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19 Posts tagged with the earth_science_seminars tag

How the dinosaurs did it - Brian Switek talk on 15 May 1600


Brian Switek is a well-known science writer and blogger, and author of the best-selling popular science book 'My Beloved Brontosaurus'. He will be giving a talk in the Flett Theatre at the Natural History Museum in London on the afternoon of Friday 15 May 2015 from 16.00 entitled 'Big Bang Theory: how the dinosaurs did it'. The talk is free to attend and open to all. Tea and coffee will be served after the talk.


Dinosaurs are endlessly fascinating. What they looked like, how they moved, what they ate, and innumerable other questions keep us going back to their bones. But there's one delicate subject that doesn't get quite as much attention as the others in books and museum halls - how did dinosaurs make more dinosaurs? In a special NHM talk, science writer and amateur palaeontologist Brian Switek will reveal what scientists are learning about how dinosaurs made the earth move for each other, from the evolution of sexy ornamentation to new investigations into how dinosaurs may have mated.


Contact Lil Stevens for details




Unravelling global warming through soil mineralogy: A case study from a proglacial valley in the Swiss Alps


Dr Christian Mavris, Marie Curie Fellow (ES, NHM)


Tuesday 10th February - 4.00 pm


Earth Sciences Seminar Room (Basement, WEB 05, the previous Mineralogy Seminar Room)


Investigations in Alpine soils indicate that mineral weathering is much faster in ‘young’ soils (<1000 yr) than in ‘old’ soils (10,000 yr). However, little is known about the initial stages of weathering and soil formation, i.e. during the first decades of soil genesis. Due to the continuous retreat of the Morteratsch glacier (Upper Engadine, Swiss Alps), the proglacial area offers a full time sequence from 0 to 150 yr old surfaces. The area is well documented regarding vegetation and soils.


The glacial till has an acidic character (granitoid parent rock). Mineralogical measurements were carried out using a broad range of analytical approaches, from XRD to wet chemistry to cathodoluminescence and Nomarski DIC microscopy. Specifically, cathodoluminescence and Nomarski DIC microscopy were used for the first time on minerals involved into an early pedogenic process.


This work clearly demonstrates that in cryic, ice-free environments, chemical weathering rates are high, leading to the formation and transformation of minerals. This clearly influences pedogenic processes to a remarkable extent – and thus, is linked to the settlement of life in previously deglaciated (and extreme) areas.



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Palaeo-ecosystems in Pleistocene Europe: Insights from stable isotopes of large mammal fossils


Prof. Hervé Bocherens, University of Tübingen, Germany


Tuesday 3rd February - 4.00 pm


Earth Sciences Seminar Room (Basement, WEB 05, the previous Mineralogy Seminar Room)


The climatic fluctuations of the Pleistocene have caused dramatic changes in the ecosystems of Europe during the last million years. These ecosystems, cold or warm, included a high diversity of megafauna, in contrast to recent ecosystems under similar climatic conditions.


NaturalHistoryMuseum_PictureLibrary_024715_preview.jpgTooth of a woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius)


To gain a better understanding of the functioning of these ecosystems with no modern analogue, the isotopic composition in carbon, nitrogen and oxygen of the large mammal fossil bones and teeth were used to document key aspects of their ecology, such as habitat, diet preference, niche partitioning, and predator-prey interactions. In addition, isotopic analysis of fossil hominids and their prey allows the reconstruction of subsistence patterns and inferences on the possible anthropogenic impact on the environment.


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Large centipedes and larger datasets


Dr Greg Edgecombe, Department of Earth Sciences, NHM


27th January - 4.00 pm


Earth Sciences Seminar Room (Basement, WEB 05, formerly Mineralogy Seminar Room)


Scolopendromorpha includes the largest and most fiercely predatory centipedes, totalling more than 700 species.  Subjected to phylogenetic analysis since the late 1990s, early studies drew on small sets of external morphological characters, mostly those used in classical taxonomic works.



