Friday 24th September 2021

At the last indoor (Zoom) meeting Prof. Sarah Davies ( Head of Geography and Environmental Sciences Aberystwyth University) gave a highly interesting talk entitled “Climate change and coastal heritage in Wales - insights from the palaeo-environmental record”

Prof. Davies is involved in a collaborative project known as CHERISH, i.e. Climate, Heritage and Environments of Reefs, Islands and Headlands. The works covers both Ireland and Wales and there are four partners:
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of Wales, lead on the project.
Aberystwyth University
The Discovery programme - Centre for Archaeology and Innovation Ireland.
Geological Survey, Ireland.


Using an array of techniques and a land, sea and air approach the project has the following aims:
Reconstructing past environments and weather history.
Discovering, assessing, mapping and monitoring heritage on land and beneath the sea.
Targeting data and knowledge gaps to raise awareness of heritage in these remote coastal locations.
Establishing new metrically accurate baseline data and recording standards.

Although the project covers both Ireland and Wales Prof. Davies focused her talk on Wales and the Holocene Period. Her team are focusing on trying to put some contemporary climate change problems into a longer term context i.e. the last few millennia. Using palaeoenvironmental records and a range of physical techniques they are examining coastal wetlands, lakes, bogs and sand dune systems, with the aim to date past storm activity and how periods of storminess have changed over time in frequency and intensity. The link to sea level change is also important.
The palaeoenvironmental evidence can also be used to link to the archaeology to provide environment and landscape context and how changes affected the societies at the time.


One study area covers parts of north Wales( Anglesey and Gwynedd) with different sites of different types and putting the data together from these sites it is hoped to develop a picture of change. These areas can be seen on the map below.
A key tool in the research is luminescence dating which allows dating of when minerals, especially quartz, was last exposed to light. In other words it is a burial signal for the minerals.


Prof. Davies then went on to describe the work undertaken at the Welsh sites. From the work undertaken a whole range of evidence has been obtained which is allowing them to build a picture of landscape and environmental change which can be integrated with the archaeology. This is aiding in the longer term understanding of environmental and climatic change and how past societies coped with those changes. This knowledge may help with the changes which we are undergoing now and in the future.

Photos with kind permission of speaker

Monday 16th August 2021

At the meeting on July 21st 2021 Dr Keith H.James (Honorary Fellow Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Consultant Geologist) gave a very thought provoking talk entitled: The Problem of the Origin of the Carribean Plate in which he put forward his own model on it's origin.

Problems with Caribbean geology:

geology is spread over many different countries (fig.1)
some areas are poorly studied (access, vegetation, weathering, lack of interest)
there are no spreading ridges or calibrated magnetic anomalies (save for the centre of the Cayman Trough)
the plate interior is poorly known
there is no regional grid of modern, deep-looking seismic data


Caribbean geology is equivocal - there are two opposing models.

The dominant paradigm holds that the Caribbean Plate formed in the Pacific Ocean (e.g., Pindell & Kennan, 20091). It is therefore oceanic. It thickened to as much as 20 km, becoming the “Caribbean Large Igneous Province (CLIP) over the Galapagos “hotspot”. This collided with a roughly N-S trending, 1000 km long Pacific intra-oceanic arc, causing subduction polarity reversal, and drove the arc ahead of itself between N and S America (fig. 2). The arc became curved and extended to some 4000 km. As it collided with and accreted to N and S America it ceased activity. The Lesser Antilles arc is the active remnant of this arc. Chortis, a major continental block that forms the northwestern third of the Caribbean plate, rotated from SE Mexico to follow the CLIP into place.


This model is incredibly complex1 and becomes increasingly so (4). It ignores data that deny it (2, 3). It prefaces most studies of the area, which begin with “it is well known that …..” and make no independent evaluation. There is no hydrocarbon potential.

It is impossible for a linear volcanic arc to become highly extended and curved. The segment supposedly accreted on Cuba alone is 1000 km long.

The CLIP is not a 20 km thick pile of basalt. DSDP drilling penetrated a few metres into the top of the “plateau”, calibrating a regional seismic Horizon B” as an upper Cretaceous dolerite.

The alternative is that the plate formed in place by intra-continental extension between N and S America (James, 2009, 2, 3). It shares history and geology with the Gulf of Mexico. This model is simple and accommodates all regional geology.


Chortis geology does not correlate with SE Mexico. The block manifests the regional tectonic trends of Middle America (James, 2002, fig. 3). It has not rotated. It has always been at the western end of the Caribbean and there was no gateway for the plate to enter.

Salt diapirs, misinterpreted as seamounts under the Pacific model, rise from below and lift Horizon B” (fig. 3). It is a single layer, not the top of a 20km thick pile. Thick, sub B” wedges (seaward-dipping reflectors or SDRs) repeat the geology of continental extension seen on Atlantic margins and in the Gulf of Mexico. They likely include Jurassic-Cretaceous carbonate reservoirs, similar to the very large sub-salt fields of Brazil´s offshore. The salt probably is Jurassic in age. Jurassic and Cretaceous source rocks are likely. There is outstanding hydrocarbon potential.

