Grampian and northern Highlands

Superb geology in Glen Torridon

BGS Scotland has been working in the Highlands of Scotland for over a hundred years. Currently we are building digital geological maps and models of two key areas: the north west Highlands and the Great Glen and south west Grampian Highlands.

Our expertise in Highland geology, together with our extensive data holdings, means that we are able to provide geological information and advice to underpin a range of major infrastructure developments, such as those associated with renewable energy like in the Eilrig Shear Zone.

BGS work in the Highlands is described in a range of publications, from peer-reviewed journals to books about the landscape (such as Assynt). We also work with organisations such as the North West Highlands Geopark and Lochaber Geopark to interpret the geology for all who visit the region.

North west Highlands

The north west Highlands of Scotland are geologically dominated by the Moine Thrust Zone, which contains some of the best localities anywhere in the world for study of ancient mountain belts.

Between 2002 and 2012, BGS revised the maps along the Moine Thrust Zone. The team produced bedrock maps that show the geology of the hard rocks, as well as superficial maps that show the deposits laid down during and after the last ice age.

Assynt Culmination 3D geological model

The first revised map to be published was the Assynt Special Sheet, covering an area of complex geology that is visited by students from around the world. We now have a 3D model for the Assynt Culmination that allows the user to explore this iconic region of Scottish geology. This is available as a free download.

Associated with the mapping work, BGS has collaborated with universities and industry on research into a wide range of subjects. Our research has covered the whole spectrum of geological time preserved in the British Isles, from unravelling the formation of the continental crust nearly three billion years ago (Goodenough et al., 2010) to dating the last glacial advances (Stoker et al., 2009) some 12 000 years ago.

We have found delicate sedimentary structures in some rocks that have been used to reconstruct past environments (Krabbendam et al., 2008), whilst in other parts of the north west Highlands these structures have been destroyed by mountain-building events (Leslie et al., 2008) that in turn leave their own record in the rocks.

The geological surveying in the north west Highlands has now finished, but a number of maps are still being produced. Also, a number of scientific papers are still in progress.

The geology of this area was first described in a classic Geological Survey of Great Britain memoir published in 1907. A conference in Ullapool to celebrate the centenary of this memoir has generated a Special Publication of the Geological Society of London — Continental Tectonics and Mountain Building: The Legacy of Peach and Horne.

The Great Glen, Ben Nevis and Breadalbane

The Great Glen is one of Scotland's most distinctive landscape features; it is a deeply eroded trench that runs from Inverness to Fort William along the line of a major fault system. BGS is developing a range of projects in this area. At the north east end of the Great Glen, study of the glacial history links in to mapping in the Moray Firth. Further south west, detailed studies of deformation associated with the Great Glen Fault are underpinning infrastructure development and design.

View along Loch Ness, showing the deep valley of the Great Glen

At the south western end of the Great Glen lies Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, which has been the subject of surprisingly little detailed geological study, perhaps due to the inaccessibility of its main outcrops. BGS are now working with the Lochaber Geopark team to develop products which will explain the geology of Ben Nevis and its surroundings to the many thousands who visit the region each year. Ben Nevis was first recognised as the roots of an ancient volcano in the late 19th century, and mapped by the Geological Survey in the early years of the 20th century. It represents an example of a caldera volcano, similar to its geologically better-known neighbour, Glencoe.

In neighbouring Breadalbane, BGS worked to revise the bedrock and superficial geology mapping between 2002 and 2010. New maps are now published for the Crianlarich, Killin and Loch Rannoch districts.

The Neoproterozoic Dalradian geology in these areas provides many clues to the process by which the ancient continent of Rodinia broke up, forming the Iapetus Ocean. There are many parallels with the Neoproterozoic geology of East Greenland and the Caledonian rocks of North America.


Contact Graham Leslie for further information.