Call for science ideas: Energy Security & Innovation Observing System for the Subsurface project

Closing date: 16:00 on 30 October 2015

NERC invites the UK science community to submit ideas for the science capability and capacity requirements of the Energy Security & Innovation Observing System for the Subsurface (ESIOS) project.


In the 2014 Autumn Statement, the UK government announced a £31 million funding allocation (subject to final approval by government of the NERC business case) to create world-class subsurface research test centres through NERC, operated by the British Geological Survey.

ESIOS will establish world-leading knowledge that will be applicable to a wide range of energy technologies, both within the UK and internationally. ESIOS will provide national science facilities for:

  1. Monitoring and observing - answering questions on how subsurface energy technologies interact with the environment.
  2. Independent scientific evidence - answering questions on new and established energy supply and storage technology, increasing efficiency and environmental sustainability.

Our aim is to understand more about how the Earth's crust behaves in relation to subsurface energy activities, both for natural surface systems and human infrastructure.

We are looking to improve our understanding of larger regions (basins), overburden, seals, aquifers and the critical zone - particularly in how these different zones act together and how changes interact with surface systems. We want ESIOS to add to existing methods of building knowledge: studies and modelling at laboratory scale are relatively successful and modelling methods on the scale of single permeability units have been developed. Our aim with ESIOS is to complement these methods.

Science ideas

To ensure that ESIOS meets the current and future needs of the scientific user community, a long-term coherent science plan for ESIOS will be developed between now (September 2015) and March 2016. This process includes this invitation to the UK and international science community to submit high-level science ideas to explore through ESIOS.

We ask that ideas are at the level of concepts, for example:

  • 'Investigating the geothermal potential of tight deep aquifers for geothermal heat'; or
  • 'Investigating the causes and controls on induced seismicity in hydraulic fracturing'.

We also ask that ideas contain brief details of equipment and resources required, as well as identifying appropriate location(s). The University of Chester Thornton Science Park would be an example location. We anticipate that ideas may have project lifetimes of several years.

These ideas will be used to frame a number of activities: to inform the development of the business case by NERC to feed into equipment for capital investment, and to advise on the location for potential sites.

A town meeting will be held on Thursday 22 October 2015 at BGS Keyworth to further engage with the wider scientific community and encourage participation and input to the design, concept and operability of ESIOS.

Responses to this call for ideas will be considered by the ESIOS Science Advisory Group.

NERC strategy and links to ESIOS infrastructure development

The NERC strategy, 'The Business of the Environment', identified the importance of increasing our understanding of subsurface processes so that we can benefit from, and protect, natural resources. ESIOS will form part of NERC's long-term strategic approach to integrated environmental observation and data science to deliver to the NERC strategy, drive innovation and growth and bring closer a "full model of the environment", working in partnership with industry and government.

It is envisaged that a number of test sites and observing facilities will be developed that will require infrastructure that could service the following:

  1. Multi- and single phase reactive (and non-reactive) fluid flow and considering how fluids move through rocks in a variety of settings and how this influences the design and control of energy related sub-surface processes.

  2. Fluid flow related to energy applications in the subsurface will induce geodynamic (physical) change in the rock environment, some of which may be expressed at the surface. ESIOS could provide the measurement and imaging of crustal change feeding into geodynamic modelling in the upper crust, with the ultimate aim of developing a unified model of geodynamic change for a heterogeneous cube of shallow crust.

  3. The growth of biofilms and biological material is known to affect fluid flow and particularly commercial injection and extraction of fluids in the subsurface in oil and gas and carbon capture and storage; we wish to gain a better understanding of the controls on their growth and the possible mediation effects of the subsurface biota on other subsurface physical processes, including the role of the subsurface biota on the larger carbon cycle. ESIOS could address the controls on formation and preservation of biological material in the geosphere, what its role is in subsurface fluid flow and geodynamics, and its role in the carbon cycle.

  4. Another aspect is the translation of knowledge from fluid flow, geomechanics and biology into dynamic models that take account of subsurface complexity and geological variability, bringing models of fluid flow, geomechanics and biology together and coupling these models with surface environmental models. This large coupled model would be used to quantify the possibility of change to natural surface systems and to human activity. A part of this area would also relate to improving the communication of information between scientists and stakeholders at all stages and the development of statistical tools to facilitate communication to enhance public confidence and understanding of the role of these tools in the context of ESIOS.

This science will feed into carbon capture and storage (CCS), groundwater flooding, compressed air energy storage, gas storage, landslides, shale gas, underground gasification, urban geological processes, Quaternary processes, geomicrobiology, soils and other areas. ESIOS will improve our ability to monitor and observe, but also maximise the efficiency of subsurface activities including new, greener, less invasive ways to operate, by developing better heat exchange, or better injection and extraction methods. This science and engineering will be developed, tested and brought to market partly through ESIOS.

ESIOS Science Advisory Group

The ESIOS Science Advisory Group (ESAG) of experts has been established to participate in the development of the science plan. ESAG encompasses academic and technical expertise in energy and Earth science disciplines, and its membership has been drawn from across the UK energy and Earth science community, including higher education institutions (HEIs), to ensure open and inclusive representation of all UK science users. ESAG also includes members representing the ESIOS project management and end users.

ESAG's primary objective is to develop and recommend the scientific user requirements for ESIOS to help ensure that the project has the optimum science capability and capacity to meet the present and future needs of the UK science community. To achieve this, ESAG will draw upon responses to this online call and a town hall meeting to be held on 22 October 2015.

How to submit ideas

In order to submit an idea, members of the community are asked to complete the template below and submit via email to .

Idea template (Word, 50KB)

The closing date for submission is 16:00 on 30 October 2015.


If you have any queries, please contact .