The 2015 Great Geobakeoff – the results!

USBWe launched the second annual Great Geobakeoff with some trepidation. Had geobaking fatigue set in? Was everyone too busy watching the General Election to notice? Is it in fact impossible to bake a hidden fossil cake?

Of course, our concerns were needless. Once again, the geobaking world has answered our call to arms, and produced a wondrous array of edible geological constructions. Many thanks to everyone who joined in, and we hope your kitchens have since recovered from the carnage.

logoAs always, we set a list of ten challenges worth an increasing amount of points. First, though, some recognition for those of you who went freestyle and did your own thing. And why not? (You don’t get any points though. Rules are rules and all that.) Also to the Geological Society staff members who joined in with our own staff geobakeoff – of which more later…

Many thanks to everyone who submitted!



On to the points….

10 points: Mudstone cake

Mildly more exciting than last year’s sandstone layer, this one generated some appetising looking 10 pointers. Particular applause to Alexandra Booer who earned the distinction of baking our very first entry…

The mudstone entries in full…
Mud stone compilation



20 points: Mud cracks (with a 10 point bonus for addition of a lonely tree)

We particularly enjoyed your lonely trees. 30 points for effort, geobakers.

mud cracks montage


30 points: Lahar cake

Now. Had we known the lengths to which you would go to achieve a cake based lahar, we would definitely have assigned this challenge more than 30 points. Well done to everyone who lahared, and particularly those who sent us a video to prove it!




40 points: Mississippi Mud Pie

Our Mississippi requirements were pretty specific – either a geological map or  bird’s eye view of the river delta. High five to our one intrepid geobaker who took on the first:

mississippi geology

And to the several of you who created a cake based river delta…

mississippi tage














50 points: Hidden William Smith Fossil Preserved in Mud Cake

At this point, we feel we owe you an apology, geobakers. It turns out we know a lot more about fossils than we do about baking, and a hidden fossil cake is in fact nigh on impossible. Extra respect and admiration, therefore, to the many of you who took on the challenge and won!

It wasn’t easy….

But a good geobaker never gives up…


Did we mention it wasn’t easy…?

Congratulations to everyone who took on this frankly ridiculous challenge. We’re sorry.

hidden fossil montage


60 points: Cross Section cake

composite-section-reducedWe gave William Smith’s London to Snowdon cross section as an example, but there were many variations on the theme. 60 points to you all!

cross section montage


70 points – William Smith County Map cake

A tricky challenge, and we received just one entry for this category. But we only needed one, because it is magnificent. LOOK AT IT.

80 points – The Freestyle Showbiz Mud Round

The time has come to break it to you. No one backed us a Matthew McConnaughey. Woe. We did, however, receive two excellent recreations of film scenes involving mud…

90 points – Tunnel cake

We left the engineering challenge this year fairly vague, and you answered it in style! We had the Channel Tunnel, a mine, even the Harbury Tunnel landslip – an impressive 90 points to you all!

tunnel montage


100 points – Jurassic Park Toilet Death Scene 

It has become somewhat traditional for the 100 pointer challenge to feature a scene from Jurassic Park*. (Naturally our favourite film.) Last year, it was hatching velocirapt0rs. This year, we took things one step further, and asked for this iconic scene. As a cake.

First to come in was this incredible effort from Hannah Moss-Davies;

Swiftly followed by an equally amazing depiction from the Plymouth University geobakeoff….


We also enjoyed this live action version…

Congratulations and 100 points to all our intrepid toilet death scene bakers!

jurassic park toilet death scene montage

And so to the 10 winners…

Jen Smith 1On 90 points for an impressive tunnel cake is Jen Smith

…closely followed by Karen, Debbie & Alex with 100 points for their Jurassic Park Toilet Death scene!

Also on 100 points, Hannah Moss-Davies for another incredible T Rex

Alex Booer Mississippi190 points to Alexandra Booer, for taking on a Mississippi Mud Pie complete with geological map, hidden fossil cake, tunnel cake and mudstone!

…followed by Lauren Ballarini for combining several challenges into 3 geobakes for 200 points

410 points to Sarah Snell-Pym and her intrepid geobaking team, Jean and Mary, for their ‘geologist despair’ cake montage!

Plymouth 2Accumulating 460 points, and raising £185 for Nepal earthquake relief, the combined Plymouth University geobaking efforts of Hazel, Meriel, Sarah and Natasha

And conquering every geobakeoff challenge for the second year running, 570 points to geobakeoff queen, Liz Laycock!

liz montage

USBThis concludes the 2015 Great Geobakeoff – thanks to everyone who joined in! Hopefully we’ve all learned something. Not least, that hidden fossil cakes are really hard, and toilets are equally as difficult to construct as T Rexes.

