Discovery Geosciences

Creating a flagship Geosciences group for DOE Basic Energy Sciences

The DOE Basic Energy Sciences (BES) program has provided long-term support for three geochemistry, geophysics and isotope geochemistry research at Berkeley Lab. In December 2018, BES supported a plan to integrate these groups to form a powerful new multidisciplinary team. Unique in the BES Geosciences portfolio, this group has the expertise to reveal the mechanistic molecular processes that govern mineral-fluid processes and use those insights to generate new models for macroscale rock behavior. May 2020 marked the submission of the inaugural proposal from this group. The objective is to dramatically increase our understanding of the formation and utilization of sedimentary geologic formations that are critical for society and modern industry. In addition to their importance for fossil fuels, sedimentary systems are common freshwater aquifers, may offer new sources of critical elements, are a possible lithology for the long-term storage of nuclear waste, have a proven ability for the sequestration of carbon dioxide, and may offer approaches for the medium-term storage of excess energy from renewables. The proposed research emphasizes a focus on the mechanisms of chemically-mediated and coupled processes that have altered the properties of carbonate and clay-rich sedimentary systems through time and that control their sustainable use for energy, water, and environmental objectives.

Recent science & program advances

  • Cryogenic transmission electron microscopy complemented by small-angle X-ray scattering captures the pathway of ion exchange and swelling state change in smectite
  • Demonstration and quantitation of uranium isotope fractionation by reductive precipitation and control by aqueous speciation
  • Topological descriptions of nanopore morphologies in hydrated swelling clay
  • Novel theoretical description of the nonlinear poroelastic response of elastic waves in fractured media
  • Demonstration and quantitation of uranium isotope fractionation by reductive precipitation and control by aqueous speciation
  • Paired ab initio and classical molecular dynamics method reveals how aqueous cluster formation influences neptunium mobility
  • Prediction of the magnitude and mechanism of calcium stable isotope fractionation during crystal growth

Relevant Projects

  • Construction of an X-ray microscope at the Advanced Light Source for time-lapse nanotomography of rock-fluid evolution
  • Development of a geoscience quantum sensing laboratory
  • The CrunchClay simulation code for transport in clay media
  • Center for Isotope Geochemistry


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