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Loch Lomond in Minecraft Loch Lomond in Minecraft British Geological Survey
20 Nov
The British Geological Survey is using Minecraft to create huge maps of Great Britain

Combing its long records of geological data with modern videogames, The British Geological Survey (BGS) has created a sprawling map of Great Britain using the ridiculously popular sandbox creation tool, Minecraft. Made from around two million ‘blocks’, the 3D maps allow you to explore and dig through the bedrock of your favourite places in Blighty.

Following the lead of the Ordnance Survey Minecraft maps created in 2014, the BGS has taken it another step further, or deeper. Steven Richardson, the geospatial applications developer at the BGS, says ‘we added the geological data too so that when players are looking at this map, they’re not just seeing where the M1 goes upcountry, they can dig down into the blocks and see what the geology is. It adds a third dimension to this data’.

Minecraft is one of the most popular videogames in the world, especially among children. Richardson says it is the ideal platform to make use of the vast reams of geological data the BGS has at its disposal, creating a visual element to geology that is instantly more accessible for children.

obsidianLots of obsidian (basalt in real life) beneath the soil on the Isle of Skye (Image: BGS)

‘The BGS has 180 years worth of data but a lot of it might be incomprehensible, people might not know where to find it and what it is,’ says Richardson. ‘However, by dropping this data onto an interactive platform like Minecraft, people can explore it for themselves.’

The challenge, Richardson says, was in finding suitable blocks for different types of bedrock. ‘Minecraft has a limited palette, so we had to be creative. We have tried to look at the texture and properities of the geology we are replicating.’ For instance, Minecraft’s ‘soul sand’ blocks have been used to signify peat because it has similar sinking properties, while the game’s ‘obsidian’ has been used to show the real-world volcanic basalt under grassy hills of Skye.

‘On Skye, as soon as you dig through the surface block, you start seeing all this “obsidian”,’ says Richardson, ‘this is thanks to Skye’s history of volcanic activity. Playing with real-world data like this might lead kids to ask “what is this, why is it here and what has it got to do with me?”.’

ingleboroughIngleborough at 1:1 scale (Image: BGS)

The BGS hopes to use its data to create even more detailed maps of local areas. ‘The problem we have with the Great Britain model is that each block represents about 50 metres in real life, which is too big if people want to see their town or school,’ says Richardson. The BGS has since created maps of areas, such as Ingleborough, with a 1:1 resolution in order to see the geology in higher definition. ‘Ingleborough is a great example because close up you can see the terrain and panning out you can see the folds of geology beneath.’

Further to that, the BGS hopes to use high resolution elevation data released by Environmental Agency recently. ‘If we import this back into our software it may make the models accurate enough to see individual buildings as opposed to just a rough approximation,’ says Richardson.

You will need a licensed copy of Minecraft to download the maps (available from here for free).

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