See you next year…

*Suggestions for next year’s Jurassic Park scene are gratefully received. Or maybe we should wait for Jurassic World to come out?

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‘San Andreas’ – a crack in the edge of credibility

Dwayne Johnson saves the family

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as Ray. A better actor than most former wrestlers

Geoscientist Editor Ted Nield reviews the latest geology-related cinema release.

A divorced search and rescue helicopter pilot (Ray, played by Dwayne Johnson) goes in search of his daughter in earthquake-hit San Francisco and is reunited with her and his ex-wife in  the process.   Yes, the Coast is toast – yet again.

Before I begin I should warn readers that this review contains what many would regard as ‘spoilers’.  However, since ‘San Andreas’ delivers precisely zero surprises, I don’t feel very apologetic about them.

Some movies based on natural disasters come with ‘credentials’ (such as ‘Dante’s Peak’ – 1997, which boasted three serious scientific advisers in its credits) and get reviews in Nature.  This is not one of those.  What it is, however, is a simple, classic summertime disaster movie, duly affirming the usual ‘American values’ of never-say-die resilience and family – with a little pseudoscience chucked in courtesy of the brilliant Paul Giammati as sympathetic CalTech seismologist Lawrence.

Since Chuck Heston and Ava Gardner experienced Californian active tectonics in 1974’s ‘Earthquake’ (set in LA rather than SF, but close enough), we have all seen real tsunamis, and collapsing skyscrapers, in news footage.  We have also learned something about sequential earthquake triggering.  And we have CGI.

The CGI means relying less on shaky camerawork to induce terror and awe, while all the rest help the screenwriter to avoid the basic problem with earthquake movies of the past, which was that once the anticipated event had happened, they were all obliged to spend far too long in anticlimactic ‘aftermath’ mode, with only the odd aftershock or precariously poised piece of fallen masonry to keep up the excitement.

Seismologist Lawrence is cast in the usual role of Cassandra – the one who Sees-It-All-Coming-But-Nobody-Listens.  There needs to be one of these in a disaster movie, for without anticipation there is no tension, and everyone loves seeing a maverick proved right.  Lawrence has a breakthrough in earthquake prediction, based, apparently, on (unexplained) ‘magnetic pulse precursors’ observed during the destruction of the Hoover Dam, which starts the whole chain reaction in motion that will lead eventually to the destruction of San Francisco.

These unexplained signals do not, however, appear to give very much useful warning in themselves– just enough, in fact, to say ‘OH MY GOD!’ before the Earth cracks.  However, thanks to his understanding of the quakes’ connectedness he is able to get the word out about a third, even bigger quake on its way, whose epicentre will be right under the deepest car parks of California’s jewel.  The earthquakes are propagating fitfully, from one locked section to another, he realises – though they do so in a time-frame far shorter than happens naturally.

Otherwise the film is hardly interrupted by such technicalities, and its cliché-ridden plot unfolds exactly as you expect it to.  The evil property developer (such is that profession’s inevitable fate since ‘Towering Inferno’) gets his comeuppance, family values triumph, everyone resolves to rebuild, US Flag (Size No.  1) is unfurled on the remains of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the surviving cast, reunited by disaster, stares heroically at the distant horizon as credits (and eyes) roll upwards.

Goofs?  Well, plenty.  Apart from everything already mentioned, our kindly bearded & jumpered seismologist talks erroneously about ‘the Richter Scale’, and (more seriously) the strike-slip fault that is the San Andreas is not really tsunamigenic, even assuming it could ever deliver a M9.6, which it couldn’t – such faults can never store up enough stress.

But – and there is a but – everyone plays their parts well (even though you can almost see Paul Giammati thinking: ‘This junk will fund me in at least two years of independent theatre’).  The story is neither original nor scientifically kosher, but the film is spectacular to watch, falls just short of embarrassing, and isn’t either too long or so boring that it seems that way.

Even ‘the English guy’ Ben (Ray’s daughter’s romantic interest, played by Hugo Johnstone-Burt) is allowed to be heroic (which I suppose in Hollywood terms counts as original).  However he, too, is only allowed to do what he must, which is to play second fiddle to capable, kick-ass daughter of the movie’s central character.  ‘Ray’ is played with a good deal of conviction, and no small aplomb, by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (of whom nothing is small, at least that we can see).  While nowhere near Giammati or anyone else on set when it comes to acting chops, ‘San Andreas’ once again confirms that Mr Johnson is a much better actor than any former wrestler has a right to be.

