Environment

Nicholas Rummel is sailing on the SSV Robert C. Seamans research vessel.

A Colorado School of Mines student is sailing across the Pacific Ocean to conduct research near the remote Phoenix Islands.

Nicholas Rummel, a rising senior in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics, is participating in an eight-week program with SEA Semester where he will be conducting research in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). PIPA is one of the last remaining coral wildernesses on Earth. Roughly the size of California, it is the largest and deepest UNESCO World Heritage site in the world located about halfway between Hawaii and Fiji.

Rummel, along with 23 other undergraduate students from across the U.S., will collect samples from the marine environment to study the impact of El Niño, a large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction connected to a periodic warming in the sea’s surface temperatures across the Equatorial Pacific that affects weather patterns and ocean conditions,  and assess the effects of climate change. The results will contribute to a greater understanding of the marine ecosystem and environmental management goals.

The SEA Semester program started in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on June 12, where students developed their own research projects in ocean science or conservation policy and completed preparatory coursework. For the next five weeks, Rummel will sail roughly 800 nautical miles aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans, one of the most sophisticated research sailing school vessels ever built in the United States, before returning to America Samoa for the program’s conclusion on August 11.

Follow the ship’s progress and movement on the SEA Semester website.

CONTACT
Joe DelNero, Digital Media and Communications Manager, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3326 | jdelnero@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu

Two Colorado School of Mines microbiologists have coauthored an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that examines the widespread impact of a paper, published a quarter-century ago, suggesting that microbial life exists up to several kilometers deep throughout the Earth’s subsurface.

The deep, hot biosphere: Twenty-five years of retrospection” appears in the July 3, 2017, issue of PNAS and was written by Mines Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor John Spear and postdoctoral fellow Blake Stamps with Montana State University’s Eric Boyd, Saroj Poudel and Daniel Colman.

The authors say “The Deep Hot Biosphere,” written by Thomas Gold and published in PNAS in 1992, “heavily influenced the scientific field of geobiology, bringing together researchers from the disparate fields of geology, geochemistry and microbiology.” Gold’s paper, which was followed by a book with the same title, “forever altered how scientists think about microbial life in the subsurface and its implications for the origins of life on Earth, as well as life beyond our planet,” the authors said.

Gold, an Austrian-born astrophysicist and professor of astronomy at Cornell University, did not have a doctorate, but was a highly recognized scientist. He authored more than 300 papers, and had a tendency to delve into fields beyond his own.

According to Spear et al., “Gold’s deep, hot biosphere contribution challenged paradigms in subsurface science, petroleum research, the origin and evolution of life, and the search for life on other planets.”

While some found logic in Gold’s ideas, and others argued that they were highly flawed, the authors note that they had a tremendous impact on scientific discourse—the article has been cited more than 325 times, often outside the field of astrophysics, and the book remains a top seller on Amazon.

Life on Earth is dependent upon microorganisms in the subsurface—bacteria and archaea—and their ability to cycle and recycle chemical compounds necessary for life on the surface, both deep under continents and under the oceans. But despite intense study in the 25 years since Gold’s paper, the researchers argue that key questions remain about life in the deep subsurface, “including its origins, extent and contribution to hydrocarbon formation worldwide.”

The scientists also touch on emerging data and approaches to studying the subsurface that continue to provide promising new hints toward answering these questions. Their review further expands on how the field of geobiology also may help answer questions relevant to industry such as hydrocarbon degradation, and form beneficial partnerships that would allow further study of the subsurface.

“As Gold suggested, and is becoming increasingly evident, to better understand the subsurface is critical to further understanding the Earth, life, the evolution of life and the potential for life in the solar system and worlds beyond,” researchers said.

The scientists conclude by suggesting the need to develop a robust network of interdisciplinary scientists and accessible locations for long-term monitoring of the Earth’s subsurface in the form of a deep subsurface microbiome initiative. The hope, said Spear, is to be able to understand how Earth functions as a large organism dependent upon something we know biologically little about—the subsurface.

Contact:
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Assistant Editor, Mines Magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

Mines hosted the American Chemical Society's 2017 Summer School on Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy.

Colorado School of Mines hosted the American Chemical Society’s 2017 Summer School on Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy from June 21 to 26, giving students opportunities to explore potential solutions to global challenges.

