Friday, 23 February 2018

EMODnet Data Ingestion Service - collect data once and use it many times!

This blog is to quickly introduce you to the EMODnet Data Ingestion service.

The European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet) consists of more than 160 organisations that together work on assembling, harmonising and making marine data, products and metadata more available. BGS are heavily involved in the EMODnet Geology project and have taken on the role as Geology thematic lead for the EMODnet Ingestion project.

The aims of this project are to reach out to organisations from public, research and private sectors who are managing marine datasets for bathymetry, geology, physics, chemistry, biology and/or human activities and who are not yet connected and contributing to existing marine data management infrastructures. We hope to motivate and support those potential data providers to release their datasets for safekeeping and subsequent free distribution.

We would really like to know if you have any suitable data which are not being routinely archived and could potentially be ingested. Please have a think, as any data would be great at this stage! There are many advantages of releasing your data and making it available! Costs can be saved, duplication of effort can be avoided and it allows your data to have greater impact by ensuring it reaches a much wider audience for future re-use.

We encourage you to use the EMODnet Data Ingestion Portal to submit your datasets. We need to test the EMODnet submission service, provide feedback to portal developers and provide evidence to EU that this project has relevance by increasing productivity of those working on marine issues, stimulating innovation in the blue economy and reducing uncertainty in our knowledge of the behaviour of the sea.

Once data are ingested via the EMODnet Ingestion Portal, data are passed to the appropriate expert national data centres for open access publishing and further integration into EMODnet data services and products. In the UK, MEDIN (Marine Environmental Data & Information Network) is as a hub for UK marine data and operates via a network of Data Archive Centres (DACs). BGS is the MEDIN DAC for Geology and Geophysics. The Offshore GeoIndex is our main data delivery method. By submitting your data, it can also be made available in this way.

For more details and the EMODnet Submission service:

For more details on MEDIN:

BGS Offshore GeoIndex:

Contact us at BGS Marine Data Enquires:

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Sampling across the Atlantic Ocean for heat and carbon…by Chris Kendrick

Chris in the Stable Isotope Facility
In a few days I will be embarking on an epic 7 week journey across the Atlantic as part of a major project called ORCHESTRA (Ocean Regulation of Climate through Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transport), one leg of the project which will be sampling the World’s oceans over the next few years. I will be joining the RRS James Cook in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 24th February and cruising across the South Atlantic Ocean, staying close to the 24oS parallel and finally docking in Cape Town, South Africa on the 11th April.

As part of BGS’s contribution to the project I will be collecting water samples throughout the journey to bring back to the stable isotope laboratory where we will analyse the samples for oxygen and carbon isotopes. I will be collecting samples from approximately 150 sampling sites from 24 different depths, giving a total of 3600 samples (that is a lot of bottles)!  The data produced will help us trace marine currants and see where carbon and heat is either absorbed by the ocean or is expelled. This is particularly important due to current increases in atmospheric CO2.

In December my sampling kit (neatly packed away in 7 metal boxes) was sent off to Southampton to be loaded onto the RRS James Cook, the boat has since took off on a scientific cruise around the Caribbean and will then make its way to Rio where the scientific crew will change over. The first couple of days will be spent unpacking and setting up scientific kit. Then on the 27th an outreach event is planned around the signing of a high level Brazil-UK agreement for a year of cooperation in science. The excitement is building! I will blog again when on the ship…
The RRS James Cook
ORCHESTRA is led by the British Antarctic Survey. More about ORCHESTRA can be found here. Full details of the ORCHESTRA programme, including the detailed descriptions of the fieldwork and model developments, are available in the Case for Support.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

FRACTURE CAPTURE! … by Catherine Pennington

BGS geoscientists at the Fractures Workshop February 2018
If you’ve ever had a look at our rather weighty website, you’ll know that the BGS is one of those organisations where it’s actually quite difficult to define what we do - because we do so much.  Even the what-is-the-British-Geological-Survey? page takes a bit of thinking about and, believe you me, those words had a lot of thinking put into them.

Trying to list everything we do would take me hours, so you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that we are a very wide range of scientists, each with our own specialism and experience, all working to understand the Earth and its environmental processes.

Which is why I was so surprised to find myself at a workshop last week whose aim was to discuss something that appears to link, pretty much, all areas of BGS: fractures.

