Monday, 25 July 2016

The eye in the sky: a new approach to monitoring abandoned Kieran Parker

The Phantom S900 UAV used by GSNI. 
Kieran Parker, environmental geologist with the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland continues to break new ground when it comes to locating collapsed mines. 

The Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI) work with the Department for the Economy (DfE) to monitor the many abandoned mines found in some parts of Northern Ireland. With over 2400 disused mine shafts and adits to survey, new techniques to improve coverage and safety are always explored.  

Parkmore mines are located just north of Cargan at the top of Glenariff, Co. Antrim and were worked for their iron and bauxite. Iron ore and bauxite were extracted from the Palaeogene interbasaltic formation, a layer of reddish-brown 'lithomarge', rich in clay, iron and aluminium oxides that developed from weathering of the underlying basalt. The area is one of extensive mining with the nearby Glenravel mines extracting the material and transporting it by narrow gauge railway lines to Waterfoot on the coast where it was shipped to market. The historic bridge, railway line and associated buildings are still evident on the landscape.

Aerial view of the Glenravel mines area. 
Parkmore mine is a large network of shallow mine pathways extending under the what is now Parkmore Forest and minor public roads. The system of mining used was the traditional room and pillar method where in situ ore rock is left as support pillars. Parkmore has previously been identified as having numerous surface collapses associated with the underlying mine but the area is now largely contained within a working forest, controlled and worked by the Forest Service of Northern Ireland with recent felling making it particularly difficult to access. The terrain is very uneven with high grass, a high density of tree stumps under grass cover and areas with previous subsidence now obscured.

Due to the number of adits and air shafts within the area as well as the rough terrain, surveying the land can be time consuming and hazardous. But GSNI's acquisition of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has meant that we can now use this to survey the area remotely with live aerial imagery fed back to a monitor at the base station. This method has proved so effective that during scheduled monitoring, two new collapses were identified within minutes of the survey; one was in an area that had undergone collapses previously with a retreating collapse of ground following the mine pathway, the other was in an area with no known previous collapse.

One of the mine collapses identified by the UAV.
The depression is approximately 10m wide.
Once the collapses were identified, the Forest Service of Northern Ireland were notified and the areas were fenced off to prevent members of the public and forestry working plant from entering the subsidence zones. The area is currently undergoing more extensive surveying to determine the full risk associated with the network of shallow mine pathways and plans are ongoing to implement long term remediation.

For more information on some of the other innovative techniques used by GSNI to monitor and assess abandoned mines then click here

Friday, 22 July 2016

Immersive visualisation with the Oculus Rift and gaming engines ... by Steve Richardson

BGS staff held a hackathon on 19-20 July at its Keyworth headquarters. Nearly 50 developers, scientists and judges worked in teams addressing scientific challenges and developing prototype solutions in a relaxed, informal, collaborative atmosphere. In the first of our reports from Challenge Leaders, Steve Richardson describes his team’s 14 hours tacking ‘Immersive visualisation with the Oculus Rift and gaming engines’...

The title of our hackathon challenge was ‘Immersive visualisation using the Oculus Rift and Gaming engines’. The idea behind this challenge was to give our developers and scientists a chance to experiment with emerging Virtual Reality (VR) technologies and see whether visualising 3D data could help make our data more accessible, visible and exciting. Ideally we wanted to show how such tools could be used and demonstrated at conferences, BGS open days or even downloaded by users around the world.

For the two-day challenge, our specific goal was to:
“Build an INTERACTIVE, IMMERSIVE model (using a gaming engine) of the BGS geological walkway for players to EXPLORE (wearing the Oculus Rift)”.

We chose to use the BGS geological walk because it was an ideal site to demonstrate the concepts of visualising real-world locations in virtual environments. We could have chosen anywhere in the world but being on-site was the most convenient and familiar.

We also had a lot of data already available that would help us to get on with testing the technology in a time-restricted hack environment, such as a LIDAR point cloud dataset of the concourse captured in 2012:

Figure 1 LIDAR model of the BGS concourse
Figure 1 LIDAR model of the BGS concourse
Our team was a mixture of BGS developers (Steve Richardson, John Talbot) and 3D modellers (Bruce Napier, Luz Marina Ramos Cabrera) as well as a work experience student (Pierce).

After some hack-team planning we got stuck into the challenge at full speed, fuelled by bags of sweets and drinks provided by Patrick Bell and co.

The majority of our hack challenge tasks revolved around building a virtual world in the Unreal Engine 4 system.

First we used the concourse LIDAR model to use as a blueprint for the model, to make sure that all the buildings, trees, monoliths and paving were positioned correctly in relation to each other. This template allowed us to then start adding in the basic building blocks (cubes for buildings, spheres for the WSB atrium etc) of the built-up environment on and around the geological concourse.

Figure 2 Basic building-blocks of the concourse being added
Figure 2 Basic building-blocks of the concourse being added
With the rough outline of the concourse taking shape we then set about making it more realistic. To do this we took high-resolution photographs of the buildings, paving and monoliths, then using photo manipulation software we carefully stitched them together to form large digital wrapping paper to paint onto the bare shapes (buildings, pavement and monoliths). This is a slow and painstaking process which requires attention to detail and most importantly time – something which a hackathon is notoriously short on!

Figure 3 Creating seamless textures from high-resolution photographs
Figure 3 Creating seamless textures from high-resolution photographs
Once we had some textures the next stage was to paint them onto the models. This required us to have 3D models of each monolith, which requires LIDAR imaging or hand-building from scratch. As we were short on time we decided to use generic rock models which we downloading from the internet as placeholders.