The weeklong residential program brought more than 50 graduate and postdoctoral scholars to Mines for lectures, collaborative projects, poster sessions, open discussions and networking sessions. Experts from the University of Notre Dame, Queen’s University, the University of Pittsburgh, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Colorado School of Mines, among others, led the talks covering topics such as greener solvents, building a green business and greening fossil fuels.

“Solvents are a real environmental concern associate with chemical industry,” said Ryan Richards, professor of chemistry and associate vice president of research at Mines. “One of the projects the students do in teams is choosing the greenest solvent. The exercise has students examine a chemical process and its life cycle before choosing the greenest solvent for that process.”

The summer school has been hosted by Mines almost every year for the past decade.

“Mines has several faculty who have contributed to the program over the years, and NREL has also provided a number of the key instructors,” Richards said. “This gives Mines students and faculty a great opportunity to showcase all of the great people, research and infrastructure we have here.”

 

CONTACT
Joe DelNero, Digital Media and Communications Manager, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3326 | jdelnero@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu

A Colorado School of Mines associate professor of chemical and biological engineering has been recognized for her research into capturing mercury and carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants and preventing their release into the atmosphere.

Jennifer Wilcox was awarded the 2017 Arthur C. Stern Award for Distinguished Paper, which is given annually for an outstanding contribution to the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association. The paper, titled “Heterogenous Mercury Reaction Chemistry on Activated Carbon,” was published in 2011 with coauthors Erdem Sasmaz, Abbigail Kirchofer and Sang-Sup Lee.

Jennifer WilcoxThe work examines materials that can oxidize mercury, allowing it to be captured. “Coal burning is the number one anthropogenic source of mercury emissions worldwide,” Wilcox said. “This work leads to a deeper understanding of how materials may be modified for more effective mercury removal from exhaust streams of coal-fired power plants,” said the citation from the Air & Waste Management Association.

The award is based on the publication of a paper in JA&WMA that has greatly advanced science and technology; is technical, scientific or management in nature, while advancing the mission of JA&WMA; and is considered to be a substantial contribution toward improving our understanding of air pollution and waste management problems, their impact on environment and health, and the use of sustainable practices in reducing our environmental footprint.

Wilcox also received a Best Presentation Award in the Fall 2016 session of the American Chemical Society, which led to an invitation to publish in the journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research. The paper, titled “Effect of Water on the CO2 Adsorption Capacity of Amine-Functionalized Carbon Sorbents," was subsequently featured on the cover of the journal’s May 31, 2017, issue. Wilcox’s coauthors were Peter Psarras and Jiajun He.

The exhaust of coal-fired power plants is comprised mostly of nitrogen, with near-equal amounts of water vapor and CO2, Wilcox said. Because water is often more reactive than CO2, it is important to design materials that have an affinity for carbon dioxide. “This work, through a combination of modeling and experiments, shows a novel material with promise for the selective removal of CO2 from coal-fired power plant exhaust in the presence of water vapor and acid gases,” Wilcox said

Contact:
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Assistant Editor, Mines Magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

Colorado School of Mines Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Marte Gutierrez, Petroleum Engineering Professor Azra Tutuncu and alumnus Luke Frash have been awarded the 2017 Applied Rock Mechanics Research Award by the American Rock Mechanics Association.


Luke Frash and Marte Gutierrez during a visit with Darren Mollot, Director of the Office of Clean Energy Systems in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy.
Luke Frash and Marte Gutierrez showcase their research during a visit from Darren Mollot, Director of the Office of Clean Energy Systems in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy.

Frash earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering with specialties in civil engineering and a PhD in civil and environmental engineering from Mines, studying under Gutierrez. He is now a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The team is receiving the award for their 2015 publication, “True-Triaxial Hydraulic Fracturing of Niobrara Carbonate Rock as an Analogue for Complex Oil and Gas Reservoir Stimulation.” The main topics of research, funded partially by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Unconventional Natural Gas and Oil Institute, were development of enhanced geothermal systems and hydraulic fracturing in shale oil and gas reservoirs.

“Well stimulation by hydraulic fracturing is a common method for increasing the injectivity and productivity of wells,” Gutierrez said. “This method is beneficial for many applications, including oil, gas, geothermal energy and CO2 sequestration; however, hydraulic fracturing in shale and other similarly complex geologies remains poorly understood.”

