Accessing the UK's borehole data

Everyone loves boreholes at the British Geological Survey, but how good are we in the sector at preserving and re-using valuable (and mostly public sector funded) information about the subsurface?
Accessing the UK's borehole data Accessing the UK's borehole data Accessing the UK's borehole data Accessing the UK's borehole data Accessing the UK's borehole data

the British Geological Survey is collating borehole data in a digital format

A plethora of articles have recently been published about this very topic, this one gives an insight into what the British Geological Survey (BGS) has been doing to handle the increasing amount of digital data. In addition, it also talks about an initiative funded by i3P, called Dig to Share, which is trying to improve the workflows and accelerate the unlocking of huge amounts of legacy data hidden away and unavailable to make more informed decisions about planning and design of infrastructure projects.

The National Geoscience Data Centre (NGDC) which is provided by the British Geological Survey collects and preserves geoscientific data. The collection of these unique data assets contributes to a greater understanding of the subsurface which is crucial for managing hazards, understanding natural resources and planning the development of infrastructure both below ground and above the surface.

A number of the collections are deposited under statute. However, many are voluntary deposits. The UK's borehole collection holds over one million borehole records (many dating back to the 1800s with two of the oldest records) and stems from ground investigations conducted as part of development and construction work.

Boreholes drilled for water resources or mining purposes are required to be deposited with the BGS under statute, but those drilled for civil engineering purposes are not. It is estimated that industry drills more than 20,000 boreholes per year (at an average cost of £4,000 (US$5,230) per borehole). BGS estimate that 80 per cent of that borehole data is missing. If the data was captured, accessible and therefore re-used it would create significant cost and efficiency savings, as well as creating an information resource to fuel data models and analytical models. It is estimated that better data sharing could save UK rail project HS2 Phase 2 £10 million (US$13 million).

BGS has recently engaged with industry partners and its stakeholder community to encourage the deposit and re-use of subsurface data in the UK, addressing the barriers and promoting the value of depositing data where there is no mandate to do so. In tackling the barriers, the development of a UK Data Deposit Portal makes it simple to directly upload data, in particular, an automated process has been developed to validate industry standard formats (AGS). The development of a single entry point for re-access to national data enables the deposited data to be accessed and downloaded via a text or spatial search facilitating its re-use.

Despite the BGS borehole archive being accessed thousands of times a day and the availability of the new Deposits Portal, donations of good quality digital data remained very low. This is where the Dig to Share project (a collaboration between BGS, Atkins, Morgan Sindall and Fluxx, and funded by i3P) came into play last summer.

The team has flipped the approach to finding a solution to the missing borehole data on its head. Instead of jumping straight to a technical solution, several weeks were spent talking to actual customers of the database (both consumers and producers of GI data) to understand their current experience, barriers to contribution and ideas for improvements. Armed with this insight, elements from the lean start-up methodology, a ‘fail fast' approach to product design, and running a series of experiments to test customer response to a solution are now being deployed.

The research showed that technology was not, in fact, a significant barrier to customer behaviour. Instead, inertia, permissions and the pace of the construction process were the main reasons individuals cited for not contributing to sharing data, although most could articulate the value of the centralised BGS database, hosting AGS data.

The experiments will aim to validate three main things: Desirability (Do customers want this?), Viability (Does the business model work?), Feasibility (Can a solution actually be delivered?).

It should drive larger changes in success metrics like the number of borehole records in the database

By engaging with customers throughout the process, as opposed to just the start or not at all, the project has real data to back up future investment decisions. A solution will be built that is much more closely aligned to actual, rather than perceived user need, and it should drive larger changes in success metrics like the number of borehole records in the database.

The first set of experiments will seek to prove or disprove hypotheses around awareness at both the grassroots and board level of i3P organisations; can commitment by partner organisations, such as internal policy changes, influence the behaviour of individual employees?

This experimentation approach is an iterative, ongoing process that the Dig to Share team will continue to manage, review and adapt as they learn more about how to drive collaboration across the construction industry. The most recent engagement solution has been the setting up of a ‘Super User Network', a scheme in which employees can sign up to the Dig To Share project and be a voice within their own organisation to promote data sharing, extol the virtues of the BGS as a centralised national repository of ground information, and be part of the process of shaping what the future looks like for data accessibility.

If you would like to get involved, please contact the Dig to Share team, via Sophie Payne at You can follow project updates on Twitter @digtoshare and on the website



  • Holger Kessler, team leader - Modelling Systems, British Geological Survey
  • Steve Thorpe, geospatial technician, British Geological Survey
  • Melanie Marchant, senior innovation consultant, Fluxx Ltd
  • Mrs Sue Roper, GeoInformation Collection co-ordinator, British Geological Survey
  • Alison Fernie, records manager, British Geological Survey
  • Sophie Payne, practice manager, Atkins