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Current Status of Applied Geochemistry Research in the UK and the Republic of Ireland

June 2017
AAG Regional Report: Ireland and United Kingdom

Kate Knights (kate.knights@gsi.ie)

In Ireland the national Tellus programme, a combined regional baseline survey of surface geochemistry and airborne radiometric and traditional geophysics, is well underway. The Irish government is backing accelerated coverage of the whole country, and the regional-scale surveys of stream sediment, stream water and soil inorganic geochemistry are now complete across about one third of the country. Geological Survey Ireland are undertaking the surveys to recognised high standards, applying multi-element analytical techniques and rigorous quality control. The work is in conjunction with labs in Ireland and in the UK. The programme is concurrently funding external research projects in areas such as agricultural data applications, understanding prospectivity and deposit modelling, and is assisting survey geologists in revising the state geological maps. The project is releasing its data free of charge and freely to all, as it becomes available. See more at www.tellus.ie, including links to the book ‘Unearthed’ which stories some of the impacts felt from survey results to date. 

The geosciences sector in Ireland has seen a huge boost in the last year, with the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences ‘iCRAG’ now supporting doctorate and post doctoral research in applied geochemistry.  Early career scientists are working on traditional subjects such as energy, groundwater quality, critical raw materials and mineral deposits, as well as the social license to operate and public perception of the geosciences sector.  In geochemistry the research areas include sediment and ore provenance and isotopic analytical applications. See www.icrag-centre.org for more. 

The British Geological Survey and University of Nottingham have launched their Centre for Environmental Geochemistry, a hub combining inorganic, organic and isotope geochemistry analytical facilities with domestic and international applied research projects. www.environmentalgeochemistry.org details their work. 

The geological surveys in Ireland and Britain are contributing to a European Union led consortium on critical materials and minerals databases, the Minerals4EU Project. Aiming to enhance minerals information and support European minerals development. See www.minerals4eu.eu for updates. 

The UK and Ireland mining sectors are progressing a number of prospects.  SRK Consulting UK Limited is currently assisting Dalradian Gold Limited with geochemical skills related to the development of the Curraghinalt gold project in Northern Ireland. SRK have been responsible for supervision of baseline sampling and geochemical assessment as well as laboratory and onsite testing of rock weathering. This work will be used in support of engineering and environmental studies.  Drakelands Mine (formerly Hermerdon) for tungsten and tin in Cornwall is now reopened by Wolf Minerals Limited.  This coincided with latest geochemical mapping completed by the British Geological Survey in southwest England. The Boliden Tara Mine in the Irish Midlands is actively expanding. Uptake of exploration licences in Ireland is going strong with lead-zinc, gold, copper, platinum, and lithium the targets.

 

September 2013
Dr Neil Breward, AAG Regional Councillor for UK and the Republic of Ireland (nbr@bgs.ac.uk)

Tellus Border Project

Following the successful completion of an extensive geochemical survey of the border region of Ireland in 2012, preliminary results of the EU INTERREG IVA-funded Tellus Border project were unveiled on 5th February 2013. A data launch event in Dublin hosted by the Geological Survey of Ireland attracted over 80 stakeholders from central and local government, research and the environmental, agriculture and mineral exploration sectors to view newly surveyed airborne geophysical and geochemical data. Preliminary geochemical topsoil data are now available to view online at www.tellusborder.eu. Cross-border, multi-media geochemical data will be made available to view and download throughout 2013, revealing important natural and man-made influences on the soil and water chemistry of the area, significant for mineral prospectivity, environmental management and agricultural productivity. A conference will be held on 24th October 2013 to officially close the project and present the full findings from the survey and accompanying academic research projects http://tellusborderconference-eorg.eventbrite.co.uk/. To register for notifications for upcoming data releases, please email your details to tellusborder@gsi.ie.

Completion of the G-BASE project

The British Geological Survey (BGS) celebrated the completion of its 40 year national geochemical field Survey (G-BASE) with the final stream sediment sample taken on the Isle of Wight on the 24th of September. The groundbreaking G-BASE project has employed hundreds of volunteers and BGS staff to collect over 500,000 geochemical samples from 120,000 locations between the Shetland Islands and Land’s End. This high-resolution information has been used to find gold, identify sources of radon gas and is fundamental to dealing with the impacts of environmental change such as water pollution and contaminated land.

Beginning in the late 1960s, the primary focus of G-BASE was mineral exploration; however the project has evolved into a high-resolution geochemical survey producing baseline data relevant to many geosciences and environmental issues. G-BASE data has enabled new interpretations of geology, located mineral resources such as the world-famous Foss barite deposit and identified both areas of contaminated land and areas of trace element deficiency. G-BASE has been the focal point for geochemistry within the BGS, producing national geochemical data and maps derived principally from stream sediments at an average spacing of 1 sample every 1–2 square kilometers of the UK land surface; and significant coverage of stream water and soil data.

For more details contact www.bgs.ac.uk

‘Fracking’ – Hydraulic fracturing and shale gas resources.