Seeking to bridge the gap in understanding, the team conducted research on large natural rock specimens using true-triaxal stresses, intended to represent field-scale complexities of known oil and gas reservoirs.

“Results from such large-scale hydraulic experiments, particularly on naturally heterogeneous rock samples, remain very limited,” Gutierrez said.

The research team developed special equipment to conduct these innovative field-scale experiments, and Gutierrez says “the results from the scale-model hydraulic fracturing experiments are envisioned to be of important value to the practice of hydraulic fracturing in several fields.”

The award will be presented during the 51st U.S. Rock Mechanics/Geomechanics Symposium in San Francisco, California, on June 25-28, 2017.

Support for the research was provided by the Unconventional Natural Gas and Oil Institute (UNGI) Coupled Integrated Multi Scale Measurements and Modeling Consortium (CIMMM), and the U.S. Department of Energy under DOE Grant No. DE-FE0002760, “Development and Validation of an Advanced Stimulation Prediction Model for Enhanced Geothermal Systems.”

Contact:
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu

Rosie-FryerGeology graduate student Rosemarie (Rosie) Fryer has been awarded two grants from national organizations for her research on the submarine lobe deposits of Point Loma in San Diego, California.

Fryer received a $2,500 grant from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Grants-in-Aid Program, and a $1,775 grant from the Geological Society of America.

The AAPG program provides financial assistance to graduate geoscience students to promote research in petroleum and energy mineral resources or related to environmental geology issues, awarding scholarships ranging from $500-$3,000 to approximately 100 graduate students nationwide every year.

The goal of the GSA student research grant program is to support geoscience master’s and doctoral thesis research, awarding approximately 400 grants averaging $1,752 to graduate students across the United States each year.

Fryer plans to use her grant money to fund field trips to the Point Loma study area during the 2017-2018 academic year. “I am extremely excited that these funds will be used directly towards a field season in the fall, for creating thin sections and laser grain size analysis for my master’s thesis,” she said. 

As these sand-rich submarine lobe deposits form significant hydrocarbon reservoirs, Fryer’s research could prove extremely beneficial to the oil and gas industry by allowing for more accurate geological reservoir models. According to Fryer, the project has immediate applicability to reservoirs currently hosted in submarine lobe deposits, such as the Deepwater Wilcox Reservoirs in the Gulf of Mexico and others in the North Sea, West Africa and the Permian Basin.

Contact:
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Assistant Editor, Mines Magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

Lauren FosterLauren Foster, a PhD student in the Hydrologic Science and Engineering Program at Colorado School of Mines, will spend next year researching the effects of climate change in complex terrain at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science Graduate Student Research Program.

The program provides opportunities for graduate students to conduct part of their graduate thesis research at a DOE laboratory in collaboration with a DOE laboratory scientist—53 awards were granted to graduate students across the country in this cycle.

Foster’s graduate research focuses on the impacts and feedbacks from climate change in complex terrain, and she will be continuing this work with Kenneth Williams, the lead for the Environmental Remediation and Water Resources Program at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.

“More than one-sixth of the world’s population depends on mountain snowpack for their water supply, but there is currently a large gap in the scale of our climate change research,” said Foster. “Global climate models are unable to resolve the complex feedbacks in mountainous regions and observations rely on proxies to scale point measurements over larger areas. My work uses supercomputers to try to bridge these differences by modeling the East River near Crested Butte, Colorado, from 10m resolution up to 1km resolution.”


East River supercomputer model at 10m, 100m and 1km resolution (note: this image can be viewed with 3-D glasses to see topography).

Foster is currently working under Reed Maxwell, Rowlinson Professor of Hydrology and director of the Integrated Groundwater Modeling Center at Mines.

Maxwell characterized Lauren as a stellar student interested in the broader impacts of her work. “Never satisfied with just the science answer or engineering solution, she wants to know how best to communicate her results to stakeholders, managers and the public,” he said. “She is currently in Africa doing an internship to provide low-cost, low-energy filtration systems, providing an easy path to cleaner water.”

Steve Binkley, acting director of DOE’s Office of Science, says “the SCGSR program prepares graduate students for science, technology, engineering or mathematics careers critically important to the DOE Office of Science mission.”