What are fractures and what’s so important about them?

The full BGS definition of a fracture is (hold onto your hat):

Everyone clear?  They’re basically a break in the rock.  They can be a fault (a fracture where one side has moved relative to the other) or a joint (a crack). 

Examples of fractures.  Top: More or less orthogonal set of joints on a glaciated
surface in Lewisian Gneiss, west coast of Lewis, Outer Hebrides;
Bottom: Quartz-cemented fractures in Penrith Sandstone, Vale of Eden, Cumbria
Fractures are found everywhere in the Earth’s crust.  The ground is full of them.  They occur, but behave differently, in every lithology (type of geology).  They can be tiny (less than a millimetre) or huge (kilometres).  They can be filled with another material or can be a void.  They can be lone beasts or part of a huge gang that pulverise the material through which they roam.  They can also, as I learned at the workshop, seal themselves shut again so you’d never know they were even there in the first place.  Sneaky.

And they are really important for all sorts of reasons: 

Fractures control permeability (the geology’s ability to transmit fluid/gas through it).  Fractures can affect an otherwise completely solid and seemingly impenetrable rock so water runs through it like a sponge.  Not only can fractures control the amount of fluid/gas that can pass through, but also their direction – an important thing to know about when it comes to groundwater science, oil and gas exploration, CO2 storage, shale gas, geothermal energy, underground gas storage and other buried objects that must not leak or corrode such as radioactive waste.

Nearer the surface, fractures exert their influence on hazards such as landslides and sinkholes and can be responsible for the way in which the landscape has developed in the first place. 

Understanding and locating fractures is also vital when it comes to some engineering projects such as tunnels.  If you get this wrong, the tunnel may collapse, and the consequences could be extremely high.  Which is exactly what happened at one case study described at the workshop – this is such an interesting case that I am going to write this up as a separate blog post, so watch this space!

Fracture Capture*

Geoscientists at BGS have recognised the importance of being able describe and classify fractures and other discontinuities and a report was published in 2011 detailing exactly how to do it. 

British Geological Survey scheme for classifying discontinuities and fillings report

Incidentally, this is a really great report with an hierarchical classification scheme and a brilliant glossary at the back so even a numpty non-fracture-specialist like me could take it in the field and make a proper description of what is in front of me.

So with the report and all the geological mapping we have done over the last 183 years, we must have a detailed national fractures map with every fracture and joint set located and interpreted, right…? 


Fractures and fracture networks are so complex and variable that this is a really tough and massive job, particularly because fracture data haven’t been recorded systematically as part of our historic national mapping programme.  To further muddy the water, the way we think about, collect and interpret fracture data is often dependent on why we're doing it and who we're doing it for.

The future challenge: how to MANUFACTURE the FRACTURE CAPTURE (ok I’ll stop it now)

Fractures possess an array of attributes e.g. roughness, filling, orientation, spacing, persistence, aperture, important for different applications e.g. landslide susceptibility modelling, understanding groundwater movement…

Getting engrossed in discussions: Fracture Rapture? (couldn’t resist)
Fractures can be studied using different techniques.  Mapping what is visible at outcrop seems the obvious place to start, but it turns out that what is seen at the surface is not necessarily what is happening at greater depths or even laterally.  There are other resources we could use e.g. aerial photographs, aerial and terrestrial LiDAR, satellite imagery, geophysics, hydrogeological assessments, seismic techniques e.t.c. but all these methods have their biases and spatial limitations.  Data may also come from boreholes, mines, caves and tunnels, but these too are subject to limited interpretation depending on the quality and quantity of data available.

So we’re in a bit of a pickle.  We need to know more about where fractures are and how they behave; we need to consider the range of scales and crustal depths at which they occur so as to satisfy the varied requirements of our work at BGS.  We have a number of staff with experience in observing, simulating, analysing and modelling fractures and fracture networks on different rocks for different purposes.  We have a huge resource full of core and borehole logs as well as the National Geotechnical Properties Database.  Representing all this as at the national scale is not impossible, but it wouldn’t be easy and would require considerable resources.  There are many questions that need to be asked and considered.

So what next?  The workshop provided an opportunity for geoscientists to come together to present and discuss their latest research as well as to share some more historic experience.  It was agreed that the next task is to reconvene to analyse some core and visit some field sites to continue to share and nurture the practical skills we might need in the future using the diverse resources and knowledge we have.

