News stories about BGS

A selection of recent news, that includes mentions of the British Geological Survey, reported in online news websites. Click on a heading link to read the full article.

Super deep fault lines have been discovered running throughout Britain, putting the South East and Scotland most at risk. The so-called 'blind fault lines' are part of a global system containing the San Andreas Fault which creates terrifying quakes in California. Speaking to the Daily Express, Robert Holdsworth, professor of structural geology at the University of Durham, warned a big earthquake in the Dover straits could severely affect the Channel tunnel and the London basin.

A quake in the area would "act like a bell during an earthquake in that it emits ripples through the ground", amplifying the damage, he said. The revelation mean scientists say they cannot rule out a catastrophic quake in Britain on a par with the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The UK experiences hundreds of tremors each year, of which only about 10 are actually felt. Glenn Ford, a seismologist at the British Geological Survey (BGS), said: "We do have a major plate tectonic boundary between the Eurasian plate and the African plate. "I'm sure there were larger earthquakes at some time and there is a possibility a large on can hit mainland UK." Folkestone was severely rocked by an earthquake in 2007 which registered 4.3 on the Richter scale. The tremors could be felt across much of Kent and south east England, including as far as East Sussex, Essex and Suffolk.

20 April 2015

Open Addresses is the nation’s first open data address company run by the Open Data Institute. BCS was invited to administer and make the award of funds left over from the DNF collaboration to an initiative that would take the concept forward. Dan Rickman, Chair of the BCS LI Specialist Group says: “Open Addresses is a very deserved initiative to take this project forward.” Jeni Tennison, Executive Director at Open Addresses said: “We’re delighted to receive this landmark funding from BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT. As our first funding beyond our initial Cabinet Office grant, this support is a demonstration of the wide interest in open address data. Addresses are a vital part of the nation’s information infrastructure. This funding will help promote the use of a common code for each address, enabling people to match and bring data together and to create better services that we can all benefit from.” The DNF was created by a group of small and medium sized software companies including: 1Spatial, Dotted Eyes and Manchester Geomatics. Together they worked with Ordnance Survey and the British Geological Survey to define a framework for linking geospatial data which culminated in production of a number of specification and guidelines for best practice to link data - these can be found at In addition, as a practical outcome of the DNF work, Great Britain advocated that the EU INSPIRE programme adopt already existing Universal Resource Identifiers (URIs) as unique record codes rather than creating another Unique Reference Number from scratch, with associated costs of creating and cross-matching existing references.

Dan adds: “The recent Ordnance Survey announcement that Unique Property Reference Numbers (UPRNs) are to be made open data has enabled the BCS LISG to sponsor Open Addresses to apply DNF principles”. Mike Sanderson, chair of the DNF sub-group of LISG, comments: “The ability to add UPRNs to the recently launched open address records will add significantly to the number of users able to make real use of open linked data.” The Open Address project will seek to: expand the Open Address data model, linked URLs and API services to support open data UPRNs determine and report on whether and how the UPRN for an address/property can be established without using copyrighted address products establish a legally safe process to update the data that Open Addresses currently publishes to include UPRNs. Open Addresses gathers and publishes data through a number of methods: as static bulk data, as linked data on the internet and as a set of APIs that can be used to build digital services. Each of these methods will be expanded to cater for OS UPRNs both when gathering and publishing data. Open Addresses will also determine whether and how a person or service provider can determine a UPRN for an address without needing to purchase expensive, copyrighted address products and without introducing third party rights into the resulting dataset which would mean that it cannot be released as open data. The findings will be openly published for anyone to use. Based on the above approaches Open Addresses will establish a process to determine and gather UPRNs for the dataset that Open Addresses currently publishes. It may be possible to perform a bulk update, alternatively it may be necessary to discover UPRNs over time through the collaborative maintenance model. Dan concludes: “Through this work Open Addresses and BCS’ DNF sub-group will help the public sector, service providers, communities and the general people to realise the potential of address data that can be easily and openly linked and matched together by everyone."