Scolopendra gigantea


In order to bolster the character sample, new anatomical data were worked up by systematically sampling the group’s diversity in order to formulate new characters from understudied structures/organ systems. Simultaneously, targeted sequencing of a few markers for a small (but growing) number of species provided the first molecular estimates of phylogeny.  These have resulted in stable higher-level relationships that predict a single origin of blindness in three lineages that share this trait, and are now backed up by transcriptomic datasets with high gene occupancy. Explicit matrices of morphological characters and fossils coded as terminal taxa remain vital to “total evidence” dating/tip dating of the tree.


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Climate Confusion: Lessons and Pitfalls in the study of Climates Past


Professor John Lowe – Royal Holloway, University of London


Earth Sciences Seminar Room, (Basement, WEB 05, Mineralogy Seminar Room)


9th December - 4.00 pm


Accurate reconstruction of the timing and pattern of past climate variations is pivotal to a wide range of scientific studies.  Climate modellers may use the results to test the functioning and/or predictive capabilities of numerical climate simulations.  Earth scientists use them to assess the role of climate forcing on a range of earth surface processes, operating over very different timescales. Archaeologists have long considered the possible influence of climate on human evolution and dispersal.  Part of the remit of environmental science is to understand how climatic factors regulate processes of major societal significance, such as groundwater recharge, aridification and flood recurrence. 


These various studies all depend upon the availability of reliable climatic histories, and an understanding of how the global climate system works.  However, recent discoveries are increasingly pointing to a serious and pervasive problem in this regard, especially with regard to how we measure the global environmental response to abrupt climatic events (those that take place in less than one hundred years). 


In this talk I will endeavour to address, and to stimulate debate about, three things: (a) the nature of the problem, by referring to recent advances in our understanding of the history of global climate variability during the late Quaternary (the last c.150,000 years or so); (b) the promise that new approaches in geological dating offer for delivering more precise chronologies of past climatic variation;  and (c) the challenges that lie ahead, and that need to be met, before the stamp of climate change on the geo-archaeological record can be appraised with more assurance.


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Dr Sarah Crowther, University of Manchester


Tuesday 18th November 1600h


Earth Sciences Seminar Room  (Basement, WEB 05)



The I-Xe chronometer provides a high resolution means of studying events that occurred during the formation of the Solar System and the subsequent reprocessing of material within the first ~150 Ma of Solar System history. Barwell seems to have sampled igneous clasts that formed early in the Solar System's history, and preserved the I-Xe system from this time. These clasts are igneous in nature, rather than chondritic. If they are relics from a previous generation of melted, differentiated planetesimals, it would support data that suggest there was an earlier generation of planetesimals that pre-date the formation of the chondrite parent bodies. Barwell also allows us the opportunity to investigate whether chondrules from this early period of Solar System history are also present.



In this talk Sarah Crowther will discuss the background to this study, the I-Xe chronometer, the techniques and mass spectrometer used at The University of Manchester to determine I-Xe ages, and  recent analyses of Barwell.


More information on attending seminars at


Earth Sciences Seminar Room (Basement, WEB 05, the previous Mineralogy Seminar Room)


Wednesday 29th October  4.00 pm


Dr. Laurence A.J. Garvie, Center for Meteorite Studies, Tempe AZ 85287-6004 (


In 1806 a black, friable meteorite fell near the town of Alais in France. Subsequent chemical analysis published in the same year by Thenard showed that the stone contained 2.5 parts carbon and 18.5 parts water. In 1834, Berzelius showed that the stone contained clays and a complex suite of organic materials that were extracted with water. This study heralded the field of extraterrestrial organic chemistry.


The Alais stone belongs to a class of meteorites called carbonaceous chondrites (CC). These chondrites are primitive meteorites composed of various proportions of chondrules and refractory materials set in a fine-grained matrix. Their study provides important information on early Solar System processes. In addition, the matrix of these meteorites harbors a suite of presolar materials, some of which are carbonaceous.