Another workshop is being planned too.  I’ll keep you posted…


For more information, please contact Richard Haslam, Maarten Krabbendam or Dee Flight.

*Credit where it’s due

Full credit is given to Vanessa Banks who coined the term ‘Fracture Capture’.  Genius.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Subterranean science in a salt Clive Mitchell

From L-R: Prof Mike Stephenson, Clive
Mitchell and Dr Katherine Daniels from BGS
in the Boulby Underground Lab
Clive Mitchell from the BGS recently visited Boulby Potash Mine in North Yorkshire with colleagues from the BGS, NERC, Heriot Watt University and Newcastle University to learn all about the subterranean science being carried out in the Boulby Underground Laboratory (BUL).

We made an early pre-breakfast start from the hotel in Whitby as we had to be at the mine for 7.15am in order to get through two inductions and a hasty breakfast. Our guide and chaperone was Professor Sean Paling, the Director of the lab, who cheerfully lead us through the day.

We quickly suited up in bright orange overalls plus steel toe capped boots and shin guards, hard hats with ear defenders and miners lamp, a chunky belt and the all-important self-rescuer (a shiny metal box that container a breather to scrub carbon monoxide out of the air in an emergency).

We were each presented with two tally tokens, V6 in my case, which had to be surrendered to enter and leave the mine. Don’t lose them we were told! We descended with the mining shift around 8.30am – I was not entirely sure of the time as I had to leave my electronic and battery operated devices on the surface. This is because of the risk of explosive gas in the mine. The descent took the count of 300 elephants in my head (roughly 5 minutes).

Boulby Potash Mine is the deepest mine in the UK (down to 1300m) and has operated since the 1970s. Potash (a mix of potassium bearing salts, the most valued being sylvine, potassium chloride, KCl) is used in fertilizers, chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Roadways have been tunnelled into the underlying halite (sodium chloride, NaCl) as it is more competent. The extracted halite forms one of the products of the mine and is mostly used for road de-icing. More recently the mine has started to produce polyhalite (hydrated potassium, magnesium, calcium sulphate) which is a completely new product used in fertilisers.

Visiting group in halite roadway, Boulby Potach Mine. From L-R: Prof Sean
Paling, BUL; Clive Mitchell, BGS; Prof David Manning, Newcastle University;
Prof John Underhill, Heriot-Watt University; Amber Vater, NERC;
Dr Lizzie Garratt, NERC; Dr Liz Felman, NERC; Prof Mike Stephenson, BGS;
Dr Katherine Daniels, BGS.
The 15 minute walk along the salt roadways to the lab was a slightly surreal experience. It is very dry and hot (temperatures get up to 35oC and higher in the mine). The 8m wide tunnels are maintained with rock bolts, mesh and metal bands. In places, large hexagonal patterns can be made out in the ceiling; these are the infilled evidence of evaporation cracks that formed at the surface of salt pans and are close to the upper surface of the halite beneath the potash.

On reaching the lab we suited up in paper overalls, hard hats and shoe covers as it operates as a clean room. Boulby Underground Laboratory is an impressive facility that is operated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). It did feel a little like Moon Base Alpha in reverse. As a science facility it exists because it is buried deep below the ground in a salt deposit. This acts to shield the lab from the majority of cosmic radiation that occurs at the earth’s surface. As a consequence it is a comparatively ‘quiet’ environment to conduct fundamental research into dark matter which is thought to form the missing 85% of the mass of the known universe but remains unseen. In addition, the lab has expanded its research activities to encompass muon tomography to image the uptake of CO2 by carbon capture and storage, astrobiological research into life found in extreme environments such as the salt brines in the mine and it acts as a testbed for tools to be used by the ExoMars rover that is planned for the 2020 mission to Mars. An excellent article on the lab and its science was published in Geology Today (Vol. 33, No. 4, 2017).

