Rt Hon David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, visited BGS Edinburgh on Thursday 10 February to learn more about our world-class geoscience research and how our data is used by government, industry, academia and the public.
The Edinburgh office is home for BGS's expertise in the geology of Scotland, natural hazard research, marine geology and petroleum geology.
We have close links with other research institutes, the business community, the Scottish Government and its agencies.
Much of our research is carried out in partnership with UK universities and we contribute to training through supervision of postgraduate students. Our science has international reach and we have built important partnerships in Europe and beyond.
The Minister spent the afternoon listening to several presentations about BGS work including:
'Ah, our Prime Minister is worried about solar storms.... Now should we be worried, we have had a quiet patch, are we due for something in 2012? Will our mobile phones still work?'
BGS is also involved in projects monitoring volcanoes across the globe on the ground and from space. Our primary objective is to apply our science to help reduce human, environmental and economic losses caused by natural hazards.
We aim to communicate hazard and risk clearly to inform policy makers and risk managers, and have worked with the Cabinet Office on the case for inclusion of earthquakes, eruptions and space weather in the National Risk Register since April 2010.
During the Icelandic volcanic eruption in 2010, we provided advice to Government through the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, working with a number of partner organisations such as the Met Office. We were able to apply our expertise in volcanology, including our unique experience of handling a volcanic crisis on the island of Montserrat.
We collaborate with US partners to produce the global magnetic model used by NATO (a product of strategic importance), and we can model the threat to the National Grid, a Critical National Infrastructure, from space weather.
Similarly we provide assessments of seismic hazard for structures such as nuclear power stations.
BGS contributes to the understanding of all our marine geological resources, including oil and gas, renewables, carbon capture and storage, aggregates and biodiversity/sea floor habitats.
We make valuable contributions to oil and gas exploration and evaluation of resources for DECC , the Falkland Islands Government, World Bank-funded international projects, and through research jointly funded by BGS and the oil industry.
'Oil companies and regulatory authorities recognise the benefits of our work, which they are willing to co-fund. For example, our Rockall Consortium received over £7m of external investment over the last 19 years and collected much key data over strategically important frontier exploration areas to the west of Britain.'
We also undertake shallow offshore geological modelling which supports industry (site investigation) and evaluation of sea-floor habitats with support from offshore industries (oil and gas, renewables, aggregate extraction), DEFRA, Marine Scotland, the Crown Estate and EU research programmes. BGS has developed world-leading technology to take samples at and beneath the sea floor which is used globally in scientific and commercial projects.
Our operations experience has resulted in BGS leading an international consortium to run the European contribution to the Integrated Ocean Drilling Programme. Recent scientific achievements include major publications on the geology of the North Sea and the deep water areas west of Britain.
A new initiative, MAREMAP (Marine Environmental Mapping Programme) has recently been launched with colleagues from National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, the Scottish Association for Marine Sciences (SAMS) and the Channel Coastal Observatory to revolutionise our understanding of the sea floor and subsea using new techniques and new data gathered by different parts of Government and various marine industries. This project should underpin marine spatial planning and assist UK marine industries to develop our resources efficiently and sustainably.
Britain has a varied and complex geology. The National Infrastructure Plan 2010 identifies some £200 billion of investment in the UK's Energy and Transport networks.
Geoscience data and advice are key to the early design and planning of these activities and have the potential to generate significant savings.
BGS is moving from maps to digital, 3D geological models, and is building a national 3D model framework that will inform policy, planning and industry in our major cities, catchments and coalfields.
Conurbations, such as London and Glasgow, are the current focus of our detailed modelling and we respond directly to the needs of planners, regulators and developers involved in regenerating and redeveloping urban areas.
For example, in partnership with Glasgow City Council we are delivering 3 / 4D models of the near-surface geology and groundwater systems that help to resolve problems related to the UK's industrial legacy, sustainable drainage, flood risk management and longer-term climate change impacts.
Our 3 / 4D models are also now being used to assess ground source heat resources under the Glasgow conurbation. Stored heat, within the waters in abandoned mine workings beneath much of the conurbation, provides an opportunity for tapping into this form of sustainable energy.
We use detailed 3D subsurface geological models to interpret these mineworkings and their underground strata. These resources could provide space heating and surplus heat storage for communities and businesses on a large scale and the BGS is already discussing with industry and others how these urban resources might be exploited economically and sustainably as part of the 'new industrial revolution' in energy, and contribute to carbon reduction.
The BGS is recognised as a European centre of excellence for the study of carbon dioxide (CO2) storage, contributing to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and in the UK plays a key role in the delivery of advice to Government.
The BGS has 26 staff dedicated to CCS research. We are prime movers in the two UK centres of CCS (NCCCS in Nottingham and SCCS in Edinburgh), where we work closely with academia and industry to develop Britain's storage potential in the North Sea and Irish Sea.
Offshore from Scotland are some of the largest potential carbon stores in Europe. International research is also an expanding area, particularly in China.
The BGS is currently engaged in a range of projects that contribute to a roadmap for the implementation of CCS, develop skills and capabilities, and inform new entrants (such as the power sector) in developing the case for licensing and storage. In Scotland we have strong links with the power and the oil and gas sectors, and we look forward to the forthcoming DECC decision regarding the UK CCS competition.
BGS provides Knowledge Exchange services for businesses, researchers and the public.
We have provided open access to our data through the OpenGeoscience service which offers a wealth of digital geoscience materials for free; such as digital maps, photos, and databases.
Recognising the emerging power of the mobile and tablet computer market, BGS launched the iGeology App via OpenGeoscience in late 2010.
'iGeology is the equivalent of carrying 500 paper maps around in your back pocket!
We intend to build strongly on the success of iGeology with many new GPS-enabled services for the public, educational and business sectors.'
iGeology enables the public to find out instantly what geology lies beneath their feet or house, and to date has been downloaded 20 000 times across the world.