Research news and awards

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BGS staff member John Ludden

Professor John Ludden today announced that after 13 years at the British Geological Survey (BGS) he will be leaving this coming September.

John leaves BGS in a very strong position, having recently led on the establishment of a new BGS Board and with a strong science leadership team both internally, and with a new Science Advisory Group of external experts.

Professor Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair, of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) said;

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank John for his many years of hard work leading BGS. BGS is well positioned for the future, with a key role to play as a world leading Survey. John has played a major role in all its developments, and will leave BGS greatly strengthened.”

18 January 2019

Borehole drilling

As part of a major new research programme on environmental issues, the BGS is leading the £1.8M GWatt research project - Geothermal power generated from UK granites.

Decarbonising power generation is a challenge for the UK, requiring an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Geothermally-generated electricity is a carbon-free, renewable source that is available all the time, unlike wind and solar. Exploitation of the UK underground thermal resource has been held back by a lack of knowledge of the properties of fractured hot rocks and uncertainty regards the economic viability.

To help tackle these barriers and encourage geothermal development in the UK, the BGS is leading a new, NERC-funded project, ‘Geothermal Power Generated from UK Granites’ (GWatt). This research will seek to increase knowledge of fracture controlled flow in granites, quantify the sustainability of the heat resource, produce robust geological assessments to reduce financial uncertainty and apply the results to new geothermal exploration models for granites.

A particular strength of GWatt is the link with the United Downs Deep Geothermal Power (UDDGP) project, an £18M, 2 borehole Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) that is being developed within the Carnmenellis granite in Cornwall, which will provide unique sets of data. GWatt will carry out innovative analyses and interpretation, combining site-specific observations with regional studies and state-of-the-art uncertainty quantification, to address the challenges associated with EGS development within SW England.

The GWatt project consortium comprises the British Geological Survey, Camborne School of Mines (University of Exeter), Heriot Watt University, Geothermal Engineering Ltd, Geoscience Ltd, Computer Modelling Group Ltd, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership and Cornwall County Council.

Full list of the NERC funded projects in the programme: £24 million for new research into major environmental topics.

Read the recent blog by the GWatt Principal Investigator, Chris Rochelle: Feeling the heat: exploring the potential for geothermal energy.

21 December 2018

Seismic trace

Since hydraulic fracturing started at Preston New Road, near Blackpool, earthquakes have been detected close to site.

We publish detected events on our website page earthquakes around the British Isles in the last 100 days. Magnitudes are local magnitude (ML) and are calculated to one decimal place, as is standard practice in earthquake seismology.

The BGS has deployed additional seismic sensors across the north of England. This denser network allows us to detect smaller earthquakes than we are typically able to do.

The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has strict controls in place to ensure that operators manage the risk of induced seismicity. This includes a requirement for operators to control and monitor the fracturing process and assess the risk of induced seismic events.

The BGS is not a regulatory body. Our role is to provide impartial data. Current regulations require operators to stop hydraulic fracturing if an event with a magnitude of 0.5 ML or above occurs during operations. It is the responsibility of the operators to carry out real-time seismic monitoring and any decision to stop will be based on the information they provide rather than by the BGS.

Our seismic monitoring provides an impartial source of earthquake data. Data from our stations are viewable on the real-time seismograms page of our website.

Seismic activity at Preston New Road: FAQs

For any media enquiries contact the BGS Press Office.

11 December 2018

The rig on site at the United Downs Industrial Estate
Drilling started in November near St Day in Cornwall to demonstrate the potential of the geothermal resource in the UK to produce electricity and renewable heat. The project has received around £18 million in funding, including £10.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund. The BGS is just one of the delivery partners in the project and is well placed to help provide good science to the United Downs programme and projects linked to it including microseismic monitoring as well as geochemistry and hydrochemistry analyses.
Read more on the United Downs Deep Geothermal Power project.
Geothermal heat, arises from the heat dissipated from the centre of the earth and, at shallow depth, from heating by the sun. High-enthalpy (deep) geothermal heat is found within some granitic rocks such as those in Cornwall due to slightly raised levels of the radiogenic isotopes of potassium, uranium and thorium. The BGS has corporate policy positions on a range of geoscience topics and science briefing papers that allow BGS scientists to reflect and communicate their science in a succinct way to other experts, policymakers and the public. You can read BGS’s Science Briefing Paper 'Who owns geothermal heat?' to find out more about geothermal regulations in the UK.
To find out more about how other countries as well as the UK are rising to the challenge of using geothermal energy as a source of renewable energy generation then you can read Chris Rochelle’s latest GeoBlogy 'Feeling the heat: exploring the potential for geothermal energy.'

