Serving a changing society

As a vibrant, expanding economy, Ireland has many and evolving demands on geology. It is critical that these needs are fully met in a timely and cost-effective way. It is the role of GSI to foresee and determine those needs and ensure that the national capability exists to meet them. The strategic direction of geological surveys across Europe has seen a dramatic and consistent change over the past decade. A major shift has taken place from serving a single customer segment, the natural resources sector, to providing services to a range of sectors of national life concerned with environmental protection, infrastructure development, heritage and outreach.

A recent survey of European geological surveys indicates a sharply increased focus on information delivery (preferably in digital format and web-enabled), natural hazards and international activities, as well as increases in groundwater, seabed, geotechnical, aggregates, geophysical and geochemical work. These same trends have been evident in the recent activities of GSI and will be familiar to our customers and stakeholders alike. GSI continues to function because of the importance of providing nation-wide and impartial services to support decision and policy-making at European, national and local level. This is reflected in the continued demand for GSI services and the high level of satisfaction of customers with its services.

“GSI services...reduce the risks....of poor decision making”

In 2005 GSI commissioned MORI to carry out a marketing survey of its customers and stakeholders. The aim of the survey, which used an online methodology, was to gauge satisfaction with GSI products and services, and to identify areas for improvement. GSI’s customers and stakeholders expressed a high level of satisfaction. 90% were satisfied with the overall GSI service, 80% considering it had improved over the previous four years. Almost 80% were satisfied with the data and mapping products supplied by GSI, while 95% were happy with its facilities and advisory services. GSI was considered relevant and professional, providing a quality service. The survey pointed to the need for GSI to provide data in digital format, preferably web-enabled, and to improve aspects of its communications.

During 2005 GSI completed a new Strategic Vision to 2015 designed to set out its strategic imperatives over the coming decade and taking account of the upcoming decentralisation of GSI to Cavan. Based on feedback from both staff and stakeholders, Geosolutions sets the agenda for the next decade. Its vision is that GSI will be the recognised national provider of quality geological services, information and advice to support policy and decision-making at EU, national and local levels, as well as to inform all relevant sectors. Reconfirming the GSI strategic goals (see box), it emphasizes the need to address the information delivery issues related to digital format and web enablement, as identified in the customer survey.

A parallel publication considered the value of geological services. Cherishing our Earth identifies the spectrum of GSI services and indicates that these reduce the risks of sterilising important water resources, of transport and infrastructure projects incurring unforeseen costs and delays, of damage to our natural environment and resulting damage to our national image, of losses resulting from damage to shipping, of Ireland becoming too heavily dependent on imported energy sources, and of poor decision-making due to lack of accessible information. The publication states that the principal beneficiaries from GSI services are EU and national government departments and agencies, local authorities, the education sector, sectors dealing with construction, mineral extraction, energy, agriculture, heritage, fisheries, environment and tourism, and the general public.


Mission and Goals of GSI
GSI is the national geological agency charged with the provision of geological information and advice in support of national and regional objectives.The strategic goals of GSI are as follows:

  • To provide easily accessible and accurate geological information.
  • To support sustainable development, environmental protection and national development plans.
  • To map Ireland’s earth resources.
  • To promote public understanding of the role of GSI and geology in Irish society.
  • To provide a stimulating, motivating and rewarding work environment for GSI staff.

Progress on achieving each of these goals during 2005 is described in this Annual Report.

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Future and Past
Traditionally geology has been focused on the past. The nature and sequence of earlier events are of great interest, as well as placing a time frame on them. But society’s expectations of geology have changed and there is now a greater focus not simply on mapping the past but on monitoring the present and modelling the future. Earth forecasts are required: in the next major storm which flood plains will be inundated or which hill slopes will fail?

Of course we still need geological maps and equally we need new editions that take account of recent geological insights and emerging customer requirements. Customers require geological information in accessible formats and integrated with their own databases. So, for example, planners require information in a digital format and viewed against the County Development Plan. More than that, they require customized products that deal with their key issues. GSI groundwater maps were formerly based on geological characteristics and now they focus on specific planning responses. Evolution of geosciences

But in the future there will be increasing demands for monitoring and modelling information. Monitoring landslide activity will feed into a model of future ground behaviour. Monitoring groundwater levels can help build a model of the future capacity of aquifers to meet our needs. This will bring its own demands: geology needs to evolve to providing realistic models that will provide society with practical benefits and not just alarming its citizens. Certainly the recent news that Ireland will join the Earth Observation Programme of the European Space Agency in 2008 is welcome in that it will enable increased participation by Irish researchers in earth observation.

Dublin’s Subsurface
The Government’s Transport 21 initiative will include a major expansion of Dublin’s transportation system, both above and below ground. With extensive tunnelling envisaged, the nature of the subsurface geology is crucial to the success and design of the engineering works. We are set to become familiar with Dublin’s subsurface.
In central Dublin the bedrock is obscured by widespread glacial till, or boulder clay. For engineering purposes this material is divided into an upper Brown Boulder Clay and a lower Black Boulder Clay, the former being a weathered version of the latter. These sediments vary greatly in thickness, from a few to about 20 metres. East of Butt Bridge along the Liffey they are overlain by up to 40 metres of intertidal and estuarine sediments. These unconsolidated sediments are all floored by calp limestone bedrock which is not exposed anywhere in central Dublin. Yes, those limestone slabs in St. Stephen’s Green are simply carefully landscaped slabs.

The accompanying image looks through the unconsolidated sediment and gives us a 3D picture of the bedrock surface itself. And there, outlined in green shades, is a valley feature extending from Heuston Station to Dublin Port and beyond. But remarkably it does not follow the course of the modern River Liffey. This buried river channel, which was first identified by Anthony Farrington in 1929, initially lies south of the River Liffey but then turns northwards under the Guinness Brewery towards Broadstone, the North Circular Road and the East Wall. The channel then turns southeast towards the sea, running diagonally across Alexandra Basin towards Poolbeg.

Dublin's bedrock subsurface

This buried channel does represent the ancient river course of the River Liffey and at a time when sea level was lower than it currently is. During the Ice Age, ice sheets extended across Dublin city and, when they melted in due course, left behind the thick cover of boulder clay. As river drainage re-established itself, the original channel was re-excavated to almost its original depth. As the sea level rose gradually after the Ice Age, this channel was effectively filled up with sediment and the modern River Liffey followed an independent course.

This fascinating history has been built up from borehole information gathered over many decades. This information also provides essential support for urban construction (and especially for transport tunnels) because the cost and nature of engineering works in this area will be strongly dependent on the depth to bedrock. The GSI National Geotechnical Database is a major resource for modelling the subsurface geology in Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland. For example the 3D model shown here was based on 1528 boreholes which reached bedrock beneath Dublin city.

That same geotechnical database which provided us with the information to image Dublin’s subsurface was being upgraded in 2005 to create a relational database in Oracle, with individual boreholes linked to digital maps of urban areas and linear infrastructure nationwide. At the end of 2005 the database contained 55,103 boreholes, trial pits and probes, of which 33,130 had been input.

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