A Word From Our President
Cities and the ‘built environment’ are places where the footprint of humans exerts the greatest pressure on our planet. In 1987 the United Nations Brundtland Report ‘Our Common Future’ identified, for the first time, a series of interconnected, global challenges for sustainable development, and agreed some targets to address them.Three decades on, the world’s greatest cities are continuing to grow at a staggering rate, and achieving the Brundtland Report’s goals remains as challenging as ever.
In the first half of my career at BGS in the 1980s and 90s, my geological mapping assignments were mainly focused on several of our cities in the Midlands and North of England, notably Nottingham, Stoke-on-Trent, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield. At the time, typical outputs of these studies were suites of thematic, environmental geology maps showing constraints (mainly hazards and contamination) and opportunities (mainly conventional energy and mineral resources) for development.
Liverpool excepted, all of these cities have been extensively undermined for coal and the legacy of these former workings was seen as a challenge for new building development in terms of ground stability and pervasive contamination. Although these maps were ‘state of the art’ at the time they lacked the basic 3D information and time-series observations to enable a more thorough understanding of complex processes in the subsurface, and the associated risks and opportunities.
The rise of new spatial information systems with much improved geological information, together with installation of networked observatories to monitor human impacts on the subsurface, is driving a more positive approach where geological features that were once perceived as constraints are now being re-evaluated and developed as future opportunities. Our next indoor meeting at Newcastle will present a series of case studies that demonstrate some of the new geological data available for cities and novel best practices for managing hazards and resources sustainably. Following experiences in Glasgow for example, many of our former coalfield cities are now looking at the legacy of mine waters as a potential source of heat. In Newcastle, brownfield soils that were once considered a challenge for remediation are now being assessed and monitored as potential sequestration sites for atmospheric carbon dioxide. More widely throughout the UK, novel real-time observations allied with data -mining approaches to re-use and re-purpose existing environmental data are enabling better models, risk assessments and remediation of contaminants and hazards in cities.
Do come along to our Newcastle meeting and see four excellent speakers present a vision of how best practices developed and shared across the UK, Europe and Asia have the potential to transform the world’s cities through better use of information and knowledge of their subsurface environment.
Dr. Andrew Howard, President