Thursday 14th November 2019

At the last meeting, 16th October, committee members Michele Becker and Bill Bagley gave a talk on the Physical Properties of Minerals in Relation to their Internal Structure.

Michele began with a definition of a mineral i.e. a substance with the following criteria: Naturally occurring; solid at standard temperature and pressure ( with the exception of mercury); a specific chemical composition which varies within a very narrow range and has an ordered 3D array of atoms/molecules within it’s structure.

She then went on to give a basic overview on types of chemical bonds as the type and strength of these bonds along with the chemistry and geometrical arrangement of atoms of a mineral will determine it’s physical properties.

This was followed by a brief look at crystal structure. Crystal structure is a highly ordered repeatable structure. The simplest repeating unit in a crystal is called the Unit cell and each Unit cell is defined in terms of lattice points which is repeated in 3D to give the lattice structure. Symmetry and form of a crystal are determined by the shape of the unit cell. Each unit cell contains one or more different kinds of atoms joined to each other by chemical bonds. All unit cells have six sides - 3 sets of parallel faces though not necessarily perpendicular to each other. Basically there are 7 kinds of unit cell which differ in the relative lengths of their edges and the angles between them. These are cubic, hexagonal, trigonal, tetragonal, orthorhombic, monoclinic, triclinic.

This was followed by a look at some physical properties and how they are determined by mineral structure.

Habit and form - habit is the tendency for a mineral to repeatedly grow into characteristic shapes and is influenced by the atomic structure and the environment in which it grows.
Form - is similar to habit and may be defined as a solid crystalline object bounded by a set of flat faces related to one another by symmetry.

Hardness - is the ability of a mineral to be scratched. The test used is the Mohs hardness test which is a non-linear, ordinal scale of hardness. In this scale talc is the softest whilst diamond is the hardest.
The hardness of a mineral is dependent on the packing pattern, the electrostatic charge on the ion and the distance between. The presence of water also changes hardness.

An example can be seen between diamond and graphite both consisting of carbon. Diamond measures 10 on Mohs scale whilst graphite is 1 on the scale. This is due to their internal structure. In diamond each carbon atom is bonded to four others in a tetrahedral shape and forms a highly interlocking structure. In graphite each carbon is linked to three other carbons in hexagonal sheets which look like chicken wire. These sheets are separated by Van der Waal bonds which are very weak.

Cleavage - Is a plane of structural weakness along which a mineral is likely to split. This is due to either weaker bond strength or greater lattice spacing. Cleavage is usually parallel to potential crystal faces. Not every mineral shows cleavage eg. quartz has no cleavage it only fractures which is related to a greater bond strength in quartz. Some minerals have one direction of cleavage like biotite and muscovite mica whilst others may have two ( eg.feldspars), three (eg. calcite) and even four ( fluorite)
Cleavage can be described as: perfect, distinct, difficult, imperfect. or indistinct.

Calcite has three directions of cleavage not at 900

Fluorite has four directions of cleavage

Density/specific gravity - is dependent on the chemical composition and crystal structure. Heavier atoms/molecules, closer the packing and stronger the bond strength the greater the density. eg. diamond has a SG of 3.5, graphite 2.5.
Also in isostructural compounds there is a direct relationship to the mass of atoms for example:
Olivine - varies from forsterite - MgSiO4 - SG 3.22 to fayalite- FeSiO4 - SG 4.41

In the second half of the talk Bill went on to describe colour in minerals. This commenced by a short introduction to visible light.
White light is defined as the complete mixture of all of the wavelengths of the visible spectrum and forms just a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum.The properties of light include refraction, reflection, interference and diffraction.

A rainbow (or a prism) splits sunlight (white light) into its component colours because it bends different colours ( i.e. different wavelengths of light) by different amounts. Shorter wavelengths are bent more than longer wavelengths, so blue light is bent more than red.

