Lessons of the landscape

Stuart Monro on White Island , New Zealand's most active volcano in the Bay of Plenty.
Stuart Monro on White Island , New Zealand's most active volcano in the Bay of Plenty.

PROMINENT Scottish geologist Stuart Monro will be in the Borders to talk about geology next week.

The professor is the latest to give a talk in the Royal Scottish Geological Society’s (RSGS) programme of winter lectures.

Stuart Monro at Muktinath on the Annapurna circuit.

Stuart Monro at Muktinath on the Annapurna circuit.

The scientist, who played a large part in setting up Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, will address his audience in the Heriot-Watt campus in Netherdale, Galashiels, on Tuesday (February 26).

He said: “What I hope to do is show people various examples of what they can infer just by observation of the landscape.”

He will share the secrets of some of the most dramatic places on earth he’s visited, such as Iceland, New Zealand and Nepal.

He will take as a starting point, James Hutton, the Borderer widely regarded as the father of modern geology, and talk of developments since then.

Prof Monro, 65, was born and bred in Aberdeenshire, and his interest in rocks has been lifelong.

“My dad worked in the granite industry and would come home with these wonderful samples of what he would call granite from all over the world,” he said. “I got quite fascinated with that, that was probably my main introduction to being a geologist.”

But the young Prof Monro wanted to be a farmer, so he went to Aberdeen university to read soil science. Geology was part of the curriculum and he did both up to second year when he had to choose between the two

“I decided on geology, I think probably because there were more opportunities for jobs.”

Geology’s gain was farming’s loss as Prof Monro, OBE, spent 34 years in scientific research as principal geologist with the British Geological Survey. He is a non-executive director of the Edinburgh International Science Festival, chair of the Earth Science Trust, and was the first independent co-chair of the Scottish Science Advisory Council. He has taught geology at all levels in the Open University and has been a member of the council of the Open University.

He was seconded to set up the science stories of Our Dynamic Earth 17 years ago.

“I became involved in telling the story from the rocks. There are so many stories to tell and to elucidate the story, you have to be able to read the landscape. That’s what I find fascinating, stories and rocks. I’ve enjoyed every minute.”

Of his talk, he said: “I just want to take people on a journey. I will be looking at what happens when continents collide, we’ll be looking at mid-ocean ridges and what happens in a hot spot like Tenerife and New Zealand, and some of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world,” he said.

Prof Monro enjoys the teaching aspects of his career and inspiring young people to be interested in earth science, and supporting teachers and schools who want to teach earth science, he said.

“Kids are fascinated by dinosaurs and volcanoes – what a wonderful way to teach them chemistry, biology and physics: it links it back to the real things like dinosaurs and volcanoes and it takes a holistic view.”

“All our resources have a geological origin in one way or another and we need to understand how they are formed, why and how we can recycle them.

“If we are living on a dynamic planet like planet Earth we have to learn to cope with volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. We need to know something about how the earth works, not necessarily to be a geologist, but just to be a citizen of the 21st century.”

The talk starts at 7.30pm and tickets, available at the door, are £8 for adults, free for RSGS members, students, and under-18s.