Urban geoscience

BGS Research

Urban geoscience cityscape

The geosciences have an important but often underappreciated part to play in securing sustainable and resilient global cities.

Our towns and cities have evolved to exploit the urban subsurface in a multitude of different ways — for example, water supply, transport tunnels and basements — and each is influenced by its individual geological setting. To help unlock the value of the ground we need to understand its multiple and complementary uses to avoid potential conflicts, manage risks and evaluate competition for space and function.

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The city of the future could be hazard resilient, resource sustainable and rich in natural capital — but only if we act today.

BGS Urban Geoscience provides solutions for urban land-use planning and sustainable development. We adopt an integrated approach to research, working alongside city planners, engineers, developers and academia to develop new techniques and methods to understand the complex processes that occur in the ground beneath our towns and cities.

Our primary areas of activity are:

  • provision of geoscience data and information for urban planning in support of policy, legislation and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11 (sustainable cities and communities)
  • characterisation of ground conditions for major infrastructure projects to support options appraisal and analysis of risk
  • development of methods for sustainable management and use of urban subsurface space, including approaches for 3D and 4D geological characterisation
  • evaluation of anthropogenic pressures and interactions in urban environments

Further information

Helping to solve the UK housing crisis with a new tool to understand brownfields by Catherine Pennington

The BGS has developed a new tool to help understand the ground conditions and estimate likely costs of remediating brownfield sites. The tool can be used by councils across the country to help the planning process. It has the potential to save the construction industry millions of pounds and increase buyer confidence for those considering the redevelopment of brownfield sites.

Why do we need to know what’s under our cities? And what’s it got to do with icebergs?!  by Catherine Pennington

Subsurface information is tricky to access unless you know what you are doing and the consequences for getting it wrong can be disastrous. Project Iceberg aims to remedy this situation.

Verticality and the Anthropocene: politics and law of the subsurface  by Stephanie Bricker

Stephanie explores the ideas emerging from a session at the 2015 Royal Geographical Society conference and the mix of social perspectives and practical applications.

Future visions for water and cities by Stephanie Bricker

With eight grand challenges, five bold future visions and 200 co-creators, the UK Water Partnership opened the debate on water for our future cities.

Reconnecting the city: historic urban landscape and the role of geology  by Deodato Tapete

In his book review, Deodato Tapete, a former applied urban geologist at the BGS, examines the current challenges and opportunities for the historic urban landscape in future cities.


Need more information?

Please contact the head of urban geoscience

Find out more about our research


Project Iceberg

Project Iceberg aims to address the serious issue of the lack of information about the ground beneath our cities and the un-coordinated way in which the subsurface space is managed.

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Brownfield Ground Risk Calculator

Brownfield ground risk calculator

The Brownfield Ground Risk Calculator is a digital planning tool developed to help identify the scale of risks and unexpected costs associated with ground conditions.

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Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) are drainage solutions that provide an alternative to the direct channelling of surface water through networks of pipes and sewers to nearby watercourses.

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Resilience of Asian cities

Our research aims to improve city resilience by integrating geology into urban subsurface planning and urban-catchment science in India and south-east Asia

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BGS & BCA staff on geological fieldwork

The geology of Singapore

The BGS has been working with the BCA on a range of projects to improve the knowledge of Singapore’s subsurface geology.

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3D London Model

3D Urban Geology

3D Urban models provide conceptual understanding of the subsurface below our cities to support planning and development.

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