20 April 2015

Britain could be headed for an earthquake strong enough to topple buildings as new "super deep" fault lines have been discovered under the Home Counties. The fractures in the earth's surface are linked to the San Andreas Fault which causes monster quakes in California. The latest research shows that the much deeper and more intricate system of linked faults which could bring similar devastation to Britain. According to reports, the regions most at risk are Kent and the Home Counties, Essex, and Scotland. The UK experiences hundreds of tremors each year, of which only about 10 are actually felt. But the new findings mean scientists say they cannot rule out a large-scale earthquake in light of the 3.5 magnitude tremor in Rutland in the Midlands last April experts warned the UK is at en ever-growing risk of its own "big one". Glenn Ford, a seismologist at the British Geological Survey (BGS), told the Daily Express: "We do have a major plate tectonic boundary between the Eurasian plate and the African plate.

19 April 2015

There is no question that there are billions of barrels of oil beneath southern England, but how much could be technically or profitably produced remains extremely uncertain. In 2014, the BGS, under contract from the Department of Energy Climate Change, produced a detailed resource estimate which put the total amount of oil in place at between 2 and 9 billion barrels ("Jurassic shales of the Weald Basin: geology and shale oil and shale gas resource estimation" 2014). The BGS examined all the available data, which is sparse, on formation thickness, burial depth, thermal maturity, total organic content, clay content, porosity and other factors used to produce resource estimates. It was skeptical about how much free oil the basin contained and whether it could be made to flow to the wells. UK Oil and Gas Investments is much more optimistic, and puts the oil originally in place at 158 million barrels per square mile near Gatwick and by extrapolation at 50-100 billion barrels basin wide. But this is based on an analysis of rock samples from a single location which is unlikely to be representative of the entire basin. The company has not yet conducted a flow test to see if the oil can be produced. To firm up the resource estimates, dozens of wells would need to be drilled across the basin area. They would need to be put into production to turn resource estimates into estimates of reserves that are technically and economically recoverable. UK Oil and Gas Investments is entitled to be excited by its core samples, and its share price rose more than 200 percent on the news, from less than 2 pence to more than 4 pence per share (less than 2 cents to 6.7 cents). But rock samples from a single hole do not provide any meaningful information about oil resources (let alone producible reserves) across an area of almost 11,000 square km in southern England. There may well be large volumes of oil and gas trapped beneath southern and northern England and eventually some of it may be produced, if local and political opposition can be overcome. There are no good practical reasons why oil and gas should not be produced in England. But shale oil and gas production in Britain would need to compete for investment with much better understood and probably less costly fields in the United States and elsewhere. With oil prices currently at $50 per barrel, and the world market awash in surplus oil, the Weald is not top of anyone's list of investment locations. The fact this story has received any attention says less about the prospect for oil production than the non-existent understanding of petroleum production among politicians, journalists and the public, and the country's neurosis about the potential for fracking across England's green and pleasant land.

10 April 2015

UK Oil and Gas, a small speculating company, announced this morning that surveys it commissioned from an independent specialist suggest there is a vast reservoir of oil under Horse Hill, an area just north of Gatwick Airport. The boss of UKOG, David Lenigas, told ITV News there could be as much as 80 billion barrels across the Weald – which spans Kent, Sussex and Surrey. If true, this is almost four times the estimates of Britain’s offshore reserves. Mr Lenigas’ company has 20 per cent share of a license to extract oil from 55 square miles in the area and shares in UKOG rocketed more than 350 per cent in the first hour and a half of trade this morning. There had been a lot of anticipation among small investors who follow the stock, teased a little by hints over the past few weeks that there was big news coming. Some people have made an awful lot of money. “If life is like a box of chocolates then investing in UKOG and [Horse Hill] is like finding Wonkers [sic] golden ticket” tweeted one. But for those who have bought in to the stock, what chance of making more money? The survey commissioned by UKOG is ten times more optimistic than the British Geological Survey last year. While UKOG acknowledges only 3-15 per cent of the oil can be extracted from the ground, even this is questioned by analysts. The Weald is, in parts, amongst the most attractive countryside in England and the ‘nodding donkey’ pumps familiar from dusty Texas plains would find a hostile reception. Shares in the company have sunk back from the peaks of the morning but closed the day almost treble their value at the open. Investors seem still to share Mr Lenigas’ optimism that the limestone below is “like a big sponge.” They will hope it’s as easy to squeeze.

