Dr Martin Smith is Science Director for BGS Global. He joined the British Geological Survey in 1981 and has extensive experience in UK and African geology and in the leadership and management of research. In 2016, Martin was awarded an MBE for services to geoscience.
Want to see what is possible with urban geology? Then head to Shanghai. Since 2004 geologists, engineers and GIS experts from the Shanghai Institute of Geological Survey have captured 7 million boreholes and >50 million pieces of data to construct a huge database and detailed fly through 3D models of the city’s subsurface. These are being used for infrastructure planning (100,000 borehole dataset for metro tunnels alone), space storage, geothermal energy and management of subsidence.
The city has previously subsided, in places, by up to 3.5m and over 400 sites are identified with quicksand and foundation issues. Chinese geoscientists have now developed their own version of a UK GeoEnergy Observatory. Called Triune, it links real time arrays of GPS stations and 800 monitoring groundwater wells with InSAR data to detect change and inform engineering works that now control subsidence to within 6mm. Advanced development and use of fibre-optic cables to sensor the sub-surface is also being developed as part of the ‘Translucent cities’ programme, linking universities in Singapore, Nanjing and Cambridge.
If that’s not enough, in the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre they have the world’s largest model display of a city and an exhibition that includes an amazing 3D bedrock surface model with an emphasis on why geology matters to the city.
|View of the Shanghai city centre model, looking downstream along the Huangpu river|
To further enhance your urban experience, for $1000 per night you can stay in a subterranean room in the Shanghai Intercontinental hotel that is bolted into the walls of a quarry 50m below sea level. At a cost of 2 billion yuan and 10 years in construction, this hotel is a unique marriage between human engineering ingenuity and a faulted basaltic sill.
|The Shanghai Intercontinental Hotel|
So why was BGS in Shanghai? At the annual meeting of the Co-ordinating Committee for Geoscience Programmes in East and SE Asia (CCOP) in South Korea back in November 2018, the three Directors of the China Geological Survey (CGS), the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) and the BGS agreed to explore opportunities for joint collaboration on the topic of urban geology.
And so it was that Martin Smith, Tim Kearsey, Lei Wang and Raushan Arnhardt of BGS went to Shanghai to progress the initial meeting by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Over a 3-day workshop on Urban Geology and Underground Space Planning, we shared presentations and discussion between the three surveys on capabilities and collaboration. The BGS presented some of the range of urban activities being undertaken, both in the UK and as part of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) programme. In turn we learned what GTK are up to in the areas of urban geochemistry and geophysics, risk mapping and Building Information Modelling for Helsinki.
And so it was that Martin Smith, Tim Kearsey, Lei Wang and Raushan Arnhardt from BGS went to Shanghai to progress the initial meeting by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Over a 3-day workshop on Urban Geology and Underground Space Planning, we shared presentations and discussion between the three surveys on capabilities and collaboration. The BGS presented some of the range of urban activities being undertaken, both in the UK and as part of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) programme. In turn we learned what GTK are up to in the areas of urban geochemistry and geophysics, risk mapping and Building Information Modelling for Helsinki.
|Participants at the Urban Geology Workshop from BGS, GTK and CGS|
For some of the team, this was their first visit to China. When it comes to accomplishments in the field of urban geology in China, the words staggering, progressive, ambitious and aspirational are no exaggeration. City development in China is anticipated to peak in the next 10 years with up to 70% of the population urbanized. CGS, now mandated by the Chinese Government, are currently undertaking the 1:50,000 scale revision of 338 cities across China. With 140 cities completed to date, 19 will be selected as pilots for detailed multi-factor urban geology studies jointly with the city authorities - BGS are invited to participate. If Shanghai is anything to go by then the results will be impressive and offer a great opportunity for BGS researchers to work together with an emerging leader in this field to realise the ambition of a “web based service platform allowing real time evaluation and dynamic generation of geological products”.
The recommendations from the workshop will form the basis for a concept note on research topics and funding opportunities. With time this may lead to an Asian network of urban geologists, city planners and policy makers that will ultimately underpin the targets of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities and extend out along the Belt & Road Initiative.
Shanghai is of course more than inspiring cityscapes and an integrated mass transport system that works (the maglev is very cool), it is all things Chinese: amazing food, rich culture and an economic hub. The hospitality and organizational planning of our colleagues in CGS were outstanding (our thanks especially to Dr Siqui Shu and Dr Weiya Ge). Our last day coincided with the national Dragon Boat holiday celebrated by races on the Huangpu River and the organised flow of a significant proportion of the 25 million people in Shanghai towards the waterfront.