Geosciences of the future

by | Jan 2, 2019 | Inside Mines, Winter 2019 | 0 comments

Mines and Virginia Tech have been awarded funding from the National Science Foundation to set up a new research center focusing on advanced subsurface earth resource modeling.

Mines is the lead institute in the new Center for Advanced Subsurface Earth Resource Models (CASERM), which will bring together more than 20 faculty members from the two schools’ geology, geophysics, applied math and statistics, mining and computer science departments to develop high-impact solutions to help mining companies minimize drilling and increase the chances of exploration success.

Each institution will receive $750,000 through NSF’s Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers (I/UCRC) program, which represents the National Science Foundation’s primary mechanism to support industry-driven, pre-competitive applied research. The grant will pay for costs related to managing the center during its first five years of operation and will augment support the center receives for research projects from industry and agency sponsors.  

“Colorado School of Mines and Virginia Tech bring together more than 250 years of experience in earth resource research and service to the global exploration and mining industry,” said Ric Wendlandt, professor of geology and geological engineering at Mines and director of the new center. “It is our vision for the Center for Advanced Subsurface Earth Resource Models to transform the way geoscience data is used to locate subsurface earth resources.”

Research at the center will focus on four core areas:

  • Development of geophysical and geochemical instrumentation, analysis and interpretation methods
    for enhanced characterization of rock properties
  • Integration, scaling and inversion of diverse geological, petrophysical and geophysical data types of dissimilar spatial resolution and distribution to identify and characterize earth resources
  • Development of information methodologies for reducing risk associated with decision-making
  • Computational imaging and development of graphical and exploratory data analysis solutions and visualization tools

“This research center is directed toward research challenges in the development of 3D subsurface models. We will advance geoscience knowledge, analytical capabilities, geostatistical methods and computational algorithms to model and visualize the subsurface of our Earth,” said Thomas Monecke, associate professor of geology and geological engineering at Mines and site director of the new center. “These models integrate diverse geoscience data to inform decision-making and minimize geological risk, beginning with locating and mining subsurface earth resources and continuing through mine closure and environmental remediation.”

The vision for the center has been developed over the past three years in close collaboration with a group of industry advisors. A planning meeting supported by NSF in September 2017 involved 38 exploration and mining companies and government agencies. 

“The geosciences of the future are going to rely more and more heavily on creative interdisciplinary techniques,” said Stefanie Tompkins, vice president of research and technology transfer at Mines and a geologist by training. “It gives us a great edge and changes how we explore and characterize the underground. The stakes are high, and you need sophisticated interdisciplinary tools.”