Solid foundation for future of our natural resources

Release of gold data for the border region of Ireland at the Tellus Border Results and Research Conference. Picture Colm Mahady / Fennells Copyright 2013 Fennell Photography Data collected from the Tellus Border project are delivering economic and environmental benefits.

The Tellus Border project was a cross-border geo-environmental mapping project of Northern Ireland and the northern counties of the Republic of Ireland.

The project was led by the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI) in partnership with the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) and was financed by the INTERREG IVA programme of the European Regional Development Fund, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). This £4.5 million project, which ran for three years and ended in December 2013, extended the mapping of Northern Ireland previously undertaken by GSNI under the Tellus Project but also included additional analysis of the original Tellus data.

The project included a major geochemistry sample collection task covering 12,339km2, with soil, water, sediment and vegetation samples taken at 3,500 sites and a high-resolution low-flying geophysical survey which flew over 57,600km measuring the physical properties of the Earth’s surface. All of the data are freely available at

Stream sediment samples were analysed for 53 elements including gold and platinum. The acreage of Northern Ireland’s mineral exploration licences increased from 15 per cent to 70 per cent after the Tellus data were released in 2007 and a commitment to spend £32 million from this sector. An annual international mining survey demonstrates that mining companies also see the value of the Tellus Border project and that the quality and accessibility of the data strongly supports investment in the border counties of Republic of Ireland.

Water samples were analysed for a range of physical parameters and 65 chemical elements and ion species. These data are informing senior decision-makers in government departments responsible for reporting to the EU on water quality.

Topsoil samples were analysed for 52 elements including phosphorus, potassium, selenium and molybdenum, pH (whether soil or water is acidic or alkaline) and loss-on-ignition (a proxy measurement for determining how much carbon is in a soil).

Three post-doctorate projects were undertaken by research partners at the Queen’s University of Belfast (QUB) and Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT), including characterising the ecohydrology of wetlands (DkIT), monitoring contaminant plumes using airborne geophysical data (QUB), and assessing soil carbon and peat depth using airborne geophysical data (QUB).

Ten short research projects were also led by universities, public sector research establishments and small and medium enterprises in Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Great Britain. Research included environmental topics e.g. wetland ecology and geochemistry, stream sediment geochemistry and the impact of mining, soil geochemistry and man-made contaminants, plant communities as indicators of environmental quality, groundwater in coastal zones. These also included economic topics e.g. mineral prospectivity mapping, critical metal potential and the application of soil geochemistry to agri-sector, and other diverse topics such as unravelling the ice sheet history in the North of Ireland and refining the risk to human health from soil contaminants.

Over the last three years, Tellus and Tellus Border data have formed the basis of 25 peer-reviewed journals, 34 presentations at national and international scientific conferences, 10 PhDs, and 6 Masters theses and the data are being used at 13 universities in undergraduate or postgraduate courses.

This project is regarded as a benchmark example of cross-border collaboration which has generated new geoscience data relevant to many sectors and has contributed to both building sustainable prosperity and management of the environment.

Geological Survey NI Geological Survey of Northern Ireland
Colby House
Stranmillis Court
Belfast, BT9 5BF
Tel: 028 9038 8462
Fax: 028 9038 8461

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