Sustainable use of the subsurface

London underground. Click to enlarge.
What are the environmental impacts of engineered aspects of the subsurface and an increased reliance on underground space?

As population density continues to rise, society is becoming increasingly reliant on underground space to accommodate its growing infrastructure, such as water and sewage management, transport, parking and extraction of natural resources through quarrying or mining.

The challenge is not simply in understanding what the impact of this increased subsurface engineering will have on the environment but also how the changing environment will impact on the efficiency of these systems.

Underground resources

Society is increasingly reliant on the subsurface for a range of purposes, from its role in integrated waste water management to the provision of natural resources through quarrying. These uses often compete with one another for the space and services that the subsurface provides, with the potential to adversely affect one another and impact on the wider natural environment.

The potential link between direct human intervention in the geosphere and environmental response is a two-way process: firstly, we need to understand the impact of geological and hydrogeological factors on the efficiency of systems such as ground source heat pumps and secondly we need the ability to predict the impact of subsurface engineering on the geosphere, including the extraction and introduction of material and energy.

Understanding this two-way process has the potential to support more effective management of the subsurface through improved spatial planning and the implementation of appropriate policies.

More specific questions that may need to be answered:

  • How can we best assess the impacts of subsurface engineering on groundwater processes and on the whole water environment and how can we improve the management of water?
  • How will surface sealing, allied with climate change, impact on local drainage and the triggering of geological hazards, including landslides, collapses due to karst and aggravated shrink-swell problems?
  • How can the sustainable use of underground space for development be achieved?

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