Geoscience Initiatives Programme
 Geology Matters Issue No 11

Introduction Director's Discourse Irish Geoscience Graduate Programme IRETHERM Dublin on the Rocks GSI Awards 2010 USGS visit GSI TELLUS Border Geoscience 2010 Conference Geoscience Initiatives Programme Staff News New Products

Geoscience Initiatives Programme 2007 - 2013

The Geoscience Initiatives are a series of co-ordinated projects, launched by GSI in 2007, which are targeted at strategic national geoscience themes in support of infrastructural development, sound planning and environmental protection. These themes were outlined in the National Geoscience Programme 2007 – 2013 and GSI was awarded capital funding of €5 million under this plan towards their successful implementation. Here we provide a brief update on each of the projects.

The strategic themes cover:

  • Groundwater Protection Provision of national groundwater vulnerability maps
  • GeoUrban 3-D Visualization Compilation of subsurface geological data for the greater Dublin area as basis for infrastructural development
  • Aggregate Potential Mapping Compilation of aggregate potential maps in areas of development as basis for prudent resource management
  • Landslide Susceptibility Mapping Creation of landslide susceptibility maps in Eastern region and around Cork city to help mitigate landslide and peat slide hazards to infrastructure
  • Carbon Capture and Storage Investigating the potential, in an Irish context, of storing CO2 emissions in underground geological storage reservoirs
  • Urban Geochemistry (Dublin)
    A chemical survey of the topsoil around Dublin city and county
  • Geoheritage and Geoparks Support for geoheritage and geoeducation initiatives
  • International Year of Planet Earth (completed)

Ireland's National Groundwater Vulverability
Mapping Programme
Monica Lee and Natalya Hunter-Williams, GSI

Groundwater protection schemes

Groundwater Protection Schemes (GWPSs) have been undertaken by GSI in partnership with Local Authorities for many years now. These are an effective means of protecting groundwater by informing planning and licensing processes, as they provide a basic framework for decision-making and future planning. They can be used to evaluate groundwater resource potential and climate change impacts on groundwater, which are key priorities under the Geosciences Initiatives Programme.

Since 2003, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government (DEHLG) has recommended that GWPSs are incorporated into County Development Plans. As recently as January 2010, the DEHLG have reiterated the need for GWPS to facilitate the implementation of the EPA’s Code of Practice on the Wastewater Treatment and Disposal Systems Serving Single Houses. The completion of a National Groundwater Protection Scheme programme is also necessary to comply with the Water Framework Directive (WFD) as the composite maps (aquifer, vulnerability, subsoil permeability) provide key base data for the characterisation (e.g. Groundwater Body delineation) and risk assessment (e.g. diffuse and point source pollution, and groundwater over-abstraction) phases of the WFD. These datasets also contribute to the preparation of groundwater recharge maps, runoff potential maps and in studies to estimate low flows in un-gauged catchments.

Until 2007, GWPS maps were only available for approximately 50% of the country. However, the requirements of the WFD and circular letters from the DEHLG have accelerated the need to complete the datasets nationally. Under the Geosciences Initiatives, National Development Plan funding is enabling the completion of a national subsoil permeability map and a depth-to-rock database, from which groundwater vulnerability and groundwater protection zones coverage (i.e. the final GWPS map) are created.

A national groundwater vulnerability map, and thus national GWPS, will be completed by the end of 2012 as part of the National Development Plan. Of the 50% of the country that did not have a GWPS in 2007, mapping has been completed for Counties Dublin, Carlow, Leitrim, Limerick Longford, Louth, Offaly, Sligo, Waterford, Westmeath and Wexford as part of this current Geoscience Initiatives Programme. Maps for Counties Tipperary and Mayo will soon be completed, and the field mapping for Counties Kerry, West Cork and North Cork is due to commence in March of this year. For further information about GWPS please see

The GeoUrban Project

Ray Scanlon, Ronnie Creighton, Brian McConnell, GSI

The essence of the project is to create a web-enabled, free access Dublin urban, 2D/3D/4D geo-environmental GIS – "GeoUrban". This will provide a corporate contribution to assist informed planning and infrastructural decision making in the Greater Dublin region, including forward looking flood/inundation protection requirements.

