We monitor the weather, the oceans, volcanoes and earthquake zones. Despite the increasing pressure on the underground for resources to sustain human life (groundwater, raw materials, energy solutions, civil engineering) we don’t have an observation system that can explain the way the entire underground system works.
At a time when it’s never been more important to understand our natural world, the UK Geoenergy Observatories are facilitating a step change in our understanding of geology and our relationship with the underground environment. They are providing data that helps us understand what’s happening beneath our feet. This data will improve our ability to manage our environment and contribute to the responsible development of new energy technologies both in the UK and internationally.
Funded by the department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), owned by UKRI-NERC and run by the BGS, the UK Geoenergy Observatories are a major infrastructure to put the UK at the forefront of world-class subsurface research and geoenergy innovation.
An initial £31 million investment from the 2014 UK Government plan for growth of science and innovation is enabling the construction of the observatories in Glasgow and Cheshire, the installation of sensors and a new core-scanning hub, and the creation of an open data platform. The investment is enabling us to make data from other geo-observatories openly accessible to the research community.
We are delivering a network of subsurface geoenergy observatories across the UK to enable the research and development community to work on critical geoscience, geoenergy, geoengineering, social science and data questions.
The investment in the UK Geoenergy Observatories is beginning to deliver new data, information and knowledge from subsurface environments in Cheshire, Glasgow and Cardiff. Each location serves up a different body of knowledge.
Glasgow provides a real underground laboratory to enable a range of research into using geothermal energy from mine workings at scale. With 12 boreholes penetrating two sets of mine workings and the surrounding rock mass, spatial and temporal variability in monitoring and subsurface perturbations of heat and flow can be measured. This ready-to-use infrastructure has extensive, in-place sensors and is available to provide conditions directly applicable to mine water geothermal abstraction and re-injection.
When complete, the UK Geoenergy Observatory in Cheshire will comprise 50 boreholes across a 12 km2 area that will reach down to hundreds of metres into one of the UK’s principal aquifers. Hundreds of sensors will be measuring properties such as:
- air quality
- fluid chemistry
- heat flow
- physical and biological properties
- strain accumulation
In Cardiff, we have been monitoring the shallow groundwater in the aquifer below the city since 2015, when the Cardiff Harbour Authority and the City Council donated some 100 boreholes for continuous monitoring.
Monitoring and observation
Monitoring and observation at the observatories will continue over 15 years. The borehole drilling process could deliver up to 3 km of core samples, which, when combined with the £1 million investment in a state-of-the-art core-scanning hub, will transform the UK geoscience on offer to industry and academia.
The modelling, drilling, core samples, data and continuous monitoring are underpinning our knowledge of how geothermal energy, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage and intermittency solutions for wind, solar and tidal energy can reduce our carbon emissions.
The UK Geoenergy Observatories will also provide a platform for social science research to explore our relationship with the underground, geoenergy, and environmental change.
Explore the data, kit, publications and research opportunities
The observatories will provide an ongoing stream of data and researchers will be performing both long- and short-term experiments to explain what’s happening under the ground. Researchers will also be able to carry out laboratory analyses and experiments on rock samples taken from some of the boreholes.
Visit the UK Geoenergy Observatories website to explore the full range of possibilities.