Over the last ten to twenty years, geological surveys all over the world have been entangled in a process of digitisation. Their paper archives, built over many decades, have largely been replaced by electronic databases. The systematic production of geological map sheets is being replaced by 3D subsurface modelling, the results of which are distributed electronically. In the Netherlands, this transition is both being accelerated and concluded by a new law that will govern management and utilisation of subsurface information. Under this law, the Geological Survey of the Netherlands has been commissioned to build a key register for the subsurface: a single national database for subsurface data and information, which Dutch government bodies are obliged to use when making policies or decisions that pertain to, or can be affected by the subsurface. This requires the Survey to rethink and redesign a substantial part of its operation: from data acquisition and interpretation to delivery. It has also helped shape our view on geological surveying in the future.
The key register, which is expected to start becoming operational in 2015, will contain vast quantities of subsurface data, as well as their interpretation into 3D models. The obligatory consultation of the register will raise user expectations of the reliability of all information it contains, and requires a strong focus on confidence issues. Building the necessary systems and meeting quality requirements is our biggest challenge in the upcoming years. The next step change will be towards building 4D models, which represent not only geological conditions in space, but also processes in time such as subsidence, anthropogenic effects, and those associated with global change.