We know as much about the Caribbean-Yucatán basins today as we did about the North Sea in 1965. The basins are five times larger in area. While the Pacific model remains popular little progress will be made with understanding of the geology or the hydrocarbon potential.


1 Pindell, J. and L. Kennan, 2009, Tectonic evolution of the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and northern South America in the mantle reference frame: an update: In: James, K. H. M. A. Lorente and J. Pindell, (Eds.), The Origin and Evolution of the Caribbean Plate, p. 1-55.

2 James, K. H., 2009a, In-situ origin of the Caribbean: discussion of data: In: James, K. H., M. A. Lorente and J. Pindell, (Eds.) Origin and evolution of the Caribbean Plate, Geological Society of London, Special Publications, v. 328, p. 77-125.

3 James, K. H., 2009b, Evolution of Middle America and the In-situ Caribbean Plate model: In: K. H. James, M. A. Lorente and J. Pindell, (eds.), Origin and evolution of the Caribbean Plate, Geological Society of London, Special Publications, v. 328, p. 127-138.

4 Pindell, J., D. Villagómez, R. Molina-Garza, R. Graham and B. Weber, 2020, A revised synthesis of the rift and drift history of the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding regions in the light of improved age dating of the Middle Jurassic salt: In: Davison, I. et al. (Eds.), The Basins, Orogens and Evolution of the Southern Gulf of Mexico and Northern Caribbean, GSL Special Publication 504, p. 29-76.

Text and photos with kind prmission of the speaker

Thursday 20th May 2021

At the meeting on 19th May Dr.Chris Simpson gave an illustated talk entitled: "Introduction to the geology of El Hierro." The talk was based on a guided trip round El Hierro organised by Chris Darmon at ( in 2019. El Hierro is the most Westerly of the Canary Islands, and one of the smallest. Its neighbour, Tenerife, is a well-known tourist destination with an international airport and a population around 900,000. El Hierro, by contrast, has only a small local airport and a population around 10,000. It is well off the tourist trail; and is generally only visited by people interested in the geology, the wildlife or for walking the footpaths.

Below is a simplified geology map of El Hierro

ResearchGate 2014 using Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

The two inset pictures give the location of the island. The main picture shows the tricorn shape of the island, which is typical of many volcanic islands because after the eruptions which lead to the formation of these islands, there are commonly episodes of flank collapse when large amounts of poorly consolidated rock fall away into the sea. El Golfo was the largest flank collapse when 120 cubic km of rock fell into the sea and produced a huge tsunami.
On the map, the darker red areas are the older volcanics (mainly on the NE corner) and the paler reds are the recent eruptions, mainly at the southern tip and the far west of the island.
The talk went through the variety of geological features which are well demonstrated in El Hierro and make it a worthwhile destination for any geologist: cinder cones, lava flows, ash deposits, dykes and the three impressive flank collapse vistas. The following selection of photographs gives a summary of what makes El Hierro special.

Mostly horizontal lava flows with some later flows at around 45° at the top right. Between some of the horizontal flows are reddish laterites – palaeosols

Successive lava flows with well-formed columnar jointing reminiscent of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland underneath. Along the top is a later flow of rubbly ‘A‘ā lava.

Successive layers of volcanic ash in a road cutting with our course leader, Chris Darmon, as the scale. Successive layers have very differing appearances; and this section includes by chance a channel-fill appearance

A higher power view showing some large volcanic bombs within otherwise fine ash deposits

A view from the western flank of the El Golfo embayment – site of a huge flank collapse a few hundred thousand years ago. Numerous vertical dykes are seen in the near-vertical eastern wall. The flat land left after the collapse is now the main settlement on the island and the largest area for agriculture.

A higher-power view of the eastern flank. There are at least 12 vertical dykes visible in this small area, although they can be quite hard to discern at this magnification. The dykes cut across successive lava flows, so came after them. The existence of large numbers of dykes is one reason why flank collapse is so common on volcanic islands.

Friday 7th May 2021

The April meeting of the MWGC was at 7.15 p.m. on the 21st, when Ashley Patton, Engineering Geologist, BGS Cardiff, talked on Shallow Geothermal Energy in Cities.

This was our second talk on geothermal energy. Prof. Stimpson’s was concerned with deep geothermal, where the source is primordial or from radioactivity, whereas Ashley Patton’s was on ground sources nearer the surface. Harvesting such heat can contribute towards reducing reliance on traditional, increasingly insecure, CO2-producing thermal power generation.

A heat pump works by collecting heat from one place and transferring it to another against a temperature gradient.
Its performance is often measured by the “Coefficient of performance” or COP, the amount of useful heat put into a building divided by the amount of electrical energy used. It varies from 4 or 5 under favourable conditions to not much more than 1 if the heat source is very cold. Every degree is important.
Many domestic installations gather heat from shallow coils of pipe not much more than 1m below the surface, harvesting energy ultimately derived from solar, which has been stored in the soil.

