Monday, 18 December 2017

The BGS Annual Review

Dear Friend of BGS 

I enclose here our Annual Review for 2016-2017 

BGS is healthy as you will realise when you read the report. We are a diverse organisation working at the cutting edge of solving research problems in earth and environmental sciences.  

We are about to embark on a new era with the creation of a BGS board, which will be chaired by Sir Keith O'Nions and will be starting the search procedure to fill the posts on the BGS Board. Please apply if you feel you can contribute to BGS at this level.

 The report is organised around our regional impacts including global science.

 I hope you enjoy the read and I wish you all the best for the season and 2018. 

Thursday, 13 July 2017

The BGS core science programme

Royal assent has allowed the passage into law of the Higher Education and Research Act (2017). It is expected that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will be properly established in April 2018, following an implementation period. A UKRI Executive Committee comprising the CEOs of the research councils has been created that will ensure overall strategic coherence and maximise effective working across the entirety of UKRI. Through this transition, the BGS will seek the freedoms to allow it to flourish as a survey and, as you will see, we have already made significant progress in this.

We are in a period where BGS funding is relatively secure (Figure 1), although the funding we receive from government, currently via the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), is increasingly targeted (Figure 2). This does mean that we will have to suspend some activities or reduce them, while increasing others. This is of course an ongoing activity, but is more acute this year than in the past.

The BGS has agreed with NERC that our core budget will be ring fenced and clearly directed to national and public good (NPG) activities, including the research lines that underpin these activities and ensure that we retain our excellence as a geological survey. This explicit recognition of our NPG role is powerful for us. We will continue to compete for research council grants and will have a strong industrial and innovation portfolio in addition to having our own commercial interests. To oversee the core budget spending and activities in general, NERC will create a BGS board and will be appointing the members in the coming months.

Our projected annual expenditure is forecast at £47.6 million in 2017–18, together with capital investment of £10 million. Our staff levels have been managed down to about 580 in recent years, although associated with the development of a major infrastructure activity (see UKGEOS) we will be increasing our headcount this coming year for the first time in a decade.

Official Development Assistance (ODA)

The budget for the UK research councils was inflated in the current comprehensive spending review (CSR) settlement by a significant amount for Official Development Assistance (ODA). Some of this has been earmarked for NERC, and an amount that corresponds to about 15 per cent of the BGS core NERC budget has been identified for us to spend over the current CSR period. This means that we will need to reassign some UK national activities to overseas activities.

We are developing three platforms to respond to this: one around east African geoscience and resilience, one on south-east Asian megacities and their hinterland catchments, and one on global geological risk. These will allow us to position the BGS for additional competitive funding streams in the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) where the majority of these ODA funds reside inside UKRI.

UK GeoEnergy Observatories (UKGEOS)

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has now approved this capital project and £31 million will be invested over two years to create world-class, subsurface energy-research test centres operated by the BGS.

UKGEOS will provide scientific energy-related test beds in two geologically different locations in the UK. Each site will comprise a network of deep and shallow boreholes, enabling geoscientists to undertake long-term observation of the subsurface for the first time and in unprecedented detail. They will deliver new information for the interpretation, modelling and monitoring of the environment from the surface down to more than 1500 m.

The BGS will target about 15 per cent of its core funding to operate these sites.

Innovation funding

The BGS is an institution that sits in an applied-science space between fundamental research, innovation and commercialisation. In the future, we will explicitly map our innovation funding to science directorates with clear key-performance indicators and evaluation of outcomes. We will provide internal, flexible funding to respond to opportunities, developing our innovation pipeline in a timely way. At the same time, we will invest in an innovation hub that will include machine-technology capabilities. We expect this strategy to align with future UKRI industrial strategy and regional development. The yearly investment corresponds to approximately another 15 per cent of the core budget for the coming three years.

EU funding

About five per cent of BGS funding comes from the EU and a significant part of this is associated with infrastructure development (field laboratories and data) and in some cases we lead the core services in these infrastructures. We are hopeful that the UK will continue to invest in EU infrastructure, especially as some of these facilities are key to UK international competitiveness.

BGS staff and programme reorganisation

The overall budget for the BGS is shown in the pie charts Figures 1, 2 and 3. It is evident that once the costs of information development and management are taken into account, the balance of core budget that can be assigned to other NPG tasks is limited.

To be more effective, the BGS will restructure its directorates. We will reassign staff in the geology and regional geophysics and land, soils and coast directorates and embed them in key directorates, thus bringing our activities closer to partners, users and markets.

Across the BGS there will be focus on three challenges:

  1. decarbonisation of power production, heat, transport and industry
  2. environmental change adaptation
  3. natural geological hazard and risk

Our major science effort will be in harnessing our new infrastructure including UKGEOS; our activities in sub-seafloor science; catchment observatories, and global hazard observatories.