SAN ANDREAS Dir: Brad Peyton.  Opened: 29 May 2015 (UK).  Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures, New Line Cinema, Flynn Picture Company.  Written by: Carlton Cuse (screenplay) , Andre Fabrizio & Jeremy Passmore  (story).  Duration: 114 mins.  3D.

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The Lyme Regis Fossil Festival – make your own fossil cast!

A couple of weeks ago, we headed to Lyme Regis for the annual geological extravaganza that is the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival, armed with fossils, badges, geological colouring in and a brand new activity.

This year, for the first time, we took part in the schools programme, talking to over 140 primary school children about all things geological.

One of the many school groups to visit our stand

One of the many school groups to visit our stand

As we’re celebrating the Year of Mud and the William Smith Map Bicentenary, we wanted to take a long an activity which would relate to both. Many thanks to the palaeontologists from Leeds University and the Palaeontological Association for inspiring our solution!

Make Your Own Fossil Casts

IMG_1345*This activity is great for children up to the age of 9/10 – though some adults have found it equally fun…

You will need:

Coffee (cold!)
Used coffee grounds
Fossils/other objects for creating imprints
Optional: small plastic tub to keep your fossil print in

If you’re taking the activity to a festival or other event, we recommend pre preparing the dough – but if you don’t mind making a mess, you can make it part of the activity!

Mix the flour and salt together, and add enough coffee to create a fairly stiff dough – not too sticky. Add in some used coffee grounds for an authentically sandy texture.

Once the dough is kneaded together, you can roll it out on some grease proof paper, or press it into a small container.


Piles of pots ready for the festival!


IMG_6049Then, all you need are some fossils suitable for making a good impression. Press them into the dough, and they will leave behind a cast. You can also use toy plastic animals to create footprint trace fossils.

If left with the lid off for a few days, the dough should harden, creating a rock like trace fossil for you to keep!

You can use this activity to link to lots of ideas about fossils. Fossil casts are the print left behind by a plant or animal on the surrounding material. What kinds of materials would be best for capturing and preserving imprints? Why do only some parts of the fossils survive? Where is the fossil itself, and what might have happened to it?

Identifying and understanding fossils was a crucial part of William Smith’s work to create his first geological map of England and Wales. By using fossils, Smith was able to establish a relative chronology which allowed him to identify strata of the same age and show where they occur at the surface.

Other activities

IMG_1341We also took along our ever popular colouring maps of William Smith’s map, and the geology of the local area.

And, of course, the GSL badge collection – with a couple of new additions for 2015…

A badge collector models the full set

A badge collector models the full set



If you have any suggestions for other mud-based educational activities, we’d love to hear them!

And remember, Earth Science Week 2015 is only 5 months away – 10-18 October. Some great activities have already been planned, and we look forward to receiving many more.

For the first time this year, we have a number of small grants available to help with running Earth Science Week events – visit our website for more information.

Many thanks to the GSL Fossil Festival team – Judi, Flo & Hazel!



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The 2015 Joint Photographic Competition

NugentM Etna beneath our Feet

c. Malcolm Nugent ‘Etna Beneath our Feet.’

The annual photography competition, organised by a number of our Regional Groups, is now open to all geologists, amateur or professional, living within the postal districts of the Southern Wales, West Midlands and North Western Regional Groups.

Last year, nearly one hundred entries were received, representing famous geological locations from Namibia to Iceland and Bude to Torquay. The winning entry was Malcolm Nugent’s ‘Etna Beneath our Feet.’

The 2015 Competition

William Smith's map of England and Wales

William Smith’s 1815 geological map, c. The Geological Society of London

2015 is the bicentenary of William Smith’s famous geological map, ‘A Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales’ (1815). The Society is also marking 2015 as the Year of Mud. It would be remiss of us to let these pass unnoticed.

So, the West Midlands Regional Group, in joint partnership with the Southern Wales and North West Regional Groups of the Society and Black Country Geological Society present a Joint Geological Photographic Competition, sponsored by Geotechnical Engineering Limited, on the theme of ‘Geologica Britannica: Exhibiting the Geology of the British Isles and Applied Geology in the British Isles’.

