Current funding and projects

Carbon Cycle in Small Ocean Worlds

PI: Julie Castillo-Rogez (Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
Grant number: 

Ocean worlds are of significant interest for finding life in the solar system, since some dwarf planets or icy moons show clear evidence of water-rock chemistry, a past or present liquid water ocean, and geochemical disequilibria that may be able to support life through hydrothermal processes. Developing methods for detection of organic molecules that are also found in terrestrial biology is one method for trying to identify whether or not life is present on these worlds, and organics have already been detected on the surface of Ceres and in the plumes of Enceladus.

Publications: coming

Multi-phase melt percolation during core formation

Co-I: Masha Prodanovic (Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, University of Texas at Austin)
Grant number:NASA 18-EW18_2-0027

Chemical differentiation in planetesimals in the early solar system leads to melting of both metallic and silicate phases. The segregation of these melts with opposite buoyancy occurs either in a compacting porous medium or in a magma ocean. The process of core formation imprints distinct geochemical signatures on the differentiated body and affects the thermal history of the planetesimal and therefore the cooling history of the core. Hypotheses about the latter will become testable for the first time with the upcoming NASA mission to metal asteroid 16 Psyche. To determine the timing of core formation in planetesimals we propose to improve the description of simultaneous metal and silicate melt percolation in a compacting porous medium. The dynamics of this process involve a complex coupling across the scales. The large-scale redistribution of energy and mass depends on pore-scale interactions between the two melts. Therefore, we propose the development of novel a multiscale model, where the constitutive laws for the macroscopic evolution equations are determined by pore-scale simulations.

Publications: coming

New constraints on thermal evolution, thermal structure and magmatism on asteroids

PI: Nick Dygert (Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of Tennessee at Knoxville)
Grant number: NASA 17-SSW17-0192

Models of the thermal evolution of chondritic and achondritic meteorite parent asteroids are predicated on geothermometric estimates of peak temperatures achieved on those bodies. Thermal models inform our understanding of metamorphism and differentiation on meteorite parent bodies and the planetesimals that accreted to form the planets. However, geothermometers used to constrain the thermal evolution of asteroids typically record blocking temperatures during cooling rather than peak or magmatic temperatures. Recently, a rare earth element (REE)-in-two pyroxene thermometer was developed which relies on the relatively slow diffusive exchange of REEs between coexisting pyroxenes and has been shown to record near-peak or magmatic temperatures for samples from a variety of geologic settings in Earth’s mantle and crust. Applications of the REE-in-two pyroxene thermometer to meteorites are extremely limited. A preliminary proof-of-concept study presented here suggests the LL chondrite parent body cooled at a rate >1°C/y from a temperature of ~950°C, implying that it was catastrophically fragmented and quenched from its peak metamorphic temperature. In contrast to our results, cooling rates estimated using methods sensitive to low temperature cooling (i.e., at temperatures <500°C) are orders of magnitude slower, suggesting that subsequent to breakup the LL chondrite parent body reaccreted and then cooled slowly while 26Al or another heat source was still active. This preliminary result demonstrates the power of the REE-in-two pyroxene thermometer to unravel high temperature cooling histories of meteorites, breathing new life into samples studied extensively in the past.

Publications: Lukas et al. (2020), Ren et al. (202X)

Marc Hesse

Simulation of Multiphase Flow and Transport in the Partially Molten Mantle [NSF link]

PI: Todd Arbogast (Institute of Computational Engineering and Science, University of Texas at Austin)
Grant number: DMS – 1720349

Project objectives include the development of (1) a mathematical framework for computational simulation of evolving mantle flow which covers the degenerate case of no melt, (2) a numerical method to accurately approximate the transport of temperature and chemical components within the mantle flow, (3) a computer code to implement the flow and transport algorithms, as well as a method for handling simple phase behavior. Furthermore, (4) the code will be applied to study important problems in the geosciences and (5) students will be educated and trained in an interdisciplinary setting. Mathematically speaking, because there are regions with no melt, two-phase flow in the mantle is governed by highly degenerate equations. Recent work has established the mathematical foundations of two-phase flow when the porosity does not evolve. The key is to scale the solution variables and equations appropriately by the porosity, which is the volume fraction of melt. The evolving case will be treated in this project, with the goal of providing an appropriate computational method for simulating the flow in practical simulations. To model the transport of temperature and the segregation of melt components, appropriate WENO and discontinuous Galerkin methods will be developed for this project, which will respect the possible degeneracies in the porosity.

