Researchers Create New Way to Study
2/2/2012 - Boise State University geophysics
researchers have created a new way to study fractures by producing
elastic waves, or vibrations, through using high-intensity light
focused directly on the fracture itself.
The new technique developed
in the Physical Acoustics Lab at Boise State may help determine if
there is a fluid, such as magma or water, or natural gas inside
fractures in the Earth.
Typically, scientists create sound waves at the surface to listen
for echoes from fractures in the ground, but this new technique
could provide more accurate information about the cracks because
sound does not have to travel to the fracture and back again.
new technique aims to enhance scientists’ abilities to image faults
in the Earth, including those man-made through the process of
hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The new method is explained in a paper that appears online in the
journal Physical Review Letters.
“These concepts are of great importance in earthquake dynamics, but
also in exploration of hydrocarbons,” said study coauthor Thomas
Blum, a Boise State doctoral student.
“If we can understand, for
example, the microscopic structure of fracture points using this
technique, we might be able to learn how, exactly, earthquakes
happen. Scientists do not yet fully understand the structure of the
faults, so if we could remotely sense the structure of faults, we
might be able to learn more.”
Blum and Kasper van Wijk, associate professor of geosciences at
Boise State, came up with the new technique by focusing laser light
directly onto a fracture inside a transparent sample to create
The researchers proved that laser-based ultrasonic
techniques can “excite,” or cause vibrations, in the fracture.
result – jointly obtained with scientists at Colorado School of
Mines and ConocoPhillips – opens up the possibility of measuring
variations in the fracture and diagnosing the mechanical properties
of fractures by directly exciting them.
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