9 April 2015

Based on an analysis of samples from a single well drilled near London’s Gatwick airport, UK Oil and Gas Investments estimates there could be 158 million barrels per square mile in the local area. Horse Hill, where the well was drilled, is part of the Weald Basin, which stretches across large parts of the counties of Dorset, Hampshire, West and East Sussex, and Surrey, as well as parts of neighbouring Wiltshire and Kent.

A string of other small fields, containing hundreds of millions of barrels of oil between them, stretch across the Weald Basin and have been discreetly producing for the last 30 years. As of February 2014, 117 exploration, 31 appraisal and 100 development wells had been drilled in the Weald area, and of these, 26 were classified as discoveries or at least indicated the presence of petroleum. Thirteen fields were in production plus a gas well which lights a local rail station, according to the British Geological Survey (BGS). There is no question that there are billions of barrels of oil beneath southern England, but how much could be technically or profitably produced remains extremely uncertain. In 2014, the BGS, under contract from the Department of Energy Climate Change, produced a detailed resource estimate which put the total amount of oil in place at between 2 and 9 billion barrels. The BGS examined all the available data, which is sparse, on formation thickness, burial depth, thermal maturity, total organic content, clay content, porosity and other factors used to produce resource estimates. It was sceptical about how much free oil the basin contained and whether it could be made to flow to the wells.

7 April 2015

They’ve brought traffic to a stand-still, swallowed people’s garden sheds, even uncovered long buried graves. The sinkhole has become a rather familiar sight in the county over recent years. Just this year, a shed in Swanley was consumed as the ground below it literally opened up beneath it. Homes and businesses arond a square in Gravesend had to be evacuated after a gaping hole appeared just last month, while perhaps the best known of them all, was when a 15ft-deep hole suddenly emerged on the central reservation of a busy stretch of the M2 near Faversham this time last year, forcing a partial closure for nine days. So just what are these sinkholes - or in some cases Deneholes (deep. ancient, man-made chalk mines) and how are they being created?

Dr Vanessa Banks is the team leader for shallow geohazards and risks at the British Geological Survey – the leading geoscience research unit in the country. She told KoS that there was scope to see more occurrences of such holes in Kent in the future. “There are a number of issues to be concerned with in the future. High rainfall in Kent could lead to more sinkholes appearing, as water is normally the trigger for them to form,” explains Dr Banks. She said the county was an area which, historically, had a greater number of small chalk mines. These ancient chalk mines - which normally only comprise one shaft, and a single chamber are the Deneholes. Dr Banks said: “In medieval times, chalk would be dug up and used on the fields to get them ready and primed for crop planting. Kent also has a number of historic brickworks which would have made used of mined chalk. Where it was taken from the ground, once the reserves were exhausted, the Deneholes would be capped, usually with organic material like wood.