7 December 2018

3D model of the UK

The Geospatial Commission has partnered with Innovate UK to launch a new government competition where organisations can apply for a share of £1.5 million to fund projects which use data linked to location. Between £50,000 to £750,000 could be granted to eligible organisations.

By using location data, geospatial technology is transforming services across the public and private sectors and are contributing to the #SmarterGov Government campaign, which is helping to deliver wider economic growth and productivity.

The aim of the competition is explore the benefits and challenges of crowdsourcing data. It will encourage different organisations to work together to identify innovative new ways for crowd-sourced data, to either:

  • Improve the delivery of public services
  • Support the third sector
  • Enhance the quality of open public datasets

This new competition is a further boost to the UK’s status as a world leader in digital innovation and an example of how advances in technology can be used to foster economic growth, deliver outstanding public services and generate savings for the public.

The competition opened on 26 November 2018 and the deadline for applications is midday on 30 January 2019. It is open to UK-based organisations from a business of any size, academic organisation or higher education institute, charity, public sector organisation or local authority, public sector research establishment, research council institute or a research and technology organisation.

The BGS is one of the six partner bodies of the Geospatial Commission which was formed in 2017: Chancellor to unlock hidden value of government data

Find out more about and apply here Geospatial Commission competition

27 November 2018

Research ship
Dr Carol Cotterill from the British Geological Survey (BGS) will be swapping log-books for legislation when she visits Christine Jardine MP at the House of Commons for a week in Westminster. The week (26 - 30 November) is part of a unique pairing scheme run by the Royal Society – the UK’s national academy of science, with support from the Government Science & Engineering (GSE) profession.

During her visit, Carol will shadow Christine Jardine and learn about her work. As well as attending seminars and panel discussions about how evidence is used in policy-making, Dr Cotterill will also attend a mock Select Committee.

The visit will provide Dr Cotterill with a behind the scenes insight into how policy is formed and how her research can be used to make evidence based decisions. It will also give Christine Jardine the opportunity to investigate the science behind her decisions and improve their access to scientific evidence.

Dr Cotterill said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to see the inner workings of policy-makers and parliamentarians. I am hoping to gain a new perspective on how scientific research is used within the creation and revision of policies, and how best to maximise the visibility of scientific research within the political landscape. It will also allow me to highlight the impact of vital research being undertaken within BGS, that supports sustainable growth in both infrastructure and energy developments offshore and onshore”.

The Royal Society’s pairing scheme, which started in 2001, aims to build bridges between parliamentarians, civil servants and some of the best scientists in the UK.

Christine Jardine MP will get hands on experience of ongoing research into offshore renewable ground models when she enters the world of log-books and geological models on visiting Dr Cotterill at the BGS next year.

The Royal Society pairing scheme is in its 18th year. By the end of this year’s scheme, 456 Scientists will have taken part, shadowing a mixture of MPs, Peers, Civil Servants and Select Committee Staff. That is enough Scientists to fill the Green benches in the House of Commons, and still leave 28 standing. Previous politicians who have participated include Michael Gove, Defra Secretary, Nick Clegg, former Deputy Prime Minister, Chi Onwurah MP, Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Caroline Lucas, Co-leader of the Green Party.

Further information about the Royal Society pairing scheme, as well as case studies, can be found at the following link: Royal Society Pairing Scheme.

23 November 2018

Water drop
The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) today published its report on ‘UK progress on reducing nitrate pollution’. This reports highlights that high levels of nitrate in groundwater are a problem as they cause oxygen depletion which is harmful to humans and biodiversity.

Professor Rob Ward, Groundwater Science Director at the BGS, contributed evidence to the EAC on the problems associated with what has become known as the “nitrate time bomb”. This is a phenomenon caused by historic high applications of fertiliser that has not yet filtered through into groundwater aquifers in some parts of the UK because the geology, especially the Chalk and thick unsaturated zone, has slowed it down.

Professor Ward warned that in some areas it might take 60 years for levels of nitrate to peak and that in the worst-case scenario it might take a century.

Link to EAC report UK progress on reducing nitrate pollution

Link to the BGS web site for further information on Nitrate contamination in groundwater

22 November 2018

The European Plate Observing System EPOS) has been officially launched this week
The European Plate Observing System (EPOS) has been officially launched this week at a ceremony in Rome at the Italian Ministry of Education and Universities and Research.