Today, more than 40,000 organic compounds have been recognized in the CC meteorites, including more than 100 amino acids. Together with these soluble compounds, some CC meteorites contain an abundant carbonaceous component that is insoluble in water, solvents, and acids called the insoluble organic material (IOM). The IOM is chemically and structurally diverse and contains two easily recognizable and curious components – carbonaceous nanoglobules (also called organized elements) and nanodiamonds. I will explore the significance of these components to early Solar System studies as well as address the frequent past and present claims of indigenous microfossils in the carbonaceous chondrite meteorites.




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Palaeoenvironmental analysis of a Mesolithic-Neolithic sedimentary sequence from Queens Sedgemoor, Somerset


Dr Tom Hill – NHM


23 Sept - 4.00 pm


Earth Sciences Seminar Room (Basement, WEB 05)


A sediment core extracted from Queen’s Sedgemoor, Somerset Levels, has undergone high resolution radiocarbon dating. Subsequent directed micropalaeontological (palynological, diatom and calcareous microfossil) analyses focussed on the sedimentary sequence associated with the Mesolithic and early Neolithic periods.


This talk summarises the radiocarbon results and associated multiproxy analyses for the sedimentary sequence. Radiocarbon dating has identified a sequence dating back to the Mesolithic period (7.6ky BP). Microfossil evidence indicates hydroseral succession has taken place, with  the initial establishment of a freshwater lake, prior to undergoing terrestrialisation and eventually developing into a raised bog.


Holocene sea-level change also influenced the sedimentary archive. Due to a rise in relative sea level c. 6.7ky BP, subsequent coastal inundation and estuarine sedimentation took place, hereby associated with the Lower Wentlooge Formation of the Somerset Levels. Poor microfossil preservation was encountered within the section associated with the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition, but a clear picture of landscape change is presented for the sedimentary archive, with microfossil and microscopic charcoal evidence indicative of landscape modification by humans since the late Mesolithic.


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Dr Mark Wilson – Professor of Natural Sciences and Geology, The College of Wooster, Ohio, USA


Earth Sciences Seminar Room


(Basement, WEB 05, the previous Mineralogy Seminar Room)


24th June - 4.00 pm


The rocks of the marine Callovian sections (around 164 million years old) in southern Israel give us a rare look at tropical invertebrate faunas in the Jurassic. The Matmor Formation in particular is rich in sponges, corals, bryozoans, molluscs, and echinoderms. In the past decade many new taxa have been described from the unit, allowing us to begin comparing temperate and tropical Jurassic communities. These fossils are abundant and well preserved in a detailed stratigraphic framework. They represent an important assemblage for studying the evolution and biogeography of Jurassic invertebrates.


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Ana Cristina Furtado Rebelo – University of the Azores, Department of Biology


NHM Earth Sciences Seminar Room (Basement, WEB 05, formerly Mineralogy Seminar Room)


20th May - 4.00 pm



Rhodoliths are the response of Coralline algae to unstable substrates; their calcified structures preserve well and may, after death, be incorporated into sediments, providing insights into geological processes. Despite being widely distributed, studies on the distribution and ecology of extant and fossil rhodoliths are few and, as a consequence, rhodoliths are still poorly understood.


The ongoing research in the Azores will provide more insight on why those islands are so different from others in Macaronesia with respect to rhodolith deposits in the geological record and the general lack of coastal rhodolith deposits today.


The comparison of type material in the Botany and Palaeobotany collections of the NHM with material from the Azores collection is expected to yield information on the Azorean rhodolith taxonomy identification, and will provide a model for palaeobiogeographic distribution. Such task needs the knowledge of the most advanced curatorial techniques and a profound taxonomic understanding of this specific algae group.


More information on attending seminars at


Stepping into Britain. The first human colonisation of northern Europe


Dr Nicholas Ashton – British Museum, Dep. Prehistory and Europe

Earth Sciences Seminar Room  (Basement, WEB 05, the previous Mineralogy Seminar Room)


29th April - 4.00 pm


Until 10 years it was thought that the earliest occupation of northern Europe dated to c. 500,000 years ago. Through the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) Project and Pathways into Britain Project, this date has been pushed back to over 800,000 years ago with new evidence from the Cromer Forest-bed Formation on the Norfolk coast.