This issue has been the major geosciences-related news item in the UK for the last few months. Exploration for shale gas, mostly within the Carboniferous or Jurassic sedimentary basins of the UK may have high potential for energy resources, but is proving to be highly controversial.  Problems of potential seismicity and contamination of groundwater resources, plus the problems of transport and competition for land in a densely-populated country have led to widespread popular opposition. The British Geological Survey has an ongoing role in using its expertise to advise and explain the issues in a non-partisan manner. For more details, see http://www.bgs.ac.uk/research/energy/shaleGas/basics.html

 

October 2011
Dr Neil Breward, AAG Regional Councillor for UK and the Republic of Ireland (nbr@bgs.ac.uk)

In response to sharply rising world commodity prices and concerns over potential future shortages of key mineral and metal resources, the British Geological Survey has recently published the BGS Risk List. This is an independent and authoritative assessment of the current world resource situation and gives a quick indication of the relative risk in 2011 to the supply of the chemical elements or element groups which we need to maintain our economy and lifestyle. The position of an element on this list is determined by a number of factors, which include the abundance of elements in the Earth's crust, the location of current production and reserves, and the political stability of those locations. The list highlights economically important metals which are at risk of supply disruption including rare earths, platinum group metals, niobium and tungsten. The list also shows the current importance of China in production of many metals and minerals. Download the publication here: http://www.bgs.ac.uk/downloads/start.cfm?id=2063.

The rise in commodity prices has also stimulated more activity in mineral exploration in the UK, and even breathed new life into the UK’s moribund metal mining sector, as Scotland’s Tyndrum gold mine is set to reopen following agreement with the Scottish Government and the National Park authorities to ensure the highest environmental standards are maintained. The record price for gold on the world markets, plus the premium for the home-produced metal, may also yet see mines reopening in the Dolgellau (Wales) mining field. There is also increasing interest in other commodities, especially REEs, Tin and Tungsten in south-west England, with increasing exploration activity and hopes that the former tungsten mine at Hemerdon in Devon may reopen and tin production re-start at South Crofty in Cornwall.

A major new regional geochemical baseline survey of the northern border region of the Republic of Ireland is now well underway.  The Geological Survey of Ireland are leading the geochemical aspects of the Tellus Border project’s integrated regional geochemical and geophysical surveys of the counties of Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth.  Following the same systematic sampling methodologies of the British Geological Survey’s G‑BASE national geochemical mapping and the Tellus project of Northern Ireland — collection of soil, stream sediments and stream waters is currently ongoing in Co. Donegal, with around 1000 sample sites completed to date.  Visit www.tellusborder.eu for updates on the progress of the project.

 

February 2011
Dr Neil Breward, AAG Regional Councillor for UK and the Republic of Ireland (nbr@bgs.ac.uk)

Last year (2010) saw the 175th Anniversary of the British Geological Survey, which was celebrated in some style with a seminar at the venerable Royal Institution in London on 28th September, and was attended by many high–profile personalities from the Earth Sciences community, notably Sir David Attenborough, Prof. Ian Stewart, Marcia McNutt (USGS Director), and several hundred others including representatives from government, industry, academia, international geological surveys, students, earth science professionals and science journalists. The day was hailed as a great success, with excellent press coverage, and also saw the launch of a Geological Map ‘App’ for the iPhone and iPad – possibly the ultimate in portable geological maps!

BGS geochemists have also been closely involved in several European projects, notably the GEMAS survey of agricultural soils, the geochemistry of European bottled waters, and in the production of the forthcoming book on Urban Geochemistry (Johnson et al, 2011). With the change of direction of the BGS’s main geochemical survey project G-BASE (Geochemical Baseline Survey of the Environment) away from systematic regional surveying towards more focussed multidisciplinary projects, the last year has seen the completion of a major urban geochemical survey of Greater London. This epic undertaking has involved the collection and analysis of soils from some 6600 sample sites from an area of 1594.7 km2. Work has now been completed, and the dataset will be officially launched at a special meeting to be held at the Institute of Physics in London on May 13th. See http://www.bgs.ac.uk/news/conferences/FTLEseminar/home.html?src=sfb. For more details please contact Cathy Scheib at BGS (Cemery@bgs.ac.uk).

The other major G-BASE activity has been a re-survey of the River Clyde catchment in Scotland, collecting regional soil and stream water data to complement an earlier stream-sediment survey carried out in the early 1980’s. This new dataset also includes high-order stream sediment sampling on the Clyde and its major tributaries, something of a novelty for G-BASE which normally collects stream sediment from 1st and 2nd order streams. The collection of this new data provides a comprehensive integrated geochemical dataset for the Clyde catchment including regional, urban, river and estuarine data with stream sediment, stream water, regional, peri-urban and urban soil for the Glasgow, and estuarine sediment.

Major urban geochemical surveys seems to be a popular current feature, with the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) being heavily involved in the SURGE project (http://www.gsi.ie/Surge.htm), a high-density urban soil geochemistry survey of Dublin, carried out in association with the Geological Survey of Norway. In Northern Ireland, the Tellus Project’s integrated geochemical and geophysical survey carried out by the GSNI (Geological Survey of Northern Ireland) and BGS under the auspices of the Northern Ireland government’s department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) was completed and has already stimulated much MinEx interest in the province, especially for gold. Recently, it was announced that for 2011-13 - a new survey, Tellus Border, funded under the INTERREG IVA inter-regional cooperation programme of the European Regional Development Fund, will make soil and stream surveys of the six northern counties of the Republic of Ireland. The survey will follow G-BASE standard protocols but at a sampling density of only one site per 4 km2. Project partners include: GSNI, GSI, Queens University of Belfast and the Dundalk Institute of Technology.

Elsewhere, and more generally, the recent rise in the price of some major commodities, despite the recession, has led to renewed interest in metal deposits in the UK, notably for tungsten and other rare elements such as uranium, niobium-tantalum and Rare Earth Elements in SW England. It remains to be seen whether this interest is transient or more sustained.


References:
Johnson, C. C . , Demetriades, A., Locutura, J. and Ottesen, R.T. (Eds.). 2011
Mapping the Chemical Environment of Urban Areas.
Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
ISBN: 978-0-470-74724-7

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