Figure 4 Adding the new building textures onto the building model
Figure 4 Adding the new building textures onto the building model
At the same time as the modelling and texturing was taking place, other team members were searching for materials, models and text as the geological concourse content. As the walkway is in geological time order we wanted to place 3D models of fossils and (where possible) dinosaurs in their correct time sequence, to show how life evolved on the planet. We used the GB3D Type Fossils website to search for each time period, select an interesting range of fossils and then download their 3D model scan. This model was then imported into our concourse ‘world’ and placed into its correct location along the timeline. Virtual signposts were placed next to fossils and time periods to help players to understand how their geological time-travelling was going.
Figure 5 Showing a fossil and signpost on the SIlurian section of the concourse
Figure 5 Showing a fossil and signpost on the Silurian section of the concourse

Once the concourse had started shape we regularly tested it in the Oculus Rift, which is a 3D stereoscopic headset that tracks the user’s head movement, creating an immersive experience for the user. 
Figure 6 Testing the model while wearing the Oculus Rift
Figure 6 Testing the model while wearing the Oculus Rift
Viewing the concourse in the Oculus Rift gives the user a sense of scale which is not possible when viewing a 2D screen – especially when we started adding the big dinosaurs into the model!
Figure 7 Release the dinosaurs!
Figure 7 Release the dinosaurs!
All of this work was taking place under the loudly ticking hackathon-clock, constantly reminding us all of how little time was remaining!

Inevitably, we reached lunchtime of the second day with just enough time to whip up a short presentation for the judging panel.

Presenting our work to the rest of the hackathon judges gave us the chance to stop and review how far we had managed to come in such a short space of time. We had set out to produce an interactive, immersive and explorable model of the BGS concourse and in the short time our team had produced a substantial amount of work, with only the ‘interactive’ element of the task falling off the TODO list.
Figure 8 End-of-hack progress
Figure 8 End-of-hack progress

 Figure 9 Demonstrating the Oculus Rift to a willing volunteer
 Figure 9 Demonstrating the Oculus Rift to a willing volunteer

Our team learned a great deal from the #BGSHack in terms of what worked well but also what didn’t. We hope that the Hack gave scientists and other developers an opportunity to see what these technologies can achieve and look forward to seeing where we can take these techniques in the future.
Thanks to the team for their sterling work and efforts over the Hack, and thanks to Patrick and co for all their hard work setting up and running the inaugural #BGSHack!

Monday, 18 July 2016

INTIMATE: a Research and Training School in Stefan Engels

The training school
The INTIMATE network aims to better understand the mechanisms and impact of climate change by bringing together scientists working to reconstruct and model palaeoclimate through the INTegration of Ice core, MArine, and TErrestrial palaeoclimate records. Since the 1990’s, INTIMATE has held regular meetings and the active community of scientists has expanded across the whole of Europe.  A new initiative developed in 2013 (when INTIMATE was funded as an EU-COST Action) was the organisation of a training school that combined teaching about palaeoclimate research with conducting actual research on-site as well as following the school. Stefan Engels (Centre for Environmental Geochemistry, University of Nottingham and the British Geological Survey),  Christine Lane (University of Manchester), and colleagues recently hosted the 1st training school in Dörverden (Germany), where 20 early stage researchers (ESRs) from across Europe and beyond attended and enjoyed a week of science in a productive and social environment....

Explaining how to core peat sediments
 After months of intense preparation, budgeting and organisation, local organisers Michal Slowinski and Mariusz Lamentowicz (together with Stefan Engels and Christine Lane) hosted the training school in the beautiful surroundings of Stara Kiszewa, northern Poland. A total of 21 ESRs from 9 different nations joined the training school, from Ireland in the west to Russia and Bangladesh in the east. The first day of the meeting was aimed at formulating research questions, and analysing the palaeo-tool box we can use to answer these questions. This was mostly achieved in an interactive environment, where participants cooperated in different groups and then shared their ideas and findings in short presentations. Day two was used to get acquainted with the Quaternary history of the region during a very interesting field trip, before two days of hands-on training. Participants learnt a variety of techniques, including coring on a lake platform (piston corer) as well as in a peat bog (Russian sampler), lake-water sampling and a lab session was hosted where several proxies could be ‘sampled’ under the microscope. The final day was used to bring all the initial results and techniques together, and to apply all the knowledge that was gained during the previous few days to the research questions that were formulated on day 1. 

Students getting to grips with the cores
Aside from this busy daytime schedule, the evenings were filled with state-of-the-art lectures by experts in their various fields, including climate modelling (Didier Roche, Gif-sur-Yvette), age-depth modelling (Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Oxford), ice core science (Sune Rasmussen, Copenhagen) and lake sedimentology (Achim Brauer and Rik Tjallingii, both in Potsdam). These lectures truly formed a great addition to the program, and highlighted key aspects of palaeo-research. The final evening was (of course) used to have a big farewell party, and included the consumption of a locally shot wild boar as well as some local beers and snuff! We were introduced to local traditions by two Kashubian folk music performers, and the participants spent their final drops of energy learning to play the ‘devils violin’ (see picture) or the horsetail-in-a-barrel. A great end to a fantastic week, thanks to all the participants.

Stefan Engels is a Research Fellow within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry, collaboration between the British Geological Survey and the University of Nottingham.