In general, there will be a reduced focus on rocks and sediments as indicators of past events and a corresponding increase in focus on rocks as conduits for processes that affect lives and livelihoods. Improved methods of storing and delivering information within the BGS will allow greater efficiency and an ability to do "more with less". We will also seek new ways of funding our activities through interaction with government and the private sector.

At the same time, we will enhance our regional delivery for England, in addition to that which is already specific for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We have created a Wales and south-west England focus from the Cardiff office, which has recently relocated to the Cardiff University campus. Moving our Edinburgh office to the Lyell Centre on the Heriot-Watt campus, along with our marine infrastructure facility, has brought a new focus to BGS Scotland. From England we will deliver a south and south-east England regional geology hub; a Midlands (including East Anglia) hub, and a northern England hub. All of these regional and devolved administration activities will have a presence in regional partnerships.

Most importantly, the BGS will continue to have geologists with feet on the ground to ensure that we develop a more dynamic geological map, including real-time data acquisition. We will thus enhance our training and continuous professional development for field geologists.

Overall, the BGS is about to undertake its biggest transformation since joining NERC in 1965. It will gain more independence than it has had in 50 years. Technological development in sensors, high-volume computing, and visualisation and modelling are driving us to a new form of geological survey, and we are leading the world's surveys in many of these activities. At the same time, international opportunities are growing through GCRF funding, an expanding DfID programme, and more global impact in general.

The BGS will greatly benefit from the new freedoms and flexibilities afforded to it in a new governance structure. We will continue to forge partnerships in the UK and globally with institutes, universities and industry, while maintaining our independence and social responsibility.

Prof John Ludden
Executive Director


Monday, 21 November 2016

BGS Annual Science Review

I am pleased to present the BGS Annual Science Review for 2015/16.

In the review we have chosen to focus on the BGS working with nations; the devolved administrations of the UK and nations globally.  Our strategy is focused on state of-the-art geological modelling and technology for monitoring the subsurface with our aim for people to feel confident that we know what is below their feet and how this will be managed and may change during their lifetimes.

We have activities in all parts of the UK and worked in 79 countries globally. Environmental monitoring and modelling were a strong focus in all of our UK activities this year: working on baseline monitoring for potential future shale gas extraction in northern England; monitoring heat from abandoned mine waters in South Wales and Glasgow, and subsidence monitoring of abandoned mines in Northern Ireland with the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI).

On the energy front, we worked as part of a national effort on carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Wales and looked at the sub-Irish sea floor CO2 storage potential. We are also part of the UK CCS group in Edinburgh, and are still helping out South Africa in CCS and shale gas development.

Infrastructure and data to support infrastructure development remain key parts of the BGS and we released software packages that allow better definition of borehole data and visualisation of geological cross-sections via ‘Groundhog’. In response to a recommendation by a Parliamentary report on unconventional gas, we released a database on the regional stress field that will be of use in subsurface activities including ‘fracking’, geothermal and energy storage.

Our public-good-facing activities are underpinned by state-of-the-art applied research, and our outputs in publications have almost doubled in five years with a marked shift towards high-impact outputs in highly rated science journals; in 2015-16 we wrote ~300 papers of which ~30% were in Impact Factor 5 or above publications. 

We moved our science base in Scotland to a new home, the Lyell Centre, at Heriot-Watt University (HWU), Edinburgh. Our staff are in a fully open and modern building shared with HWU and we also moved our marine operations onsite.

The Lyell Centre, BGS's new home in Scotland

This significantly strengthens our visibility and presence in Scotland. In 2017, we will move into the Cardiff University campus and hope to achieve the same for GSNI with Queen’s University of Belfast, thus creating strong academic links in all parts of the UK.

Looking forward to 2016/17 we are starting with a balanced budget, significant capital infrastructure investment in the energy sector and a growing overseas development programme as part of the new Research Councils UK Global Challenges programme.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

BGS welcomes the Keyworth and District Footpath Association (KADFA)

The BGS headquarters is located in Keyworth on the outskirts of Nottingham. We are a somewhat enigmatic place that the locals view as a positive asset to a small dormitory town to Nottingham. We know that they wonder what goes on behind the hedges and they have no idea how far back the site reaches. It is thus a pleasure that we welcomed the Keyworth Walking Club on site as part of this year’s walking programme.

They were met by me and then received an amusing and factual account of how the geological walkway was put together from Steve Parry of BGS.

Dr Steve Parry introduces the BGS Geological Walkway

The tour ended in the Core Store (National Geological Repository) which is an impressive thing to have on your door step, whilst not knowing it. It allowed me to pass on a message about energy security and answer questions on geohazards and reassure the locals that we are doing a good job for the UK and globally.

