This is a guest blog post from Dr Katherine Royse, Science Director for GeoAnalytics and Modelling at the British Geological Survey (BGS). The Directorate develops novel methods and techniques to gain added-value from BGS’s data holdings; using a trans-disciplinary approach to produce models that explain, explore and predict the Earth’s response to natural or human induced environmental change. Her research at BGS has focused around the development of 3D geological models for decision support and hazard mitigation in the urban environment. She is a member of NERCs Innovation Advisory board providing advice on how best to translate environmental knowledge and data into new value adding approaches, tools and solutions.
The importance of Geology in Underground Asset management
At the British Geological Survey we are passionate about using our knowledge of the subsurface geology to enable sustainable economic development and the wise management of our natural resources. This is why we were keen to work with the Geovation team this year and sponsor the ‘Underground Assets’ challenge. What excites me most about this challenge is working with people from many different professional backgrounds to produce novel and innovative solutions to the current issues around asset management.
The physical and chemical properties (the geology) of the ground beneath our feet is critically important when assessing the maintenance and performance costs of the UK’s underground assets. All too often the geology of the subsurface is missing from asset management decisions. At BGS we are really hoping that the ideas coming forward in this challenge will be able to help us put geological data at the heart of the decision making process for subsurface assets.
Why is this important? Well unexpected ground conditions cause around 33% of all major construction project overspends. Ground movements caused by changes in temperature and soil moisture (swell-shrink) cost around £300-500m each year in damage and maintenance costs to our subsurface infrastructure. These ground movements often result in pipe breakage causing issues from interrupting supply through to flooding and road closures.
Civil engineers and surveyors will always need to build structures and lay pipelines in difficult ground conditions and it is therefore essential to address the problems that result as management of these conditions are easier and cheaper to deal with at the time structures are buried than the remediation and maintenance costs post construction. For example corrosion prevention is often the most economical solution when compared with conventional removal and repair methods. This isn’t new, thirty seven years ago the ‘Hoar Report’ was commissioned to evaluate the cost of corrosion to the national economy of the UK. The report estimated the cost to be approximately 3-4% gross domestic product (GDP).
Since then the development of new construction materials and methods has reduced this cost to an estimated 2.5% – 3.5% GDP (DTI, 2000). Whilst corrosion is being managed more effectively today, it is still a significant concern and cost burden to the nation. In recent years, public and media interest has focused on the cost of leakage from water supply pipelines, but buried assets, whether pipe-work, cabling, sewers or building foundations, present their own challenges as problems are largely hidden from view and are difficult to assess and manage. This years Geovation challenge highlights the need for interdisciplinary work in this area and that the subsurface is every bit as important as the surface in critical infrastructure provision in the UK.