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geoscience

Discover geology with Lego!

Discover geology with Lego!

Science communication is becoming a widely recognized skill for both established and budding geoscientists alike. Outreach activities are beneficial in many ways, as they not only showcase science to the general public, but also give scientists the chance to develop transferable skills.

If you’re in the market for a creative geoscience activity, one that especially appeals to a younger audience, look no further! In this guest blog post, Stephanie Zihms, a geomechanics postdoc at Heriot-Watt University and the EGU Union-level ECS representative, details a fun hands-on activity that teaches geoscience with the help of Lego blocks. This post is modified from a version which first appeared on Stephanie Zihms’ blogRead the original post.

I designed this activity for the Explorathon 2015 (a family orientated science event) because I was looking for a way to show how geologists work from observing the surface to gathering information from boreholes and seismic surveys to understand the subsurface. I also wanted participants to experience this process without needing to be in the field or taking rock samples.

Kit and preparation

I used a generic brand of building bricks (because my budget didn’t allow for actual Lego) and bought two boxes of mixed bricks in a bargain store. First you want to sort the bricks by colour (unless you can buy them that way). Then you want to decide what shapes to make – I opted for three simples shapes: Syncline, Anticline and Oil Reservoir with seal.

With the geology built, you then want to select three or four areas to make a ‘borehole’ with – I used single bricks but this could be done with the 2×2 squares as well. If you have enough bricks you can probably incorporate the ‘boreholes’ into the model and reveal them by extracting them – which would be super cool. Once you have the models built and boreholes prepared, you need to make some envelopes to only expose the top layer – I used brown hacking paper and packing tape to make sure they can be reused easily. That’s pretty much it.

Activity: Syncline & Anticline       

Show your participants the covered models and ask if they can tell you what the rest of it looks like. You can explain that geologists use exposures like this for mapping (having maps on hand can be useful). Also ask how sure they are that they are correct based on the information available. You can then offer more information in form of boreholes – either lay or stand them in front of the model in the correct place (you can mark your envelopes) or extract them if you went for the hiding option.

Either ask the participants to show you what they can see – following a colour for example or ask them to copy the boreholes on a bit of paper and connect colours that way (this will depend on how much time you have with each participant; borehole papers can be prepared with the columns printed on so the participants only have to colour them in).

Once that is done reveal the full model. This is normally a big ‘Ahhh’ effect because just by having that little bit of extra information they got it right. This is a great opportunity to talk about information available and how geologists infer maps and what the subsurface looks like based on similar information. (if you have boreholes logs from the local area + the iGeology app from BGS this can really help relate this to the local area). If you make a version where the boreholes can be retrieved this could be standalone activity with instructions to follow as well.

Activity: Oil reservoir with seal         

This activity is very similar to the one above except that we can’t see anything from the top layer. And before we even know where to drill for a borehole we have to do a seismic survey. After guessing what the model looks like and deciding the information is not great. Show a generic seismic line (normally easily found online or in petroleum engineering tutorials). We printed seismic lines on A5 and asked participants to colour them in – following any features or structures they could see (this could also be done with one A3 paper that’s laminated and can be re-used).

After identifying a generic reservoir structure we revealed the model to show the different layers. A set of boreholes could be done based on where participants would ‘drill’. Which would mean having a set of boreholes available or making the middle of the model retrievable.

Summary

I absolutely love this activity because it uses something people are familiar with – independent of age and it mimics a little geological survey taking participants on the journey of gathering information and making an estimation. This activity can also be easily amended for different size audiences (e.g. using DUPLO for a show & tell type event) or adding more information about the process, talking about risk and uncertainty. The response from participants, especially children, when the model is revealed is priceless.

I hope you found this how-to useful and please share how you used it at your events either in the comments or by tagging me (@geomechsteph) on Twitter.

