GA Festival of Geology – 2nd November 2019

Use the links below to explore this year’s event:

Festival Photocompetition

Festival Talks

Festival Trips on 2-3 November

FESTIVAL OF GEOLOGY 2019 TALKS: Times, titles and abstracts

11.00 – 11.45 – Dr Jeremy Young, University College London
Coccolithophores – extraordinary microfossils now in the mainstream of global change research and an example of how to make specialist knowledge accessible online.

Coccolithophores are unicellular marine phytoplankton which are distinguished by producing a calcareous exoskeleton formed of calcareous scales, coccoliths. Coccoliths are remarkably complex and their formation is one of the most closely regulated biomineralization processes known. They are, however, also very small. Nonetheless they are important marine sediment formers, much of modern deep-sea ooze, and most of the late Cretaceous Chalk is made of coccoliths. They have also proven outstanding biostratigraphic marker taxa, . In consequence they have been extensively studied over the past 50 years by geologists. More recently they have attracted interest from other fields as global environmental change has become the dominant theme of natural environment research. As we try to understand the global carbon-carbonate cycle and how it may change, the role of coccolithophores as both calcifiers and primary producers has become prominent, and especially once ocean acidification became a key topic.

The use of coccolithophores in mainstream global change research has increased the need for accessible synthesis of data on them and for guides to their identification. With colleagues, I have created an online database of coccolithophore taxonomy – Nannotax ( – which has now evolved into the leading online data source for micropalaeontology.

The talk will outline some of the recent research developments and discuss how online tools can be used to broaden access to palaeontology.

12.00 – 12.45 – Dr David Norman, University of Cambridge
Scelidosaurus, a poorly known and misunderstood ornithischian dinosaur.

Scelidosaurus harrisonii Owen, 1861, is the first known nearly complete ornithischian dinosaur; it is also Early Jurassic in age and therefore one of the earliest known members of the clade. This dinosaur was described by Richard Owen in two monographs and yet remains, paradoxically, one of the least well-understood ornithischians. Scelidosaurus has now been described in detail. Contrary to previous understanding, the skull has a complete supraorbital series, two prominent occipital osteodermal ‘horns’ and a large exostosis (but no osteoderm) on the mandible. The skull was also encased by keratinous scales. The interior of the skull reveals bones apparently unique among ornithischians (and indeed dinosaurs generally). (114)

The postcranial skeleton is now known in totality. The body surface was covered by a morphological variety of osteoderms. The torso bore three principal rows of ridged osteoderms and the surface of the skin between was reinforced by a mosaic of smaller osteoderms. The osteoderms of the tail have a different arrangement to those seen on the rest of the body. (92)

Most current systematic analyses position Scelidosaurus as a sister-taxon to Eurypoda (=Ankylosauria + Stegosauria). Correcting character scores and re-running systematic analyses prompts a revision of this topology. (26)

12.45 – 14.00: LUNCH BREAK
Photographic competition awards in front of the photographs in the Haldane Room at 13.30

14.00 – 14.45 – Professor Sarah Gabbott, Leicester University
The weird and the wonderful: interpreting the evolution of life through fossils

Without fossils we would know little about the amazing journey that life on our planet has taken, Fossils are mainly familiar to us as bones, teeth and shells – the durable mineralised parts of animals. But happily for palaeontologists, and for our understanding of evolution, rare and remarkable fossils preserve the parts of animals that usually decay away after death. Guts, eyes, livers, brains, skin and other decay-prone anatomy all occur in the fossil record making up ‘soft-bodied’ fossils.

But there’s a problem – when they are preserved in rock such fossils often look nothing like they did when the animal was alive. This makes it difficult to interpret these fossils in terms of their anatomy and crucially where they should sit on the evolutionary tree. Soft-bodied fossils appear different to the once-living animals because of the process of fossilisation, In this lecture I will explain why rotting animals in the laboratory is one very useful way forwards, helping us to interpret the anatomy of animals from their fossil counterparts.