From L-R: Polyhalite (hydrated potassium, magnesium, sodium sulphate - this will eventually take over from potash as the
main output of Boulby Mine. Halite (rock salt, sodium chloride) from roadway at 1100m depth in Boulby Potash Mine.
Our 4 hour mission to the mine went very quickly and we were whisked back to the mine shaft to leave with the 1.10pm shift change. It was another 300 elephants back to the surface world. Some of us emerged back above ground clutching samples of halite, tangible evidence of our slightly out of this world experience in the subsurface.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Geochemistry and “sea elephants” guest blogger Debbie Wall-Palmer

I first stumbled across atlantid heteropods (a very tiny swimming snail rather oddly called a sea elephant because they have a type of trunk) while looking for benthic foraminifera in Caribbean sediment samples during my Masters project at the University of Plymouth. It took me a long time to find out what these tiny, beautiful, delicately coiled shells were, because there are so few specialists working in this field. This little known group of planktonic snails that have a foot adapted for swimming, and a trunk that gives the common name sea elephants intrigued me. Now after almost 10 years working on calcareous plankton, I have the opportunity to continue researching atlantids as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the Naturalis Biodiversity Centre in Leiden, Netherlands.

Despite the current surge in research upon the aragonite shelled pteropods and their response to ocean acidification, the atlantid heteropods, which also have an aragonite shell (an unstable form of calcite) and live in the upper ocean, have barely been considered. This is largely due to a lack of baseline data on diversity and distribution, and a lack of identification skills. So, in pursuit to find out fundamental information about the atlantids I teamed up with Melanie Leng and Hilary Sloane in the Stable Isotope Facility at the BGS to answer the question ‘at what depth do atlantids live?’ Understanding the vertical distribution of planktonic gastropods is essential when considering the effects of imminent ocean acidification and climate change. It has long been hypothesised that the atlantid heteropods reside in the upper 250 m of the ocean, but this is a very broad definition of their habitat. Previous studies using opening and closing plankton nets have given us snippets of information about vertical distributions. However, these are often restricted to a small geographic region, or to only a few species. We took a different approach, using a combination of museum collections to look at broad distributions and migration patterns, and shell geochemistry, to pin point exactly where shells are calcified.

The tiny sea elephant with its trunk is only a few mm across
Species collection data (species, depth, time) were collated from publications and from several museum collections. This revealed two patterns of atlantid heteropod vertical migration. Small species remained in shallow waters of <140 m at all times, whereas larger atlantids migrated to deep waters during the day, returning to shallow waters at night. The data revealed that some atlantids probably migrate to even deeper waters than we anticipated (>600 m), highlighting that the atlantids may be affected by a shallowing aragonite lysocline in addition to surface water acidification. To look closer at the depth of shell calcification, we analysed oxygen isotope ratios of atlantid shells from the Atlantic Ocean, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean. When atlantids produce their shells they incorporate oxygen and carbon (and many other elements) from the water in which they live, trapping a chemical signature of the water within their shells. We used this chemical signature, in addition to water temperature and salinity, to determine the depth at which the atlantids calcified their shells. The data revealed that calcification takes place within the upper 150 m of the water column for all 16 of the species analysed. This depth is linked to concentration of chlorophyll (algae) in the water and is likely a region of abundant food. Atlantids are carnivorous, but their planktonic prey feed on algae and will have high numbers where there is abundant chlorophyll. This region is projected to experience the earliest and greatest anthropogenic ocean changes, strongly indicating that atlantid heteropods will be adversely affected in the near future.

You can read more in our article published in Marine Ecology Progress Series

Debbie Wall-Palmer is a marine biologist and micropalaeontologist working on calcareous plankton at Naturalis Biodiversity Centre.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Fieldwork Diaries: people, places and Eleni Wood and Stacy Phillips

What happens when two BUFI students who are passionate about science communication, join forces to come up with a way of sharing their stories? Well, they create a podcast of course!

Eleni Wood & Stacy Phillips are geology PhD Researchers at The Open University who are investigating orogenic processes in Bhutan, Eastern Himalaya. As BUFI students funded by CASE partnerships with the BGS, they work with Dr Nick Roberts at NIGL and use isotopic tracers and geochronological techniques to understand what happens in the core of mountain belts.
Having collected some amazing stories of their own from their fieldwork adventures, they decided there needed to be a platform for people to be able to share their incredible tales and experiences from fieldwork. Thus, they created the Fieldwork Diaries podcast

What is Fieldwork Diaries?