This talk will discuss the new evidence in particular focussing on the fieldwork at Happisburgh and the recently discovered footprints from this site. This evidence will be discussed within a European context and how humans survived for the first time in cooler northern latitudes.


EARTH SCIENCES SEMINAR ROOM Tuesday 8th April - 4.00 pm

Javier Cuadros, Department of Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum, London


Confinement appears to be essential at the mineral-microbial interface and has an effect on both, microbial development and mineral formation. The role of confinement starts before life itself. Prebiotic molecules had to be concentrated from water or gas and "confined", possibly within clay interlayers, where they could react, be protected from adverse physical and chemical conditions, and perhaps also where specific reactions were catalysed.


Microorganisms frequently confine themselves within organic or inorganic walls for a number of reasons such as protection and feeding. They build exopolysaccharide capsules, burrow into mineral grains, etc. Close contact or confinement within mineral grains is arguably the habitat of the largest portion of existing microorganisms.


Microbial confinement has a feed-back effect on minerals. Microbes burrowing into mineral grains contribute to mineral weathering. Confined spaces inhabited by microorganisms, such as burrows, biofilms, exoskeletons of dead microbial algae, have chemical conditions different from the surrounding environment and impact mineral crystallization. For example, glauconite originates largely in connection to biological decay within marine shells.  Microbial activity can thus control to some extent the chemistry, mineralogy and formation rate of the neoformed phases. Clay minerals are obviously affected by microbially-mediated confinement of mineral-solution systems, as they are typically formed in the range of conditions in which these processes take place.


For additional details on attending this or other seminars see



Fridgeir Grimsson

Department of Palaeontology, University of Vienna


Tuesday 25 March - 4.00 pm

Earth Sciences Seminar Room
(Basement, WEB 05, the previous Mineralogy Seminar Room)
Oldest records of many modern north-temperate woody angiosperm genera are from the Eocene. However, the precise time and place of origin of individual tree genera that play important roles in modern temperate forest ecosystems has largely remained unresolved. One hypothesis about the origin of modern temperate woody elements in the northern hemisphere was proposed in the late 19th century by Adolf Engler, who suggested that many modern temperate tree genera originated in Arctic areas and migrated southwards in the course of the Cenozoic when global climate cooled.


The final objective of the present study is to test the validity of Engler’s (1882) concept of the “arctotertiary element”, that is, to determine whether early Cenozoic high latitude floras were the cradle of a number of tree genera that now dominate north-temperate mid-latitude forests. To achieve this, the systematic affinities of  pollen from Paleocene and Eocene sediments of western Greenland and the Faröe Islands are being assessed using combined light and scanning electron microscopy. Macrofossils from the same areas housed in existing museum and university collections are also under study, and new material has been collected in the field. By combining evidence from the palynofloras and the revised macrofloras, the phylogenetic affinities of the recognized plant taxa are being established in order to determine the proportion of extinct lineages and co-occurring extant genera, representing the “arctotertiary element” in the fossil floras.



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wiltie dacite.jpg


Mixing, mingling and enclave crumbling in the post-Minoan dacitic magmas of Santorini volcano, Greece


Chiara Maria Petrone,

Earth Sciences - Natural History Museum


Tuesday 29th October - 4.00 pm

Earth Sciences seminar room

(Basement, WEB 05, the previous Mineralogy Seminar Room)



The post-caldera islets of Palea- and Nea-Kameni formed as a result of nine eruptive events from A.D. 46-47 to 1950 in the center of the Santorini Minoan caldera. The erupted products are represented by dacitic lava flows and domes hosting basaltic to andesitic mafic enclaves. Dacitic rocks have low porphyritic index that increases with time, whereas their degree of evolution decreases pointing to the composition of the mafic enclaves. Enstatite contents of pyroxene and anorthite contents of plagioclase decrease from mafic enclaves to host lavas. Sr isotopes systematically increase with time and toward the less evolved composition of lavas and mafic enclaves, whereas Nd isotopes decrease. Whole rocks and mineral separates of mafic enclaves from the younger events are more Sr-radiogenic than their host lavas, the opposite occurs in the A.D. 46-47 lavas and enclaves.


