Research news and awards

Latest news about our research. Project progress and collaboration. Awards and achievements.

Dr Ciaran Beggan

Scientists have updated the World Magnetic Model, which underlies navigation for ships and planes, nearly a year ahead of schedule because the magnetic poles have wandered more quickly than expected in recent years. In an interview with Ian Sample at The Guardian, the BGS's Dr Ciaran Beggan talks about why his team tracks the pole and what we can learn from its rapidly changing position.

Where on earth is North? – Science Weekly podcast

8 February 2019

BGS staff member Michael Stephenson

Professor Mike Stephenson, Director of Science and Technology at the BGS, will be a keynote speaker at the ‘Next steps for the unconventional oil and gas market in the UK’ conference in Westminster on 4th April 2019. This timely conference, chaired by Lord Truscott, will focus on policy and planning, key infrastructure challenges, environmental standards and assurances, and community and stakeholder engagement.

Further details on the Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum website:

Next steps for the unconventional oil and gas market in the UK

7 February 2019

Rock specimen of shale (P521463)

The British Geological Survey attended a briefing on shale gas exploration in the UK at The Science Media Centre on 22 January 2019.

Shale gas exploration resumed in Lancashire in October 2018. This was paused several times after tremors were detected. What does the evidence say about fracking in the UK?

Professor Rob Ward, Director of Groundwater Science said: "Although we understand the environmental risks associated with shale gas operations, there is still a need to better quantify them for air, water and seismicity, and how they evolve over the lifetime of a shale gas well or well field. A new BGS-led research project (Equipt4Risk) funded by UKRI is addressing this with the aim of developing an integrated risk assessment and management framework for shale gas in the UK."

More information on Equipt4Risk:

Dr Brian Baptie, Head of Seismology said: "Hydraulic fracturing of unconventional gas reservoirs is generally accompanied by microseismicity. Experience worldwide suggests that these events are usually too small to be felt, however, on a few occasions larger events have occurred. As a result, measures are required to reduce the risk of seismic events that may cause concern for public health and safety. Current regulations require operators to stop hydraulic fracturing if an event with a magnitude of 0.5 ML or above occurs during operations. The ground vibrations from earthquakes with magnitudes of up to 2.0 ML are usually too small to be felt by people unless they are very close to the epicentre, and are normally only detected by sensitive equipment. Similarly, earthquakes with magnitudes of less than around 4.0 ML are unlikely to result in damage. As a result, the limit is a conservative one and significantly lower than the limit imposed by other regulatory authorities around the world. This could be raised without resulting in an unreasonable increase in the risk of ground motions that may represent nuisance or cause damage."

More information on BGS shale gas research:

23 January 2019

Ocean image
British Geological Survey and Heriot-Watt scientists are research partners in the ambitious, £20 million UKRI GCRF One Ocean Hub, which will transform the global response to the urgent challenges facing our oceans.
From plastic pollution to rising sea levels and acidification to over-fishing, the threats facing our oceans are well-known.
The UKRI GCRF One Ocean Hub will bring together the competing interests and agendas of the individuals, groups and organisations that rely on our oceans to realise a vision of an integrated and sustainable approach to managing their use.
A key priority will be to ensure the knowledge, experiences and rights of those most-reliant upon the oceans, and disproportionately affected by our failure to protect them, are recognised.
The team will set out to uncover the less tangible values of the ocean, and the hidden 'trade-offs' in ocean decision-making.
The goal is to ensure decision-making is based on evidence of risks and opportunities among competing ocean uses.
Find out more

22 January 2019

BGS staff member John Ludden

Professor John Ludden today announced that after 13 years at the British Geological Survey (BGS) he will be leaving this coming September.

John leaves BGS in a very strong position, having recently led on the establishment of a new BGS Board and with a strong science leadership team both internally, and with a new Science Advisory Group of external experts.

Professor Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair, of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) said;

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank John for his many years of hard work leading BGS. BGS is well positioned for the future, with a key role to play as a world leading Survey. John has played a major role in all its developments, and will leave BGS greatly strengthened.”

18 January 2019

Borehole drilling

As part of a major new research programme on environmental issues, the BGS is leading the £1.8M GWatt research project - Geothermal power generated from UK granites.

Decarbonising power generation is a challenge for the UK, requiring an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Geothermally-generated electricity is a carbon-free, renewable source that is available all the time, unlike wind and solar. Exploitation of the UK underground thermal resource has been held back by a lack of knowledge of the properties of fractured hot rocks and uncertainty regards the economic viability.

To help tackle these barriers and encourage geothermal development in the UK, the BGS is leading a new, NERC-funded project, ‘Geothermal Power Generated from UK Granites’ (GWatt). This research will seek to increase knowledge of fracture controlled flow in granites, quantify the sustainability of the heat resource, produce robust geological assessments to reduce financial uncertainty and apply the results to new geothermal exploration models for granites.

A particular strength of GWatt is the link with the United Downs Deep Geothermal Power (UDDGP) project, an £18M, 2 borehole Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) that is being developed within the Carnmenellis granite in Cornwall, which will provide unique sets of data. GWatt will carry out innovative analyses and interpretation, combining site-specific observations with regional studies and state-of-the-art uncertainty quantification, to address the challenges associated with EGS development within SW England.

The GWatt project consortium comprises the British Geological Survey, Camborne School of Mines (University of Exeter), Heriot Watt University, Geothermal Engineering Ltd, Geoscience Ltd, Computer Modelling Group Ltd, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership and Cornwall County Council.

Full list of the NERC funded projects in the programme: £24 million for new research into major environmental topics.

Read the recent blog by the GWatt Principal Investigator, Chris Rochelle: Feeling the heat: exploring the potential for geothermal energy.