Binkley also noted that the program is meant to enhance an awardee’s doctoral thesis by providing access to the expertise and resources available at DOE laboratories.

Foster said that she is very excited to spend a year working with LBNL staff and learning from Williams’ expertise.

Contact:
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu
 

The Association of American State Geologists announced that their annual John C. Frye Memorial Award for 2017 is granted to the Colorado Geological Survey and the staff members who authored the report The West Salt Creek Landslide: A Catastrophic Rockslide and Rock/Debris Avalanche in Mesa County, Colorado (CGS Bulletin-55). CGS geologists Jonathon White, Matthew Morgan and Karen Berry utilized a rich field data set to put together the report, which includes a comprehensive review of the geologic history of the area and presents a detailed timeline of the events surrounding the “the longest landslide in Colorado’s historical record.”

White, Jonathan L., Matthew L. Morgan, and Karen A. Berry. “Bulletin 55 - The West Salt Creek Landslide: A Catastrophic Rockslide and Rock/Debris Avalanche in Mesa County.” Bulletins. Golden, CO: Colorado Geological Survey, 2015. Bulletin 55.

History of the Award:
Environmental geology has steadily risen in prominence over recent decades, and to support the growth of this important field, the Frye Award was established in 1989 by GSA and AASG. It recognizes work on environmental geology issues such as water resources, engineering geology, and hazards.

John C. Frye joined the US Geological Survey in 1938, he went to the Kansas Geological Survey in 1942, he was its Director from 1945 to 1954, he was Chief of the Illinois State Geological Survey until 1974, and was Geological Society of America Executive Director until his retirement in 1982, shortly before his death. John was active in Association of American State Geologists and on national committees, and was influential in the growth of environmental geology.

The Award is given each year to a nominated environmental geology publication published in the current year or one of the three preceding calendar years either by GSA or by a state geological survey. A shared $1000 prize and a certificate to each author is presented at the AASG Mid-Year meeting, held Tuesday morning at the GSA annual meeting.

Contact:
Jonathon Hopkins, Technical Media Specialist, Colorado Geological Survey | 303-384-2641 | jchopkins@mines.edu
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu

 
Colorado School of Mines President Paul C. Johnson and GERENS President Armando Gallegos Monteagudo shake hands after signing the MOU.
Colorado School of Mines President Paul C. Johnson and GERENS President Armando Gallegos Monteagudo shake hands after signing the MOU.

On May 22, 2017, the Colorado School of Mines entered into a memorandum of understanding with GERENS Graduate School in Peru. 

Mines President Paul Johnson and GERENS President Armando Gallegos Monteagudo were in attendance to sign the document.

The agreement will mutually benefit mining engineering research and education at both universities by developing projects and learning opportunities for graduate students at both institutions. The agreement will also address the economic, environmental and sociopolitical aspects of the industry.

 

Contact:
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu

Map of the eastern Indian Ocean and surrounding regions. Location of the drilling expedition and the Sunda subduction zone also shown. The Indo-Australian plate subducts beneath the Eurasian plate at the subduction zone and it was the source of the 2004 earthquake and tsunami offshore Sumatra to Andaman Islands (rupture area shaded in yellow). Ocean drilling boreholes are red dots (U1480, U1481). The Bengal and Nicobar submarine fans are fed by river sediments eroded from the Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau, creating very large thicknesses of sediment. (Credit: Lisa McNeill, University of Southampton.)
Map of the eastern Indian Ocean and surrounding regions. The Indo-Australian that plate was the source of the 2004 Sumatra earthquake and tsunami subducts beneath the Eurasian plate at the subduction zone (rupture area shaded in yellow). Ocean drilling boreholes are red dots (U1480, U1481).  (Credit: Lisa McNeill, University of Southampton.)

An international team of scientists has found evidence suggesting the dehydration of minerals deep below the ocean floor influenced the severity of the Sumatra earthquake, which took place on December 26, 2004, off the west coast of Indonesia.

The magnitude 9.2 earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated coastal communities of the Indian Ocean, killing over 250,000 people.

