OR/17/007 Introduction - (Helen Bonsor)

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Bonsor, H C, Dahlqvist, P, Moosmann, L, Classen, N, Epting, J, Huggenberger, P, Garica-Gil, A, Janźa, M, Laursen, G, Stuurman, R and Gogu, C R. 2017. Groundwater, geothermal modelling and monitoring at city-scale: reviewing European practice and knowledge exchange. British Geological Survey Internal Report, OR/17/007.


The need for cities to make more effective use of the subsurface on which they stand, is increasingly being recognised in Europe and further afield to be essential for future cities to be sustainable and more resilient[1], [2]. However, city planning worldwide remains largely 2D, with very few cities having any substantial subsurface planning or Masterplans — the cities of Helsinki, Montreal, Singapore being rare exceptions[3], [4]. The consequences of inadequate consideration and planning of the subsurface are far-reaching, in economic, environmental and social terms. Across Europe, poor understanding of ground conditions is recognised as the largest single cause of construction project delay and overspends[5]. Management of urban groundwater and shallow geothermal energy resources is becoming increasingly important as cities are increasingly looking to use these resources to meet current and future energy and heating and water needs. Whilst these are, alongside potential underground building space, the two most important resources for future cities, the monitoring and regulation of these resource is widely variable across Europe.

For subsurface opportunities such as groundwater and geothermal energy to be realised and utilised to greatest effect to support growing city populations and infrastructure, city planners must be both aware of, and have some understanding of the resources, available data and research, and both the opportunities and risks which the resources provide to city development[6], [7]. To supply this understanding to city municipalities and others, geological surveys must have robust datasets of groundwater and geothermal resources at city-scale, and the relevant knowledge and understanding from these data must be made accessible to inform subsurface planning in appropriate datasets relevant to different scale of interest in different planning stages. What density and frequency of data are required for a robust understanding of a city’s groundwater and geothermal resources will be different in different cities, according to the complexity of the resources, and the intensity of subsurface use and demands on the resources. Indeed, no one design of city-scale monitoring or modelling of ground-water and heat resources is appropriate for all cities, or for all monitoring objectives. However, the guiding principles of good practice for developing robust city-scale monitoring, and datasets are widely applicable, as are the key principles for ensuring these data inform city planning processes.

Currently there is a large disparity across Europe in the quality of datasets, monitoring and understanding which exists for urban groundwater and shallow geothermal resources in cities[8]. And regardless of the availability of existing data, very few cities in Europe have strong translation of subsurface data and knowledge to city planning, as a result of fundamental communication gaps between specialists. There is therefore a lot of value in learning from existing examples, so that other cities may build and develop on these across Europe. This is the overall purpose of this review, with a specific focus to the key subsurface resources of groundwater and shallow geothermal energy.

Existing monitoring and knowledge for city planning in Europe[edit]

Some cities have very good groundwater datasets and monitoring, and these data are transferred and utilised very effectively in city planning and management. Other cities have very good subsurface datasets, but weaker communication and use of these data in city planning processes. And in some cities there is little subsurface environmental data available, and planning processes often largely omit the subsurface.

Cities which have historically relied on groundwater (e.g. Hamburg, Germany) generally have the largest amounts of historical time series data to help inform understanding of the resources, and also to optimise monitoring for future city planning needs. The large number of monitoring points within these cities can be optimised to collate sufficient data to help manage new and emerging city issues — e.g. rising groundwater temperatures within increasing use of shallow geothermal heat schemes, or increasingly shallow groundwater levels from increased use of infiltration drainage schemes. In stark contrast, cities which have had little historical reliance on the urban groundwater resource (e.g. Glasgow, UK) now have very few groundwater data or monitoring infrastructure available. Data which do exist are localised (both spatially and temporally) and related to specific redevelopment projects in the cities. The need for monitoring in these cities is increasingly important as a result of increasing use of shallow geothermal energy to support increasing energy needs, as well as the need to manage groundwater resources to be a much greater degree to mitigate increased flooding issues with increasing rainfall intensity and variability, and the increasing use of infiltration drainage schemes. In these cities, conceptual modelling of the resources, and focused investigative pilot studies, is an important tool to help improve understanding of the basic characteristics of the resource.

