Walking Through Time

Nearly three years ago, two researchers uncovered a series of footprints on a beach in Happisburgh, Norfolk. Preserved for at least 800,000 years beneath layers of sediment, the footprints had been exposed by recent storms. There was just enough time to record 3D images of them before they were swallowed up by the tide.

Photographs of Area A at Happisburgh. a. Footprint surface looking north-east. b. Detail of footprint surface. Photos: Martin Bates. (Wikipedia)

Photographs of Area A at Happisburgh. a. Footprint surface looking north-east. b. Detail of footprint surface. Photos: Martin Bates. (Wikipedia)

The prints – around 50 of them, some partial, some complete with the imprints of toes – meandered through what would once have been a river bed. Approximately five individuals, adults and children of both sexes, winding their way south along the mudflats, perhaps searching for seafood.


Dr Tori Herridge in the cave within the white Cliffs of Dover c. Renegade Pictures

‘We always think about geological time as being not on a human scale’ says Dr Tori Herridge, presenter of ‘Walking Through Time’ (Channel 4, Saturday 6th February, 8 pm), which opens with a closer look at the Happisburgh prints. ‘Which is true – but there are moments which are real, and leave their mark.

‘You get stopped in your tracks, because you think of geology as slow moving, but what we’re actually capturing when we uncover evidence like this are moments. In this case, a few individuals walking along a river bank. Footprints buried and eroded out, visible for a brief moment before they’re washed away.’

At the time the prints were made, Britain was not an island but a peninsula of Europe, joined by a land bridge to France. It is thought that the individuals who made them were migrants, adapting themselves to the colder northern climate. Theirs are the earliest known human footprints outside of Africa.


Dr Tori Herridge at the White Cliffs of Dover c. Renegade Pictures


Another moment in geological time – the catastrophic flooding which erased that land bridge – is the subject of ‘Walking Through Time’, which airs this Saturday. Thought to have taken place 450,000 years ago, the massive inundation changed the course of Britain’s history, isolating it from Europe. By visiting sites around the country, Herridge explores how Britain changed before and after the megaflood, and examines the evidence for how and when it happened.

‘After that, everything changes’ she says. But the event itself would have been relatively, geologically speaking, brief.

‘It would have involved huge volumes of water – unimaginable volumes. Hundreds of times the power of Niagra Falls, pouring over the ridge between Calais and Dover. That kind of event, the scale of it, is rarely seen in human history, but it would have been momentary. Perhaps a matter of weeks or months.’

The evidence for this flooding event is largely unseen – canyons and river channels beneath the English Channel, punctuated by tear drop shaped islands. Recent research by Jenny Collier, who features in the programme, demonstrates that these island structures were carved from the bedrock, suggesting massive flooding was the cause.

Fossil hunters


Walking Through Time BTS 2 Behind the scene shot of Dr Tori Herridge & crew at the White Cliffs of Dover c. Renegade Pictures

As well as research by professional scientists, Herridge hopes the programme will highlight the important work carried out by amateur researchers.

‘We make a deliberate attempt not to separate the two. We’ve avoided scenes set in laboratories – the programme is about fieldwork, and making discoveries yourself. This is what makes geology fun – the camaraderie, the accessibility.’

The cliffs at West Runton (Wikipedia)

The cliffs at West Runton (Wikipedia)

Among Herridge’s interviewees is Margaret Hems, discoverer with her husband of the West Runton Mammoth. The Hems were skilled amateur palaeontologists, who searched their local area following stormy weather, looking for fossils. The large bone they discovered in December 1990 turned out to be the start of a major three month excavation, uncovering an 85% complete specimen.

Like the Happisburgh footprints, the mammoth is evidence of Britain’s pre-island past. Like the footprints, it was uncovered on the Norfolk coast following storms and, like the footprints, it preserves a moment in time. A male steppe mammoth in its prime, succumbing to a leg injury around 700,000 years ago and preserved beneath layers of sediment – but not before its body had been scavenged by hyenas, evidence of which were also discovered at the site.

‘Discoveries like this help us understand how relevant geology is today’ says Herridge. ‘We shouldn’t separate ourselves from the geological present. We shouldn’t forget that features which seem permanent aren’t – things can change in an instant, and have a lasting effect.

‘I hope that, after seeing the programme, when people next go out walking and hiking and look around them, they realise they can join in themselves. There are beautiful places in Britain you can visit, which hold fascinating secrets about our past.’

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2016: The Year of Water

YEAR OF WATER GREEN 460x148px for web final





Following our inaugural themed Year of Mud, the Society has declared 2016 to be the Year of Water!

Throughout 2016, we’ll be exploring the different and varied ways in which geology and water interact, and the importance of these links to people and the environment.

Strokkur geyser, Iceland (Wikipedia)

Strokkur geyser, Iceland (Wikipedia)

‘The importance of water to geological processes cannot be overstated’ says GSL President David Manning. ‘Whether as ice, liquid or gas, water is essential to many areas of our science -rock forming processes, understanding and use of groundwater, glaciation, ocean chemistry, palaeoclimatology, living with geological hazards – the list goes on!’

