Northern Ireland has some of the most diverse and interesting geology of any area of its size in Northern Europe. The region is rich in minerals, mined since the Bronze Age and known resources include vein gold, base metals, conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons, salt, construction materials and geothermal energy.

Geoscience mapping project

The Tellus Project was planned to make more detailed maps of the geology and resources of Northern Ireland and was the most concentrated geoscience mapping project ever undertaken here.

The project, managed by the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, comprised detailed geochemical surveys of soils and streams and a low-level airborne geophysical survey.

Analysis and results

The surveys were completed between 2004 and 2007 and analysis of the results continues.

This information supports the exploration for, and development of, mineral and energy resources, informs land-use planning and provides a country-wide ‘baseline’ of terrestrial geochemistry. The results are available to all and have been widely used by government, industry and the academic research community.

The geophysical results provide new insights into Northern Ireland’s geology. Delineation of faults, dykes and the major volcanic complexes has been greatly improved. The complementary imagery of magnetics, electrical conductivity and radioactivity:

  • facilitates mapping of soils and rock types
  • reveals a high level of structural detail beneath a veneer of glacial cover
  • delineates variations in ground conductivity of both and anthropogenic origins
  • maps levels of terrestrial radiation with high resolution

The geochemical results provide a new and consistent baseline standard for some 55 elements and compounds across rural Northern Ireland and in the main metropolitan centres. New geochemical anomalies in gold, platinum group elements and base metals have been mapped and the characteristics of known mineralised trends are further defined.

Increased mineral exploration

The survey prompted an increase in mineral exploration in Northern Ireland. Since the results were released in 2007, the area licensed by DETI for mineral exploration increased from 15  per cent to 70 per cent of Northern Ireland.

Mining companies that licensed the data invested more than £30 million in mineral exploration in Northern Ireland between 2007 and 2012.


The project was co-funded by DETI, DoE, and the EU’s ‘Building Sustainable Prosperity’ fund of the Rural Development Programme of DARD.

The value of the project was acknowledged by several national awards:

  • Association of Geographic Information ‘Innovation and Best Practice Award’, 2008, Central Government category
  • Mining Journal ‘Country Award’, 2008, for the country that has shown the most improvement, in terms of its attractiveness to international investors
  • Public Relations Institute of Ireland, PR Excellence Award, 2006
  • CIPR Northern Ireland, PR Excellence Gold Award, 2006 - Integrated Campaign Category
  • CIPR Northern Ireland, PR Excellence Gold Award, 2006 - Public Sector Category

For further information visit: GSNI website.

Tellus Border

The success of the original Tellus project has resulted in a further £4m grant from the INTERREG IVA programme of the European Regional Development Fund to extend the surveys into the Republic of Ireland, to widen the analysis of Tellus data and to amalgamate the new and original datasets. The project is part-funded by the Department of the Environment (Northern Ireland) and the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government (Republic of Ireland).

Another related project, which ran  from 2010 to the end of 2013 was named ‘Tellus Border’ and was led by GSNI in partnership with the Geological Survey of Ireland, Queen’s University Belfast and Dundalk Institute of Technology.

Tellus Border built on the original Tellus Project, and continued the acquisition, analysis and application of existing data in the border counties of Ireland to inform issues such as management of the environment, mineral exploration, and land use planning.

The combined datasets provide a rich resource for health research and public health management, for example through improved mapping of natural radon gas and of the distribution of potentially harmful elements in soils.

The scope of the Tellus Border project included:

  • a detailed airborne geophysical survey of most of Counties Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Louth, Cavan and Monaghan
  • geochemical soils and streams survey of the above six counties of the Republic of Ireland
  • integration of these data with Tellus data and joint data-analysis.

It also included post-doctoral research studies into:

  • the hydrology and hydrogeology of wetlands of the border area
  • the characterisation and quantification of carbon in soil
  • detection, mapping and characterisation of pollution plumes

In 2012 the project received two CIPR Northern Ireland PRide Awards: ‘Gold’ in the Community Relations category and ‘Silver’ in the Public Sector category.

For further information visit: Tellus Border website

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