Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Sandia underground geo-tools aid in earthquake research

08.03.2005


Geothermal researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have developed sensors that can be placed in hotter and higher-pressure underground environments than previous instruments, a capability that is allowing geologists worldwide to make more precise measurements of subterranean conditions before and after large earthquakes occur.

The researchers hope the new sensors will provide geologists with a better understanding of earthquake-related phenomena and possibly provide more sensitive measurements of warning signs for large earthquakes such as the devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake near Sumatra on Sunday, Dec. 26.

Sandia is a National Nuclear Security Administration laboratory.



Extremely accurate

Lab engineers Joe Henfling and Randy Normann with technologist David Chavira are building a series of increasingly resilient and sensitive instruments that are being used by the U.S. Geological Survey and others to study a number of earthquake-related phenomena.

Sandia engineers, who have worked for decades with the geothermal resources experts around the U.S., have gained a reputation for building reliable instruments that can operate in the high-temperature and high-pressure environments of a geothermal reservoir, explains Normann. Sandia-designed instruments continue to push the envelope to provide scientists with better data, he says.

Using Quartzdyne quartz pressure and temperature sensors with a relative resolution of less than 0.005 psi and .01 degree C makes the instruments extremely accurate, Normann says.

"We can monitor extremely small temperature and pressure changes in deep reservoirs," he says.

Sandia began working with the USGS two years ago on a program to monitor geothermal wells, which contain water in the pore spaces between grains in the hot rock. Using pressure and temperature tools to analyze earthquake data shows potential because reservoirs can sometimes be five to 10 miles long, creating a much larger area of sensitivity to the waves generated by quakes than the relatively small area used by seismic detectors.

"We also have the potential to put tools much deeper in hotter zones below the reservoir where the rock is over 200 degrees C," says Normann.

California’s Long Valley is one of several places where distant earthquakes are registered through a phenomenon called remotely triggered seismicity, says Evelyn Roeloffs, a Vancouver, Wash.-based USGS geophysicist. Large earthquakes, sometimes far away, create waves that cause bursts of micro-earthquakes in the area. Some persist for days after other seismic activity has returned to normal.

"We have a history of monitoring in Long Valley," she says. "In the past, we couldn’t record the pressures frequently enough to determine if there was any response to seismic activity. Now we are recording temperatures and pressures once every 2.5 seconds. We want to see if we can get better timing of the pressure changes in the rock relative to the seismic activity and if there are temperature changes."

Sometimes pressures in the fluids in the reservoirs increase after earthquakes and movements in the rocks can be measured. "If we could put tools in deeper and hotter wells, we could get better information," Roeloffs says.

Drilling deeper

At New Mexico Tech in Socorro, geophysicist Harold Tobin is also discussing a deeper and hotter regime for the placement of Sandia’s geothermal tools.

"We are still in the planning stages, but in about a year and a half we are going to start a big drilling project to bore into a tectonic feature similar to the one where the Sumatra earthquake occurred," says the associate professor. "The site is off the coast of Japan in the Nankai Trough Seismogenic Zone. The target is six kilometers (3.6 miles) beneath the ocean’s floor in water two kilometers (1.2 miles) deep, in a subduction zone where some of the largest earthquakes on the planet have been generated. In 1944 and again in 1946 the quakes generated significant tidal waves, or tsunamis, as well.

"We are looking to place instruments in the fault zone to better understand the precursors of earthquakes and to learn about the physics of these zones in terms of storing stress and releasing it as the plates slip and displace," he says. "We will need instruments that can withstand temperatures of 150 to 180 C, which are well up in the range where normal electronics don’t work."

Basically, scientists understand that the friction between two moving rock faces causes them to stick and build up pressure until it overcomes the friction, moving the rock and creating an earthquake.

"There’s a theory that the pore fluid pressure in the rocks affects this dynamic," Tobin says. High water pressure may push faces apart, allowing slippage of the rock faces.

"When earthquakes happen may be governed by fluid pressure, which is why the instruments down hole are so important," he says.

Going barefoot

The secret to Sandia’s success in designing robust high-temperature tools is in part a material called Silicon-on-Insulator (SOI), which isolates the transistors from one another and greatly reduces thermally generated current leaks that occur on normal silicon-designed components, says Normann.

With silicon-based electronics, the resistance of the silicon material breaks down as heat increases and it begins to act increasingly like a conductor of electricity. The SOI reduces the frequency of breakdowns by a factor of 100, he says. Engineers have also worked on a phenomenon called metal migration at silicon-metal junctions by thickening the wires there, reducing the current, and ultimately prolonging the life of the junctions.

"These types of components were originally developed for aircraft and other high reliability applications," Normann says. In fact Sandia is working with the Air Force on similar extreme environmental electronics technology. The ultimate goal is something called "going barefoot," says Normann, a term that means building components so rugged that they will not need any heat shielding to protect them.

Will Keener | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.sandia.gov

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>