Lecture Meetings at Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution,
16 Queen Square, Bath at 7.30 p.m.

February March April May June July September October November December

February 7th

Annual General Meeting, 2019

AGM will start at 7.00 p.m. followed by the lecture at 7.30p.m. Please note that the AGM is for members only. Visitors are welcome to attend the evening's lecture.

Limestones, Microbes and Viruses

Professor Maurice Tucker, School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol

Carbonate rocks, that is limestones and dolomites, are a feature of the sedimentary record, right back to the oldest strata (~4200 Ma old). Common types are skeletal-bioclastic-reefal limestones, oolites (like the Bath stone) and microbialites (like the Cotham Marble). Although the roles of bacteria are well known in the formation of stromatolites, totally ignored is the possibility that viruses may be involved in limestone deposition. Viruses are everywhere, in greater abundance than bacteria, but dependent upon them. New evidence from modern microbial mats and from lab experiments is showing that viruses can be permineralised and can influence carbonate precipitation. Could viruses provide the seeds for limestone formation? This talk explores the potential role of viruses in carbonate precipitation. Viruses are the new frontier in Earth Science……

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March 7th

Oil and Gas Fields for the 22nd Century

Dr Tiago Alves, Cardiff University

Hydrocarbon exploration and production are experiencing crucial changes at the moment, as environmental aspects are becoming more important as the world's population continues to grow. The planet will host some 9 billion people at the end of the 21th century, with most of the population growth occurring in developing countries. Hence, the way oil and gas is used, at present, will change dramatically in this Century so that we can curtail CO2 emissions (and atmospheric pollution) while tackling energy poverty. This talk will present some interesting geological facts from the largest oil and gas fields in the world. It will show how these fields are being exploited in an ever more sustainable way. The examples provided will illustrate how governments, industry and the public are investing in new technologies and approaches to energy production.

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April 4th

The shale gas boom: A history of “fracking" from the 19th to the 21st centuries

Dr James Verdon, University of Bristol

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for shale gas has become an issue of significant public debate. In this talk I will chart the history of this often poorly-understood technology, from the original well-shooters of the 19th Century, through to modern-day shale gas developments.

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May 2nd

Luminescence dating, Climate Change and Hominins

Professor Phillip Toms, University of Gloucestershire

Luminescence dating is amongst the most versatile of geological chronometers. Drawing on ubiquitous, resilient datable material it can estimate the age of sedimentary events and heated archaeological artefacts spanning c. 10 to >105 yrs. This talk will outline the principles of this technique and instances where it has played a central role in uncovering past climate change and the evolution and dispersal of Hominins.

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June 6th

Granite Petrogenesis – where on Earth did that come from?

Dr Mike Fowler, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Portsmouth

People live on continents. We take them for granted, but we’d be a bit stuck and rather wet without them. To a first approximation, continents are made of granites and rocks derived from granite. Granites are wonderful things, defined by a disconcertingly simple mineralogy that disguises a bewildering array of genetic options. It is important to understand the relative importance of these so that, ultimately, we can understand our own home.

The discussion of granite petrogenesis has a long history, from the days of granitisation vs. magmatism, through the paradigm of S- (sedimentary) and I- (igneous) type granites, to an alphabet soup of SIAMese siblings and the recent acceptance that some (by no means all, but yes, some!) granites can be largely juvenile: directly mantle-derived.

This talk will explore the different mechanisms for the formation of the same thing and the different methods for finding this out. It will then highlight recent work on juvenile granites that may represent unrecognised long-term crustal growth, with attendant implications for the evolution of the planet (well, bits of it anyhow…).

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July 4th

Climate, chronology and conundrums in the North Atlantic region!

Dr Alison Mcleod, University of Reading

A central research theme in the field of Quaternary Science today relates to the question of whether high-magnitude and abrupt (millennial to decadal scale) shifts in climate occurred synchronously or asynchronously across the globe. The importance of deciphering this lies in its ability to help us understand how our climate system operates.

By investigating palaeoenvironmental archives which preserve long records of past climate fluctuations, we can more accurately assess and model how our climate system is likely to respond to future changes. Polar ice-cores provide a record of past climatic change at annual resolution. These records, however, are remote from the major populated land masses, located predominantly in the temperate latitudes. Attempts to identify whether variability exists in the expression of abrupt climate change at different latitudes are hampered by uncertainties in the timing of events, as measured through traditional chronological techniques (such as radiocarbon dating). Thus, annual records of climate recorded in palaeolake basins (akin to tree rings) provide us with an opportunity to address this challenge as they are one of very few terrestrial archives of environmental change which have the ability to provide data at a resolution comparable or better than that of the polar ice cores. Consequently, they are a key archive for assessing the spatial and temporal differences in regional environmental responses to changing climates.