“This organic matter can, over time, give way, leading to deneholes appearing suddenly. Water, again, can exacerbate this degradation of material and speed the whole process up.” Liquid penetration, it seems, is key to the sinkhole issue. During 2014, a large number of sinkholes appeared, particularly during the early part of the year. Dr Banks and the BGS attributed this to what was described by the Met Office as an ‘exceptional period of winter rainfall’. Between December 2013 and January 2014, the south east witnessed 372.2mm of rain. That was more than any other two month period since 1910. Dr Banks told KoS: “Those storms saw a powerful jet stream weather pushing low pressure across the Atlantic which hit the UK. If we saw more of this weather over Kent, then we would almost certainly see more sinkholes and Deneholes likely to emerge.” According to environmental consultant Alice Roper, based on Sheppey, that could be a problem. Ms Roper said: “Our climate is changing in the UK, and most projections are that we will start to see milder, but wetter weather across the country. This will obviously lead to higher levels of rainfall, which will impact the stability of the ground in places which have lots of chalk. “Sudden bursts of rain can overwhelm the drainage system already, and this is likely to get worse with more of it across the county. In areas which are underlain by chalk, this could lead to water erosion which could make them unstable.”

5 April 2015

The study, by PhD researcher Michaela Musilova and colleagues, appeared in Frontiers in Microbiology, which publishes articles on outstanding discoveries across a wide research spectrum of microbiology. Glaciers and ice sheets cover around 11 per cent of the global surface and are dominated by microbial life. Debris-filled holes on the glacier surface, called ‘cryoconite holes’, are considered ‘hot spots’ for microbial activity in these environments. Glacial micro-organisms are believed to be a significant source of nutrients to downstream subglacial and coastal ecosystems. The microbial recycling of nutrients in these icy ecosystems can therefore have a regional and potentially global impact. Despite their importance, there have been very few molecular studies of the microbes on the vast Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS). It is thought that glacial microbial communities originate from nearby environments, for instance delivered to glacier surfaces by wind. Musilova and colleagues set out to study the effects of microbial cells in snow and windborne debris on the microbial communities on the GrIS. This was also the first time the evolution of these microbial communities was assessed throughout a whole summer season on the GrIS. Musilova performed a variety of experiments for the project, working with researchers from the Universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The project was part of an expedition in Greenland, during which the researchers camped near Leverett Glacier over the entire summer of 2012. The team also collaborated with the NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory (British Geological Survey) to analyse the organic matter that is delivered to glacier surfaces through snow and wind.

31 March 2015

The aggregated data could save companies millions of pounds by avoiding ancient burial grounds and other archaeologically important sites. Oxford-based start-up Democrata developed a way to predict the risk of such delays by having access to some of the UK’s best big-data analysts and facilities at the Hartree Centre, Cheshire after winning a competition. Traditionally when a big construction project starts, or a major road or railway line is cut though UK’s countryside, there needs to be an archaeological investigation to ensure that historic sites are not destroyed. This often leads to substantial costs for a company and could delay the construction time. Excavation work on the new Crossrail transit line in London for example was halted in March after construction workers stumbled across the graves of some 3,000 skeletons in what is known as the “Bedlam Burial Grounds” dating from the 17th century. Archaeologists are expected to excavate the skeletons by September, after which construction will be able to proceed. Democrata has mapped the whole of the UK using a 3D geovisionary programme originally developed for the British Geological Survey, and added a programme of predictive algorithms to identify where historic artefacts might still be found.

27 March 2015

According to Dr Vanessa Banks, Team Leader Shallow Geohazards and Risks and the British Geological Survey, the ground across Kent is comprised of a layer of sand above a layer of chalk. The layer of sand is thinning to the west, and thicker to the east. Sinkholes can occur for a number of reasons, but the cause of sinkholes in Kent is generally where a thin covering of loose superficial material - sand - covers soluble rock - chalk - beneath. The sandy material will tend to gradually slump into the fissures, slowly creating a sinkhole over time - a process that can be sped up by the presence of water.

Deneholes are caused by man-made structures. In Kent, these are often medieval chalk extraction pits - characteristically comprised of a narrow shaft with a number of chambers radiating from the base. The depth of the features reflects the depth of the underlying chalk bedrock. The shaft width is commonly in the order of 2 or 3 m, widening out into galleries at depth.

24 March 2015