Fieldwork is an integral part to answering our big questions about how our little blue planet works.Researchers travel far and wide, gathering data that helps us better understand the Earth’s processes. But, fieldwork is also all about the places you go, the people you meet and the unexpected things you learn along the way. In this podcast you’ll get to hear all the weird and wonderful stories of fieldwork from the people who have been there and done it. You’ll find out about the highs, the lows, and the science that has come out of their adventures.

In our first 8 episodes we have travelled far and wide, just check out our map! We’ve travelled from Nicaragua to the Himalaya, from Indonesia to Uganda, even from Antarctica to Mars! We’ve heard about everything from camping next to active volcanoes and how to fix your field equipment in ingenious ways, to getting up close and personal with animals such as elephants, penguins, and blue sheep. We’ve interviewed a range of brilliant researchers investigating a variety of questions, including how the Himalayan mountains were built, how can we better understand volcanic hazards, and how can we use the information we know about the Earth to understand how glaciers on Mars work.
As well as keeping you entertained, we hope that these stories inspire you to carry out some fieldwork of your own! And we are here to help you along the way, by providing you with the resources you need to plan your next expedition. Check out our Links page for more information.

Who are Fieldwork Diaries?

Fieldwork Diaries is the brainchild of Eleni Wood, a geologist and PhD researcher at The Open University. She’s interested in all things mountainous, and is currently working on rocks from the Himalayas, trying to figure out how deep they got buried, what happened to them down there, and how they’ve made their way back to the surface. Eleni has a passion for fieldwork that has taken her all over the world. Her first taste of fieldwork was helping organise an expedition to Greenland in 2013 for an undergraduate project. She’s been there, done that, and made the video, and it’s her enthusiasm to pass on this knowledge and learn about other people’s travels that led to the creation of this podcast, which she hosts, produces and edits.
Eleni’s creative assistant in this venture is Stacy Phillips, also a rock-loving PhD student at The Open University. If it’s a rock that used to be molten, Stacy wants to know about it. Her research involves looking at granite (formerly molten rocks) and investigating how they melted in the first place, and what effect this had on how the Himalayan mountains were built. Her geological career has taken her from Scotland, to California, to Canada and her love of an epic vista has turned her into a bit of an amateur photographer. She’s the lady behind the lens for all the in-house podcast photos, and is the website and social media guru.
Our podcast home is at, where you’ll find all of our episodes, biographies of the people we’ve interviewed, and a stunning gallery of fieldwork photos from our researchers. You can also find our episodes on iTunes, Stitcher, and many other podcast sites.  Subscribe to us on the website, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram to keep up to date with our latest episodes and news.
And if you’ve got a story you’d like to tell then please do get in touch via our website contact page or through Twitter. We’d love to hear from you!
The BGS University Funding Initiative (BUFI) directly funds university collaboration. The aim is to encourage and fund science primarily at the PhD level and at present there are around 80 PhD students on our books who are based at about 35 UK universities and research institutes.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

A major advancement in isotope geochemistry capability at the Andi Smith

From L-R: Chris Brodie (Thermo Scientific), Angela Lamb
and Andi Smith at the new IsoLink.
Last week the Stable Isotope Facility (part of the NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory and the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry at the BGS) took delivery of a new “Elemental Analyser IsoLink and Delta V Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer” from Thermo Scientific. This new instrumentation will drastically improve stable isotope analysis of carbon, nitrogen, sulphur, hydrogen and oxygen from a wide range of different materials. Here Andi Smith explains some of the advantages of this new equipment and plans for future collaboration with Thermo Scientific to develop the instrumentation...

The last few months have seen a large amount of activity in the stable isotope labs, preparing for a new elemental analyser (EA) and mass spectrometer to be delivered and installed. This included a major lab reorganisation including new gas lines, electricity and air handling to accommodate the new instrument. This new instrument is the stable isotope facilities 9th mass spectrometer, and will offer great new capability and flexibility for the facility.

