Instrumenting the Earth

Future town

In the past, geological surveys concentrated on the solid subsurface but in the decades to come we will need to monitor processes below ground in real time.

We’ll use these new data to model and forecast the geological processes that matter to lives and livelihoods, in cities and rural areas, in Britain and internationally.

Weather and river water quality are already monitored continually, and some geological processes (volcanoes and earthquakes) are monitored in real time, but deeper subsurface processes are monitored episodically if at all. Our future use of the subsurface — for groundwater, energy and waste disposal — depends on much greater understanding of subsurface processes. This will make us better at managing these activities safely and sustainably. It will require much greater effort in subsurface monitoring, essentially ‘instrumenting the Earth’.

This approach implies a step change in the way that we ingest, process and serve data. We’ll need more processing power for the ‘big data’ we’ll generate, and a clear line of sight between collection interpretation and modelling for our own scientists and the global scientific community.