1st Prize

£200 Sponsored by Geotechnical Engineering Limited

plus £150 special publication gift voucher donated by Geological Society Publishing House

plus William Smith Map Reproduction and Memoir

2nd Prize

£150 Sponsored by Geotechnical Engineering Limited

plus Geological Map of Great Britain, Bicentennial edition

3rd Prize

£100 Sponsored by Geotechnical Engineering Limited

plus Geological Map of Great Britain, Bicentennial edition

4th and 5th Prize

Geological Map of Great Britain, Bicentennial edition

6th to 10th Prize

Geological Hammer USB Drive

donated by Geological Society London

Geotechnical logoYou have until midnight Tuesday 1 December to submit your images to

For detailed rules, terms and conditions please visit

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2015 Nepal Earthquake

Nepal 2015_Nepal_earthquake_ShakeMap_version_6

Nepal Earthquake ShakeMap (USGS)

In the early hours of 25 April, 2015 a magnitude 7.8 earthquake occurred in Nepal. The largest the country has experienced in over 80 years, the earthquake occurred due to thrust faulting resulting from the subducting India plate and the overriding Eurasia plate to the North.

The earthquake occurred approximately 80km to the northwest of the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu, in an area where the India plate is converging with the Eurasia plate at a rate of 45 mm/yr towards the north-northeast, driving the uplift between the India and Eurasia plates. The earthquake was followed by several aftershocks including a magnitude 6.7 earthquake on Sunday which triggered more avalanches on Everest.

Kathmandu Durbar Square before the earthquake

Kathmandu Durbar Square before the earthquake

The earthquake has devastated many areas of the Himalayan country. Its effects, including avalanches and landslides, have cut off many towns and villages. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) at the time of writing (29 April) the earthquake has claimed more than 5,000 lives, left more than 8,000 people injured and over 8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Fellows and members of the public may find the following resources useful to understand the geological context in which the earthquake occurred, the history of tectonics in this region and earthquakes more generally.

Nepal Earthquake and Seismic Hazards in the Himalaya

USGS have put together some information on their website detailing when and where the earthquake occurred and the tectonic setting with some useful maps and diagrams.

As part of GSL’s 2014 conference on Sustainable Resource Development in the Himalaya, Tim Wright of the University of Leeds gave a lecture on ‘Active Deformation and Seismic Hazard in the India-Asia collision zone’ which includes some background on the tectonics of this region. You can find his presentation on the GSL website.

Earthquakes – General Resources

Journal Papers

The Geological Society Publishing House has made a number of papers relating to Himalaya tectonics freely available on our Lyell Collection.

Geological Society web resources

Geological Society Lectures and Podcasts

Earthquakes and Tsunamis in the Modern World  – James Jackson, University of Cambridge


Donate to the DEC Nepal Earthquake Appeal at

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Lyme’s Literary and Fossil Treasures

Unearthing literary ghosts and extinct creatures in Lyme Regis, Dorset

Anthea Lacchia (@AntheaLacchia)

lyme regisIn anticipation of the upcoming Lyme Regis Fossil Festival, which takes place from May 1-3 this year, let’s set off on a literary and geological tour through the charming streets and beaches of Lyme Regis, which is also known as the “pearl of Dorset”. We will be travelling through time, so hold on to your geological hats and period bonnets! Continue reading

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General Election 2015 – Science & the party manifestos


It’s just under two weeks until the country goes to the ballot box for the General Election 2015 and the science policy community have been busy reading manifestos, collating pledges and grilling politicians. We’ve collected together some useful articles and sources on science and the general election work in today’s blog post. You can also read more about the general election and find useful resources on the Geological Society website. Continue reading

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The Society and The Map

William Smith's map of England and WalesWilliam Smith’s geological map of England and Wales turns 200 this year. Continue reading

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Earth’s Climate Evolution – a Geological Perspective on Climate Change

A guest post from Colin Summerhayes, Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge

Summerhayes-cover-designBefore we can understand how humans may be changing the climate, we need to establish a baseline. We have one in the geological record of past climate change. Continue reading

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Geology and the General Election – Voice of the Future


House of Parliament – Source Tony Hisgett, Wikimedia Commons

Following the dissolution of Parliament on 30 March the wheels of the various election campaigns are now fully in motion and election promises and party lines abound. Here at the Geological Society we have put together some resources which Fellows and members of the public may find useful when considering the economic and societal importance of geology (and science more widely) in the context of the upcoming election. You can find these on our website: there will also be a short series of blog posts on election-relevant topics, starting with the recent Voice of the Future event! Continue reading

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