3-dimensional soils project

Gamma spectrum
MEL-Mobile Environmental Lab
Onsite XRF analysis


The aim of the 3D soils modelling project is to develop the capability and technology to carry out integrated, high detail spatial and process modelling of the very shallow subsurface (uppermost 4 m) in conjunction with analysis of the parent material and deeper geology. Initially the project's objective is to develop models, which represent traverses of the major soil-geoscapes of the UK and subsequently to apply these methods and techniques at catchment scale.

The project started in April 2005 and is commissioned until the end of March 2010. In the first financial year work was carried out on a scoping and trialling basis. In the next four years the project will concentrate on the following soil-geoscapes:

  • lowland periglacial - chalk/clay with flint (e.g. Hampshire Basin)
  • upland/crystalline rocks - valley glaciated and peat (e.g. Scotland, Wales)
  • onshore/estuarine (e.g. Humber, Thames, Mersey or Clyde estuary)
  • riverine terrain and sedimentary rocks (e.g. Trent, Midlands)
  • lowland glaciated (e.g. Vale of York, Cheshire Basin)

Methods and techniques

  • geological survey
  • drilling and pitting
  • soil survey (NSRI)
  • hydrogeological survey (groundwater monitoring and modelling)
  • geophysical surveys (ground based gamma spectrometry, electrical tomography, downhole geophysical logging, electromagnetic mapping, ground radar etc.)
  • soil sampling and property analysis
  • remote sensing/terrain analysis
  • use of the NERC Mobile Environmental Laboratory
  • 3D modelling in GSI3D© (Insight GmbH)


The rotating spatial models below show two different views of the 3D soil-geology model, which has been developed for the trial site at Brackenhurst Campus, Nottingham Trent University.

Both 3D models show from the top generalised soil horizons A (dark brown), E (light brown), B (brown) and C (dark red). Mercia Mudstone in pale red with siltstone bands in green build the geological foundation. The models are exaggerated by ten.

For a downloadable example, please visit: LithoFrame 3D Models.

Apart from the 3D geoscience spatial model, further deliverables of this project include an enhanced and tested survey capability and a better scientific understanding of the soil-geology interface and their processes.

A wider aim of this project and the Soils Programme as a whole is to develop external links with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), the National Soil Resources Institute (NSRI) and the Macaulay Institute, as well as universities and international geological and soil surveys.

Recent work

Our latest work is taking place on a site of 1.5 km2 close to Shelford, near Radcliffe on Trent, Nottinghamshire (see aerial photo below). The site survey will be carried out along an approx. 500 m wide traverse. The 3D model below shows the site underlain by mudstones (pink and grey) with siltstone bands (green) and sandstone (red). At surface a sequence of colluvium (brown), river terrace (pale yellow) and alluvial (yellow) deposits are found towards the River Trent.

Shelford Geological Shelford site from the air


For more information or enquiries regarding the 3D Soils Modelling Project and for the report on the completed work on the first site, please contact Project Manager Holger Kessler.