Core collections | Brief history

Examining core samples in the courtyard of the Geological Survey Museum, South Kensington
Returning core to the racking, Keyworth Core Facility
Swanscombe 1 Borehole core.
Marine vibrocorer being engulfed in stormy seas.
A coal bed – one of the source horizons for the southern North Sea gas.
Drilling a water borehole in Dumfries and Galloway.
The BGS Dando drilling rig in action.
Southampton geothermal borehole being drilled
Soufriere Hills volcano, small pyroclastic flow

The oldest borehole material BGS holds was drilled in 1821 in Chatham Dockyard, Kent. The deepest comes from Seal Sands (13 670 feet). Although borehole samples have always been critical to the work of the Survey, the borehole collection dates from the early 1950s in London, when numerous assorted containers of borehole samples were curated and registered into a formal collection.

When a Survey office was opened in Leeds in 1964, all the northern English material was transferred there. The Leeds office also had facilities to store core in one metre long cardboard core boxes. Early hydrocarbon material from the southern North Sea was archived there.

Shortly after the establishment of the Geological Survey in 1835, its first Director, Henry De la Beche, persuaded the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it would be to Britain's advantage if it possessed a museum for the display of rocks and minerals of economic significance.

The suggestion was approved in 1837, and a building in Craig's Court, Whitehall, adjoining Scotland Yard, was assigned for Survey offices and museum. The latter opened in 1841 as the 'Museum of Economic Geology', with Richard Phillips as its first curator. The exhibits were all of economic interest, and included building stones, plasters, tiles, earthenware, and metal ores (particularly from Devon and Cornwall).

The quarters at Craig's Court soon became too cramped, but with the support of the Prince Consort, De la Beche oversaw the opening of the Museum of Practical Geology at 28 Jermyn Street, off Piccadilly, in May 1851 - the same year as the Great Exhibition.

However, movement of the foundations necessitated the eventual demolition of the building and the move to South Kensington. The Geological Museum, Exhibition Road, was opened in July 1935.

During the 1960's, in common with many parts of Government, consideration was given to movement of the Survey headquarters out of London. Eventually, the present offices in Keyworth were purchased in 1976, and by 1986 the transfer of all the collections from London and Leeds was complete. The Geological Museum was transferred to the Natural History Museum, along with many of its staff, and the mineral and gemstone collections.

The collections in Scotland evolved in a somewhat analogous manner. The Survey in Scotland was controlled from London, until 1867, when an Edinburgh headquarters was established in the Museum of Science and Art, later the Royal Scottish Museum. When the property was demolished in 1869 to make way for the new museum building, the Survey moved to No. 1 India Buildings, Victoria Street. However, the bulk of the rock and fossil collections remained in the Museum, and many were on display in the 'Gallery of Scottish Geology'.

The remainder of the collections were housed in the former studio of Sir Noel Paton, a famous Scottish artist. In 1928, the staff and collections then moved to Southpark, 19 Grange Terrace, a large Victorian mansion in the southern suburbs of the city, where various storage annexes were added. Then, during the early to mid seventies, the collections and staff were moved to the current building, Murchison House. In 1993, with the establishment of the core store at Loanhead, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, marine samples were transferred there.

The collections on display in the Royal Scottish Museum were returned over a number of years, culminating with petrology collection in 2001.

Storage halls

The first storage hall at Keyworth was commissioned in 1985, and 4.5k tonnes of core and samples were transferred there from London and Leeds in 1985–6. The North Sea material was moved to join the remainder of the UKCS hydrocarbon well archives at the DTI core store at Gilmerton, Edinburgh. In 2005, the store was transferred back to BGS management.

The marine (non-hydrocarbon) sample collection, currently held at Loanhead, Edinburgh, is largely the result of a regional survey of the UK Continental Shelf, carried out for the Department of Energy between 1968 and 1986.

The Scottish onshore borehole samples collection began in 1927 and was eventually moved to the Loanhead core store. During the 1990s, a decision was taken to move it to Keyworth and combine it with the English and Welsh material. At the same time, coastal material was transferred from Keyworth to Loanhead to join the marine collection. Finally, all the material combined at Keyworth to form a single centre of excellence.