BGS Cardiff have been researching a deeper source some tens of metres below ground where, particularly in urban areas, groundwater temperatures can be elevated owing to the “subsurface urban heat island” effect This is heat which has been accumulating over long periods of time, even decades, due to leakage from basements, industry and other human activities.

To establish feasibility and enable modelling, the “Cardiff Geo-Observatory” was set up, in which 3D temperature profiles were measured in a network of boreholes penetrating the sand and gravel aquifer below the city.

A pilot open-loop ground source system was also constructed at a school which operated satisfactorily and established feasibility as to what extent temperatures are depressed when heat is extracted.

Tapping this heat source could provide a useful proportion of the space heating necessary in areas of high housing density which often coincide with the presence of shallow aquifers and urban heat islands.

The talk was much appreciated as being both topical and one which will impact all our lives in the near future!

Saturday 10th April 2021

At the last evening meeting ( March 17th via Zoom) Dr. Ian Stimpson ( Keele University) gave a very informative talk on deep geothermal energy. The aim of the talk was to help us understand the concepts of geothermal energy and how it could apply to the UK as it has the possibility to become a very green and low carbon source of energy.

Geothermal energy ( i.e. heat derived from the ground) can be divided into two main categories shallow and deep. Dr Stimpson concentrated the talk on the aspect of deep geothermal as our next talk in April ( to be given by Ashley Patton) will be of shallow geothermal.

The difference between the two is related to depth. Shallow geothermal heat is stored near the surface and is derived from external to earth sources or solar radiation with the earth acting as a solar battery. In contrast deep geothermal sources are at greater depth with the energy arising from mechanisms internal to the earth from primordial heat from when the earth was formed and radioactive decay of long-lived isotopes of uranium, thorium and potassium.

There are advantages to using geothermal as firstly, it is not affected by the weather and can therefore run for 24 hours per day. Secondly, the surface area of the plant is the smallest of any power source and as the buildings are not high there is little visual impact. It has been predicted that it could provide up to 20% of Uk’s energy needs.

But where are the best places for geothermal energy projects. This can be determined by observing the heat flow through the crust. It has been found that large areas of the crust have about the same heat flow with an average of 60mW m-2. The areas in the world where heat flow is much greater are found close to active plate margins below the ocean. Values on the continents can be as high as 300 mW m-2 where magma is being generated locally.


Global Heat Flow- wiki commons Davies and Davies

For a geothermal system there are 3 requirements: heat, water and permeability. So one means of obtaining the energy is to drill down into the natural ground water in a deep aquifer. Two wells are bored one for abstracting the hot water and the other for returning the cold water to the ground. But often permeability or water may be a problem so that new enhanced geothermal systems ( EDS) have been or are being developed.

Geothermal Energy Tapping - wiki Commons

One EDS is the hot dry rock system (HDR). The target rock being granite as it is rich in uranium, thorium and potassium. This requires the rock to be artificially fractured. Cold water is pumped down the injection well to produce a network of tiny fractures in the rock which creates a pathway through the rock along which water can flow. Water is heated up and the super-heated water is taken back to the surface via another well. Although it is a difficult method it is one that can be used in areas, for example the UK, away from active plate margins where the highest energies are present. There was an early research project into HDR system at Rosemanowes Quarry Cornwall during the 1980s. Data and knowledge gained from this project have been used for the new United Downs Deep Geothermal Project (UDDGP) in Cornwall. This project, instead of fracking the granite, will use naturally fractured rock around the Porthtowan Fault zone.

A further idea for obtaining energy is to use super critical CO2 to release the energy.Known as ECO2G the idea is that CO2 can be cycled through hot regions kilometres underground and would bring heat to the surface, where it can be used to generate electricity.

Further, there are a new generation of closed loop systems known as advanced geothermal systems (AGS). This idea moves on from using fracking and there are no fluids either put into the ground or extracted. Instead fluids circulate underground in a network of sealed pipes, pick up the heat and take it to the surface. One of these systems is planned by Eavor, a Canadian company. It’s system has two vertical wells 1.5 miles apart and connected by horizontal wells. In this system fluid is pumped down a borehole and is transferred along a series of horizontal boreholes, picks up the heat energy which is then utilised. The now cooled fluid is then pumped back down along another series of boreholes in the opposite direction.

Within the UK geothermal energy appears to be playing catch-up compared to
other parts of the world. The idea was investigated during the 1970’s but with North Sea gas and nuclear energy becoming cheaply available geothermal was
abandoned. With the climate crisis ever deepening green energy solutions are
urgently required.

In the UK we do not have volcanic sources of energy but do have deep saline
aquifers. These are permeable, porous rocks mainly found at depth in the
Mesozoic basins ( Permo-Triassic sandstones) For example the Cheshire basin
where the resources are concentrated in the south east of the basin against the main bounding fault at Crewe.
The first geothermal power plant based on a deep saline aquifer was in
Southhampton in 1981 utilising the rocks in the Wessex Basin. It still produces energy today.
The Uk also has areas of granite in south west England, the Lake District and
Scotland that could be suitable for HDR and the first one in Cornwall is due to be opened.