UCL Department of Chemical Engineering


Understanding the formation and trapping of hydrocarbons in Wessex Basin - Fieldwork at Dorset

23 January 2020

At the first term of this academic year, during the reading week, students from the Global Management of Natural Resources (GMNR) M.Sc. programme went on a four day long field trip to Dorset in southwest England.

The group, on its way to Durdle Door from Lulworth Cove. PC: Alex Amin

Famous for its ‘Jurassic Coast’ and rich fossils, Dorset is also the location of the petroliferous Wessex Basin that extends further into the English Channel. This field trip was an opportunity for the students to looks into the different rock types, some as old as ~ 250 million years, to understand the evolution of this basin hosting the largest onshore oilfield in western Europe, the famous Wytch Farm. The field trip was a component of the module ‘Geology for Global Managers and Engineers’.

Students measuring the thickness of the rock beds. PC: Prof. A.P. Jones
The field sites visited from the west to east include Ladram Bay, Lyme Regis, Charmouth, West Bay, Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door. These sites were visited in order of their age starting from the older rocks in Ladram Bay to the much younger units in Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door. The students assessed the different rock types in the light of their plausible role in the hydrocarbon trap formation as potential source, reservoir and cap rocks. They also witnessed evidences of landslides and coastal erosion resulting in coastal features, some unique to Dorset.

The basin rests on older, harder granitic rocks that have been mined in the past for metals such as tin and copper. The group visited Poldark Mine at Helston in Cornwall, an underground tin mine extending down to a depth of ~100 feet. Although not active at present, the students could see the tin lodes as well as get the feel of mining operations including tunnelling and regular dewatering. The insights to the lives of the miners from the 18th century provided by the local guides was an added bonus. And, the Cornish Pasties were a delight! The trip ended with a wonderful presentation at Camborne Mines by Dr. Robin Shail, covering aspects of current natural resources in Cornwall including most recent developments in the field of lithium mining.

The field trip was organised and led by Dr. Sudeshna Basu (Chemical Engineering and Earth Sciences). She was supported by Drs. Isobel Mackay and Alex Norori-McCormac (Chemical Engineering), Prof. Adrian Jones and Kate Laxton (Earth Sciences), and Alex Amin (ex-student from GMNR). It was a wonderful learning environment in a picturesque setting with a natural laboratory at one's disposal.