Key core collections

One of the key purposes of core archives is to facilitate the use of core, that has been collected for specific projects, for a wide range of different investigations. There have, for example, been numerous cases of core obtained for biostratigraphy and lithostratigrahy, being re-sampled for stable isotope work investigating climate change and carbon sinks.

Key core collections (both original purpose and repurposed) include:

  • DECC UKCS Offshore (Seaward) Hydrocarbon Well Collection:
    172k boxes of samples, including ca. 286km of core from 3538 wells & cuttings held from 7063 wells. Used mainly by hydrocarbon scientists, some wells in Tertiary strata (552 wells, 31km core) are being studied for climate change.
  • DECC Onshore (Landward) Hydrocarbon Well Collection:
    Approximately 2k boreholes. Used mainly by hydrocarbon scientists, most are deep but represented largely by cuttings.
  • Marine Core & Sample Collection:
    Approximately 600 offshore boreholes (totalling 30km), 20k shallow core samples (i.e. gravity & vibrocores) and 23.5k seabed samples. A series of cores from the LOIS (Land-Ocean Interaction Study) project tie the onshore and offshore geology of the east coast of England together. In addition to the basic lithological information required for the design of seabed infrastructure, this collection has been used for projects as diverse as measuring bottom-current variability since the last ice age and mapping "Doggerland".
  • Rockall consortium cores:
    A good collection covering the outer reaches of the UK EEZ.
  • Falklands Islands hydrocarbon well samples:
    Samples from six wells drilled in the basin north of the Falklands in 1998.
  • Coal Boreholes:
    Frequently good quality cored material through Coal Measures, but Mesozoic may not have been sampled. Coal seams generally removed for analysis. Some may have confidentiality restrictions.
  • Water Boreholes:
    Frequently good quality core through the aquifer.
  • Minerals Boreholes:
    Includes both Survey boreholes, such as MRP (Mineral Reconnaissance Programme) and MEIGA (Mineral Exploration Incentive Grant Act) and commercial boreholes. Includes gold, silver, platinum, as well as base metals, barites, fluorite, evaporites, gypsum, etc. Also includes a series of Derbyshire limestone boreholes. Some may have confidentiality restrictions.
  • Survey Investigations (litho- and biostratigraphy):
    Generally good quality core, frequently broken up for macrofossil identification. Ideal for re-purposing. Includes boreholes that have completely changed our understanding of UK geology, such as Mochras and Rookhope.
  • Quaternary Investigations (Onshore):
    Mostly shallow cores drilled with Dando rig, but includes a few deep holes investigating specific Quaternary features (e.g. Cardigan 1, Cardigan 2)
  • Site Investigations:
    Mostly shallow and of local significance.
  • NIREX boreholes:
    Some 23km of high quality core from investigations at Sellafield and Dounreay, transferred from NIREX to BGS in 2000/2001. The collection includes thin and polished sections, and has been well used in fracture and fluid flow investigations.
  • Geothermal Investigations:
    A few boreholes were specifically drilled to investigate geothermal energy. These tend to be deep. (e.g. Southampton 1, Marchwood 1, Eastgate Geothermal Exploratory Borehole)
  • Climate change:
    We hold few boreholes specifically drilled for climate change investigations, but numerous boreholes have been studied as part of climate change research. Many holes have been sub-sampled for stable isotope studies (e.g. Merevale 1–3, Dounreay, Rhymney, Lower Hill Farm, Throckley, Rowlands Gill, etc). We also hold borehole material from the late Carboniferous Fitzroy Tillite Formation of the Falklands Islands.
  • Energy:
    In addition to the coal, hydrocarbon and geothermal boreholes, the Survey boreholes contain many boreholes with stratigraphical intervals that may assist in the exploitation of other energy resources such as oil shale, shale gas, coalbed methane, etc. (e.g. Great Paxton, Metherhills 1 & 2 — Kimmeridge). Survey boreholes frequently have more cored intervals than hydrocarbon wells.
  • Gas storage:
    Likewise, in addition to hydrocarbon boreholes, Survey boreholes may assist in gas storage studies.
  • Channel Tunnel boreholes:
    We hold a major collection of boreholes relating to various Channel Tunnel projects.
  • Montserrat Volcanics:
    We hold borehole material from the Calipso boreholes 2–5 on Montserrat.