Our Fossil-Fuelled Future

Next Wednesday morning, September 5th 2012, between 10 and 12, I will be chairing a session at the British Science Festival in Aberdeen.  It is called Our Fossil-Fuelled Future, sponsored by the Palaeontological Association, and will look at what use fossils are in the modern world, and whether we still need palaeontologists.

I love TMBG, but they have a slightly confused idea of what palaeontologists really do.

I realized, when I saw this post on the Geoscience Lines blog, that I'd not done enough to promote the session, so for those of you interested in coming along, or just finding out more, here is a brief run-down of what's going to happen.

Our fossil-fuelled future?

Our Fossil-Fuelled Future

10.00-10.10 - Introduction
Liam Herringshaw (Durham University/Palaeontological Association)

I will introduce the session and our guest speakers.  I will try not to waffle too much about how important palaeontology is, but I might just quote Confucius.

10.10-10.30 The Rotten Origins of Fossil Fuels
Abby Othman Wilson (University of Aberdeen)

Where do fossil fuels come from?  How dirty are they?  Are they really non-renewable?  What if we could make our own from household foodstuffs?  In this exciting (and sometimes fiery) presentation, Abby Othman Wilson will delve into the hidden stories of fossil fuels, revealing some surprising things about their origins, where they can be found, and what their future might hold.

Abby is a palaeobiologist who has recently completed her Ph.D. research at the University of Aberdeen, using biomarkers and geochemistry from a Devonian lake system to unravel a high-resolution picture of ancient climate change.

A home-made fossil-fuelled future?

10.30-10.50 Burrowing for Oil
Richard Callow (University of Aberdeen)

Fossil bones and shells tell us much about life in the past, but fossilized burrows and tracks, known as trace fossils, enable us to interpret ancient behaviour.  Burrowing creatures can also change significantly the properties of the sediments they live in.  In this talk, Rich Callow will show the value of trace fossil analysis.  When burrowed sediments turn to rock, the trace fossils can create pathways (and also barriers) through which hydrocarbons can move (or not!).   By understanding their 3D nature, we can actually reduce wastefulness when hunting oil and gas.

Rich is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Slopes group at the University of Aberdeen. His research focusses on the impact of trace fossils on deep-marine environments. 

Mud pellet-lined burrows in petroleum reservoir core

10.50-11.10 Pollen and Spores: Miniature Windows into the Past
Robert Daly (University of Aberdeen)

Sixty-five million years ago, the largest land animals ever to walk the Earth were wiped out. Various theories have been proposed to explain the demise of the dinosaurs, with massive meteorite impacts being generally held responsible.   But what on Earth does this have to do with pollen?  In this presentation, Rob Daly will reveal the surprising connection, and show how a giant crater in Ukraine tells us an extraordinary amount about extinctions, climate change, and the value of hunting fossil fuels in unusual locations.

Rob is a post-doctoral researcher on the Boltysh Impact project at the University of Aberdeen, using palynology and palaeobotany to understand climatic change across the K-T boundary.  Elsewhere at BSF 2012, images inspired by Rob's work will feature in the Fabric of the Land exhibition.

Pollen: not just beautiful, but scientifically and economically important.

11.10-11.30 Microfossils and Megabucks - Haydon Bailey (Network Stratigraphic)

Microfossils have been used as tools in hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation for over 140 years, but they have taken on an increasingly important role over the last twenty years.  With oil prices rising, the micropalaeontologist can have a major impact on oil production and company profits, just at the time when virtually all routine training of micropalaeontologists in British universities has been brought to an end.  As Haydon Bailey will explain, if action isn’t taken now to train more micropalaeontologists then these specialists may soon be as extinct as the microfossils they work on.

Haydon is a micropalaeontologist and director of Network Stratigraphic.  He specializes in biostratigraphy and using microfossils to understand petroleum reservoirs, and teaches on the new MSc in Applied Micropalaeontology at the University of Birmingham.

Chalk coccolithophores: they might be tiny, but they can be very valuable.

11.30-12.00 Discussion

For the final half-hour, the floor is open to you, the audience.  All four speakers will be available to answer your questions on any aspect of fossils, fossil fuels, and the future of palaeontology.

If you have any questions you'd like to put to the panel, please email them to me.  Alternatively, I am planning to twitter away during the event, so you can always send your questions to me that way (with the hashtag #fossilfuture).

I look forward to seeing you in Aberdeen!