Full development of this dynamic, web enabled system will take a number of years to complete, in particular developing 3D and 4D visualisations, so initial phases will focus on collating and integrating extant data sets, creating an integrated web-enabled GIS and developing indicative/pilot 3D visualisations, as might be achievable with current data and IT systems. In future years, it is intended that the initial developments will build forward incrementally into a fully integrated onshore and near offshore 2D, 3D and, wherever possible 4D visualisation of the geological structure and environment of the greater Dublin region, Dublin Port and Dublin Bay/Kish Basin. Work has been divided into three modules, Bedrock, Geotechnical and Modelling with web enablement.

Ireland's Aggregate Potential
Phelim Lally, Consultant

The National Development Plan 2007-13 has provided funding to GSI to map Ireland’s aggregate potential. Aggregates are sands, gravels, and rock in crushed form used in the construction industry. This mapping exercise differentiates between and delineates areas according to whether they are most or least likely to host aggregate resources. It is of use not only as an exploration aid to the Extractive Industry, but also as a tool for land-use planning by Local Authorities.

Till over stratified Sand and Gravel
Buried treasure: Till over stratified Sand and Gravel

The project follows on from three county Aggregate Potential Mapping (APM) surveys which were completed successfully earlier in the decade: Donegal (2002), and Meath and Wicklow (2004). The focus of APM is to bridge the gap between national geological maps with their associated spatial databases, and the need for locally-focussed non-specialist information. An attempt has been made to filter and reassemble large sets of data in a more relevant way, and to simplify presentation of the results. In addition to geological factors, the methodology has factored in physical and economic criteria. These include the thickness and area of deposits, their topographic elevation, and their marketability in relation to population growth centres and new roads.

Twelve counties - Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Louth, Monaghan, Offaly, Westmeath, Leitrim and Sligo - have so far been analysed, and a set of maps has been produced for each. There are two fundamental maps: that of Granular Aggregate (i.e. sand and gravel) Potential, and that of Crushed Rock Aggregate (i.e. bedrock resources) Potential. Additional important maps are Map of Pits and Quarries, Overburden Characterization and Thickness, and maps showing the bedrock and sand and gravel geology of the county. All these will be made available as AO or A1-sized printouts to the public, and will be available for download from GSI’s website in 2011, after a period of feedback from industry bodies and local authorities. The project is being developed in a Geographic Information System using ESRI® ArcGISTM 9.2 and 9.3 software.

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GSI Landslide Susceptibility Mapping
Robert Bone, Mouchal

Ireland has experienced historic and contemporary peat slides that have caused significant disturbance. This project follows on from the recommendations published in the 2006 report by the Irish Landslides Working Group for a systematic study of landslide susceptibility. The two study areas centred around the cities of Cork and Dublin cover approximately 8000 km2, which is large in the context of similar studies elsewhere in the world.

Mouchel has worked closely with the GSI in terms of data provision and the interchange of ideas and technical approach.

Aerial photo-interpretation

The study has significantly increased the Irish landslide inventory through aerial photo-interpretation and validation processes. Concurrently, a literature review was undertaken into methodologies for developing susceptibility mapping. The literature review along with an enlarged database of landslide events has enabled appropriate methods to be developed to produce susceptibility mapping for both the inland and coastal areas.

Carbon Capture and Storage Activities in the GSI
John H. Morris, GSI

Over the last four years, GSI has increased significantly its contributions to, and support of actions and activities intended to advance national understanding and advancement of CCS as a climate change mitigation technology. To that end it has, in the period up to early 2010, collaborated with the EPA, SEAI, the RIA and GSNI amongst others in the completion of an all-island assessment of offshore and onshore geological storage potential; the assessment of saline aquifer storage potential in west Clare; and the convening of an international CCS Conference in Dublin Castle in April 2010. GSI is an active participant in the Inter-Departmental CCS Committee established by Mr. Eamonn Ryan, T.D., then Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and it has represented Ireland at regular meetings of the "Information Exchange Group" convened by DG Climate Change to facilitate transposition of the Geological Storage directive into national legislation by the deadline of June 2011.

