One woman's quest for geological understanding!

Herdman Symposium 2011 – Liverpool University (19/2/2011)

As you may, or may not, remember from my previous posts, I attended the Herdman Symposium at Liverpool University Saturday.  Only just had chance to write it all up!

The program was great, and certainly flowed in terms of subject matter

Why does life start, what does it do, where will it be?
Michael J. Russell (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech, USA)

In terms of the subject matter, this was incredibly interesting, however the Geochemistry was over my head at some points!(The research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration)

Russell’s presentation

Diagram from presentation by Michael J. Russell at the Herdman Symposium 2011

The complexity of life never ceases to amaze me! For further information:

Why does life start?

The emergence of life

Patterns in the history of life
Richard A. Fortey FRS, FRSL

This was a bit of a highlight for me: the author of some of my favourite geological books, speaking of patterns in the history of life – a very visual presentation.  Highlights, of course, were the trilobites!  😀

Whatever history threw at life….[mass extinctions, etc]…… we never unlearnt the last steps!
(Source: Richard Fortey, during the presentation)

We also voted on what should be the title of his latest book: “Survivors” vs. “Old Timers” – the 300+ audience was split down the middle…..

Richard Fortey

The geological history of young continents, old continents and the oceans: why are they so different?
James Jackson FRS (Bullard Laboratories, University of Cambridge)

A very interesting lecture covering a topic which I have only touched upon in the past. The understanding of the lithosphere has increased over the past few years, and this presentation looked at the numerous discoveries and hypothesis which have been made in the recent past (LOL) regarding the differences in the structure, composition and rheology of the lithosphere between the oceans, young orogenic belts and how the ancient Precambrian shields are responsible for the variations in tectonic history seen at the Earth’s surface over geological time.

Age of the continental Crust

Deep in the mantle something stirred: why there is recent volcanism within Central Europe?
Marjorie Wilson (University of Leeds)

An account of Marjorie Wilson’s studies into the geological processes which caused recent volcanism within central Europe (Rheine graben & Central Massif, etc), which are generally not considered to be directly associated with the subduction of tectonic plates, but more recently with magma generation involving large-scale mantle plumes, localised hotspots (mantle “hot-fingers”) and continental rifting.  after studying seimic data, it became apparant that there were some inconsistencies localised hot spot theories: “How can a hot thermal instability (hot-finger) be rooted in a cold boundary layer (the Transition Zone)?  One possible interpretation is that the “hot-fingers” are not hot at all but instead represent the pathways of water-rich fluids streaming from the top of the Transition ZoneMarjorie suggests that the generation of magma could, therefore, be explained by the effect of water in lowering the mantle melting temperature.

During the presentation Marjorie highlighted a number of hypothesis, methodologies associated with the investigations and what evidence was found to support them.  An interesting presentation, especially as I know the Central Massif area quite well, but have not been sinceIi started studying geology with the OU!!

Where was Odysseus’ homeland?  The Geological, geomorphological and geophysical evidence for relocating Homer’s Ithaca
John Underhill (Grant Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Edinburgh)

A really fascinating presentation highlighting how the study of seismic topography has been implemented to investigate whether Odysseus homeland, ancient Ithaca could have been located on the western Kefalonian peninsula called Paliki.

If John Underhill is correct in his thinking, “geoscience will have contributed to the resolution of a problem that has perplexed classical Greek scholars and archaeologists for centuries, namely: why doesn’t the modern island of the same name fit with Homer’s original geographical description in the Odyssey that it is low-lying, is surrounded by other islands (to the east) and lies facing dusk (furthest to the west)?”   (source

Apart from the obvious geological interest, I will also be contacting John over the next couple of weeks to discuss the possibility of him writing  / contributing an article for CD-Traveller ( on the Touristic Implications.  Luckily I managed to catch him before he dashed off!

The April – May 2010 summit eruption at Eyjafjallajökull volcano (Iceland): From source to the atmosphere
Thor Thordarson (Grant Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Edinburgh)

A first-hand account and description of the eruption of the unpronouncable volcano in Iceland last year – some amazing visuals shared!

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

“It was the last wish of the Icelandic Economy that it’s ashes be spread over Europe!” (Source – Thor Thordarson‘s presentation)

(Apologies for the quality of the conference photos: my iPhone is not all it is cracked up to be!  LOL)

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