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Case Study - Iceberg

An exploratory project undertaken by Future Cities Catapult, British Geological Survey (BGS) and Ordnance Survey (OS) has promoted better collection, sharing and management of underground data and assets for cities.

As part of our Digital Planning programme and building on our work to reduce unnecessary roadworks as part of project Heineken, we wanted to research how a better understanding of the sub surface could reduce risk, increase the speed of development and enable new innovations.

We convened the two main bodies with skills, data and knowledge in this area – the British Geological Survey (BGS) and Ordnance Survey (OS). The BGS is a partly-funded public body that aims to advance the UK’s geoscientific knowledge by means of systematic surveying, monitoring and research work.

OS is a national mapping agency in the UK, which covers Great Britain. It carries out official surveying of the country, providing the most accurate and up-to-date geographic data, relied upon by the government, businesses and individuals.

The main challenges uncovered by the research project were:

  • Varying methods for access to data
  • Limited data coverage
  • No feedback loop
  • Poor data quality
  • Speed of access
  • Data interoperability

The proposed solution to these challenges is the iterative development of a public data-exchange framework for the subsurface that can be integrated with existing city data systems. It’s not desirable to have a single map of the subsurface; However, in the short term, a consistent framework into which data is supplied, assured, stored, accessed and analysed by a multitude of users could deliver significant benefits.

To begin delivering this framework project partners and Future Cities Catapult will work with OS, BGS and the market to demonstrate the practical value of the framework through focused demonstrator projects.


Market analysis was conducted through extensive desktop research and online surveying of sector experts followed by interviews with selected individuals that could lend their knowledge and provide deeper insights into the current state of play and challenges faced whilst accessing subsurface data.

Following this, the complex layers of subsurface assets and geological systems were illustrated, as well as example use cases demonstrating the types of innovative solutions that could emerge from a data-exchange framework.

Outputs and outcomes

The project has been carried out in three different work packages:

Work Package 1: Included thorough market research and analysis using desktop research, online surveying of sector experts, followed by interviews. The market research focused on three primary workstreams:

o     Understanding the current state of play in the UK

o     Reviewing previous projects relevant to Iceberg

o     Assessing international project case studies with similar objectives to Iceberg

The primary aim of the review of current and past projects was to understand the key learnings from them and to identify any potential collaborations, avoid replication of activities and to capitalise on the key outcomes and learning from these projects.

Work Package 2: Evaluated the level of interoperability of the data standards and operating system for an integrated data platform.

Work Package 3: Identified potential use case applications of an integrated data platform that embeds subsurface data.

“We are very excited about the potential impact of this project. Enabling collaborations between different parts of the future city is core to our mission.  As well as bringing together Ordnance Survey and British Geological Survey, what is required is enhanced data sharing between industry, government and academic bodies who understand our subsurface.  The potential savings and impact demand it.” – Nicola Yates, CEO at Future Cities Catapult

Benefitting cities

Creating a subsurface data platform can benefit our cities in multiple ways, including but not limited to

  • fewer service disruptions, lower repair costs and injuries from striking utility infrastructure
  • increased understanding and protection and understanding of heritage assets.
  • more targeted excavation as opposed to excavating simply to find out where the assets are, which often results in ‘dry digs’.
  • Increase confidence in the costs of remediating land
  • Enhanced ability to understand and model the benefits of sustainable urban drainage.

Other benefits include better planned underground space, which could support more effective use of land supply assets, improved urban aesthetics and conservation of energy and sustainable development.

150-word summary:

An exploratory project undertaken by Future Cities Catapult, British Geological Survey (BGS) and Ordnance Survey (OS) aimed to address the serious issue of poor access to information about the ground beneath our cities and the un-coordinated way in which the subsurface space is managed.

Project Iceberg has a strong link to our Digital Planning programme.  Through the project, we demonstrated the value of taking a design and use-case led approach to technical challenge areas and Iceberg has also been used as a case study by the National Infrastructure Commission.

The project produced three outputs; Work Package 1 was a market research report that builds a holistic picture of the current way in which the subsurface and its data is currently accessed; Work Package 2 was a Problem Space Summary Report which assessed the data operational systems and interoperability for a subsurface data platform. Finally Work Package 3 provided use cases for the subsurface data platform.

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