Mixing and mingling processes between dacitic and mafic magmas, along with crumbling of the mafic enclaves in the host lavas are responsible for the observed textural and geochemical characteristics of the dacitic host lavas. The variations of Sr-Nd isotopes with time in the enclave magmas seem to indicate assimilation of limestone from the basement by the most mafic magmas; this process is associated to new mafic magma inputs and femic phase crystallization. A shallow layered reservoir with dacitic magmas overlaying lower mafic magmas is supported by our data. Crystal fractionation and cumulitic processes affect the lower part of the plumbing system allowing further layering of the mafic magmas, generating the variable and complex textures shown by the mafic enclaves. Different portions of the layered reservoir were frequently and variably sampled during time, as testified by variable types, compositions and distributions of mafic enclaves in the different eruptions. All this allows us to suggest periodic arrivals of mafic magmas in the post-Minoan plumbing system of Santorini, also implying for a still active magmatic system whose behaviour needs to be fully evaluated, also in the light of the 2011-2012 unrest.  


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On the nature & causes of volcanism in the Galápagos archipelago


Tuesday 21st May - 4.00 pm - Mineralogy seminar room


Dr Sally A Gibson, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, UK.


Diversity appears to be key to understanding natural phenomena in the Galápagos archipelago. Whilst most associate this with the unusual creatures that inhabit the islands it is also true of their volcanic nature.

Historical perspective: The volcanic nature of Galápagos was based on reports of pirates, buccaneers and naval admirals until 1835, when Charles Darwin visited the archipelago during the Beagle voyage. Although widely regarded as a zoologist, Darwin was first and foremost a geologist and especially interested in the formation of volcanic islands. Whilst in Galápagos, most of his time was spent on James Island (now known as Santiago) and here he made a crucial observation regarding the occurrence of different volcanic rock types; he realised that confinement of low-density trachytes to elevated parts and higher-density basalts to lower slopes of the same volcano meant that different types of magma could form in ‘the body of a volcanic mountain’ by sinking of crystals. In this regard he was the first scientist to link the diversity of volcanic rock types to what we now refer to as crystal settling. Darwin’s theory of crystal sinking was published in 1844 but not widely accepted at the time.


21st Century importance: The Galápagos archipelago is a natural laboratory for Earth Scientists and provides a unique opportunity to test models of mantle melting. It is one of the world’s most volcanically active regions with eruptions of predominantly basaltic lavas occurring every 3 to 5 years. Galápagos is located above a mantle plume and adjacent to an oceanic spreading centre. Whilst the greatest volumes of melt occur in the west of the archipelago, close to the postulated axis of the plume, volcanism is widespread. There are no age-progressive linear relationships between activity and distance from the location of the present-day hotspot and no temporal variation in magma type as there is for example at Hawaii. The large geochemical dataset for recently erupted basalts and high-resolution seismic database allow greater constraints to be imposed on the causes of volcanism than for any other archipelago. Melt generation occurs both in the region of active mantle upwelling, which has a radius of ~100 km, and also where plume mantle is being dispersed laterally towards the adjacent spreading centre. The composition of erupted basalts is closely linked to the thickness of the underlying lithosphere: numerical modelling of geochemical and geophysical datasets has revealed that this is relatively thin (45 km) beneath the NE of the archipelago and allows the generation of tholeiitic basalts. Above the current zone of active plume upwelling the lithosphere is thicker (60 km) such that the amount of melting is lower and alkali basalts are generated. Isla Santiago is located in central Galápagos above the margin of the zone of active upwelling and also on the edge of the zone of thin lithosphere. The island is unique in that it has experienced recent eruptions of basaltic melts with extremely varied major- and trace-element and also isotopic compositions. This diversity is a manifestation of both complex physical processes and compositional variations in the underlying mantle plume.

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