Tag Archives: Geology

The importance of being an unglamorous collection | Curator of Micropalaeontology

Most geological collections we hear about in the news are the prettiest, oldest, youngest, largest, smallest, rarest, most expensive or have some exciting story related to them that ties them to the evolution of our planet. Dinosaurs, human remains and meteorites are particularly popular. Over the last year we’ve embarked on a major curatorial project rehousing something that is the opposite – an unglamorous collection of bags of crushed rock.

Protective equipment

Curators Becky Smith, Helena Toman and Robin Hansen in protective equipment.

I’ll be explaining why the samples needed to be re-housed and most importantly why they are strategically important to the work of the Museum and needed to be kept for future reference. And also why we are all dressed up in protective equipment and why I had to learn to drive a fork lift truck! Continue reading

Studying cobalt mineralisation of the Nkamouna deposit at Diamond Light Source | CoG3 Consortium

Dr Paul F. Schofield is leading the part of the CoG3 project that focuses on describing and characterising new ore types, with an aim of developing new ways of extracting cobalt (Co). He reports back on a visit to Diamond Light Source.

In early September the Museum CoG3 team met with Prof Fred Mosselmans, a fellow member of the CoG3 consortium from Diamond Light Source. The team hoped to use Diamond’s facilities to study how cobalt is incorporated into the minerals of the Nkamouna cobalt-nickel laterite deposit in Cameroon.

Aerial view Diamond Light Source

Aerial view of Diamond Light Source at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, Oxfordshire

The Diamond Light Source facility provides very intense, high-brightness beams of X-rays that are focused to produce powerful microscopes. Not only do these microscopes allow us to image the distribution of cobalt in natural materials with nanometre scale resolution, but they also enable us to measure how the cobalt atoms are actually bound into the atomic structure of their hosting minerals.

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Field trip to Zambia | CoG3 Consortium

The Central African copper belt is one of the world’s most important copper producing districts, with dozens of deposits spanning a 400km length through the Democratic Republic of Congo and northern Zambia. Of these copper deposits, a select few contain significant quantities of cobalt, which is produced as a by-product of the ore refining process.

Rock cores

Core laid out at Kalalushi Core Shed

In June 2016 a field trip was undertaken to Zambia in order to examine cobalt-rich ore from the copper belt. Dr Alex Webber, Research Fellow at the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton and member of the COG3 Consortium reports from the field trip.

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Fieldwork in Brazil | CoG3 Consortium

In April 2016 the CoG3 team travelled to Brazil to carry out fieldwork at the Piauí deposit. Researcher Dr Paul Schofield describes their trip:

Cobalt is a technology-enabling metal with numerous applications that are particularly essential to the ‘green agenda’. Despite cobalt being such a critical material, there is a very high risk associated with its supply.

Our project, CoG3: Geology, Geochemistry and Geomicrobiology of cobalt, aims to increase the security of the cobalt supply chain by:

  • identifying new, currently unused cobalt resources
  • developing new biotechnologies for effective extraction and processing of cobalt
Piauí deposit landscape

View from the top of the Piauí deposit

One resource with the potential for bioprocessing is limonitic laterite deposits, one of which is the Piauí nickel-cobalt laterite deposit in Brazil. Continue reading

Inspiring the next generation | CoG3 Consortium

Ed Thomas, PhD student on the CoG3 project, explains the importance of cobalt to a group of school children in Manchester.

As a Widening Participation Fellow I am often involved with outreach events encouraging school children in to science, technology, engineering and maths subjects. My workshops are usually based on an aspect of Earth Sciences that the children have come across before; the rock cycle, dinosaurs, volcanoes…

Photo of Ed in front of a whiteboard  presentation

Explaining to a class of nine year old’s the importance of cobalt

However, the most engaging part of science is not what we already know, but the unsolved problems we face as a society. It is one of these unanswered questions I posed to year 9 children from four schools in Greater Manchester.

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Copper futures: how Museum science searches for the copper we need | Sustainability

by Professor Richard Herrington, Head of the Department of Earth Sciences

The world needs copper – we all need copper. It carries the electricity and hot water in our homes through cables and pipes. It is part of all the electrical appliances we use at home and in industry – an essential ingredient in any low-carbon economy. The sources and security of supply of copper are important in economic terms and of great interest for government policy and business strategy.

Photo showing the deposit in the mountain side.

Quellaveco deposit (not yet being mined) in the Peruvian Andes. The white markers in the landscape mark the extent of the copper mineralisation at surface.

Every person in the UK uses around 8kg of copper per year. Worldwide usage exceeds 24 million tonnes annually and, whilst around 41% of European copper needs are met by recycling, the demands of growing economies like China and India mean that 75% of this usage is met by mined metal. Copper can’t be grown and simply recycling what we have already extracted won’t keep pace with demands.

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Magnificent manganese and the search for cobalt | CoG3 Consortium

At the start of a major new project involving collaboration between 8 institutions from across the UK, Rachel Norman of the Museum’s Economic and Environmental Earth Sciences division introduces us to one of the new ways the CoG3 team are unearthing cobalt, a metal of great strategic and economic importance.

On Wednesday 27 January, Museum and University of Southampton scientists searched in the Museum collections for manganese nodules.

Photo showing the specimen resting on the desk

A manganese nodule growing around a shark’s tooth. This sample was actually collected by HMS Challenger in 1875.

Manganese nodules form in very deep water on the seafloor, at the sediment-water interface, and cover vast areas. They form by the precipitation of manganese minerals out of seawater over extremely long time scales. Manganese nodules grow at a rate of just ~2 mm per million years, making them one of the slowest geological processes that we know of. This means that if a nodule reaches a radius of 50 mm, it could be 25 million years old!

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