Some fossils are so weird they have defied interpretation for years. Until now. One such fossil is so strange in appearance, it has evaded interpretation for over 50 years. Another, has over 40 segments, lots of imbricating flaps and is incredibly complex. I now have a theory as to what these are.

15.00 – 15.45 – Professor Hazel Rymer, Open University.
The Volcanoes of Iceland

Iceland is an entirely volcanic island, but why is it there at all and how old is it? Volcanic activity in Iceland hit the headlines in 2010 when air traffic was disrupted, but it wasn’t the first time that life beyond its shores was impacted. We will look at the history and future of Iceland as told by its surprising range volcanoes and volcanic processes.

Festival Trips on 2-3 November

Online bookings for Festival Trips have now closed. There are still a few places left and if you are interested in booking a place, please contact Sarah Stafford (, telephone 020 7434 9298) or alternatively book in person at the Festival of Geology.

Saturday 2 November Festival of Geology at UCL

As part of the GA Festival we will be offering a free Building Stones Walk as well as free lectures. The walk will be led by Ruth Siddall of University College and will be a tour of the Campus and local streets.

Meet 11.00 am at the GA stand. No advance booking required

Sunday 3 November Festival trips

Non-GA Members and Beginners welcome but booking is essential using the links below. There is a charge of £5 per person per trip.

For further details and to register for any of the trips below please contact, telephone 020 7434 9298 or use the links below to register online via the GA website:

1. City Building Stones Walk from Cannon Street to the Tower led by Dr Matthew Loader

The route of this walk will take us up the geological column, beginning with the oldest rocks near Cannon Street Station and finishing with the youngest ones at the Tower. Matt is an igneous petrolgist who uses his knowledge to lead building stones walks and is becoming well-known in this field.

Meet 10.30 am at the exit to Cannon Street Underground Station on Dowgate Hill (District and Circle lines). The walk will last around 2 hours.

2. Geotrail along the Thames Path from the Thames Barrier to Greenwich led by members of the London Geodiversity Partnership

The geotrail will begin at the Thames Barrier and continue upstream along the south side of the Thames to Greenwich. It will reveal the fascinating earth science stories hidden below the concrete foundations of a disappearing industrial landscape. There are traces of past climate change; these and aspects of London geology will be pointed out along the way. The walk is about six km (3¾ miles) along paths (mostly smooth). We aim to have a late lunch in the Cutty Sark pub on Ballast Quay, before concluding with a short walk into Greenwich town centre. The trip should finish by about 3pm close to public transport.

Meet.11.00 am at the Visitor Centre at the Thames Barrier, Charlton, southeast London. The nearest railway station is Charlton. It takes about 15 minutes to walk to the Thames Barrier Visitor Centre. The nearest underground station is North Greenwich on the Jubilee Line; from there take either the 161 or 472 bus.

3. Local geology and a conserved Anglian glacial outwash exposure in Thorndon Country Park, Essex led by Ros and Ian Mercer

A trip to experience the succession of Tertiary geology of south Essex and overlying superficial deposits, as seen in the eroding landscape of Thorndon Country Park. It includes a visit to the section in Anglian and later sands and gravels, prepared by the Essex Rock & Mineral Society and GeoEssex with the aid of Essex County Council. The Thorndon glacial outwash section was dug out eight years ago, an exemplary soft sediment geoconservation feature for Essex.

With its three layers of sedimentation and two soil profiles, this section provides a rare and excellent geomorphological insight into the evolving study of Ice Age geology. Access will be on foot around the Country Park – a distance of around one mile over undulating, sometimes quite steep, ground, with an optional extension to view the lower Thames valley. Ros & Ian are becoming very familiar with the soft rock geology of Essex, once described as “gardening” – but now they know better!

Meet 11 am at the Thorndon North EWT Centre concourse adjacent to the car park. Meeting point grid reference is TQ 60779145. Closest postcode is CM13 3RZ – but that is to the east of the park entrance which is actually at grid ref TQ 60439152. Finish for main itinerary at 1.30pm with optional extension walk to finish at 3pm. Light bites and hot drinks available at Essex Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre.