As a taxpayer in the UK, it has always struck me as ironic that, for freely available information, images, publications - and, I should add, very personal help with enquiries - I have for years relied on the US Geological Survey: their web resources are extraordinary. My guilt, such as it was, has always been assuaged by the fact that I was a US taxpayer for close to twenty years - I could rationalise that I was simply enjoying a return on my investment. My own national geological survey, the BGS (you can infer what the "B" stands for) has historically been, to put it bluntly, completely useless as a resource for the country's citizens (well, actually, "subjects," beholden and daily filled with gratitude to our sovereign as we are). But now, as part of the celebration of its 175th anniversary, the BGS has opened up, given us grateful subjects a free glimpse under its skirts, as it were.
"BGS OpenScience" is a great start to providing access to the resources of the survey and the geology of the UK. I have only begun to explore what's available, but, like, I suspect, all writers - particularly of blogs like this one - I am always on the lookout for images that I cannot supply from my own collection. And, furthermore, there's that great satisfaction in viewing images of geological phenomena - landscapes and structures that lead the viewer to say "wow - got to add that to my list of places to go." But then there's also the fascination of scale, views of our planet that cross many orders of magnitude. So, in my preliminary investigations of the BGS site, I went straight to "pictures," followed this through to the "GeoScenic" image collection, selected "Best of BGS images" and then randomly decided on "Rocks and Minerals under the microscope." Hence the images at the head of this post which really caught my eye (among the more dramatically coloured images of igneous and metamorphic rocks under cross-polarised light).
They are of glacial sediments, sands, silts and clays, from locations around the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland. Some of them are probably lake deposits, according to the description. But what's remarkable is the exquisite detail of deformation - microscopic folds and faults formed not by tectonic processes, not by the crashing of continents and the building of mountains, but simply by the weight and movement of ice. Regardless of what forces deform materials, the results, the reaction of those materials, is governed by the laws of physics and scale is irrelevant. These images could equally well be cross-sections of the Alps or the Appalachians. And they are wondrous examples of nature's art.
One gripe that I have is that the descriptions of the images are woefully inadequate - there is minimal accompanying explanation. I suspect, since these are soft sediments, that these may be microscope images, but of peels of the sediment. And I can't tell you the exact scale of the image, which is irritating, to say the least. But at least it's a start - I doubt that, for sheer scope of information, the BGS site will ever rival the USGS, where every Professional Paper, every circular, in fact essentially everything they have ever produced, is available to download. But the OpenScience site is a great, and long-overdue, resource, well-worth exploration.
[Images credit the British Geological Survey; image references P576938, P576937, P576935]