Publications: Hesse & Castillo-Rogez (2019), Raymond et al. (2020), Hesse et al. (202X)

Marc Hesse

Bayesian framework for optimal management of waste injection [NSF link]

PI: Omar Ghattas (Institute of Computational Engineering and Science, University of Texas at Austin)
Grant number: CBET – 1508713

The focus of the proposed work is on integrating research developments in scientific computing, statistical analysis, and numerical analysis to provide a common platform for waste water storage. Results from this work will be important to energy production in the US, an area of National interest.

Geological carbon storage faces two main challenges: the risk of inducing seismicity, and leakage of the injected CO2 into potable aquifers. The characterization of the injection site and continued monitoring of the CO2 migration as well as stress changes in the region of elevated pressure are therefore particularly important to maximize the amount of CO2 that can be stored, while ensuring the long term safety of storage sites. To address these challenges, the overall goal of the proposed research is to (1) integrate well pressure and, where available, surface deformation data into coupled poromechanics models by solving the inverse problem for unknown subsurface properties; (2) to quantify the uncertainty in the inversion for the subsurface properties, and (3) to use the resulting inferred poromechanics models together with their uncertainty to design optimal control strategies for well injection that optimize the amount of stored CO2 while controlling the risk of seismicity. It is essential that this poromechanics based inference/prediction/control framework takes into account uncertainties at every stage, since both the observational data and the models are uncertain. However, solving stochastic inverse/optimal control problems for large-scale PDE models, such as those of poromechanics, is intractable using current methods, which suffer from the “curse of dimensionality.” Thus, it is proposed to overcome these barriers by developing scalable methods and algorithms that exploit the problem structure to reduce effective dimensionality. While the end application of CO2 storage is quite important in itself, the framework to be developed can be applicable to a broader set of science and engineering problems for which large-scale uncertain models must be inferred from large-scale uncertain data, and then used to solve optimal decision-making problems under uncertainty.

Publications: Alghamdi et al. (2020), McCormack et al. (2020)

Independent funding of graduate students

Marc Hesse Injection induced seismicity and co-seismic fluid overpressure:
Two sides of the same coin
Graduate student: Kimberly McCormack
Grant type: NSF Graduate Research Fellowship
Description: The relation between porous flow, deformation, and seismicity is central to the understanding of natural hazards, and tectonic processes, as well as energy and groundwater resources. The geomechanical coupling is two-way street: One the one hand gradients in fluid pressure can exert forces on the rocks and faults and induce seismic events. On the other hand rock deformation can induce fluid overpressure that can drive large-scale flows. Understanding the relation between subsurface fluid flow and induced seismicity is difficult because the interaction of these feedbacks can produce unintuitive results. Advances in satellite geodesy and continuous GPS networks, however, are providing unprecedented information about deformation of the Earth’s surface. Together with advances in seismology these data have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the coupling between subsurface flow and seismicity. To capitalize on these developments and advance our understanding between subsurface flow and seismicity I propose to integrate geodetic data into geomechanical models using joint and fully coupled inversions. To study the two types of geomechanical coupling I will look at tow phenomena:  I) The potential for fluid injection to induce seismic events. II) The potential for large earthquakes to induce flow and fluid.
Publications: McCormack et al. (2018, 2020)

Past funding and projects

Center for Subsurface Energy Security (CFSES II)

PI: Larry Lake (Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, University of Texas at Austin)

Grant number: DE-SC0001114


The Center for Frontiers of Subsurface Energy Security (CFSES) is pursuing scientific understanding of multiscale, multiphysics processes to ensure safe and economically feasible storage of carbon dioxide and other byproducts of energy production without harming the environment.