The level of available data, and existing monitoring, in cities is also interestingly influenced by the level of understanding and awareness developed between subsurface specialists and city authorities and regulators in the cities. In cities where there is strong engagement and understanding to the relevance of subsurface resources and appropriate data are accessible to city planning processes there tends to be greater level of monitoring and data, as well as a greater demand for the data. In cities where there is lower data availability, there is often lower demand for new data, or use of the data in planning processes — i.e. the potential value of groundwater and geothermal resources is not known by city planners, and therefore, data are not demanded.

‘Developing city-scale subsurface environmental data for
future cities and integrated subsurface planning’

Development of a strong virtuous cycle of data and knowledge exchange therefore is seen to be essential for the development and use of appropriate subsurface environmental datasets, and it is the third key pillar to good practice — Figure 1. Instigating a virtuous cycle of data and knowledge exchange in cities which have lower availability of subsurface data becomes essential to provide the demand and monetary resources for better subsurface data and knowledge — both from public and private sectors. Conceptual models based on the few subsurface data available, have been shown to be an effective means for geological surveys to highlight what might lie beneath the subsurface, and the importance of having more data to begin to both utilise and manage the resources. For cities with little existing subsurface data, conceptual modelling therefore forms a good practice.

Cities within European cover a large continuum of different practices. Few, however, have established good practices in effective communication and translation of these data and knowledge to city planning processes. Greater integration of existing knowledge and datasets of these resources into city planning is required in nearly all European cities, for their effective utilisation and sustainable management.

Figure 1    Supply of subsurface data generates demand, and an increasing virtuous cycle of data and knowledge exchange.

Report authors[edit]

This report has been compiled by a consortium of researchers and city partners from 8 countries within the COST Sub-Urban Action, and the report presents existing knowledge from universities, geological surveys and city municipalities. Leading city examples and research case studies are reviewed by the report.

Helen Bonsor
British Geological Survey, UK
Helen Bonsor is a Hydrogeologist and NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the British Geological Survey, UK, and she is also chair of the IAH Urban Network. Her current work is focused to developing understanding on: what data and research are most relevant to city challenges; what training and capacity is required for relevant research outputs to be utilised within decision making processes; and to pilot and establish new processes of data and knowledge pathways between research organisations and stakeholders. Her other significant research interests and activities are focused on developing countries for large-scale characterisation of resources, and examining functionality of rural water supply.

Roelof Stuurmann
Deltares, Utrecht, Netherlands
Roelof Stuurman is specialist in integral management of environment, water and soil: hydrogeological systems analysis on a regional and local scale in support of spatial-, environmental and water policy planning. Research is focused on the relation groundwater-surface water in the upper meters of the subsurface (water quality, water dynamics) and on research on seepage processes in relation to surface water base flow conditions, ecology and water quality. He has extensive experience of urban groundwater monitoring design and implementation in different urban contexts around the world.

Mitja Janža
Geological Survey of Slovenia, Slovenia
Senior researcher in department of Hydrogeology with professional skills in hydrological modelling (groundwater/surface water interaction, rainfall-runoff modelling, spatially distributed modelling, influence of global changes on water resources), remote sensing (classification of multispectral satellite images, extraction of vegetation information, LIDAR), GIS/Spatial analysis (natural vulnerability assessment, geostatistical analysis, 3D modelling). Participated in different international and national projects related to water management (INCOME-Improved management of contaminated aquifers by integration of source tracking, monitoring tools and decision strategies, ADAPTALP — Adaptation to Climate Change in the Alpine Space, Alp-Water-Scarce-Water Management Strategies against Water Scarcity in the Alps, Implementation of Water framework directive in Slovenia, TRANSENERGY — Transboundary Geothermal Energy Resources of Slovenia, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia).

