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SUMO Geophysics Takes A Trip Down Memory Lane

Updated: Jan 31

What does The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Morning Glory by Oasis, the sound of a dial-up modem and the SIR3 radar system all have in common? 

They were all things that helped to make the 1990’s. We asked SUMO Directors Dr. John Gater and Peter Barker to take a trip down memory lane and look back at their 'old' geophysical equipment. After this, we began to see how far geophysics technology has come since.

SUMO Geophysics Takes A Trip Down Memory Lane

SUMO Geophysics was founded by the merging of SUMO Group members GSB Prospection Limited and Stratascan Limited, both of which were established in the late 80's-early 90's. It's safe to say that since then, members of the merged SUMO Geophysics have seen their fair share of geophysical kit.

Peter Barker (originally the founder of Stratascan) has a wealth of geophysical knowledge and still has a stash of his 'old' equipment including the GSSI Subsurface Interface Radar 3 system (SIR 3) which he purchased in 1990.  The SIR 3 was a first generation digital GPR system designed for a broad range of environmental, geotechnical, geological, and engineering applications. When Peter first bought the SIR 3, it ran off a 12-volt battery and was even used in an early Time Team episode by his now colleague, Dr. John Gater.

While the SIR 3 is no longer used at SUMO, it provides a good contrast to the current digital systems. When Peter bought it new in 1990, it was state of the art technology!

Dr John Gater (the original founder of GSB Prospection) also dug out some images of his earlier geophysics years. The image below shows an electrical imaging survey being completed. This process involved probes being manually inserted into the ground. Following this it would be moved apart manually, once a reading had been logged. He explained how this process could take half a day to survey just a single line. In contrast, this would now take about 10 minutes with modern technology.

John Gater completing an electrical imaging survey

Above: John Gater completing an electrical imaging survey with the late Arnold Aspinall and Jim Pocock from Bradford University.

Dr. John Gater completing a near surface geophysics survey

Above: Dr. John Gater completing a near surface geophysics survey using a magnetometer

So, how far has near surface geophysics come?

Geophysical technology has greatly improved over the decades. Since the use of equipment such as the SIR 3 systems, SUMO now employs the latest GSSI Duel Frequency Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) equipment. We even have High-Density GPR survey options with both manual and cart-based kit.


The speed of data collection, processing time as well as the quality of the data collected, has all advanced dramatically and 3D outputs mean clients can now get full visibility below the ground with a SUMO GPR Survey. As well as these advantages:

  • Modern equipment is much more lightweight and often only needs a single operator.

  • Data loggers are inbuilt (no more writing down data readings on a clipboard in the rain!).

  • The volume and speed of data collection is vastly improved.

  • The kit is largely weatherproof meaning we can respond no matter the weather conditions.

  • Data analysis on computers can be carried out on site instead of returning to the laboratory to process the data.

GPS has also revolutionised our work and provides accurate locational data. There is no need for 30m tapes to set out grids and tie them in to points on OS Maps, as done previously. Geophysical data is now geo-referenced, so it can be accurately laid onto base maps or even Google Images.

High Density GPR data

Above: Example of High Density GPR data collected by SUMO Geophysics

Above: Ground Penetrating Radar data in a 3D output

So, whilst some of the romantics amongst us may occasionally hanker after the ‘good old days’, the surveyors, in-the-field appreciate the benefits of modern technology and our clients enjoy the improved speed and accuracy of its output: a win / win situation.

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