Project Iceberg

Project Iceberg. FutureCitiesCatapult © 2017.

It's well known that a large proportion of an iceberg lies below the surface; the same is true of our cities. When it comes to planning, we often focus on the visible parts of our towns and cities and forget the complex and valuable ground beneath our feet: 'Project Iceberg' is named to remind us not to forget what we can't see.

An integrated city data system above and below ground

Project Iceberg aims to address the serious issue of the lack of information about the ground beneath our cities and the un-coordinated way in which the subsurface space is managed.

The long-term goal is to help increase the viability of land for development and de-risk future investment through better management of subsurface data. To help achieve this, our study aims to enable a means to discover and access relevant data about the ground's physical condition, and assets housed within it, in a way that is suitable for modern, data-driven, decision-making processes. Both physical infrastructure (i.e. underground utilities) and natural ground conditions are considered.

UK subsurface infrastructure

There are more than 1.5 million kilometres of underground services — water, sewer, gas and electricity services — in the UK, and an estimated four million kilometres or more of data lines.

The lack of coordination and collaboration has many costs. The Department of Transport estimates that street works account for an estimated annual cost of £4.3 billion. Meanwhile the Treasury estimated in 2013 that greater cross-infrastructure collaboration can save the economy an estimated £3 billion.

We could do things both more efficiently and more quickly with subsurface data. For example, a A$2 billion light rail scheme in Sydney could have been built 1.5 years earlier if they had reliable underground utility information.

The benefits of subsurface data

Buried infrastructure

The delivery of successful urban regeneration and construction projects depends on our knowledge of the subsurface.

A national subsurface data-exchange framework that integrates with surface-city data can realise the potential of new technologies. We would see:

  • the use of augmented reality to view the accurate location of pipes before digging
  • modelling of sustainable urban drainage schemes to help manage flood risk quickly and more accurately
  • estimation of the costs of remediating land for housing
  • acceleration of conveyancing for homebuyers

Project outputs

Future Cities User cases

How can integrated above-ground and underground data benefit real people?

Work package 1 Work package 1: mapping underground assets in the UK

This report summarises the key findings of market research and analysis. Recommendations to address these findings are discussed.

Project Iceberg brochure Project Iceberg brochure

Download the project brochure highlighting the main aims of the project.

Work package 2 Work package 2: a unified data framework for mapping underground

This report defines the problem space for an integrated city data operating system that links data above and below ground.


GeoBlogyWhy do we need to know what's under our cities? And what's it got to do with icebergs?! ... by Catherine Pennington

Subsurface information is tricky to access unless you know what you are doing and the consequences for getting it wrong can be disastrous. Project Iceberg aims to remedy this situation.

Project partners

This is an exploratory project undertaken by the BGS's urban geoscience team, Future Cities Catapult and the Ordnance Survey.

Catapult Future Cities
Ordnance Survey


Please contact Stephanie Bricker for further information.