How we see colour is dependent on the fact that some wavelengths are absorbed by an object whilst others are reflected. These reflected wavelengths enter the eye of the viewer and are interpreted as colour. For example a leaf appears green as all colours of the spectrum except green are absorbed, green is reflected and perceived by the viewer.

He then went on to discuss the causes of colour in minerals.

An achromatic mineral is one without colour eg. white of calcite. An Idiochromatic mineral is one in which the colour is directly related to the elements present in it’s chemical composition for example the manganese carbonate rhodochrosite is always pink.


An allochromatic mineral is one that is coloured by impurities that are not part of it’s chemical composition for example the purple of amethyst is due to the presence of small amounts of iron in quartz.


The elements that lead to the production of colour are usually those ions from the first row of the transition elements ( Ti to Cu). These ions have electrons in the five 3d orbitals. In the crystallographic sites found in minerals, the 3d orbitals split into different energies. Visible light interacts with these electrons and causes them to be excited to higher energy orbitals. The wavelengths that cause these transitions are subtracted from the incident light resulting in colour.

Charge transfer is another means of eliciting colour. This is the result of charge change for example between two metals. These metals can exist at different valence states eg. iron and titanium. The absorption of light energy causes an electron to transfer from one ion to the other; it then returns to the original ion. For example, on absorption of light, the pair iron +2/titanium +4 becomes iron +3/titanium +3, resulting in the blue colour in sapphire.

Hole centres is a third means of colour generation. This can be illustrated by smokey quartz. In quartz some silicon ions which have a valence state of +4 may be replaced by aluminium ions with a valence state of +3. electrical neutrality will be maintained by the presence of sodium or hydrogen ions, although this will weaken the forces on the electrons of oxygen atoms in the structure. An input of external radiation can thus remove an electron from the oxygen leaving a hole, and now different energy levels become available to the remaining unpaired electron on the oxygen. Thus clear quartz will become smokey brown in colour. If the crystal is heated the electron can return to its original location and the colour generated by the above will be removed.

Smokey quartz

Saturday 19th October 2019

Evening talk by Dr. Keith James September 18th 2019. The talk was entitled, "Not Written in Stone:Plate Tectonics at 50"
Dr. Keith James is a consultant geologist and fellow of the Institute of Geophysics and Earth Sciences at Aberystywyth University in Wales. He has worked with Shell all over the world - and later with Conoco.
Dr James commenced his talk by saying that published Plate Tectonics teaching is complacent. It should adapt to emerging data, including multiple working hypotheses, and enable students to think.
He then went on to describe a number of dicoveries that he suggests should put the theory of plate tectonics into doubt.
His ideas are controversial and many will disagree so the following link is to a PDf of his ideas and you can come to your own conclusions.

Thursday 22nd August 2019

Summary of Chris Simpson’s talk, 21st August 2019:INTRODUCTION TO THE AEGEAN ISLAND ARC

The talk was based on a walking holiday in September 2018 involving several different islands: Milos, Kimolos, Sifnos, Serifos and Santorini – all part of the Cyclades group of islands in the Eastern Mediterranean.

There is an excellent geological museum on Milos which has good specimens and a description of the geological history of these islands.

Milos belongs to the Southern Aegean volcanic arc. Its creation began 3.5M years ago with the onset of volcanic activity when the African plate subducted under the Eurasian plate. The first phase started in shallow seas and formed pyroclastic rock (ignimbrite, tuff, pumice etc.) during the middle Pliocene.

The second phase, 3M years ago, was land-based volcanic activity yielding andesitic lava. From 1.8M years ago until about 90,000 years ago, extrusive volcanic activity produced rhyolite, rhyodacite and obsidian, followed by thick layers of pumice and fine ash. Milos is still considered to be potentially active.

Milos and Santorini are both old volcanos. The other islands are the tips of submerged mountains.

Chris went through the wide variety of igneous rocks seen on the various islands.