Me introducing the impressive Core Store on site at Keyworth

Trevor Lax of KADFA said "We had a tremendous morning being shown around BGS. Steve, who took us on the Geological Walk was "top class". His talk was very informative and good humoured. John Ludden was so knowledgable and enthusiastic about the most valuable work BGS carries out. It was a great community event. Thank you to all who made it happen." 

Photos courtesy of Trevor Lax, KADFA.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

BGS and the EU referendum

BGS employs the best people for the job regardless of their nationality and we will always do this.  I sincerely hope that the UK government will make it as easy as possible for us to maintain a free flow of talented staff in the future.

I have been very impressed while talking to staff recently of the degree of commitment to BGS and the firm belief that it is  a great organisation to work for.  I realise that inside BGS there are staff who will have voted Remain and Brexit and we absolutely respect the democratic decision of the UK public.

I fully expect that we will develop strong EU partnerships in the future but the way these are developed may well have to change. Irrespective of funding developments, I am sure BGS will be remain a highly effective organisation and currently we are in a very strong position in all of our science and data areas.

I invited all non-UK European colleagues to write to me with their concerns and I offered to send their letter to Jo Johnston the Universities and Science minister. You can read the letter that we have sent to him here.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

BGS getting down to business

The British Geological Survey released its Business Plan (BP) for the three year period starting April 2016. This plan underpins the BGS strategy “Gateway to the Earth”.

BGS is constantly reviewing its science priorities and these have largely moved towards a programme of harnessing new technology to instrument the Earth so that we understand geological processes in real time. This will help society to:

  •          Use its natural resources responsibly
  •          Manage environmental change
  •          Be resilient to environmental hazards

As part of our business planning we will be implementing the £31 million Energy Security and Innovation Observing System (ESIOS) to underpin new developments in subsurface energy management. This will be supported by BGS being part of a Midlands regional capital investment in partnership with Midlands Innovation “Energy Research Accelerator (ERA)" of £60 million, plus a twice this amount in supporting funding from industry. BGS will be required to resource both of these capital investments in providing technological development and operation and undertaking new research with partners.

At the same time the new BGS Business Plan sees a significant upscaling of our overseas activities, largely in response to targeted funding on Overseas development for UK government as part of the Global Challenges Research fund and also the Newton fund. We anticipate that as much as 30% of BGS activities may be redirected overseas in support of development, but at the same time underpinning UK government policy.

BGS will enhance its position in the UK devolved governments; in Scotland at the Lyell Centre which we will be developing with Heriot-Watt University and in Cardiff and Belfast in co-locating with Cardiff University and Queens Belfast. We will further enhance our activities with the University of Nottingham and other partner universities through key joint ventures.

Within the period of the Business Plan BGS hopes to have moved from its current position within the NaturalEnvironmental Research Council (NERC) UK to a Government corporation alongside similar bodies to ourselves (such as the Met office, Ordnance Survey and the National Physical Laboratory) which advise government and work at the cusp of academic research industry and government.

John Ludden

Monday, 21 March 2016

How is the BGS responding to the urgent challenge set out by the Paris accord?

The Paris climate summit proposed some stringent targets for global warming and emissions. These can only be reached if we manage to engineer a reduction in greenhouse gas output and currently the main means of achieving this are switching to gas away from coal and deploying renewable energy and increased nuclear sourced energy. 

BGS was asked by Friends of the Earth how we were responding to the Paris decisions and the BGS Director of Science and Technology has produced a reply which is copied below.

BGS provides scientific evidence on subsurface processes that are relevant to the economy of the UK, and may be used by government in support of policy.

Response to Friends of the Earth


BGS is an internationally recognised centre in several sciences that contribute to lower emissions, including carbon capture and storage, geothermal and the siting of offshore wind farms.

Carbon capture and storage

Predictions like those of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) New Policies Scenario suggest that coal will continue to be used heavily in the future, and will probably remain the backbone of global electricity generation for many years to come. This underlines the need for a switch away from coal, and for the coal that is to be burnt to be used in power stations that are fitted with carbon capture and storage facilities. A look at three large countries with big coal resources, China, India and South Africa, illustrates the problem. China is by far the largest coal consumer in the world, accounting for almost half of global coal use in 2010. In the IEA New Policies Scenario, China’s coal demand will increase to over 2850 million tonnes per year by 2020, and stabilise above 2800 million tonnes until 2035. Coal will continue to provide more than half of China’s electricity until 2035. Similarly in the New Policies Scenario, South African coal production, which is mainly for electricity, will peak around 2020 but continue to be high into the future. India is struggling to electrify its rural economy and it is likely that much of this electricity will come from coal.

