A vision for the BGS Environmental Modelling Platform

Background

The concept of an Environment Modelling Platform (EMP) was a radical change for BGS when it was included as a goal in 2009 — 2014 strategy. It highlighted the necessity for making all BGS science and data accessible both internally in BGS and to the users of our science. Such a platform would make BGS research, knowledge and data more relevant to a world desperate to solve problems of environmental conflict, mitigate hazards, adapt to change and develop resources sustainably. BGS had traditionally focussed on the lower two segments of the pyramid (see below) in creating geological, geophysical and geochemical databases of the UK and for other nations. Over the past 10 years, we have been creating 3D geological models/maps which portray these data in the subsurface and BGS has led the geological surveys of the world in data management and 3D geology development.

The three top segments of the triangle require the linking of data, geological models, knowledge and concepts seamlessly in numerical process models allowing prediction of environmental processes, resources and hazards and the changes which may be associated with them, resulting in improved decision making and scenario planning.

The BGS Environmental Modelling Platform. The arrows indicate the changes in staff profile proposed in the BGS workforce plan, underpinning the move to quantitative process modelling and predictions.

Development and deployment of the Environmental Modelling Platform

The pyramid represents the way BGS is beginning to work and will work in the future. It represents a workflow and it conceptualises the integration of the data, knowledge and understanding into the provision of solutions and innovations for society. It embodies a whole-systems approach and can link to all other environmental sciences, socio-economics and engineering via the integrated modelling shown at the apex of the triangle.

BGS has reorganised its structure to allow more active development of whole-system approaches and the deployment of the platform. A Science Director of Environmental Modelling has been appointed and three teams set up to ensure the upper segments of the triangle are developed to the full and permeate all the activities of BGS. The teams, with extra resources, will focus on Parameterisation and Statistics, Process Modelling, and Integrated Environmental Modelling and Uncertainty.

The relationships between data, knowledge, digital storage and accessibility have long been unresolved in BGS, but changes to bring together development informatics and coding skills with 3D geological modelling and mapping software should produce a seamless workflow. BGS will then be able to deploy its multiscaled 3D model of the United Kingdom for public use and update it on a regular basis.

In order to incorporate a whole-systems approach to science in BGS and linkage with other disciplines, a team focussing on Geoscience and Society has been set up. This team will link with higher education institutions and industry to tackle the science of public perception, contentious issues, communication, negotiation, and sustainable and equitable resolution.

Future strategy — engaging with the real world

Having deployed the EMP and developed ways of working internally within BGS, what comes next? For the data, knowledge and understanding of geoscience to be kept up to date, vital and useful it needs to evolve. Engagement with geoscience business and the regulatory world will be necessary to develop the kind of knowledge base that the country needs and deserves.

  1. Data, observations and monitoring
    BGS has been following the government Open Data policy and is releasing more and more data to free access for non-commercial use. This is happening now and will accelerate into the future. New mechanisms for data collection and monitoring, involving sensor networks and remote sensing including Earth Observation, will be crucial to the growth of research and new scientific understanding.
  2. 3D geoscience
    Development of the National Geological Model (NGM) is going on apace but it should be available for consultation to inform industry, regulation, and the public. Hence, an easy-access mechanism is needed. In order to keep the NGM up to date, BGS must engage with the industries that can provide new data and interpretations. In this way, a free exchange of data and information can be achieved for the benefit of society by stimulating growth, innovation, better infrastructure design, hazard mitigation, and resource evaluation and allocation. A kind of professional crowd-sourcing is envisaged. Perhaps BGS could provide GSI3D cross-sections that can be used by consultants and others but also can be updated by these organisations and returned to BGS for checking and incorporation into our validated NGM.
  3. Quantitative conceptual model
    In order to effectively populate the NGM with useful attributes and parameters, a vast harvesting of data will be required. Such an exercise is beyond the resources of BGS's declining National Capability funding so will require the engagement of the academic sector and of industry to help provide these data in formats that can easily be incorporated into BGS databases. To encourage this activity, BGS must provide free access to these growing databases of attributes and parameters. BGS would not be the source of all this data and information, but would facilitate it and provide archives and quality assurance. It must be emphasised that these activities must be made very easy to engage with and that all the participants should obtain benefit from this engagement.
  4. Process modelling
    Currently, the world has difficulty in using the knowledge that the environmental science community holds. The data are not easily, and often not freely, available, and the models and analytical techniques are neither available nor tailored to easy use. This can only change by allowing access to model codes and methodologies. A mechanism for this would perhaps be through the National Hazard Partnership (NHP) or the Environmental Science into Service Partnership (ESSP). A proactive approach to the development of solutions together with industry is needed. The release of model code with metadata and explanatory description is required for full testing of decision-support systems that society must use to make effective policy and operational decisions.
  5. Integrated modelling and uncertainty
    In the future the most important areas of science are likely to include interaction between the environmental sciences and the social sciences. The example of climate change reveals that unless politicians engage deeply with the science then nothing much happens. In order for that to happen the public must be involved and that requires understanding of behaviours across a variety of disciplines. How engineers respond to science, how economists see it and how society deals with contentious issues are all important issues – the critical matter of perceptions of risk and uncertainty. So linkage of our geoscience knowledge with other environmental science and then with other models of societal behaviour, become vitally important. A realisation that geoscientists are a small part of the story will go a long way to helping the country grow and develop solutions to environmental problems. The key to integrated science and integrated modelling is lowering the barriers to access and engagement. So although BGS needs to preserve its scientific excellence in its geoscience it also needs to engage properly with the other environmental science disciplines, the social sciences and engineering.

Goals for 2020

By 2020:

  • BGS should have a multi-scaled geological model of the UK complete with a parameterised geospace, including intrinsic permeability, hydraulic conductivity, porosity, specific yield, strength parameters, and fracture indices, together with some estimates of uncertainty.
  • BGS should have developed its observatory network to be ingesting significant volumes of time-series data, concerning fluid movements in the subsurface. These should go some way to satisfying the CO2 storage, unconventional gas, water resource, soil resource, radioactive waste, and mineral exploitation issues that society is facing.
  • BGS should be routinely working with engineers, economists and social scientists to model interactions between the environmental sciences and society. BGS's models should be available for others to use. BGS should be facilitating the running of its models by stakeholders using visualisation techniques that allow improved science understanding by all.
  • BGS should have engaged with industry, government and practitioners so that activities are seamless and second nature.

This will mean that the Environmental Modelling Platform is working.