This talk will outline current research on this theme and will draw on examples from the UK and Sweden. It will also discuss how these records can be linked together using time- synchronous markers, such as volcanic ash layers, which allow leads and lags in the climate system to be assessed whilst circumventing the uncertainties of some more traditional chronological techniques.

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September 5th

The Dinosaurs Rediscovered: How a Scientific Revolution is Rewriting History

Professor Michael J. Benton, University of Bristol

Learn how dinosaur remains are found and excavated, and how palaeontologists read the details of dinosaur's lives from their fossils - their colours, growth, and even whether we will ever be able to bring them back to life.

Leading palaeontologist Michael Benton explains how the study of dinosaurs has transformed into a true scientific discipline. New technologies have revealed secrets locked in prehistoric bones that no one could have previously predicted. We can now work out the force of dinosaurs' bite, their top speeds, and even how they cared for their young. Remarkable new fossil discoveries - giant sauropod dinosaur skeletons in Patagonia, dinosaurs with feathers in China, and a tiny dinosaur tail in Burmese amber - remain the lifeblood of modern palaeobiology. Thanks to advances in technologies and methods, however, there has been a recent revolution in the scope of new information gleaned from such fossil finds. Michael will trace the development of the study of dinosaurs from its roots in antiquated natural history to an indisputably scientific field, and explain why, though extinct, dinosaurs are still very much a part of our world.

About the speaker

Michael J. Benton is Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Bristol and the author of The Dinosaurs Rediscovered: How a Scientific Revolution is Rewriting History. His many previous books include standard reference works, textbooks, and popular books on dinosaurs and the history of life.

Link to:


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Thursday 3rd October

William Smith - Geological Investigations in Somerset And the Reconstruction of His Country Map

Dr Peter Wigley

William Smith is now commonly viewed as the father of English geology and creator of the world's first geological map, 'A delineation of the Strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland' Yet William Smith’s life could be the stuff of a Dickens novel. Born the son of a Blacksmith and orphaned by his father at just eight years old, the material of Smith's life made for very small expectations indeed. Still this intelligent and well-read child fascinated by fossils and the natural world went on despite all likelihood to make one of the greatest scientific leaps of all time and not only that, made them on Bath’s own doorstep.

And if all this was not dramatic enough Smith who had struggled against class prejudice and financial hardship all his life was on the point of publishing his great work when he was undercut by plagiarists making cheap copies of his ideas. He ended up as consequence in a debtor's prison. It was only posthumously Smith's heroic achievements were truly celebrated and Bath somewhat as consequence came to be viewed latterly as the cradle of English Geology.

A lecture being held at the Bath Royal Literary Institution on Thursday 3rd October will be celebrating those achievements and describing to those both in the know and those new to William Smith something about the work that took place on the canal ways and coal seams of North East Somerset.

William Smith's geological achievements in Somerset will be evaluated using his original maps and cross- sections compared with modern data. His early Mearns colliery survey and later work on the Somerset Coal Canal will be the subject under discussion by Smith authority Peter Wigley. Wigley's recent work on Smith; William Smith's Fossils Reunited, was warmly received and had an introduction written by a figure no less illustrious than David Attenborough.

Smith's work culminated in the world's first geological map and the Bath area in 1799, and though he never published a geological map of Somerset, a version with faintly engraved geological boundaries was used to reconstruct a geological map of the country. From early in his career as a surveyor for the Somerset Coal Canal Company, Smith recognized the importance of fossils in the characterisation of strata, examples of these from his ground-breaking publication "Strata Identified by Organized Fossils" will be presented during the lecture.

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Thursday 7th November

Jurassic calamari: life, death and preservation of fossil squid in the Jurassic rocks of the Wessex Basin

Professor Malcolm Hart, School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Plymouth,

The squid-like cephalopods (Coleoidea) are an important part of the Jurassic ecosystem. Examples of them were illustrated by Henry De La Beche in his famous diorama 'Duria Antiquior' (a more ancient Dorset) which depicted most of the known fossils of the Lias of Lyme Regis. Discoveries of specimens with exceptional preservation from many parts of the Jurassic in the Wessex Basin, have allowed the reconstruction of both their morphology and mode of life. Fossils from the Callovian clays of Christian Malford (Wiltshire) and the Charmouth Mudstone Formation of Lyme Regis (Dorset) show how these active predators captured their prey and attempted to eat quite large specimens of fish. In one exceptional specimen, the fish may have been too big and the squid choked to death!

Photo courtesy of the Natural History Museum.

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Thursday 5th December

Geology in Paradise

Graham P Hickman

The islands of Trinidad and Tobago lie at the junction between the South American and Caribbean plates. The area has generated hydrocarbon accumulations which provide much of the economic revenue for this island nation. Graham P Hickman, formerly with BP Exploration, describes the geology and adventure in the search for gas fields in the offshore Columbus basin, Trinidad.

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