In its proposal for the European Green Deal (COM(2019) 640), the European Commission put forward an ambitious vision for European world leadership towards a healthy planet and a climate-neutral economy. We aim to contribute to this vision through the development and establishment of a Geological Service for Europe, which focuses on the planet itself: the earth beneath our feet. The subsurface holds indispensable resources for European industries and opportunities to decarbonise our economy, but also requires careful management to preserve a healthy and safe living environment for Europe’s citizens.
It is necessary to structurally address the EU dimension in geological services for two reasons. Firstly, the scale of many societally and economically relevant geological features exceeds that of the individual EU member states, e.g. water, nature, food production, and climate. To address transnational and continental-scale problems we need to zoom out beyond national borders. This requires innovation, standardisation, harmonisation and, most of all, a shared vision. Secondly, it will literally pay to further strengthen the European geological survey community, which jointly covers the full range in geodiversity, and includes world-leading groups in almost every geoscience domain. We aim to build the Geological Service for Europe based on Europe’s best practices and implement the Service with the backing of the Union.
Existing geological surveys, the national custodians of geological information, are all firmly rooted in surveying activities that have typically been conducted in isolation for up to 150 years. Huge legacies of data and information have been amassed that are difficult to merge. This project will continue the harmonisation and standardisation effort initiated in earlier projects. However, the creation of a Geological Service for Europe must be more than that. We aim to create joint services that can support acceleration of the energy and climate transitions, as well as a larger critical mass of intra-European cooperation through convergence of our research agendas, as key steps to increase the amount and quality of results we are aiming for.
A tough challenge is creating a permanent Geological Service for Europe. Our community has demonstrated, time and again in many EU-funded projects and currently in GeoERA, that we have the ability and the will to work together. But individual projects have one-off results, and especially if that result is a digital service, it will be obsolete soon after the maintenance agreement ends (typically three years). As a result, substantial investments have been made in what have later become digital graveyards. Consolidation is called for. Building on the groundwork laid in the GeoERA program, we will scale up and out, not only scientifically, but also in involving national stakeholders in the network, to create support and eventually obtain a mandate for a European Service on a permanent basis.
Our project’s main focus is developing and making permanently available Pan-European geological data and information services for the sustainable and safe use of our subsurface resources. The availability and accessibility of those resources – geothermal heat, pore space, minerals, building resources, or clean soils and groundwater – is determined by a complex interplay of geological factors, as are the impacts on our living environment of exploiting those resources. A common thread in this project is therefore innovation in ways in which subsurface information is conceptualised, organised, visualised, delivered and translated to the needs of a wide range of audiences, and the methodologies to achieve this. This is primarily a spatial data and information challenge.