By Stephanie Zihms

Shaking in the city

Shaking in the city

Bruce Springsteen was playing at Barcelona’s football stadium on 14th May 2016. 65,000 people were there to hear him as he launched into an encore including “Born in the USA”, “Dancing in the Dark” and “Shout”. But unknown to Springsteen, just 500 metres away, in the basement of the Institute of Earth Sciences Jaume Almera (ICTJA), Jorde Díaz and his colleagues were also listening in via their broadband seismometer. “We have beautiful recordings of rock concerts,” says Díaz, the scientific director of the Seismic Laboratory at ICTJA, part of the Spanish Scientific Research Council (CSIC).

The first global seismic networks, installed in the 1960s and 1970s, were set up, not to record earthquakes, but to listen in on human activities. Their primary goal was to monitor nuclear tests during the height of Cold War tension. Since then, the same devices have been used extensively and successfully to record the Earth’s natural vibrations, allowing scientists to study earthquakes and volcanoes, as well as map the interior of the Earth in remarkable detail. But researchers are now turning their attention to human activities again; this new field of urban seismology aims to detect the vibrations caused by road traffic, subway trains, and even cultural activities.

“Our motivation for installing this station was mainly for outreach,” Díaz says, “to show [people] how a seismometer works.” But Díaz soon realised that there might be useful information buried within the seismic noise at this new station. “We identified a number of signals and we wanted to know the origin of these signals. Some of them are quite amusing,” he recalls.

Some of these less conventional signals were so-called “foot-quakes”, tremors associated with goals scored at the Barcelona football stadium. “We can get information every time there is a goal,” says Díaz. “Or at least every time there is a Barcelona goal. Not the other side! People jump and then the shaking is recorded at our instrument.” Indeed, ever since the famous Gol del terremoto, Earthquake’s Goal, in Argentina in 1992, we have known that football fans could be picked up by seismometers.

Springsteen’s concert was another of the less orthodox events that the seismologists were able to study. As well as a simple seismogram of the whole four-hour show, which shows the magnitude of the shaking through time, Díaz also plots his data on a spectrogram. The spectrogram reveals the different frequencies present in the vibrations and how they change over time.

Seismic record captured by the seismometer during the Bruce Springsteen concert. The upper panel shows the seismogram, while the lower panel shows the spectrogram where it is possible to see the distribution of the energy between the different frequencies. (Image Credit: Jordi Díaz)

The colour on this diagram then corresponds to the amplitude of the shaking. “You can see that every single song has a particular pattern,” explains Díaz, “and you can even define from the seismic data when we are moving from one song to another.” The vertical stripes in Díaz’s spectrogram correspond to the different songs, whilst the horizontal, red stripes indicate the main frequencies that are present in each track. “In the goal celebrations… the energy is distributed all over,” says Díaz, “while here [at the concert] you can see what we call harmonic structures. You have energy localised at precise [frequencies]. This is because people are dancing, moving in a coordinated way.”

As Díaz explains in his paper, published last year in Scientific Reports, the harmonic structures are likely to be because of a phenomenon known as the Dirac comb effect. As the audience dance to a track with a specific beat, they create a series of equally-spaced pulses in time. This then transforms to a series of “evenly spaced harmonics in the frequency domain,” which is the series of horizontal stripes for each track. Furthermore, faster songs tend to produce higher frequencies.

Rock concerts in a football stadium might sound light-hearted, but Díaz’s work is not without important applications. The majority of the concert vibrations are in the range of 1.8 to 2.5 Hz. Meanwhile, building codes suggest that, structures should not be built with resonant frequencies higher than around 6 Hz. As Díaz and his team have demonstrated, the precise vibrations that the stadium experiences vary depending on the activity occurring. But some of the higher harmonics at the rock concert are close to the suggested building limit such that, if structures were to have resonant frequencies close to this limit, then there might be the potential for damage to the building. “Additional work, following a more engineering approach, is required to know if structure excitation has a significant contribution to the total shaking,” says Díaz.