At a more specific level, GSI has advanced CCS actions and activities on a variety of fronts:

  • It was mandated by the ID CCS Committee to develop an "Irish Sea CCS Task Force" to advance, in collaboration with GSNI and BGS, enhanced understanding and knowledge of geological storage potential in reservoirs deep below the sea bed of the Irish Sea. This is being advanced as a multi-annual scientific collaboration agreement between the agencies with a target implementation by early 2011.
  • GSI is advancing a concept with the objective of matching CO2 "sources" in the regions surrounding the St. George’s Channel/Celtic Sea region with sub-sea floor "sinks". This concept is being pursued at present as part of a trans-national partnership within the framework of the INTERREG 4B, NW Europe programme;
  • GSI is a partner in a pan-European FP7 Coordination Action on geological storage of CO2, ‘CGS Europe’. This network pools the expertise of existing CO2GeoNet, CO2NET EAST and ENeRG consortia and adds new members such as Ireland to cover 24 EU Member States and 4 Associated Countries. The objective of CGS Europe is to build a credible, independent and representative pan-European scientific body of expertise on CO2 geological storage.

CCS has been reviewed in more detail in previous issues of Geology Matters.

Urban Geochemistry of Dublin (the Surge Project):
Soil Quality and Public Health
Pat O'Connor, Mairead Glennon, Ray Scanlon, GSI

Major cities have evolved over a long period and by their nature are polluted. City air, water and soil over the centuries have been the receptors of a wide range of organic and inorganic contaminants as a consequence of human activities within cities. Today the people living in major cities and particularly children are exposed to these contaminants (through respiration, ingestion, skin contact) on an ongoing basis. It is clear that over time such exposure is likely to pose an increased health risk to urban dwellers. While air quality and water quality have received a lot of attention in Ireland in recent times, the same cannot be said of urban soil quality.

Dublin, with a history extending back over a millennium, represents the major conurbation in Ireland with a population exceeding 1.5 million people. For the very first time, as part of a wider European soil quality baseline study, geoscientists from the Geological Survey of Ireland have undertaken a surface soil sampling campaign involving the collection of 1063 samples across the greater Dublin metropolitan area assisted by colleagues from the Norwegian Geological Survey. A sampling density of 3 samples per sq km in the inner city and 1 sample per sq km in the outer suburbs was achieved. The <2mm dried fractions of each sample are currently being analysed for 31 chemical elements of interest by ICP-AES at the Norwegian Geological Survey laboratories.

Surface soil sampling

In addition, 194 selected samples were analysed commercially at a Swedish laboratory for 7 PCB’s and 16 PAH’s to determine the levels of persistent organic pollutants in inner city areas. These organic pollutant data are presented for the first time here and show an outward spatial zonation for PAHs and limited site specific PCB contamination.

Soil sampling

All of the data will be mapped spatially by GIS and will be made freely available to all stakeholders and the public in 2011. It is anticipated that there will be a number of follow-up actions arising from this initiative, including research opportunities.

Geoheritage and Geoparks
Pat O'Connor and Sophie Preteseille

GSI provided some limited NDP-funding during 2011 to support initiatives in the Geoheritage and Geoparks outreach areas. Support was provided to the two UNESCO-designated Global Geoparks in Ireland (Copper Coast Global Geopark and the Marble Arch Fermanagh-Cavan Global Geopark) and to Clare County Council who prepared and submitted an application to UNESCO to designate the Burren and Cliffs of Moher as a new Geopark. The outcome will be known in September 2011. GSI participated in the EU-funded NEED project ( concluded at the end of 2010 with the production of a suite of teaching modules in natural science aimed at primary school children which could be delivered in an "outdoor classroom" setting in a Geopark or nature park in Ireland (Burren), Norway, Finland or Iceland. GSI also supported a podcast by Mary Mulvihill "Dublin on the Rocks" – a self-guided walking tour of the inner city built heritage and the geological materials that have been used in Dublin streetscapes which was launched by Minister of State Mr. Conor Lenihan T.D. (see "Dublin on the Rocks")

 Geoparks Ireland Forum
GSI and other partners have set up a Geoparks Ireland Forum to inform and guide stakeholders and provide networking opportunities. Membership is open to any body or group, including both community based and local authority organizations, seeking to develop or already operating a Geopark, and whether or not it is already designated as a European and/or Global Geopark. The 4th meeting of this forum was held in Joyce Country, Galway in Oct 2010. Information is available here Geoparks Ireland Forum

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