Why was BGS·SIGMA developed?

BGS·SIGMA in use in The Trossachs

The BGS·SIGMA project was initiated in 2001 in response to a major stakeholder review of onshore mapping within the BGS. That review proposed a significant change for the BGS with the recommendation that digital methods should be implemented for field mapping and data compilation. As digital data became more readily accessible, it meant that paper maps, fieldslips, satellite imagery, aerial photography and other resources could be made available for the area of study. GIS software was evolving and meant we could embed custom built GIS tools into ESRI ArcMap, meaning that, in essence, BGS·SIGMAmobile became the access route to the digital fieldslip with the underlying database becoming the digital notebook.

As BGS·SIGMA evolved over the years it adapted and developed to meet the needs of BGS geologists. BGS·SIGMAdesktop was added as a toolbar from another piece of BGS-developed software, to take the digital fieldslip and make it a geological map. Once the geological data has been collated and finalised, it's not just maps that can be created: the information can be used in 3D platforms, such as GeoVisionary and GSI3D, and can be used for subsurface interpretation using BGS Groundhog.

Who uses BGS·SIGMA?

BGS·SIGMA is the default toolkit within the BGS for bedrock and superficial mapping as well as other data acquisition projects across the UK and overseas. It is also successfully being used worldwide by other geological surveys, e.g. Norway and Tanzania, by universities including Leicester, Keele and Kyoto, and by mining organisations in Brazil and the USA. It is also used globally, with over 2000 licenses downloaded worldwide to date and in use on all seven continents.

NGU staff using BGS·SIGMAmobile in Norway
BGS staff member using SIGMAdesktop in Singapore

Hardware and software requirements

BGS·SIGMAv2015 is designed to run on any 64 bit Windows 7 PC or tablet PC running:

  • ArcGIS 10.1 or 10.3.
  • MS Word
  • 8Gb RAM (BGS recommendation)

An MS Access licence is no longer required, unless your organisation wishes to view and manipulate the data directly in the database or make changes to the dictionaries.

BGS currently maintains three types of hardware for digital field-data collection:

Main functionalities


  • Entry of field observation points along with linked data for:
    • structural measurements (bedding, faults, folds etc.)
    • superficial landforms (erratics, glacial, periglacial and topographic)
    • artificial landforms (adits, shafts, pits etc.)
    • simple log/section
    • landslides
    • samples
    • sketches
    • comments
    • photos
  • Map face notes
  • Line data can be drawn directly (and correctly attributed) into ArcMap under these main categories:
    • artificial ground
    • mass movement
    • landforms
    • superficial deposits
    • bedrock
  • Polygon seeds for polygon generation in BGS·SIGMAdesktop
  • Field report generator — collates user-defined data into an MS Word document
  • Data export tools for using data in other software


  • Suite of tools to assist in map compilation and decision making:
    • combining data from all geologists into one database for generating final data compilation for the project
    • cleaning linework
    • generating polygons (advanced licence required)
    • add more data/hide data

These tools can be used in whichever way suits the user and still maintains the user's own working practice.


BGS·SIGMAv2015 is available for free for use by commercial and non-commercial organisations.

Please read and accept the licence agreement before downloading.

BGS·SIGMAv2015 download contents

A zip file containing:

  • BGS·SIGMAv2015 installation files (versions for ArcGIS 10.1 and ArcGIS 10.3 — please install the relevant version)
  • brief installation guide
  • "What's new" guide
  • user manual

BGS·SIGMA workflow

Prior to commencing fieldwork, a BGS geologist will carry out an initial desk study of their field area using Socetset (a stereo aerial photography system) or GeoVisionary (3D visualisation software) and observations are recorded directly into ArcMap/BGS·SIGMA. Once datasets have been assembled in the office using BGS·SIGMAdesktop, targeted fieldwork can commence using BGS·SIGMAmobile. Following fieldwork, BGS·SIGMAdesktop can be used again to finalise data, combine field projects and compile final datasets. As part of this process, GeoVisionary can once again be used to validate the data in a 3D environment.

Further information about BGS·SIGMAv2015