Pahoehoe-type lava flow

Volcanic breccia – top of walking pole is the scale

Some of the thousands of pieces of dark obsidian lying on the ground

A thick layer of white volcanic ash with occasional much larger ejecta

A road cutting showing a succession of volcanic ash layers. Each layer is fairly uniform; but there is variation in composition between different layers shown by the marked variation in colour

Successive lava flows on Santorini

A higher power view with obvious columnar jointing and colour change reflecting the variation in chemical composition of successive flows

Although most of the islands are composed of igneous rocks, some areas of sedimentary rock are seen, and an occasional focus of metamorphism.

Sedimentary beds by the sea shore

Wednesday 31st July 2019

At our July indoor meeting, Prof. Cynthia Burek gave a talk on "The Geology of Lanzarote."
She is Professor of Geoconservation at the University of Chester; indeed, as far as we know, the only professor of geoconservation! She is a long time friend of our club, having talked to us on several occasions, the last of which was two years ago when she told us about "Geoconservation and the Saltscape Project", outlining conservation of the Cheshire salt industry. Our July talk took us further afield.

Lanzarote is the northernmost and easternmost of the Canary Islands which all have a volcanic origin the details of which are not at all clear-cut.

Map of Lanzarote photo by orangsmile

Lanzarote and its geologically similar neighbour, Fuertaventura, are the oldest, having some 20Ma of volcanics exposed above sea level. They are separated by a shallow sea and would have been joined together in the Ice Age. Lanzarote has an area of some 300 sq. miles, is just 120 miles off the African coast, has no surface water and has a resident population of 146 000.

It is dominated by two shield volcanoes, Ajaches in the south and Famara in the north which are 20Ma and 10Ma old, lying on ocean basement 50-40Ma. They were originally two separate island volcanoes which were subsequently connected by products from a central rift. They are now much eroded into cliffs and ravines, with the lowlands in between having aeolean sand dunes. Surprisingly, these comprise white sand, not black as would be expected from the surrounding dark basaltic rocks. Hence there is some conjecture about their derivation. A possible source would be from the Sahara, but it seems more likely that they were formed by trade wind drift of sedimentary deposits previously exposed in periods of lower sea level.

There have been two major recent eruptions in the Holocene/Anthropocene, one from 1730 to 1736 and a smaller one in 1824.

The 1730 eruption of Timanfaya was the third largest basaltic fissure eruption of historical times, after Laki (1783AD) and Ejdgja (934AD) in Iceland. It lasted 68 months and produced 700 million cubic metres of lava from over 30 vents. It was the largest Canary Island eruption within the last 500 years.

Lava field in Timanfaya photo creative commons M. Rodríguez

Fortunately reconstruction of the event is helped because there were accounts by eye witnesses, in particular by the parish priest of Yaiza. More recent smaller eruptions have produced a number of craters around the main shield volcanoes.

The 1824 eruption was smaller, lasted three months and was focussed on the Nuevo del Fuego vent in Timanfaya.

Nuevo del Fuego photo Global Volcanism Program

Lanzarote's wide central plain is non volcanic and covered by white aeolean sands. It is thought that some 7-5Ma during a period of low sea level the island was covered by biocalcarenite sands including terrestrial gastropods, tortoises and the eggshells of large birds together with fragments of marine fossils and volcanic clasts. Lime dissolved from these shells helped form thick calcretes on top.

There is some controversy over how the islands were formed, it could have been to do with African tectonics as part of the Atlas lineament, or perhaps above a hotspot? The islands are near a zone of Alpine deformation and could be an extension of the Agadir Fault, but no geological or geophysical evidence has been found. Nor does it appear to look like a hotspot because the time/distance relationship looks wrong. If it were moving over a hotspot, like Hawaii, the older islands, like Lanzarote, would be over cooler mantle and would have subsided by now.

