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BGS EarthServer - Background

The British Geological Survey (BGS), like all Geological Survey Organisations (GSOs), has as one of its principal roles to be the primary provider of geoscience information within its national territory. Increasingly the information provided is digital and dissemination is over the Internet. For geological map information this has led to the provision of web services, at national level, European level, and global level as part of the distributed geological map of the world OneGeology. There is also a trend towards making more information freely available, such as the BGS OpenGeoscience initiative. The European INSPIRE initiative will also lead to more geological information being made available freely over the internet. You can find metadata on data holdings and services in the INSPIRE geoportal

The Geological Survey geoscience data user community includes scientific users, but also includes many other stakeholders such as exploration companies, civil engineers, local authority planners, as well as the general public. Many of these users are not geologists and it is increasingly important to make geoscience data accessible and useable by non-experts.

Traditionally coverage data has been less important in the geoscience community than in communities such as oceanography or meteorology. Geoscience has used satellite imagery in geological interpretation and has generated grids of properties such as deposit thickness from interpolated point information. Nevertheless the bulk of geological spatial data has remained 2D vector based until recently. This is now changing with the increasing number of 3D digital spatial models being generated. Geological units and structures are three-dimensional bodies and their traditional depiction on two-dimensional geological maps leads to a loss of information and the requirement of quite a high level of geological understanding on the part of the user to interpret them. It is therefore the aim of many Geological Surveys, including BGS, to move towards the provision of geological information as spatial 3D models. However dissemination has been a barrier to this, and while some models have been made available as downloads over the web they cannot be viewed using a standard browser and they come ‘pre-packaged’ with no possibility of selecting the specific area or geologic units required.

The EarthServer Geology lighthouse application is designed first to test the delivery of geoscience coverage data over the web, and then provide a working infrastructure for the geoscience community. For coverages such as satellite imagery and DTMs we will aim to reproduce some of the selection and analysis functionality currently done with specialist desktop software. In the case of 3D spatial models the lighthouse application will play a key role in introducing them to the community and helping to define the user requirements, not just for model delivery but of the models themselves. In the first instance we will aim to provide sufficient functionality to enable the community to see the potential of the models and enable them to specify more detailed user requirements, which we will then attempt to implement in a later version of the lighthouse application.

At present the EarthServer project software only handles rectangular grids, so we have converted the geological model surfaces to this format. This is adequate for simple structures but, in general, geological structures can have complex 3D geometries with faulting, folding etc. Thus the aim of the EarthServer project to extend the types of coverage that are handled to triangulated irregular networks (TINs) and even more complex 3D cell domain types is an important development BGS is particularly interested to test.