Shetland student Shaun Fraser returned home this week to carry out work on a new geological survey of the isles’ most famous fault line.
The 21-year-old geophysics student is completing his last year of undergraduate studies at the University of Edinburgh, and is studying the Walls Boundary Fault as part of his final project.
Shaun, who lives in Tresta, and course mate Mike Staddon, 22, from Oxford, were hopeful of making some interesting discoveries. They began their work on Wednesday, near where the fault line meets the sea at Ollaberry, before moving their studies to the Bixter area the next day.
Shaun said: “This is the first time that work like this has ever been done on the Walls Boundary Fault, it has never been studied from a terrestrial perspective. There may even be academic implications. We’re aiming to clarify exactly where the fault line is on land and investigate its properties.”
In order to do so, the students will be using a piece of equipment called a gravimeter, a box-like in-strument which is used to measure local gravitational activity.
“The gravimeter will be used to measure the strength of the natural gravity field around the fault line, as it picks up any tiny fluctuations that become apparent,” Shaun explained. These readings can then be used to plot out the dimensions of the fault line.
The Walls Boundary Fault, first recognised in 1879, is believed to be a continuation of the Great Glen Fault, which is one of the largest in the UK and runs through mainland Scotland.
The line end at Ollaberry is considered one of the best examples of such a feature anywhere in Britain, due to the fact that the schism has been partly eroded by waves, making the fault line more visible. However, much of the rest of the fault has never been accurately plotted, something which Shaun and Mike are hoping to achieve.
Shaun said: “Shetland has a far more interesting geology than most places south, and is an International Geopark. Whereas most students choose projects around Edinburgh that have been done to death, it’s nice to get the chance to take uni stuff home. It makes you appreciate what we have here.”
Shaun will be starting a PhD course at Aberdeen University when his current studies come to an end.
New surveys of Shetland fault lines may be of particular interest due to recent earthquake activity being felt around the isles – with minor tremors being felt near Unst, Aith and Fair Isle in recent years.