The new IsoLink system offers both traditional combustion and high temperature pyrolysis within one EA, meaning that we can analyse the stable isotope ratios of a whole range of elements (C, N, S, O and H), all within one system, and often simultaneously. One of the great steps forward with this new EA is the capability to analyse carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotopes from the same sample. This is technically difficult due to the high ratio of carbon to sulphur in most environmental samples. This new system uses a novel temperature ramping technique to amplify the sulphur signal making triple element analysis a reality. This offers a great step forward for researchers who are interested in the relationship between these elements and for those who have precious or size limited samples. The new technology also significantly decreases the amount of helium used which significantly lowers the cost and reduces our demand for helium, a finite global resource. We envision this new capability to be of great interest to environmental change, archaeological, palaeoclimate and geological researchers. Examples of the improvements in analyses include sulphur isotope analysis of organic materials such as kerogen, which are difficult to combust; very low sulphur concentration analysis in materials such as wood and collagen and simultaneous multi element analysis (C, N, S and O, H).  In addition, the IsoLink is also far more sensitive than our current instruments, meaning we will be able to analyse significantly smaller samples. One of the areas we will be concentrating on is to work towards drastically reducing the sample size required for oxygen isotope analysis of nitrate, sulphate and phosphate materials, with an aim to  improve our ability to apply isotopes as environmental tracers. We hope that the new IsoLink will allow us to achieve these method developments whilst retaining world leading levels of precision and sample throughput.

Thanks to this new investment there are many new and exciting collaborations and instrument developments in the pipeline, watch this space for updates….

Please contact either Angela Lamb or Andi Smith if you want to learn more.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Back to geoscience research after a career Andrea Snelling

Working in research is brilliant but at times it can be tough. Post-doctoral work often means working on short-term contracts ranging from a couple of months to several years, with the constant shadow of where or when the next position will be. Trying to get a foot in in the first place can be extremely hard and finding a permanent position can feel like an impossible goal. There is always so much competition and it often feels as if you are on the back foot and of course there is the perpetual voice of doubt of “when will I be found out?”

Taking a career break as an early career researcher could perhaps be viewed as less than smart but sometimes life just works out that way and anyway when is a good time to take a career break? The bigger issue perhaps is how do you get back in again? If you want to return to research following some time out, especially if you haven’t got a job to go back to can be a big challenge. So many doors seem to have closed, techniques have moved on and your publication record has likely gone into dormancy. From personal experience I felt like I’d blown my chances of working in research, I’d made a decision to take some time out, and getting back in was proving difficult. It’s hard not to take job rejection personally, especially when vacancy after vacancy gets filled with others who have more recent relevant experience. Job applications are draining, interviews are nerve wracking and rejections are demoralising, but somehow you keep going, just one more.

I’d got to the “just one more attempt” before facing up to the “I’m going to need to make a career change” place when I found out about the Daphne Jackson Trust Fellowship scheme. They offer a fellowship for people who have had to take a career break of more than 2 years and, along with a host institution provide funding and support, including retraining for a part-time, two year research position in a STEM subject. It seemed to be the perfect opportunity to return to research and there was a sponsored position available at the University of Nottingham. I allowed myself a small sideways look at hope.

I knew I wanted to get back into palaeoclimate research using diatoms (photosynthesising algae) for silicon and oxygen stable isotope analysis. I had the basis of an idea of what I wanted to do and so I approached a contact in the School of Geography that were happy to support me. The application process is rigorous and there are several selection stages to go through before you are invited to put together a proposal of the research idea, which is then peer reviewed. It felt empowering to write the proposal for a project that I hoped I would get the opportunity to complete and the support from both the trust and university was exceptional. 

Being offered the fellowship was amazing and renewed my faith in myself that this was something I could do and that other people believed I could do it too, a feeling which had been lacking since I’d decided to return to work.

I’m now three months into my fellowship: Assessing the role of biogeochemical cycling in the North Pacific and the Bering Sea through the Mid Pleistocene Transition. I’m up to my eyes in sample preparation and I’m looking forward to learning new techniques in silicon isotope analysis with the Stable Isotope Facility within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry at the BGS. I’m really happy to be back in the depths of research and the potential of what is yet to come.

