Digital lab

BGS Research

The world of geological data is changing: large digital datasets and ubiquitous computing power are changing the way that geoscience is undertaken and data is now available anywhere, anytime. Low-cost sensor technologies and ubiquitous connectivity are streaming previously unimagined volumes of real-time data about dynamic landscapes.

Borehole breakout
Information icon

An example of a 4 m-long borehole breakout from from borehole Sellafield 13A in Cumbria in a 10 m vertical borehole section. Left-hand panel: conventional logs including perpendicular dual caliper and gamma ray. Centre panel: unwrapped circumferential resistivity borehole imaging (clockwise from north) with breakout highlighted by the green boxes. Right panel: unwrapped circumferential acoustic borehole amplitude imaging (UBI) (clockwise from north) with breakout highlighted by green boxes. BGS © UKRI.

Expand icon

The BGS digital lab has been created to develop, test and provide new tools and technologies that support delivery of the BGS science strategy, enabling world class research across the organisation.

Research projects

Geoscience visualisation is a fast-growing area and the BGS is one of the world leaders in its application and development. Visualisation systems enable geoscientists to communicate with each other and with end users from diverse disciplines to better understand complex and varied datasets.

The 3D visualisation systems (3DVS) team works closely with business partners to develop immersive visualisation systems and techniques for geoscientists.

Decision-support systems are software tools that aid evidence-based decision making. The first BGS example of a decision-support system is the Brownfield ground risk calculator.

Brownfield sites are defined as having been affected by former land uses. They are often derelict or underused, may have real or perceived contamination problems, are mainly in developed urban areas and require intervention to bring them back to beneficial use.

Building on greenfield (undeveloped) areas is often unpopular. Redeveloping brownfield sites, which are often in prime locations, for housing is strongly preferable and can be achieved once these sites have been remediated ready to be safely re-used.

We have been working with partners to develop a tool to simplify and speed up this process.

The Earth’s crust is under constant stress as a consequence of global and regional tectonic processes. Even in places like the UK that are far from major plate boundaries, the in situ stress regime can be easy to overlook. However, it is a fundamental constraint on the behaviour of rocks, which can deform in any process that creates a void, such as drilling a borehole or boring a tunnel. In situ stress science cross-cuts the BGS programme.

In situ stress is a vector property with both magnitude and orientation. The World Stress Map project defines the following categories of indicators for identifying the in situ stress regime:

  • earthquake focal mechanisms (magnitude and orientation)
  • well-bore breakouts and drilling-induced fractures (orientation only)
  • in situ stress measurements: overcoring, hydraulic fracturing, etc. (magnitude and orientation)


Borehole breakouts are zones of ellipticity in the walls of a borehole that result from a compressive failure of the well perpendicular to the maximum in situ stress orientation in vertical boreholes. Borehole imaging tools have proven particularly effective at identifying the locations and orientation of such breakouts.

Environmental statistics is the application of statistical modelling to environmental data. In statistical modelling, we make the best use that we can of our scientific understanding of processes in the environment to predict how they behave and then use random variables to model those components of the process that we do not yet understand. This allows us to test our knowledge and also to make predictions from data with associated measures of uncertainty.

This can help scientists, policymakers and environmental managers, because it allows them to explore and understand the risks associated with different decisions that they have to make about processes with uncertain outcomes.


UK landmass stress magnitude data

Fellgett, M W, Kingdon, A, Williams, J D O, and Gent, C M A. 2018. Stress magnitude across UK regions: a combination of new analysis and legacy data. Marine and Petroleum Geology, Vol. 97, 24–31.

Central and northern England in situ stress orientation data

Kingdon, A, Fellgett, M W, and Williams, J D O. 2016. Use of borehole imaging to improve understanding of the in situ stress orientation of central and northern England and its implications for unconventional hydrocarbon resources. Marine and Petroleum Geology, Vol. 73, 1–20.

Data from this is summarised in this citable dataset.

Kingdon, A, Fellgett, M W, and Williams, J D O. 2017. [Online] UK in situ stress-field orientation from borehole breakouts and drilling-induced tensile fractures identified using borehole imaging. British Geological Survey.

UKCS Southern North Sea

Williams, J D O, Fellgett, M W, Kingdon, A, and and Williamson, J P. 2015. In situ stress orientations in the UK Southern North Sea: regional trends, deviations and detachment of the post-Zechstein stress field. Marine and Petroleum Geology, Vol. 67, 769–784.

Irish Sea Basin

Williams, J D O, Gent, C M A, Fellgett, M W, and Gamboa, D. 2018. Impact of in situ stress and fault reactivation on seal integrity in the East Irish Sea. Marine and Petroleum Geology, Vol. 92, 685–696.

Published research on UK focal mechanisms

This paper presents focal mechanisms calculated from UK earthquakes greater than 3.0ML

Baptie, B. 2010 Seismogenesis and state of stress in the UK. Tectonophysics, Vol. 482 (1–4), 150–159.

Constraints on formation of borehole breakouts

Fellgett, M W, Kingdon A, Waters C N, Field L, Shreeve J, Dobbs, M, and Ougier-Simonin, A. 2019. Lithological constraints on borehole wall failure: a study on the Pennine Coal Measures of the United Kingdom. Frontiers in Earth Science, Vol. 7, 163.

European in situ stress data

The World Stress Map have compiled all European stress dataset, including the publications listed, presented in map form.

European stress data compilation

Heidbach, O, Custodio, S, Kingdon, A, Mariucci, M T, Montone, P, Müller, B, Pierdominici, S, Rajabi, M, Reinecker, J, Reiter, K, Tingay, M, Williams, J, and Ziegler, M. 2016. [Online] Stress map of the Mediterranean and central Europe 2016. GFZ Data Services.

Need more information?

Please contact the BGS enquiries team

You may also be interested in

Image from BGS Geology of Britain Map

Digital geoscience

The BGS is a data-rich organisation. Our data science and data infrastructure are fundamental to our future research and underpin our strategic challenges.

Show more

3D visualisation systems

3D visualisation systems enable geoscientists to communicate with each other and with end users from diverse disciplines to better understand complex and varied datasets.

Show more

Was this page helpful?

  • How can we make this section better?*

  • Please select a reason*

  • How can we make this section better?*