In Europe for 2020, the EU has committed to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below 1990 levels, and further cuts are being decided for 2050. This commitment is one of the headline targets of the Europe 2020 growth strategy and is being implemented through binding legislation. Power generation will have to take a particularly large part in emissions reductions, mainly by focussing on increasing surface renewables (wind, tidal and solar), nuclear and geothermal power, but it is likely that carbon capture and storage on fossil fuel power plants will be important.

Carbon capture and storage may be particularly important for the 2°C limit set at COP 21, in Paris in December. Most of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) scenarios limiting global temperature increases to 2 °C include some form of ‘negative emissions’ or permanent removal of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the atmosphere. Of the 400 IPCC climate scenarios that have a 50% or better chance of less than 2 °C warming, more than 300 assume the successful and large-scale uptake of negative-emission technologies. The most popular of these is Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). BECCS involves growing energy crops for power stations for electricity and scrubbing out the CO2 in the flue gas for permanent sequestration in the subsurface.

The main constraints on BECCS are how much land and resource can be devoted to biofuel crops, and how much subsurface storage space for carbon dioxide there is. The first is a difficult problem and not within BGS’ remit. Given the weight that the IPCC gives to BECCS there is an urgent need to explore the potential ecological limits to, and environmental impacts of, implementation of BECCS at a scale relevant to climate change mitigation.

BGS main research in CCS involves questions over the feasibility of large scale geological storage of carbon dioxide. Though in Norway two deep subsurface sites 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide have been safely stored, other geological environments must be tested and it is vital that more demonstration and full scale schemes are started, like the Aquistore scheme in south-eastern Saskatchewan where 40000 tonnes of carbon dioxide has been safely stored, and where 1100 tonnes of CO2 are injected per day.


BGS is researching the feasibility of geothermal heat for residential and civic use including the use of disused mine workings as a geothermal resource in urban areas, geothermal from deep sedimentary rocks, and ground source heat pumps. Geothermal could be an important way for the UK to achieve its goals in emissions reduction.

Although the UK is not actively volcanic, there is still a substantial resource of geothermal energy at shallow depths but it is exploited in different ways. The upper 10–15 m of the ground is heated by solar radiation and acts a heat store. This heat can be utilised by ground source heat pumps that can substantially reduce heating bills and reduce emissions. The heat from the sun is conducted downwards into the ground. At a depth of about 15 metres, ground temperatures are not influenced by seasonal air temperature changes and tend to remain stable all year around at about the mean annual air temperature (9–13°C in the UK). Hence, the ground at this depth is cooler than the air in summer and warmer than the air in winter. This temperature difference is exploited by ground source heat pumps that are used for heating and/or cooling of homes and office buildings. There are different types of systems which can be broadly grouped into closed-loop systems and open-loop systems.

With increasing depth, the ground temperatures are also affected by the heat conducted upwards from the Earth's core and mantle, known as the geothermal heat flow. When combined with the thermal conductivities of the rocks this allows the prediction of subsurface temperatures. The UK's geothermal gradient, the rate at which the Earth's temperature increases with depth, has an average value of 26°C per km. Some rocks contain free flowing water (groundwater) and so at depth this water will be warm and can be extracted for use in district heating schemes or for industrial uses such as heating green houses.

There are also regions in the UK where the rocks at depth are hotter than expected. This occurs in granite areas because some granite generates internal heat through the radioactive decay of the naturally occurring elements potassium, uranium and thorium. Granites have very little free flowing water, but it is possible to engineer the fracture system such that water can be made to flow from one borehole to another through the granite. The extracted hot water is at a sufficiently high temperature to drive an electricity generating turbine. Parts of Cornwall have geothermal gradients that are significantly higher than the UK average due to the presence of granite and have potential for geothermal power generation.

Offshore wind turbines

The Marine Environmental Mapping Programme (MAREMAP) and the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), both of which BGS is a part, are coordinated efforts to improve seafloor and shallow geological mapping to establish the ground and geotechnical conditions for many offshore wind turbines. The shallow geology can produce impacts and constraints on design, installation and operation of seabed structures and sub-seabed foundations. Some of these constraints relate to the variability in the composition and distribution of Quaternary sediments (at the seabed and in the subsurface) and bedrock within the first 50 m below the seafloor. Additionally, other constraints relate to the geological processes that have occurred in the past or are active today.

As well as these sciences aimed at direct emissions reduction, BGS is working intensively on the effects of coming climate change, including on groundwater levels (in the UK and in Africa), landscape and erosion, and sea level. We are working with a whole range of partners on how these changes can be forecasted and planned for so that society is more resilient to change.

BGS is, of course, interested in all other areas of research into emissions reduction and climate change science and welcomes discussions on its science strategy.

Best wishes,

Prof Mike Stephenson

Director of Science and Technology, BGS