The shaking in the city that Díaz and his colleagues have been observing is not only good fun, but also potentially of significant importance for civil engineers.

By Tim Middleton

GeoEd: Career pathways and expectations in the geosciences – straight lines, wiggles and all out chaos.

GeoEd: Career pathways and expectations in the geosciences – straight lines, wiggles and all out chaos.

 ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ From a tender age, we are regularly asked that question, with answers ranging from the downright hilarious through to those kids who’ve got it all figured out. As we grow older the question of what career we want to pursue carries more weight and the outcome of our choices is scrutinised closely.  In today’s GeoEd column, Rhian Meara (a geography and geology lecturer at Swansea University), explores the notion that as young adults adapt to a changing working environment, it is ok to be unsure, to change your mind, and that pursuing the one-time holy grail, linear career path might no longer be a realistic expectation.

My role as a lecturer in the Geography Department at Swansea University includes participating in the university admissions process which includes organising and attending open and visit days, reading application forms and meeting with potential applicants and their parents. Time and time again, I’m asked about employability, work experience opportunities and career pathways – what sort of work will I get after graduation? What are the work experience opportunities? Should I go into post-graduate studies? Will the degree give me transferable skills? What if I choose not to work in the same field as my degree? Current and prospective students are under immense pressure to know what they want to do with their lives from an early age and often feel like failures if they don’t have a “plan”.  And as tuition fees continue to rise, the idea of having a post-graduation “plan” to justify the expense of higher education is becoming more and more important.

The inspiration for this post came after a recent school visit, where most of the students were 16 years old and had no idea what they wanted to study or even if they wanted to go to university. My colleague and I discussed these issues with the students and answered their questions. We explained our backgrounds, what we had studied and how we had gotten to where we are now. My colleague and I had been to the same high school and were now both lecturers at the same university, but our paths in between have been completely different.

Many of us grew up with the “straight line plan”. That is:

Finish school → Go to university (complete PG qualification) → Get a Career → Retire.

Where a university qualification should (in theory) guarantee you a job and a career in your chosen field until retirement. This plan or route is characteristic of our parents’ generation. My contemporaries and I came into play towards the end of the “straight line plan” era, we went to university with grand expectations of long term employment, careers and success in our chosen fields. However, the onset of the international banking crisis in the late 2000s, meant that despite our hard work, many of us found ourselves last in and first out. No job, no career, no funding. And so we began to think outside the box. We used our skills, knowledge, talents and contacts to develop our own jobs, our own careers and our own pathways. Some have carved out career pathways that have stayed relatively similar to the original straight line plan, while others have wiggled around a bit, gaining new skills and experiences from a wide range of opportunities. Being open to new ideas has allowed us to develop our own pathways and to succeed. Below are four examples of how career pathways have developed for my contemporaries and I.

Jo: the industrial straight linerhi_1

Jo is a classic straight liner. Jo graduated with a BSc in Applied and Environmental Geology and gained employment in the Hydrocarbon industry, where she has worked for the past ten years in geosteering. However, due to the current down turn in oil production, Jo has been made redundant. While Jo is investigating what to do next, she has been undertaking a part-time MSc and is open to the idea of moving sideways into a new field which would utilize the transferable skills she gained during her geosteering work.

Rhian: the academic wiggler

rhi_2

This is me! I am an academic wiggler! I initially followed a straight line career; I graduated with an MGeol in Geology and completed a PhD focussing on physical volcanology and geochemistry. I decided that academia wasn’t for me and wiggled sideways into science communication working for an international science festival both in Scotland and in the United Arab Emirates. While I loved the communication work, I felt I had to give academia one more chance and I went back to complete a one year post doc in tephrochronology. Although the post doc confirmed that a career in scientific research wasn’t for me, I discovered the teaching-focussed academic pathway where I could use my communication skills. I’ve now been teaching for four years. The figure above has a two way arrow between teaching and science communicating as I’m still involved with communication and do outreach, accessibility work and TV / radio work to promote my subject whenever possible. I have no major plans to leave my role in the near future, but academia can be a very fickle place. I am therefore continuing to develop my skills and interests to ensure that I am able to wiggle again should the need arise.

