did students on this programme want to visit the BGS? The PG Dip is an exciting and unique part-time course, which was launched by The University of York in 2015, and it is conducted entirely online via distance learning over the period of two years. The programme introduces students to the spectacular regional geology of Yorkshire and northern England and its exceptional diversity of landscapes and classic geological sites. Through their examination and understanding of the region, students explore the main principles of geology and acquire the knowledge and tools required with which to interpret larger-scale Earth processes and structures. Students also assess the role of the area’s importance with respect to current controversies in the Earth sciences, whilst also reflecting upon the region's vital role in the history of Geology.

Figure 1: The Lower and Middle Jurassic
sequence near Saltwick Bay, Whitby,
as visited during the first year residential week course

The programme is aimed at anyone with an interest in geology and appeals to a wide range of geological audiences. Students engage with the course for a number of reasons, be they vocational or in order to gain a strong foundation for additional geological study or progression on to Masters or PhD level. However others engage purely out of personal interest, just for the sheer fun of it, as the programme offers students the opportunity to delve into, research and learn more about areas of their own holistic, personal geological interest. Whatever their reason for taking the course, on completion graduates are well-placed to pursue geological careers within academia or industry, if they so desire, or to utilise their knowledge to appreciate and interpret the rocks over which they walk. The programme begins every September with a residential week course at the University of York, during which time students take part in fieldtrips to classic, and in some cases world-famous geological sites in Yorkshire and then conduct lab-work on campus. An additional residential week course also takes place in October of the second year, as mentioned above, when students are provided with the opportunity to visit yet more fascinating geological sites in Yorkshire, as well as the core workshop at the BGS, as mentioned above. Which neatly leads me back to our visit to the BGS this July….

Figure 2: Enjoying the BGS immersive 3D visualisation facility.
We all arrived at the BGS during the morning of the 24th of July in order to spend some time drooling over and browsing the fantastic resources in the large onsite shop, where a vast selection of geological specimens, books, equipment and maps are on sale. Simon Harris then met us in reception, after we had had our fill of the shop, and he very kindly provided us with a fascinating and comprehensive tour of the BGS and its facilities. The tour began with an introduction to, and demonstration of the superb BGS immersive 3D visualisation facility.

After donning our glasses, we were treated to an interactive 3D flyover of the bedrock geology of northern England, which helped us to easily visualise how geology influences and controls the topography of the region. Simon then provided us with a very interesting and thorough presentation relating to the services that are available to academics and bona-fide researchers for free by the National Geoscience Data Centre (NGDC). This also included an onscreen demonstration from Simon of how the students could access the NGDC records online, which constitutes an enormous amount of crucial information and resources. From the fossil collections of Palaeosaurus and the GB3D Type Fossils database, to onshore borehole scans, the Geology of Britain Viewer, the NERC Open Research Archive and the iGeology App (to name just a few!), the NGDC offers a wealth of indispensable online information that underpins and is truly invaluable to an online distance learning programme like the PG Dip at The University of York. 

But that wasn’t all. We then visited the well-stocked BGS reference library en route to the NGR, which holds a vast collection of contemporary geological texts, maps, journals, technical reports and archival material, plus a range of fascinating historical tomes and seminal texts. Simon then kindly escorted us to the NGR itself, where we examined a wonderful variety of carefully selected geological specimens that he had located and displayed for us from northern England. Students were encouraged to search the online database in advance of the visit, so they could request to view specific specimens of particular interest on the day. Needless to say, we didn’t need much encouragement and grasped this fantastic offer with both hands, sending poor Simon a list as long as his arm! This provided both the students and myself with the rare opportunity to view and handle type fossils and key rock and mineral specimens from northern England, which was an invaluable occasion for students taking part in an online distance-learning course. We voraciously examined the samples on display, which included beautiful mineral specimens from the Pennine Orefield, an enigmatic trace fossil within ash deposits of the Borrowdale Volcanic Group, and a selection of elusive trilobite and graptoloid specimens from the Skiddaw Group of the northern Lake District – to name but a few.

Figure 3: PG Dip students in the NGR core store.
We then moved on to see the immense NGR core stores, where borehole cores, cuttings and samples from both the UK landmass and offshore continental shelf are in storage. Whilst there, we were treated to a demonstration of the amazing electronic sliding racks by Scott Renshaw, a truly fascinating and innovative way to move huge amounts of core material around! Next came a tour of the NGR records collection itself, where we admired the vast palaeontological collection, all carefully and accurately catalogued and usefully stored according to geological time period, plus a wealth of thin sections. Simon also impressed us with his ability to locate specimens when he accurately and deftly tracked down a sample of Cornish ‘luxullianite’, a beautiful and rare type of granite, for one especially interested student that had just returned from a trip to Cornwall.

Figure 4: A beautiful specimen of ‘luxullianite’ a rare Cornish granite.
At the end of a most informative day, the students enjoyed investigating the onsite BGS ‘Geological Walk’ where they cemented their knowledge of the regional geology of Britain further, by walking through three billion years of geological time, from the Precambrian rocks of the Scottish Highlands to more recent Quaternary glacial deposits. I think I can safely speak for everyone on the course when I say that a fantastic day was had by all, that everyone appreciated this fascinating and unique opportunity to view world-class resources in the flesh, and I for one can’t wait to return to the BGS again soon, for the second year residential week core workshop this October!

If you are interested to know more about the PG Dip in ‘The Geology of Yorkshire and northern England’ at the University of York, please visit the website: or email or call 01904 328482 for further details.
Blog by Annette McGrath

1 comment:

  1. A fantastic day out, very informative, interesting and useful.

    Many thanks again to Simon and Mike for an amazing opportunity to visit the NGR and 3D visualisation facility!

    Best Wishes

    Annette McGrath