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Observatory Management

An observer takes measurements on South Georgia

BGS operates three magnetic observatories in the UK.

These provide the high quality, near-real-time data that underpins products we provide for scientific research, as well as for the directional drilling industry and space weather users.

BGS also operate six overseas magnetic observatories and takes a leading role in the expansion of the global network of digital magnetic observatories, both for improved global field modelling and for local commercial application of the data.


The observatories are supported by a team of experienced engineers who develop equipment and software for them. They extensively test new equipment, both in-house and external, before deployment and work with other organisations to develop observatory best practices.

Equipment Development

Magnetic observatories require extensive instrumentation and supporting electrical, electronic and mechanical equipment to operate successfully. These are built and tested at the Geomagnetism Lab at the Lyell Centre in Edinburgh, which is equipped with development, prototyping and test equipment. The latter is calibrated regularly to UKAS standards to ensure precision and accuracy.

Examples of recent equipment designs include new handheld calibration equipment for the observatory Overhauser Proton Magnetometers and new junction boxes for the Jim Carrigan Observatory in Alaska.

Equipment Testing

The BGS has the capacity to test magnetic equipment in a magnetically quiet and isolated environment at Eskdalemuir Observatory. For example, new magnetometer designs can be characterised to ensure they meet INTERMAGNET standards.

Software Development

In order to supply accurate and up-to-date data from the observatories a significant amount of software engineering is required to control and coordinate the data collection process. These include microcontroller development, Linux system administration and continuing development of the SDAS data acquisition management system.

UK Field Monitoring

The repeat station survey delivers a programme of annual magnetic measurements across the UK for the purpose of producing a high accuracy, regional model of the magnetic field. The UK model is also used to supply the Ordnance Survey with current and projected magnetic north data for publication on their maps.

BGS is also holds the records of historic magnetic data from past observatories in the UK and some former British colonial countries. These magnetogram records, yearbooks and other documents are now digitized.