Laura: The wiggling communicator

rhi_3

Laura graduated with an MGeol in Geology and worked as an Environmental Consultant before returning to academia to complete a PhD in Geomagnetism. While completing her PhD, Laura began blogging about geosciences and her research and developed a passion for science communication and social media. Upon completion of her PhD, Laura gained employment at the European Geosciences Union as the Communications Officer, and is now responsible for managing and developing content for the EGU blogs, social media accounts, online forums and Early Career Researcher activities. Laura is a perfect example of how to use your interests, skills and passions to create new opportunities.

Kate: the chaotic accumulator

Kate is a chaotic accumulator, and I mean that in the best possible way. Kate is someone who tries everything and has developed a portfolio of transferable skills and interests from each experience.  Although slightly chaotic to the untrained eye, there are underlying themes in the figure above: Geography, Textiles and Education. Each job or qualification has built on one or more of those themes and in her current job as a university lecturer in Human Geography, Kate uses all three themes in her modules. There is an additional theme that does not show up on the figure: Language. Kate is a fluent Welsh speaker and in each position or qualification, the Welsh language has been central from museums to coaching to teaching to lecturing.rhi_4

And so in my future discussions with applicants and their parents, I will introduce the idea of straight lines, wiggles and all out chaos (although perhaps not in those exact words). I will explain that an undergraduate degree will train and prepare them, but that we should all be open to new opportunities and new experiences.

And as life becomes more complicated once again – the down turn in the oil industry, the impact of the UK leaving the EU, an overly qualified labour market – it’s becoming more important than ever for us all to adapt, to think outside the box, to wiggle.

By Rhian Meara, Geology & Geography Lecturer at Swansea University.

GeoCinema Online: The Geological Storage of CO2

 Welcome to week two of GeoCinema Screenings!

In a time when we can’t escape the fact that anthropogenic emissions are contributing to the warming of the Earth, we must explore all the options to reduce the impact of releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The three films this week tackle the challenge of separating CO2 from other emissions and then storing it in geological formations deep underground (Carbon Capture and Storage, CCS).

Infografics of the CO2 Storage at the pilot site in Ketzin (modified after: Martin Schmidt, www.starteins.de) Credit: http://www.co2ketzin.de/nc/en/home.html

Infografics of the CO2 Storage at the pilot site in Ketzin (modified after: Martin Schmidt, www.starteins.de) Credit: http://www.co2ketzin.de/nc/en/home.html

Geological Conditions and Capacities

Porous rocks with good permeability have, in Germany and world-wide, the highest potential for geological CO2 storage. Where do these rocks occur? And which further criteria do potential CO2 storage sites need to meet?

Ketzin Pilot Site

At the Ketzin pilot site in Brandenburg, Germany, CO2 has been injected into an underground storage formation since June, 2008. …”. The monitoring methods used at the pilot site Ketzin are among the most comprehensive in the field of CO2 storage worldwide. Of importance is the combination of different monitoring methods, each with different temporal and spatial resolutions. Which methods are used? And what has already been learned?

Scientific Drilling at the Pilot Site Ketzin

Well Ktzi203 offers, for the first time, the unique opportunity to gain samples ) from a storage reservoir that have been exposed to CO2 for more than four years. The film follows how the samples were collected and studied.

 

You can view all three films and journey through the exploration of CCS here.

Have you enjoyed the films? Why not take a look the first posts in this series: Saturn and its icy moon or some of the films in last year’s series?

Stay tuned to the next post of Geo Cinema Online for more exciting science videos!

Credits

All three films are developed as part of the Forshungsprojekt, COMPLETE, Pilotstandort Ketzin. (Source).