Publications: McNeece and Hesse (2017, 2018),
Wen et al. (2018), Liang et al. (2018), Wen and Hesse (2018)
Shi et al. (2017)

Marc Hesse

Hydrogeochemical dynamics of natural carbon dioxide fields [NSF link]

Co-PI: David DiCarlo (Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, University of Texas at Austin)
Grant number: EAR – 1215853
Description: The objective of this proposal is to estimate the long-term convective dissolution rate of carbon dioxide (CO2) at the Bravo dome CO2 field. This will allow us to test current numerical models of geological carbon dioxide storage and to strengthen our confidence in their predictions of long-term storage security. Convective dissolution of CO2 into the brine, due to the increase in brine density with CO2 concentration, has been identified as a key trapping mechanism ensuring the safe long-term storage of CO2. A field based estimate of the long-term dissolution rate would greatly increase our confidence in numerical predictions, but currently no such estimate is available. Therefore, we propose to combine recent geochemical observations from the Bravo dome CO2 field in New Mexico with fluid dynamic models of CO2 migration and convective CO2 dissolution to provide such estimates. We will develop a vertically-integrated model for the geochemical evolution of the CO2 plume in realistic reservoir geometries. Comparisons between the observed spatial geochemical variations and model predictions will be used to invert for the convective dissolution rate. The parametrization of the convective dissolution term in these models is critical and a central component of our proposal is the experimental quantification of the convective dissolution rates in heterogeneous media and realistic geometries. In particular, we hope to provide the first three dimensional X-ray imaging of the convective structures in a porous medium. The calibrated dynamic models can then be used in forward models of geological CO2 storage in similar formations.

Publications:  Sathaye et al. (2016), Ahkbari and Hesse (2016), Liang et al. (2018)

Marc Hesse

Trap integrity in salt basins; sub‐salt imaging and seal vs. pore pressure challenges

Graduate student: Soheil Ghanbarzadeh
Grant type: Statoil Graduate Fellowship
Description: Experimental, theoretical and field evidence suggest that brine (and oil) can wet rock salt surfaces at higher pressures and temperatures to form a percolating network that may act as flow conduits. This is contrary to the common view that salts in sedimentary basins always act as a seal. The main objective of this proposal is to formulate a theoretical model for interfacial topology that combines crystal growth and equilibration of multi-crystal boundaries, which can be solved numerically to yield a 3D equilibrium solid-liquid interfacial surface in realistic geometries. This will enable us to investigate opening of pore space networks for different wetting angles and pressure/temperature in rock salt. Pore configurations determine a wide range of petrophysical properties such as permeability and capillary entry pressure. Better knowledge of petrophysical properties of salt vs. depth could improve drilling operations in salt. Further knowing connectivity/permeability can help improving sub-salt imaging by tuning in the input velocity models for seismic imaging.

Publications: Ghanbarzadeh et al. (2014, 2015a, 2015b)

Marc Hesse

CSEDI: Constraining the mechanisms of melt transport, storage, and crustal contamination from temporal geochemical variations in monogenetic vents [NSF link]

PI: John Lassiter (Department of Geological Sciences, University of Texas at Austin)
Co-PI: Jamie Barnes (Department of Geological Sciences, University of Texas at Austin)
Grant number: EAR – 1301621
Description: This study integrates numerical modeling of melt transport, storage, crustal interaction, and eruption with geochemical time series data in order to determine the origin of systematic time-progressive compositional variations observed in many monogenetic vent sequences and in other long-duration eruption sequences. The project will test if the compositional trends are due to mixing of melts generated from distinct components or lithologies, such as small scale heterogeneities, in the mantle source region or due to fractional crystallization and crustal assimilation during storage in crustal sills.

