Geologists turn detective to unearth map of underground Scotland

Recording details of old mine workings is an important part of the BGS survey.

Recording details of old mine workings is an important part of the BGS survey.

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Geologists have embarked on a major piece of “detective work” to create a map of how Scotland looks beneath the surface.

The legacy of Scotland’s mining industry as well as the impact of more recent invasions on the country’s natural geology will all be documented.

It is using all the forms of detective work we possibly can to build up the best picture possible of what has happened below the surface.

Dr Diarmad Campbell, chief geologist for Scotland at the British Geological Survey (BGS), said the aim was to make the surface of Scotland “transparent”.

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He said: “What we are trying to do is make the surface that we stand on transparent so that people can see through it, see the different rock formations and see what has been done with them in the past by previous generations.

“It is like a gigantic detective story. It is using all the forms of detective work we possibly can to build up the best picture possible of what has happened below the surface.”

The BGS is now focussing on the east of the central belt on land to the north and south of the Forth after completing a major analysis of “sub-surface” Glasgow.

It is using thousands of records, some dating back to the 19th century, to build up as accurate a picture as possible as to what lies below, with builders and renewable energy firms among those most likely to benefit.

However, with an estimated 2,000 bore holes sunk every year, primarily by construction firms, Campbell said creating the map was akin to a “never-ending task”.

In Glasgow, the BGS charted the deep network of mines left by an industry active before the city expanded in the mid to late 1700s.

Separately, 113 homeowners in the Jordanhill area had old mines beneath their homes filled in by local authority contractors to save their properties from subsiding. Residents covered 50 per cent of the cost.

Campbell said that in the east mines were far deeper, with some measuring around 1,000 metres. This compares to typically 400 metres in the west.

Data covering Midlothian to Stirling, Clackmannanshire, Fife and West Lothian is currently being gathered.

Campbell said: “Its really an attempt to cover the whole of the central belt but we want to see all of Scotland covered in a similar way,” he added.

He said he hoped old mine workings could be viewed as an opportunity rather than a hazard, given that floodwater naturally warmed in the old mines can be a valuable source of renewable energy.

Campbell added that Scotland already had advanced work on several groundwater heating schemes, where water is pulled from the ground at a temperature of around 12 to 17 degrees Celsius.”

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