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Predicting the fate of underground carbon

Tool for estimating size of greenhouse gas-trapping reservoirs to be presented

A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a new modeling methodology for determining the capacity and assessing the risks of leakage of potential underground carbon-dioxide reservoirs.

One strategy for mitigating greenhouse gases is to inject compressed carbon dioxide into natural aquifers made of permeable rock soaked with brackish salt water. Carbon dioxide is less viscous and less dense than the water, and, once injected, it rises to the top of the aquifer. The permeable rock usually lies underneath a dense, impermeable "cap rock," that traps the gas deep underground for long periods of time.

Cap rocks are often tilted, however, and as the carbon dioxide rises through the aquifer, it can slip out, eventually making its way back into the atmosphere. Engineers seek to avoid leakage by mapping potential reservoirs and using theoretical tools to predict carbon dioxide flow.

Now doctoral students Christopher MacMinn and Michael Szulczewski and Professor Ruben Juanes of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a new modeling methodology for determining the capacity of potential reservoirs and for assessing the risks of leakage. They will present their findings at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society's (APS) Division of Fluid Dynamics will take place from November 22-24 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

The tool takes into account key aspects of the underlying physics to predict the shape and pattern of flow when carbon dioxide is injected into a deep underground aquifer.

"Our new modeling tool is analytical rather than numerical, which means it incorporates the three primary physical mechanisms by which carbon dioxide is trapped in briny substrate -- structural, capillary and dissolution trapping -- into a single, comprehensive mathematical expression that can be solved quickly," says MacMinn. "This makes it possible for us to alter key parameters, such as the aquifer permeability, the fluid viscosities or the tilt of the cap rock, and within seconds, predict how the plume of carbon dioxide will migrate through the subsurface."

Before, each parameter change in a numerical model added hours or days to the time it took a computer to model discrete sections of the substrate and pull all these together into a prediction of carbon dioxide behavior under those limited circumstances. Engineers would have needed to run dozens if not hundreds of these to incorporate all the likely parameter permutations, making this an infeasible means of assessment. The hope now is that engineers and geologists may be able to use this new modeling tool to quickly and inexpensively determine whether carbon dioxide would escape from a geological reservoir.

The presentation "Post-Injection Migration of CO2 in Saline Aquifers subject to Groundwater Flow, Aquifer Slope, and Capillary Trapping" by Christopher MacMinn, Michael Szulczewski, and Ruben Juanes of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is at 11:48 a.m. on Monday, November 23, 2009.


The 62nd Annual DFD Meeting is largest scientific meeting of the year devoted to the fluid dynamics, it brings together researchers from around the globe to present work with applications in engineering, energy, physics, climate, astronomy, medicine, and mathematics. It will be held at the Minneapolis Convention Center in downtown Minneapolis. All meeting information, including directions to the Convention Center is at:


Credentialed full-time journalist and professional freelance journalists working on assignment for major publications or media outlets are invited to attend the conference free of charge. If you are a reporter and would like to attend, please contact Jason Bardi (, 301-209-3091).


Main meeting Web site:
Searchable form:
Local Conference Meeting Website:
PDF of Meeting Abstracts:
Division of Fluid Dynamics page:
Virtual Press Room:
The APS Division of Fluid Dynamics Virtual Press Room will contain tips on dozens of stories as well as stunning graphics and lay-language papers detailing some of the most interesting results at the meeting. Lay-language papers are roughly 500 word summaries written for a general audience by the authors of individual presentations with accompanying graphics and multimedia files. The Virtual Press Room will serve as starting points for journalists who are interested in covering the meeting but cannot attend in person. See:

Currently, the Division of Fluid Dynamics Virtual Press Room contains information related to the 2008 meeting. In mid-November, the Virtual Press Room will be updated for this year's meeting, and another news release will be sent out at that time.


A reserved workspace with wireless internet connections will be available for use by reporters. It will be located in the meeting exhibition hall (Ballroom AB) at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Sunday and Monday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Tuesday from 8:00 a.m. to noon. Press announcements and other news will be available in the Virtual Press Room.


Every year, the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics hosts posters and videos that show stunning images and graphics from either computational or experimental studies of flow phenomena. The outstanding entries, selected by a panel of referees for artistic content, originality and ability to convey information, will be honored during the meeting, placed on display at the Annual APS Meeting in March of 2010, and will appear in the annual Gallery of Fluid Motion article in the September 2010 issue of the journal Physics of Fluids.

This year, selected entries from the 27th Annual Gallery of Fluid Motion will be hosted as part of the Fluid Dynamics Virtual Press Room. In mid-November, when the Virtual Press Room is launched, another announcement will be sent out.


The Division of Fluid Dynamics of the American Physical Society exists for the advancement and diffusion of knowledge of the physics of fluids with special emphasis on the dynamical theories of the liquid, plastic and gaseous states of matter under all conditions of temperature and pressure.

Jason Socrates Bardi | EurekAlert!
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