Publication (with Hesse): Jordan et al. (2018)

Marc Hesse

Simulation of Subsurface Geochemical Transport and Carbon Sequestration

PI: Mary Wheeler (Department of Mathematics, University of Texas at Austin)
Grant: KAUST-UT Austin Academic Excellence Alliance

Description:  This project focuses on the simulation of subsurface transport of geochemical species, especially as applied to carbon sequestration, but also more generally to petroleum reservoirs and water resources, as well as on scientific and engineering computing. We have the following five main objectives:

    1. Develop new discontinuous Galerkin and characteristic discretizations (i.e., approximations) on irregular grids for reactive transport, and incorporate a posteriori error estimates;

    2. Develop new models of compositional multiphase, multicomponent flow;

    3. Accurately track geochemical reaction dynamics for fluids subject to multiphase transport;

    4. Improve and parallelize data assimilation and management of uncertainty;

    5. Develop high performance computation and visualization of these large-scale systems.

In addressing the above objectives, we will use the Integrated Parallel Accurate Reservoir Simulator (IPARS), a computational framework developed at UT-Austin. It allows us to couple different physical and multiscale models, and it runs efficiently on massively parallel computers. It is ideal for developing and prototyping the new models and algorithms proposed in this project.

Publications: McNeece and Hesse (2016, 2017)

Marc Hesse

CMG: Robust Numerical Methods for Multi-Phase Darcy-Stokes Flow in Heterogeneous and Anisotropic Partially Molten Materials [NSF link]

Co-PI: Todd Arbogast (Department of Mathematics, University of Texas at Austin)
Grant number: EAR-1025321
Description: The dynamics of partially molten systems control the internal structure of planetary bodies. Partially molten materials are highly nonlinear geosystems where chemical reactions, heat transfer, and mechanical deformation are tightly coupled by multi-phase flow and require the development of robust numerical discretizations and solution strategies. The project will focus on the three following closely related themes: (1) Extension of the mathematical description to the dynamics of three-phase flow in partially molten systems with an additional fluid phase in the pore space. The resulting three-phase flow model will allow a self-consistent study of flux-melting in subduction zones. (2) The development and analysis of a robust mixed fi nite element discretization for the multi-phase Darcy-Stokes system that describes partially molten porous media. These methods have been successful in both limiting cases: heterogeneous and anisotropic Darcy flow as well as incompressible Stokes flow. (3) The development of a reactive transport model for partially molten systems and the analysis of chromatography in partially molten materials. High temperatures allow chemical reactions to remain close to equilibrium, but also make it necessary to treat both the liquids as well as the solid as liquid- and solid-solutions. These new models and numerical techniques provide the building blocks of the development of a robust numerical simulation tool for melting, geochemical evolution, and melt transport in the Earth’s mantle, and other partially molten systems.

Publications: Jordan and Hesse (2015), Arbogast and Taicher (2017), Taicher, Arbogast and Hesse (2017), Ghanbarzadeh et al. (2017)

Marc Hesse

The interpretation of geochemical patterns through the hyperbolic theory for reactive transport in porous media [ACS-link]

Grant number: ACS-PRF  #51230 DNI8
Description: Reactive transport has been recognized as fundamental mechanism for pattern formation in the geological sciences. It determines the chemical evolution of pore fluids as well as the mineralogy and petro-physical properties of the rocks. A dominant feature reaction fronts is the evolution of a sequence of different types of chemical waves that travel with distinct velocities and separate regions of different composition. The theory of systems hyperbolic partial differential equations provides a unifying concept that allows the analysis of the basic structure of these patterns in multi-component and multi-phase systems, including surface and classical reactions as well as multi-phase flows with partitioning. A key element of the theory is the identification of composition paths that describe the variation in system composition due to a particular chemical wave, and hence reaction mechanism.

Prigiobbe et al. (20112013), Venkatraman et al. (2014)

Marc Hesse

Characterizing the time-dependent flux of CO2-saturated brine up a leaky well

Graduate student: Nicolas Huerta
Grant type: U.S. DOE – National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) Student Internship

Description: The goal of this project is to characterize the fundamental phenomena controlling time dependent leakage of CO2 up a leaky well. This work is in collaboration with efforts at NETL and other national laboratories to provide parameters for a higher order risk assessment model to quantify the risk of adverse effects due to geologic carbon storage. This work comprises experiments and numerical modeling to estimate change in leakage rate over time. Specifically, this work looks at the coupling between transport of CO2-satuared brine along a cement fracture with the chemical processes of dissolution of some cement phases and precipitation of secondary phases. How the system evolves in time is of critical importance as the coupling determines how the leak will evolve in time, either by self-sealing or self-enhancing.

Publications: Huerta et al. (2012, 2015)