World experts study ancient Scottish rocks

Sunday 1 September 2002

Geologists from around the World will gather in Scotland this week to study the ancient and once deeply buried rocks of the Scottish Highlands for insights into the phenomenon of rock ‘shearing’.

Experts from 27 countries will visit Scotland after attending a major international conference in London on shearing – a form of rock movement, which is thought to be one of the principle causes of earthquakes.

The truly global gathering will consist of 120 delegates countries in Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa, the Indian sub-continent, Australia and Oceania, and represents the first time that the Geological Societies of London and Australia, together with the Structure and Tectonics Division of the Geological Society of America have co-sponsored a single meeting.

The event, which runs from the 2nd to the 8th of September, will be convened by Dr Ian Alsop of the University of St Andrew’s School of Geography and Geosciences. Dr Alsop has studied shearing in rocks from Scotland, Albania, Azerbaijan, Canada, Arctic Greenland, Kazakstan and Yemen, and this year will attend US, European and UK conferences on shearing as a guest speaker. “The investigation of shearing is important as it is one of the principal mechanisms by which rocks can be pushed on top of one another to generate earthquakes and to create major mountain chains such as the Himalayas and Andes,” he said.

The process of shearing is when rocks divide into slabs and slide past one another, similar to shuffling a deck of playing cards. The conference will investigate the way in which rocks are able to flow and shear when heated. Rocks, like toffee, will shatter if hit by a hammer when cold, but if hot they have the ability to flow and shear past one another when squeezed.

A one-day conference will be held at the Geological Society of London’s office in Piccadilly today (Monday), and will focus particularly on rock shearing in Scotland. The group will then head to Scotland for a field trip to Durness in the northwest Highlands, where they will remain until Sunday.

“This characteristic of rocks is strongly dependent on how deep within the earth they have been buried. While we obviously cannot directly investigate rocks which are currently deep within the earth, we can examine older rocks which have been brought to the earths surface by millions of years of erosion and weathering. The ancient rocks of the Scottish Highlands therefore represent an ideal place to study these shearing processes and indeed were some of the first rocks to undergo such examination in the late 19th century. They may also tell us something of the processes which are operating today under modern mountain belts,” said Dr Alsop.


Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050103, or email [email protected] Ref: shearing conf pr 020902 View the latest University news at

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