UK scientists get their ‘rocks off’ with new underground observatories

Scientists have launched a ‘world’s first’ open data source of underground observatories aimed at putting scientific evidence ‘into the heart’ of decision making on the natural environment.

The British Geological Survey (BGS), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and researchers from 20 leading earth science institutes have joined forces to provide data, information and knowledge on the rocks beneath our feet.

The data will come from UK Geoenergy Observatories which will be more than 100 boreholes in three different UK locations: Cardiff, Cheshire and Glasgow.

Each observatory is monitoring a unique geological environment affected by a range of past, present and potential industrial activities.

Scientists believe the observatories will set the standard for environmental monitoring and empower society to make evidence-based decisions on the ever-increasing pressures on the underground, whether that’s around using rocks to store excess carbon emissions from the atmosphere or using geothermal energy to heat us.

Prof Mike Stephenson, executive chief scientist for decarbonisation at the BGS, said: ‘Many of the solutions to decarbonisation, climate change and environmental management lie beneath our feet. We’re creating world-class observatories to monitor this environment and we have set out to make as much of the data from them freely and openly accessible to the UK public.

‘The UK Geoenergy Observatories have been designed so any scientist or research team working in this area can access the data. We hope this will lead to exciting new international science collaborations and the speeding up of the accumulation of knowledge.’

The observatory in Cardiff is looking at the shallow geothermal environment below the city’s famous former docklands. Inherited from the Cardiff Harbour Authority, the BGS has repurposed the boreholes to install some 100 sensors looking at the temperature, biology and chemistry of the groundwater.

Cheshire West and Chester Council recently approved (July 2) the observatory for Cheshire. The seismic and groundwater monitoring network comprises 1800 sensors capable of generating millions of terabytes of data over a 15-year-period.

The network will be so sensitive it will be able to pick up earth movements from the other side of the world.

The observatory in Glasgow is currently being drilled and comprises 12 boreholes across a 4 km² area to characterise the mine workings below Glasgow, which could potentially be a source of sustainable geothermal heat.

UK Geoenergy Observatories data is being made available at

Photo Credit – UK Geoenergy Observatories


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