Seeing is knowing: From physics, philosophy, and Shakespeare to a new set of geological visualisation models for the Katie Whitbread

Central England Geological 3D  Model
Observations are the root of scientific knowledge. Because we can observe distant galaxies in the vast expanse of space, we also can learn about the laws that control our universe and uncover our solar system’s fourteen billion year history. Perhaps the relationship between seeing and knowing is too obvious to be particularly striking. But turning the premise on its head leads to some interesting questions; What do we know about things we cannot see? What can we know about things that are beyond our capacity to observe? It is easy to shrug our shoulders and assume that things we can’t see don’t matter. But what if it is important that what is out of sight is not also out of mind?

Take the ground beneath our feet – of course we know it is there, for the most part we can take its firmness and solidity for granted. So long as it doesn’t give way we can go about our business. Job done. But what is the ground beneath our feet made of? What actually happens down there? The answers really do matter…

What the ground is made of has far reaching impacts, stretching well beyond giving us a place to stand (and build). The Earth supplies much of our energy, all our resources of metal, aggregates, and stone, a lot of our salt and water, and (apart from the space junk we leave floating in orbit) it must also store all our material waste. Society is not only built on the earth, it is built from it. So we all have a stake in our planet.

South Wales Geological 3D Model
For many decades, conversations about rocks, sediments and landscapes used to be held largely in the relatively ‘niche’ domains of science and industry. Now, our search for energy, and decisions about how we manage our environment and resources are increasingly matters of public debate. Geology matters to us all.

As the British Geological Survey, our role is to ‘shine a light’ into the subsurface – using a range of tools for investigating what is hidden below ground. This helps us deliver targeted insights to support industry, regulators and planners, but it doesn’t stop there. We also deliver open access resources designed to provide everyone and anyone with the opportunity to see into the subsurface, to learn more about what is down there, and how we know.

With the digital revolution in geoscience, 3D geological models are now offering enhanced visualisation of the subsurface – literally allowing us to see into the ground. This mysterious hidden domain that was once largely conceptualised within the minds of geologists, and depicted in codified form on geological maps, is at last being opened up and revealed to everyone.

Marking a new stage in our delivery of open access resources for the UK, BGS have now launched a new set of 14 Regional Geological Visualisation Models, developed as 3D pdf ‘documents’ and available from the BGS website. The models, initially covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland (with models for Scotland planned), reveal the 3D geology of the UK by linking the UK3D national fence diagram of cross-sections with 1:625 000 bedrock geological maps. A range of interactive tools have been designed to allow users to navigate and explore, revealing the hidden structure of the world beneath us.

So this is an invitation to take a look, to learn about your world, to see the places you know from a new angle. Shakespeare wrote that “all the world’s a stage” – to really know this ‘set’ in which we go about our lives, to understand the myriad of relationships that are part of our story, we first need to be able to see the Earth.  So get stuck in… and when you do take look at the models – tell us how you find them, and help us see our way to making the world beneath our feet more visible.