Earth’s Near-Surface and Environmental Science

Marsh with mountains The distribution and cycling of chemical elements depend on molecular-scale geochemical processes that take place in the continental and oceanic crusts, oceans, and the atmosphere that comprise the Earth’s envelope. The interactions of the chemical elements that are critical for supporting life derive from a complex balance of thermodynamic and kinetic forces that span length scales from nano- to mega-meters and time scales from picoseconds to millions of years.

Geochemists use a variety of synchrotron X-ray methods at SEES beamlines to study the atomic-scale structure and chemistry of minerals, soils, biofilms, micro-organisms, and mixtures of solids, fluids, and gases.  The advances in our understanding of the chemistry of the Earth from these scientific studies give vital information for mineral exploration and extraction and for waste disposal of these elements that are vital for a sustainable modern civilization.

Many geophysical tools such as seismic, radar, gravity, electrical, and magnetic imaging are used to characterize the Earth’s surface and crust. Connecting the large-scale geophysical data of subsurface properties to the molecular level is very challenging, especially given the heterogeneous and complex mineralogy, pore structures, and multiphase fluids that comprise the crust and surface of the Earth. The SEES beamlines are used by geoscientists to combine imaging with measurements of the chemical and mechanical properties and the interactions between rock and pore-fluids at laboratory length and time scales that are invaluable for creating models to better understand the near-surface geophysics.