Peter Dahlqvist
Swedish Geological Survey, Sweden

Peter Dahlqvist is a hydrogeologist and sedimentologist working at the Geological Survey of Sweden. His work involves a wide range of groundwater issues: groundwater mapping, valuation of groundwater aquifers, environmental objectives, shallow geothermal energy, groundwater dependent ecosystems, groundwater recharge from wetlands, etc. Ongoing research and mapping work includes airborne TEM investigations and 3D modelling of geology and aquifers.

Gert Laursen
Odense City Municipality, Denmark
Gert Laursen is a geologist working within the city municipality of Odense, Demanrk. His work involves a wide range of experience in geological and groundwater issues with the city development and planning processes; and data and research required to unlock city challenges. His recent work has been part of the work to develop an integrated above and below city information model tool for Odense to support city planning and decision making.

Dr Jannis Epting
Department of Environmental Geosciences, University of Basel, Switzerland

Jannis Epting performs basic and applied research at the Applied and Environmental Geology group at the Department of Environmental Sciences of the University of Basel. His work is related to regional geological and hydrogeological questions (e.g. groundwater flow, heat and transport modeling, determination of groundwater protection zones, well capture zones, nitrate transport and geophysical investigations of contaminated sites, consideration of subsurface heterogeneity).
Research and project work includes the management and protection of surface water and groundwater during the construction of major infrastructures in urban areas. This included the development and application of new methods for adaptive urban groundwater management and protection. His recent research focuses on the thermal management of unconsolidated shallow urban groundwater bodies and issues related to the heat island effect observed in many urban areas worldwide.

Prof Dr Peter Huggenberger
Department of Environmental Geosciences, University of Basel, Switzerland
Peter Huggenberger is head of the Applied and Environmental Geology group (Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Basel) and in charge of the Geological Survey of the City and the Agglomeration of Basel. He worked in different domains of adaptive management of groundwater resources in urban areas.
He is a scientific consultant for agencies at the municipal and state level regarding different aspects of groundwater and natural hazards. He has experience in aquifer sedimentology and in the acquisition and processing of geophysical data on fluvioglacial deposits. Recent projects include research on the impact of subsurface structures on thermal groundwater flow regimes. Within several interdisciplinary projects, Peter Huggenberger cooperates with European research institutions, among others the EAWAG and the Universities of Strasbourg, Tübingen, Stanford, UPC Barcelona and UFZ Leipzig. He is vice-president of the Swiss Hydrogeological Society (SGH) and member of the Swiss hydrological commission of the Swiss Academy of Natural Sciences.

Lothar Moosmann
Ministry of Environment and Energy Hamburg (BUE), Geological Survey, Hamburg, Germany

Lothar Moosmann studied Geography and Hydrology at the University of Freiburg (1994). He then worked in various projects of applied hydrogeology and groundwater modelling. Since 2000 he has been working at the Geological Survey of Hamburg. His work focuses on hydrogeology, groundwater modelling, information and advice.

Nikolaus Classen
Ministry of Environment and Energy of Hamburg (BUE), Water Resources Management, Hamburg, Germany
Nikolaus Classen is a geographer and soil scientist in the Ministry of Environmental and Energy of Hamburg, Germany. He observe the groundwater quality and amount on the city scale of Hamburg by the use of a well-designed governmental monitoring system. Building on the results he develops GIS models to describe and visualize the water table or the chemical situation on city scale. Furthermore he implements the groundwater issues of the EU Water Framework Directive in Hamburg.