Andrea has started her Fellowship working with George Swann at the University of Nottingham and Melanie Leng at the BGS.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Why do we need to know what's under our cities? And what's it got to do with Icebergs?! ... by Catherine Pennington

Drill auger sections and debris on the London
Underground track (photograph courtesy of Network Rail)
Do you remember when a London Underground tunnel was accidentally drilled into by a piling rig from a construction site above it?  It happened near Old Street Station in March 2013 and, thanks to the driver of an out-of-service passenger train reporting it immediately, no one was hurt. 
"This was a serious incident that could have ended very differently had it not been for the vigilance and prompt reporting and actions of our drivers. We carry two million people a year on the Northern City Line"   First Capital Connect managing director Neal Lawson, as reported by the BBC.
The construction site was 13 metres above the tunnel and because the location of the tunnel wasn't shown on any map available to the site developer or the local planning authority, Network Rail was not consulted during the planning application stage.  As a result, no one knew the tunnel and the drills were going to collide.

It also turns out that when the Rail Accident Investigation Branch examined the incident, over half the piles intended for the site would have crashed their way through the tunnel, had they been constructed. 

You can read more about it in the RAIB Rail Accident Report.

This kind of scenario, where an asset (e.g. railway tunnel) is damaged or affected by something else (e.g. a drill), is known as a strike.

How on earth can a 'strike' happen with today's advanced detailed mapping technology?

This situation could have been avoided entirely had the data about the ground beneath the construction site been coordinated and available to the right people at the right time.  Sadly, this incident is just one of many.

At the moment, subsurface information is quite tricky to get at unless you know what you are doing.  Data quality can be variable - entirely absent or poor.  Meanwhile political and organisational boundaries make it difficult to get a wider picture of the subsurface conditions.  Ultimately, there is no central digital map showing what is present, exactly where it is and what issues you need to be aware of.

An incomplete view of subsurface data can have costly and far-reaching outcomes.   As well as damage to the underground assets themselves, other consequences include environmental costs and economic costs associated with the millions of hours of road disruption, huge repair and replacement costs, project re-designs and overruns. The Department of Transport estimates that street works account for an estimated cost of £4.3bn annually. Meanwhile the Treasury estimated in 2013 that greater cross-infrastructure collaboration can save the economy an estimated £3bn.

Introducing Project Iceberg

Project Iceberg aims to address the serious issue of the lack of information about the ground beneath our cities and the un-coordinated way in which the subsurface space is managed. This is an exploratory project undertaken by the British Geological Survey, Future Cities Catapult and the Ordnance Survey

The long-term goal is to help make future urban land development a safer investment through better management of the information that is held about the subsurface.  It will also improve the way data are managed and coordinated.  The full potential of subsurface data – when integrated with other city data - needs to be countered against the separate delivery of data and services which are often incentivised on efficiency over better (long term) outcomes.

With national subsurface data integrated with surface data from our cities, new technologies can be developed and approaches to urban planning can be streamlined and improved. Would we see augmented reality being used to view the accurate location of pipes before they dig? Sustainable drainage schemes being modelled to help manage surface water and reduce the pressure on the water pipe network? Quicker and more accurate estimates of the costs of remediating land for housing? A speedier conveyancing process for homebuyers? Project Iceberg aims to explore these opportunities and potential benefits to support integrated urban planning.

Stephanie Bricker, British Geological Survey
Stephanie Bricker is leading the project and says:
"Our study aims to enable a means to discover and access relevant data about the ground’s physical condition and assets housed within it.  This needs to be in a way that is suitable for modern, data driven decision making processes and in a way that is meaningful for city practitioners".

What are we likely to find in the ground beneath a city?

The short answer is ... a lot.  It's a complex, highly variable environment that has been through multiple phases of development.  Not only are the natural ground conditions varied and often highly disturbed, but the ground contains a large number of built structures and utilities.  There are gas mains, sewers, water supply pipes, drains, oil pipelines, old mine workings, tunnels, power cables, telecom cables, boreholes, landfills, basements... and the list goes on.  These are owned or managed by different entities, making the job of uniting data quite an undertaking.  As well as assets, there's geological information that needs to be taken into account for the design of foundations, slopes, retaining walls, tunnels, roads, rail and more.

Take a look at this:

©Future Cities Catapult

And what's it got to do with Icebergs?

It's well known that a large proportion of an Iceberg lies below the surface (Isostasy).  The same is true of our cities.  We rely on the ground for a wide range of applications: for example provision of natural resources and housing of critical infrastructure and utilities.  When it comes to planning, we often focus on the visible parts of our towns and cities and forget the complex and valuable ground beneath our feet – the name Project Iceberg is a reminder not to forget what you can’t see!