A more likely scenario is that it is on a leaky transform fault, like Iceland. In this situation, in addition to the strike-slip motion, there is some extensional movement tending to open the fault, allowing melt to leak through, producing new crust.

The most influencial geologists to study the island were Juan Carlos Carracedo who worked for 40 years and published some 200 articles and Valentin R. Troll.

Perhaps the island's most famous inhabitant was Cesar Manrique, a Spanish artist, sculptor, architect and activist who lived there. He prodused sculptures which grace public spaces and left his extraordinary house, built within the volcano, to the Cesar Manriques Foundation. He influenced planning policy which strictly opposes high rise concrete. He died in a car accident in 1992 aged 73.

Strangely, for an island with no surface water, viticulture is a major industry, with vines cultivated on the rich volcanic soil and watered from condensed dew. Because of the large diurnal temperature variation, condensation occurs on stone protective walls erected round each vine.

Vineyards in La Geria, photo creative commons

The area has been declared a Global Biosphere Reserve, containing the Timanfaya National Park, two nature parks, reserves, and SSSIs. Together with the island of Chinijo, it is part of a UNESCO Global Geopark which comprises a significant territory with a heritage and supporting programme. It involves geotourism, engages the local inhabitants and also fosters experiment and research to enhance its geological heritage. The locals have apparently taken "ownership" of the project and assist by policing the concept.

Altogether it was an interesting evening, perhaps inspiring some of us to visit and explore the island; "flygskam" permitting of course!

Thursday 16th May 2019

At the last meeting Prof. Neil Glasser gave a highly informative talk on the MAGIC-DML project ( of which he is part) which is a collaborative project between Sweden,UK, US, Norway and Germany and is researching the glacial history of the Antarctic ice-sheet and how it has changed over time. The area chosen for the research is Dronning Maud Land (DML) area of Antarctica which is largely covered by the East Antarctic ice-sheet. There were two field seasons in 2017 and 2018 with Prof. Glasser attending in 2017.

The ice in Antarctica is very thick ( with a mean of 2.16km and a maximum of 4.7km) such that only the peaks of the highest mountains protrude through the ice. These areas are known as nunataks. Ninety per cent of the world's ice (29 million cubic km) and approximately 80 per cent of its fresh water, is locked up in the Antarctic ice sheet. If all the ice were to melt, the level of the world's oceans would rise by nearly 60 m.

Nunatak Antartica - creative commons

MAGIC-DML stands for Mapping, Measuring, Modelling Antarctic Geomorphology and Ice-elevation Change in Dronning Maud Land (DML). (Queen Maud Land is a c. 2.7 million square kilometre region of Antarctica claimed as a dependent territory by Norway.)

Mapping- Firstly the area has to be mapped and this is done using methods such as the Geographic Information System (GIS) and Google Earth. This allows the researchers to understand the landforms they are going to survey.

Measuring - Involves using Cosmogenic nuclide testing to determine how long the surface of the rock has been exposed. This helps in determine past ice-sheet extent and the rate of recession.

Cosmogenic particles are produced when elements are bombarded by high energy particles ( cosmic radiation) that enter the atmosphere from outer space. These particles can interact with silica and oxygen in quartz ( in a process known as spallation) to produce isotopes of 6Be and 26Al. Other isotopes produced are 36Cl, 14C, 21Ne, and 3He. Thus the assumption is made that there is a constant rate of production so that the the accumulation in the rock is proportional to the length of time exposed and the rate of decay of the isotopes. The isotopes are measured using an accelerator mass spectrometer.

Samples can only be taken from the top of the rock exposure as the high energy particles cannot penetrate into the depths of the rock and any disturbance to the rock from weathering could affect the results. So the field worker has to be very careful in choosing the correct sample.

Modelling - The aim is to produce numerical models of past ice-sheet behaviour which can help predict what might happen in the future.

Next month will be the evening field trip which this year is to Middletown quarry. This will be on Wednesday 19th June 6-8pm.