Floodwater is pumped back into the retreating River Derwent at Malton on 27 December 2015 (Wikipedia)

Floodwater is pumped back into the retreating River Derwent at Malton on 27 December 2015 (Wikipedia)

David Jones, Vice President of the Geological Society and a hydrogeologist at Natural Resources Wales says ‘Following the devastating floods we’ve seen so far this winter, and those in the winter of 2013/14, a longer term view of managing river and groundwater flooding is imperative.

‘A good understanding of hydrogeology and the behaviour of the subsurface, in the context of the increasing challenges of climate change, will be essential in managing these hazards.’

Important links between geology, water development and sustainability also underpin several of the recently announced UN Sustainable Development Goals, and discussions at the recent COP 21 summit in Paris.

Water will be at the heart of the our science programme throughout 2016, through a variety of research conferences, lectures, educational activities and other events.

Delta in Eberswalde crater, Mars (Wikipedia)

Delta in Eberswalde crater, Mars (Wikipedia)

Topics will include tsunamis, groundwater and water on Mars, as well as a broad overview of water and the myriad ways it plays an essential role in processes throughout the Universe. Upcoming events include a public lecture by ITV Science Correspondent Alok Jha, author of ‘The Water Book’, and a conference focusing on Martian gullies and their Earth analogues.

‘The Year of Water will provide an opportunity to share and debate emerging research, as well as to communicate with policy makers and the wider public’ says Professor Manning. ‘We hope to highlight the vital role of water in understanding how our planet works, and how we can live sustainably on it.’

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Voice of the Future 2016 – have your say!

Image c. Royal Society of Biology

Image c. Royal Society of Biology

Every year, young scientists and engineers have the opportunity to question key political figures at the Houses of Parliament, about science policy issues which matter to them.

The researchers are nominated by various institutions and Learned Societies, and the Geological Society is currently looking for a number of representatives to attend the event. Continue reading

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New Documentary: Nature’s Wonderlands

Former President, author and palaeontologist Richard Fortey’s new BBC 4 documentary is kicking off tonight!

‘Nature’s Wonderlands: Islands of Evolution’ investigates why islands are natural laboratories of evolution and meets some of the remarkable and unique species that live on them.

Episode one, which travels to Hawaii to investigate how life colonises a newly born island, starts at 9pm this evening.

Though we don’t have a sneak preview for you, we do have this evidence of Professor Fortey meeting one of those remarkable species…

Richard Fortey

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Paid opportunity: rocks and gems workshops

the hiveOutdoor Learning company The Hive are organising a series of activities for 5 1/2 – 9 year olds (Years 1-4), and are searching for some geologists to help!

thehive-thelegendofthestolenjewels‘The Legend of the Lost Jewels’ will include a one hour ‘rocks and gems’ workshop at Eltham College, London, on the following three dates:

18th February 2016
31st March 2016
11th August 2016

The Hive are looking for geologists to facilitate the workshop. If you’re interested, please contact Caroline Leroi at caroline@thehive-kids.com.

  • The Hive run story-led outdoor missions for primary school children during school holidays. They operate from school premises, and aim to run activities that are ‘not only fun but challenging and packed with subtle learning opportunities.’


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GSL partners with Figshare to improve data discovery and use

narrow_viewGood news for GSL authors, from Dr Maxine Smith, Online Development Editor at the Geological Society Publishing House!

We’re delighted to announce the launch of our own free-to-view Figshare portal at geolsoc.figshare.com.

The portal will host GSL author supplementary material – supporting material that cannot be included within a book or journal article due to restrictions on space, file size or format. Continue reading

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New Year, New…Epoch?

Happy new year, blog readers!

The "Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken during the Apollo 17 lunar mission in 1972 (Wikipedia)

The “Blue Marble” photograph of Earth, taken during the Apollo 17 lunar mission in 1972 (Wikipedia)

While the rest of us are working on making, breaking and conveniently overlooking newly made resolutions, some in the geological community are focusing on a more fundamental resolution. It’s a subject which has been under discussion for several years, and the topic of countless meetings, articles and debates.

Now, the Anthropocene Working Group has started the year by publishing a report  on the question which has been splitting the geological community – has the human race, by our own agency, established a new geological time period? Their answer – though not the final word – is a resounding yes. Continue reading

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Door twenty four

Door 24

With the end of the year almost in sight, we’re rounding off the #geoadvent blog season with a look back at the highlights of our blogging year – featuring mud, salt dough, a last minute Christmas present suggest, and of course, dinosaur shaped cake….




Continue reading

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Door twenty three

Door 23Throughout the #geoadvent, we’ve been sharing some of the beautiful images which were submitted to our 100 Great Geosites photography competition – as well as some of the winners! Our third place went to a photograph of a geosite which is closely linked to one of our themes of 2015, William Smith and his amazing geological map of England and Wales… Continue reading

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Door twenty two

door 22

Today’s geosite in Shrophsire features arguably the most varied 100 square kilometres of geology in the world… Continue reading

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