Alejandro García-Gil
University of Zaragoza, Spain

Alejandro García-Gil is a PhD Student at the University of Zaragoza (Spain) in collaboration with the Institute of Environmental Assessment & Water Research (IDAEA) in Barcelona. His research focus is on the development of thermal management policies and remediation strategies of overheated urban groundwater bodies due to unbalanced shallow geothermal activity in semi-arid climates. His approach is based in the numerical modelling of the processes originated in the subsurface as a respond to heat exchange from a physical and chemical point of view www.researchgate.net/profile/Alejandro_Garcia-Gil

Dr Radu Gogu
Groundwater Engineering Research Centre (CCIAS), Technical University of Civil Engineering, Bucharest, Romania

Dr Gogu is a senior researcher with experience in hydrogeology, numerical modelling as well as spatial data analysis. His resume shows over 25 years of experience in groundwater modelling, groundwater vulnerability assessment, groundwater artificial recharge, geospatial databases design, and GIS-based geosciences modelling tools. This was achieved during different international projects, as working in different European countries: Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, Greece, and Romania. He is full professor and the head of the Groundwater Engineering Research Centre (CCIAS) at Technical University of Civil Engineering of Bucharest. Since 2011 he built up the Groundwater Engineering Research Centre (www.ccias.utcb.ro). The CCIAS team develops applications within several contracts targeting both private and public sectors (FP7, EEA Grants, European Space Agency, Swiss National Funds, local authorities and others).

Report structure[edit]

Urban groundwater and shallow geothermal energy resources are becoming increasingly important for cities to meet current and future energy and heating and water needs. And, as demand and competing uses of resources grow, so too does the need for city municipalities and regulators to have sufficient understanding to protect and manage these urban resources effectively. There is a large range in the quantity and quality of datasets which exists for urban groundwater and shallow geothermal resources in cities. And, very few cities in Europe have strong translation of subsurface data and knowledge to city planning, as a result of fundamental communication gaps between specialists. This report provides an initial review of existing examples of good practice in Europe in respect to groundwater and geothermal monitoring and modelling, so that other cities may build and develop on these across Europe. Key topics of focus throughout the report are the: the correct design of groundwater and thermal monitoring; the resolution of monitoring and modelling required for different purposes, and with different data availability; regulation; and, different good practices in Europe for communicating groundwater and geothermal energy data and knowledge to inform urban planning and management.

This Introduction of the report provides an evaluation of different good practices for generating appropriate city-scale groundwater datasets and monitoring. Urban groundwater monitoring: identifying good practice reviews the different good practices for the use, regulation, monitoring and management of shallow geothermal energy in cities. Shallow geothermal energy in urban areas provides an evaluation of different good practices for modelling groundwater and shallow geothermal resources in cities of high and low data availability. Finally, Modelling urban groundwater and geothermal resources provides a discussion as to why integration of groundwater and geothermal data into subsurface planning is still a missing link in good practices within many cities. The review provides city examples, which illustrate the guiding principles, or key points, of the different good practices discussed. The review is not aimed to be a comprehensive review of all the good practices which exist across Europe — this is far beyond the scope and resources of the review. The review instead forms an informed starting point for subsurface specialists and city municipalities wanting to learn about good practices related to groundwater and shallow geothermal data and knowledge. The Sub-Urban COST Action toolbox will provide further guidance and examples when released in 2017.


  1. University of Birmingham. 2014. Future Urban Living: A policy commission investigating the most appropriate means for accommodating changing populations and their needs in future cities.
  2. European Commission. 2011. Cities of Tomorrow.
  3. Scottish Government. 2009. National Planning Framework for Scotland 2, 2009.
  4. Vähääho, I. 2012. Underground Resources and Master Plan in Helsinki, Helsinki City paper, pp.14.
  5. NCE. 2011. Ground Rules, New Civil Engineer magazine, Editorial, November 2011.
  6. Glasgow City Council. 2012. City Development Plan, Resource Management 2012–2017.
  7. Glasgow City Council. 2012. City Development Plan, Sustainable Spatial Strategy 2012–2017.
  8. Campbell, S D G, et al. 2010. 3D geological models and their hydrogeological applications: supporting urban development — a case study in Glasgow-Clyde, UK, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Gesell-schaft fur Geowissenschaften 161, 251–262.