New underground observatory opens in Glasgow

A new underground observatory is to officially open in Glasgow which will give scientists a look at what lies beneath the surface.

The Glasgow Observatory is made up of 12 boreholes – beneath manhole covers within a fenced compound – which are 16-199 metres deep and fitted with 319 state-of-the-art sensors to help better understand the subsurface.

A virtual event will mark the opening of the site, with scientists around the world being invited to apply to use it from March 2021 – in line with coronavirus restrictions.

The team behind the facility suggest it will help decarbonise UK energy supply and achieve the country’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

Dr Karen Hanghoj, executive director of the British Geological Survey, said: “The Glasgow Observatory builds on the city’s industrial past.

“The data from Glasgow’s abandoned mines will help us understand the processes and impacts of a mine water heat source and potential heat store as a sustainable way of heating homes and businesses in our cities.

“Over the next 15 years, the network of boreholes will monitor any changes in the properties of the environment below the surface, and help close the knowledge gap we have on mine water heat energy and heat storage.

“While today is the official opening, the Glasgow Observatory has been supplying scientists with open access data since drilling began in 2018.

“There is no other publicly-funded observatory like this in the world, and it is very fitting that it is located in Glasgow, which will host Cop26 next year.”

A second observatory is planned for another site in Cheshire.

Professor Sir Duncan Wingham, executive chairman of the Natural Environment Research Council, said: “The Glasgow Observatory is the first of our UK observatories that will create a high-resolution understanding of the underground system, providing a breakthrough in our knowledge of what lies beneath us.

“Heat from mine water is one form of geothermal energy, and it has great potential to help the UK decarbonise its heat supply and meet net zero targets.”

Professor Dame Anne Glover, president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, also said: “It makes sense that the UK’s first geoenergy observatory is in Glasgow, given Scotland’s geology is world famous.

“With the Government’s target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, emerging low carbon technologies may offer the best solutions to shaping future energy policy.

“This observatory will be absolutely key for scientists to advance the study of renewable energy and is a great example of how Scotland is leading the way in energy innovation and investigating the viability of alternative energy sources.”

Tickets are available to the online opening at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/glasgow-observatory-official-opening-tickets-126437260249.