21 December 2018

Seismic trace

Since hydraulic fracturing started at Preston New Road, near Blackpool, earthquakes have been detected close to site.

We publish detected events on our website page earthquakes around the British Isles in the last 100 days. Magnitudes are local magnitude (ML) and are calculated to one decimal place, as is standard practice in earthquake seismology.

The BGS has deployed additional seismic sensors across the north of England. This denser network allows us to detect smaller earthquakes than we are typically able to do.

The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has strict controls in place to ensure that operators manage the risk of induced seismicity. This includes a requirement for operators to control and monitor the fracturing process and assess the risk of induced seismic events.

The BGS is not a regulatory body. Our role is to provide impartial data. Current regulations require operators to stop hydraulic fracturing if an event with a magnitude of 0.5 ML or above occurs during operations. It is the responsibility of the operators to carry out real-time seismic monitoring and any decision to stop will be based on the information they provide rather than by the BGS.

Our seismic monitoring provides an impartial source of earthquake data. Data from our stations are viewable on the real-time seismograms page of our website.

Seismic activity at Preston New Road: FAQs

For any media enquiries contact the BGS Press Office.

11 December 2018

The rig on site at the United Downs Industrial Estate
Drilling started in November near St Day in Cornwall to demonstrate the potential of the geothermal resource in the UK to produce electricity and renewable heat. The project has received around £18 million in funding, including £10.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund. The BGS is just one of the delivery partners in the project and is well placed to help provide good science to the United Downs programme and projects linked to it including microseismic monitoring as well as geochemistry and hydrochemistry analyses.
Read more on the United Downs Deep Geothermal Power project.
Geothermal heat, arises from the heat dissipated from the centre of the earth and, at shallow depth, from heating by the sun. High-enthalpy (deep) geothermal heat is found within some granitic rocks such as those in Cornwall due to slightly raised levels of the radiogenic isotopes of potassium, uranium and thorium. The BGS has corporate policy positions on a range of geoscience topics and science briefing papers that allow BGS scientists to reflect and communicate their science in a succinct way to other experts, policymakers and the public. You can read BGS’s Science Briefing Paper 'Who owns geothermal heat?' to find out more about geothermal regulations in the UK.
To find out more about how other countries as well as the UK are rising to the challenge of using geothermal energy as a source of renewable energy generation then you can read Chris Rochelle’s latest GeoBlogy 'Feeling the heat: exploring the potential for geothermal energy.'

7 December 2018

3D model of the UK

The Geospatial Commission has partnered with Innovate UK to launch a new government competition where organisations can apply for a share of £1.5 million to fund projects which use data linked to location. Between £50,000 to £750,000 could be granted to eligible organisations.

By using location data, geospatial technology is transforming services across the public and private sectors and are contributing to the #SmarterGov Government campaign, which is helping to deliver wider economic growth and productivity.

The aim of the competition is explore the benefits and challenges of crowdsourcing data. It will encourage different organisations to work together to identify innovative new ways for crowd-sourced data, to either:

  • Improve the delivery of public services
  • Support the third sector
  • Enhance the quality of open public datasets

This new competition is a further boost to the UK’s status as a world leader in digital innovation and an example of how advances in technology can be used to foster economic growth, deliver outstanding public services and generate savings for the public.

The competition opened on 26 November 2018 and the deadline for applications is midday on 30 January 2019. It is open to UK-based organisations from a business of any size, academic organisation or higher education institute, charity, public sector organisation or local authority, public sector research establishment, research council institute or a research and technology organisation.

The BGS is one of the six partner bodies of the Geospatial Commission which was formed in 2017: Chancellor to unlock hidden value of government data

Find out more about and apply here Geospatial Commission competition

27 November 2018

Research ship
Dr Carol Cotterill from the British Geological Survey (BGS) will be swapping log-books for legislation when she visits Christine Jardine MP at the House of Commons for a week in Westminster. The week (26 - 30 November) is part of a unique pairing scheme run by the Royal Society – the UK’s national academy of science, with support from the Government Science & Engineering (GSE) profession.

During her visit, Carol will shadow Christine Jardine and learn about her work. As well as attending seminars and panel discussions about how evidence is used in policy-making, Dr Cotterill will also attend a mock Select Committee.

The visit will provide Dr Cotterill with a behind the scenes insight into how policy is formed and how her research can be used to make evidence based decisions. It will also give Christine Jardine the opportunity to investigate the science behind her decisions and improve their access to scientific evidence.

Dr Cotterill said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to see the inner workings of policy-makers and parliamentarians. I am hoping to gain a new perspective on how scientific research is used within the creation and revision of policies, and how best to maximise the visibility of scientific research within the political landscape. It will also allow me to highlight the impact of vital research being undertaken within BGS, that supports sustainable growth in both infrastructure and energy developments offshore and onshore”.

The Royal Society’s pairing scheme, which started in 2001, aims to build bridges between parliamentarians, civil servants and some of the best scientists in the UK.

Christine Jardine MP will get hands on experience of ongoing research into offshore renewable ground models when she enters the world of log-books and geological models on visiting Dr Cotterill at the BGS next year.

The Royal Society pairing scheme is in its 18th year. By the end of this year’s scheme, 456 Scientists will have taken part, shadowing a mixture of MPs, Peers, Civil Servants and Select Committee Staff. That is enough Scientists to fill the Green benches in the House of Commons, and still leave 28 standing. Previous politicians who have participated include Michael Gove, Defra Secretary, Nick Clegg, former Deputy Prime Minister, Chi Onwurah MP, Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Caroline Lucas, Co-leader of the Green Party.

Further information about the Royal Society pairing scheme, as well as case studies, can be found at the following link: Royal Society Pairing Scheme.

23 November 2018