EPOS is a research infrastructure that will provide a better understanding of the physical processes controlling earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, tectonic movements and other such geo-hazards with potentially grave impact on the environment and the welfare of citizens. The launch was the latest milestone in EPOS. The European Commission granted the legal status of European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) to EPOS on 31st October. This provides the facility with a stable legal structure and administrative advantages to contribute to the long-term sustainability of EPOS.

EPOS will enable scientists to address key scientific and socio–economic questions, including understanding geo–hazards and geo–resource issues and improve our ability to better manage the use of the subsurface of the Earth. BGS will play a key role in achieving this. BGS is one of 46 beneficiaries, representing 23 countries across Europe participating in the project. BGS have been heavily involved since the start and are leading the development of the core services. BGS research will also contribute many of the Thematic Core Service Communities – infrastructures that provide data services to specific communities.

Professor John Ludden, Direct of BGS said: "EPOS will create a unique and world class data infrastructure. BGS leads the core data services of EPOS, thus recognising and enhancing an opportunity for global leadership in Geoscience data systems." When EPOS is complete, a researcher will be able to sit in front of a computer screen and be able to download a great range of earth science data from across Europe, and visualise them in real time in many different ways.

9 November 2018

The rig on site at the United Downs Industrial Estate
Drilling has started this week near St Day in Cornwall to demonstrate the potential of the geothermal resource in the UK to produce electricity and renewable heat. The pioneering demonstration plant at the United Downs Industrial Estate will supply up to 3 MWe (Mega Watt electrical) of electricity, enough to power 3000 homes.

Two deep geothermal wells will be drilled into the granitic rock beneath the site, the deepest of which will reach 4.5km making it the deepest onshore borehole in the UK. Water will be pumped from the deepest well at a temperature of approximately 190°C and extracted heat will be converted into electricity and supplied to the National Grid.

The low carbon energy source does not suffer from peaks and troughs that many other sustainable power sources are subject to and it is hoped that this innovative approach will be replicated in other suitable sites in Cornwall and Devon. Dave Schofield, Director of Energy Systems and Basin Analysis at the British Geological Survey said 'Geothermal energy in the UK has the potential to significantly contribute towards reaching our CO2 emission target; the Cornish geothermal project has the potential not only to supply electricity and heat, but also to demonstrate technical and economic feasibility of this form of clean energy.'

The project has received around £18 million in funding, including £10.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund. The British Geological Survey is just one of the delivery partners in the project and is well placed to help provide good science to the United Downs programme and projects linked to it including microseismic monitoring as well as geochemistry and hydrochemistry analyses.

More information on geothermal energy

8 November 2018

BGS Director John Ludden
Under the terms of the MoU which BGS signed with NERC following the creation of the BGS board, a new BGS Science Advisory Committee has been recruited. Following an open competition, and interviews conducted by Mike Stephenson and Donna Kirkwood (Chief Scientist of Natural Resources Canada), I am pleased to announce the composition of the committee :
  • Professor Frances Wall (Professor of Applied Mineralogy, Camborne School of Mines)
  • Professor Mike Bradshaw (Professor of Global Energy, Warwick Business School)
  • Dr Liz Fellman (Associate Director, NERC)
  • Joanna Coleman (UK Energy Transition Manager, Shell)
  • Dr Patrick Bermingham (Exploration Chief Geophysicist, Shell International)
  • Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer (Assistant Deputy Principal, Research & Innovation, Heriot-Watt University)
  • Professor Cherry Tweed (Chief Scientific Adviser, Radioactive Waste Management Ltd)
  • Dr Andy Croxford (Head of EU Exit and Environmental Strategy, The Environment Agency)
  • Professor Stephen de Mora (Chief Executive, Plymouth Marine Laboratory)
The BGS board approved Mike and Donna’s recommendation that Frances Wall chair the committee, and she has accepted that offer.

The Terms of Reference will need to be agreed, but the committee’s broad role is to :

  • Advise the BGS CEO and Director of Science & Technology on the development and delivery of the overall science strategy for the BGS as a national and international centre of excellence for geosciences in a way that maximises and demonstrates its impact
  • Advise on funding and impact opportunities
  • Advise on the development and implementation of a process for evaluating the quality of BGS’s research

The committee’s first meeting will be in Keyworth on Friday 16 November, where the focus of discussion will be the refreshed science strategy. It is expected that the committee will meet a couple of times a year, with input being sought when required outside of formal meetings. The committee will also advise us on the process for evaluating BGS science.

This is a very strong committee with extensive expertise and experience in academic research, industry, and government liaison. I am sure it will provide invaluable advice to BGS in the exciting and challenging time we are facing.

Professor John Ludden CBE

5 November 2018