Geoscience - Foundation of our Future

GEOSCIENCE SEMINARS in 2008
During 2008 two very important seminars were held to canvass the opinions of the geoscience community about the future direction of our sector.  Reviews of both seminars are provided in these pages.

1. Geoscience - Foundation of our Future.  Subsequent to this first seminar, the GSI Director, Dr. Peadar McArdle, called for feedback and comment.  This is outlined below.

2. Geoscience - Building the Future


Foundation of our Future - MAKE YOUR POINT!
A seminar held in Belfast in June 2008 considered the future of geoscience in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Some of the key issues aired are summarised below. Do you agree with them? What are the important factors for you? This is your opportunity to influence the debate: Send your views by the end of October 2008 to gsni@detini.gov.uk , gsisales@gsi.ie , or geosciences@ria.ie, in order that they be taken on board at the follow-up seminar in early December 2008.

All presentations may be viewed here.

Why Geoscience?
Goescience is essential to underpin the economic development and quality of life of modern society in areas such as:

  • Energy - Petroleum and hydrate resources, geothermal potential, nuclear energy;
  • Climate - Carbon capture and storage, characterise pace of past changes and model those anticipated in the future;
  • Water Supplies - Aquifer flow rates and composition; increased groundwater usage during climate change;
  • Comprehensive databases - Extend TELLUS to Ireland, seabed surveys to Northern Ireland; need for new databases on near-surface and urban environments.

How geoscience is done
Excellent future research and services in geoscience will require certain conditions:

  • Funding needed for a balance of “big science” programmes (Griffiths Awards type) and excellent blue skies researchers (individual awards);
  • Large comprehensive and continuously updated databases are necessary to underpin world class research and services;
  • The Irish Geoscience Graduate Programme, which is just starting, will create critical mass by pooling resources between institutes (N and S). It will develop flexible and transferable skills for researchers. A parallel development of national centres of excellence would focus expertise, analytical facilities and mobile equipment in a limited number of centres.
  • Geoscience must be collaborative and encourage interaction between industry, government and academe. There is a current lack of industrial (natural resources particularly) involvement, only partly resolved through the successful Petroleum Infrastructure Programme.
  • Geoscience issues are increasingly international and must be addressed in this context to ensure best practice, economies of scale and common standards. There are opportunities for Irish geoscientists to contribute to bilateral aid programmes.

Skills Gap
Serious concerns have been raised that we may not have enough appropriately trained geoscientists to respond to the needs of society:

  • Internationally there are more vacancies than suitably qualified applicants while 50% of existing practitioners are expected to retire within 10 years;
  • There are real worries that appropriate skills will not be sustained: can environmental/engineering skills be developed quickly enough to meet emerging needs and, if so, how do we ensure the survival of traditional (e.g., natural resources) skills?
  • Efforts are increasing to engage the interest of students and attract them to geoscience. Events under the International Year of Planet Earth are seen as beneficial and should be sustained indefinitely. The UK-Ireland Schools Seismology Programme has also been successful;
  • All geoscientists should be encouraged to engage in outreach. Geotourism and Geoparks are vehicles which facilitate this;
  • Geoscientists need to develop interdisciplinary links with other sciences (chemistry, physics, etc) while still ensuring strong cross-working with geography teachers. Geoscientists need to be represented on curriculum review committees in order to achieve this.

Communicating our message
The seminar responded very positively to calls for a more insightful approach to communications:

  • We must communicate our message in concise, familiar and understandable language;
  •  We must build trust rather than simply awareness by focusing on the interests of the audience and making emotional links to it;
  • We must be prepared to share our results from an early stage, recognising that inherent uncertainty and risk will be part of the message;
  • We may need separate strategies for communicating with opinion-makers and the interested public.

GEOSCIENCE: The foundation of our future
The seminar was held at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast on 19 June 2008 and the attendance of about seventy represented a cross-section of geoscience stakeholders from Northern Ireland and Ireland. Hosted by Mr Mark Durkan MLA, Mr Jim Wells MLA and Mr Brian Wilson MLA, the meeting was organised by the Royal Irish Academy (RIA), the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI) and the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI).

The meeting was designed to initiate a process to identify the future geoscience priorities for Northern Ireland and Ireland, and how they might be implemented over the next five years. The meeting was opened by Ms Arlene Foster MLA, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and Prof Peter Mitchell, RIA Science Secretary. A series of six presentations followed which are available on http://www.ria.ie/, http://www.detini.gov.uk/ and http://www.gsi.ie/.

The presentations reviewed the current state of geoscience in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland. The seminar went on to consider external perspectives – two from the viewpoint of European professional geological organisations (the European Federation of Geologists and Eurogeosurveys) and one from a public perspective (British Geological Survey – Scotland). The meeting engaged providers and users of geoscience knowledge in a useful debate on the contribution that geoscience can make to society and on some of the key conditions required for its success.

A follow up seminar is scheduled for early December 2008 at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. 

A review of that seminar - Building the Future - is now available here. 


Peadar McArdle
Director GSI
June 2008