Research into the earthquake was conducted during a scientific ocean drilling expedition to the region August through October 2016 as part of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP). Expedition 362 was led by researchers from Colorado School of Mines and the University of Southampton in collaboration with IODP scientist Katerina Petronotis.

On board the research vessel JOIDES Resolution, the researchers sampled, for the first time, sediments and rocks from the oceanic tectonic plate that feeds the Sumatra subduction zone. A subduction zone is an area where two of the Earth’s tectonic plates converge, one sliding beneath the other, generating the largest earthquakes on Earth, many with destructive tsunamis.

Findings of a study on sediment samples found far below the seabed are now detailed in a new paper authored by Dr. Andre Hüpers of the MARUM-Center for Marine Environmental Sciences at University of Bremen and published in the journal Science. Colorado School of Mines Associate Professor of Geophysics Brandon Dugan was one of the study’s coauthors and coleader of Expedition 362.

“It raised a lot of questions, because that wasn't a place in the world where we thought a magnitude 9 earthquake would occur,” said Dugan.

Expedition coleader Professor Lisa McNeill of the University of Southampton said “the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was triggered by an unusually strong earthquake with an extensive rupture area.” By unearthing the cause of such a large earthquake and tsunami, the scientists hope to be able to assess potential hazards in other regions with similar geological properties.

The scientists concentrated their research on a process of dehydration of sedimentary minerals deep below the ground, which usually occurs within the subduction zone. It is believed this dehydration process, which is influenced by the temperature and composition of the sediments, normally controls the location and extent of slip between the plates, and therefore the severity of an earthquake.


Expedition leaders from left: Lisa McNeill, Brandon Dugan, Katerina Petronotis.
Expedition leaders from left: Lisa McNeill, Brandon Dugan, Katerina Petronotis. (Photo credit: Tim Fulton, IODP JRSO.)

The Sumatra research team used the latest advances in ocean drilling to extract samples from 1.5 km below the seabed, taking measurements of sediment composition including chemical, thermal and physical properties.

At a certain depth, the researchers identified a layer where the water had lower salinity than the overlying and underlying sediment. This evidence of freshwater suggests that the water must have been released from within minerals in the sediment, as ocean water would have been high in salinity.

The researchers found that the sediments on the ocean floor, eroded from the Himalayan mountain range and Tibetan Plateau and transported thousands of kilometers by rivers on land and in the ocean, were subjected to geologic processes over millions of years. These sediments formed a sort of thick shell over minerals far below the seabed, causing chemical transformations within the subsurface.

 A 'free-fall funnel', part of the drilling process.(Photo Credit: Tim Fulton, IODP JRSO)

 A 'free-fall funnel', part of the drilling process.
(Photo 
Credit:Tim Fulton, IODP JRSO.)

These transformations caused the mineral bed to heat, pushing freshwater out of the mineral crystals up through the sediment layers.

At first, this water would have softened the sediment, actually decreasing the risk of a big earthquake by allowing it to absorb more force, Dugan explained. However, as the sediment moved closer to the fault over millions of years, the water flowed away, leaving the sediment dehydrated and brittle—the perfect setup for a megaquake.

The scientists ran simulations to calculate how the Sumatra sediments (currently not yet to the fault) would behave once they had traveled 250 km to the east toward the subduction zone and been buried significantly deeper. The simulations showed the sediment reaching higher temperatures, thus supporting their findings.

Hüpers said that the findings suggest that other subduction zones with thick and hotter sediment and rock could also experience this phenomenon.

“The 2004 Sumatra and 2011 Tohoku earthquakes made us reexamine our understanding of large earthquakes,” said Dugan. “This new analysis extends our knowledge of the conditions that can contribute to large earthquakes that generate tsunamis. We now can assess the potential for megaquakes in subduction margins with limited or no historical earthquake record.”

Subduction zone earthquakes typically have a return time of a few hundred to a thousand years, so applying this research to similar geological regions will allow scientists to better predict these hazards.

Similar subduction zones exist in the Caribbean (Lesser Antilles), off Iran and Pakistan (Makran), and off the western United States and Canada (Cascadia). The team will continue research on the samples and data obtained from the Sumatra drilling expedition over the next few years, including laboratory experiments and further numerical simulations, and will use their results to assess the potential future hazards both in Sumatra and at these comparable subduction zones.
 

 
 
Contact:
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu
 

 

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