UK Geoenergy Observatories

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has commissioned the BGS to deliver two observatories to collect new data on the underground environment for geoscientists. Watch this short film to find out why scientists believe that we need to know much more about what's below our feet to tackle some of our biggest environmental problems, then read more about the investment in these pages.

The UK Geoenergy Observatories is a £31 million investment in delivering new scientific data from the underground environment. Delivered by the BGS for the whole of the UK science community, there are two preferred observatory locations: Glasgow and Cheshire. The observatory in Glasgow is already underway, with the first 199 m-deep borehole drilled and core samples being retrieved. Plans for the observatory in Cheshire are being considered by Cheshire West and Chester Council, with a decision due in the first half of 2019.

The observatories would be the first specially designed research facilities in the UK to collect new scientific data on how the underground environment works.

The Glasgow observatory will build a picture of the shallow underground environment across a 4 km2 area down to 199 m. The Cheshire observatory would build a picture of a more complex rock structure across a larger 12 km2 area and down to 1200 m.

Both observatories would deliver a constant stream of seismic and groundwater data over a 15-year period, enabling scientists to examine the way fluids and gases move around the underground system. More than 3 km of rock core samples and £2 million of state-of-the-art scanning equipment would enable the geology to be examined in greater detail than ever before.

Both locations will provide a baseline understanding of the state of the environment now, and monitor changes to that environment over the next 15 years. The observatories will build a model of two locations typical of how the UK environment is used. Data and knowledge from these 'control' environments can be compared with geological conditions all over the world.

This knowledge would underpin management, regulation, permitting and decision making on the way the underground environment is used, including how it could be used as a sustainable part of the world's energy mix. The data could improve understanding of known technologies, such as geothermal energy, carbon storage, compressed air storage and shale gas, as well as leading to new geoengineering and geotechnologies. It will also inform understanding of groundwater flooding, landslides, urban geological processes, landscape change, geomicrobiology and soils.

Proposed observatory locations

Cheshire planning application


The £31 million funding for the UK Geoenergy Observatories was awarded from the UK Science and Innovation Plan for Growth 2014 to grow UK geoscience and geoengineering and inform the development of new energy technologies. NERC and the BGS received final funding approval for the observatories in April 2017, after proposals were developed and reviewed.

The UK Geoenergy Observatories are part of NERC and BGS strategies to improve our ability to observe, monitor and understand the underground environment. The UK Geoenergy Observatories will drive continued observation and open data right into the heart of UK geoscience: to underpin responsible and sustainable use of the natural environment, manage environmental change, and be resilient to environmental hazards.

The observatories have been commissioned by NERC and are being delivered by the BGS. The BGS will operate the observatories over their 15-year lifetime.

NERC consulted with the UK science community to develop and design the observatories and identify the science to be conducted. This is detailed in the science plan 235KB pdf, which was published in June 2016.

The UK Geoenergy Observatories project was known as the Energy Security and Innovation Observing System for the Subsurface (ESIOS) during early design and development stages.

Science Advisory Group membership

The Science Advisory Group, which wrote the science plan, is comprised of some of the UK's leading earth scientists. The advisory group has also advised on the location of the preferred sites and on the composition of the borehole arrays.

Research opportunities using the UK Geoenergy Observatories

Researchers with an interest in using the UK Geoenergy Observatories facilities must first contact to discuss the opportunities and capabilities that the facility offers, and ensure that projects are suitable for the sites. Once the facilities are operational, they will operate in the same way as NERC's other services and facilities. The UK Geoenergy Observatories' facilities will be available for research, innovation and training activities. Other funding sources (other than UKRI) are welcome, including industry-led research. Anyone with an idea for research conducted using UK Geoenergy Observatories facilities is encouraged to use the NERC ideas process for highlight topics and strategic programme areas, through joint strategic response or via any other UKRI funding routes, e.g. NERC discovery science grants.

UK Geoenergy Observatories website

All the data from the observatories will be made available through the UK Geoenergy Observatories website, which will be live in the coming weeks. We have been building this site over the last year and we are nearly ready to launch. Once the site is ready, it will replace these BGS webpages. All the information from these pages is being transferred across into the new site.

Date last updated: 15 February 2019


For more information, please use the UK Geoenergy Observatories contact form.