For more information, you can contact Stephanie Bricker at BGS or see Project Iceberg

Friday, 12 January 2018

Sharing AGS data via HoleBASE Rachel Dearden

After two years of work, our BIM for the subsurface project, funded by Innovate UK is starting to yield the first of its exciting deliverables. The project was funded by the Digitising the Construction Sector and that is exactly what we have set out to do; to enable the geotechnical industry to access and share digital data. This blog describes the first of our project outcomes that have been achieved working collaboratively with Keynetix and Atkins.

So the problem…

BGS have a huge archive of scanned borehole records. These provide unique insights to the 3D make-up of the geology beneath our feet and provide the geotechnical industry with an unrivalled source of subsurface data. We know that UK industry find this resource incredibly valuable, but it is analogue and we know that many hours are spent transcribing our borehole records into digital format for onward use.

The solution moving forwards… 

The geotechnical industry has for some time adopted the Association of Geotechnical and geoenvironmental specialists (AGS) digital format for borehole data. Transferring borehole data in this format allows the industry to share data more easily, load it into a range of software types, create bespoke graphical logs and also re-use the data for creating 2D cross sections and 3D geological models. The AGS format has been specifically designed for the sharing of geotechnical data and thus our project aimed to make this a reality from the BGS archive; we wanted the ensure that the National Geoscience Data Centre not only archived and shared analogue borehole data, but also digital AGS data.

Sharing is key here

Our aim was to make it as easy as possible for the geotechnical industry to upload AGS data to the archive and also to download the data that we hold. Where is there a better place to locate this interface than in one of the UK’s leading borehole data management software packages? Working with Keynetix, we developed two webservices accessible from within HoleBASE SI.

Our first development is an AGS download function that allows users to explore the AGS data we hold via a mapping interface, select relevant AGS boreholes and then download these files directly to HoleBASE SI. These files can then be incorporated into projects in the same way as any other AGS data but each of the locations is marked as historical in HoleBASE SI so it is easy for the data user to see the origin of each borehole they are using.

The usefulness of such a service is dependent on the volume and quality of the data uploaded to the archive, so the second function we developed was an AGS upload function that allows HoleBASE SI users to select their own data and upload this to the BGS AGS archive directly. This service validates the data and ensures that the donator provides sufficient metadata such that the data is good quality and can be shared and re-used. If you want more information about what constitutes good AGS data, take a look here.

So now the proof will be in the pudding…

The service is live. Please donate your data to the archive and in return take advantage of the growing archive of AGS borehole data that will ultimately improve our knowledge of the UK’s subsurface.

Now, if you aren’t a HoleBASE SI user, don’t despair. You can upload data (AGS, site investigation reports or a whole range of other geological data) to our new ingestion portal and you can search data that has been donated to us via the donated data search portal . We’re working on a mapping interface for AGS data, but you’ll have to wait a little longer for that.


I’m worried that my AGS files contain sample analysis data that is confidential.
  • Uploads from HoleBASE SI exclude all contaminant data. You can choose to upload just the data you want to
I have data but it’s not mine, can I upload it?
  • We do need you to get permission from the data owner to upload your data. This allows us to openly share it onwards.
How many AGS files can I download at any one time?
  • Just 10 at the moment, but once we understand how robust our system is to large downloads we intend to increase this.
Are you going to transcribe your analogue borehole records?
  • We’d love to, but we don’t have the resource to do this. If you transcribe our analogue records, feel free to upload it.
Is the AGS data you receive uploaded to the borehole scans map interface?
  • Yes, we compile a log from the AGS data and upload it to the analogue borehole scans map.
Is this service free?
  • Yes!
What versions of AGS file do you accept?
  • Version 3 or version 4
What versions of AGS file can I download? What AGS groups can be downloaded?
  • We’re providing AGS 4.0 downloads as standard. We share all the mandatory groups and the GEOL and LOCA groups at present, but plan to expand this. The original uploaded AGS file ismade available through our donated data search portal
Can I access the originally deposited AGS file?
  • Yes, there is a link on the metadata file that comes with the AGS data when you download it, or you can get the original file from the donated data search portal
If I state that the data is confidential what happens?
  • We don’t release the data openly until the confidentiality period that you state has passed. We don’t want to encourage the deposit of data that is confidential forever – that’s not very useful to us.