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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Equipment and technique development in Geology and Geophysics

As a group we have a long track record of developing state of the art equipment and methods. We developed the first true 3D Chirp profiler, capable of imaging and identifying features as small as a few 10s of cm across and less than 10 cm thick.

3D Chirp being used to survey in the River Thames.
3D Chirp being used to survey in the River Thames. Image: Justin Dix

We pioneered the use of multichannel high resolution (sub-m scale) reflection profiling. We develop novel approaches to imaging Earth’s deep interior globally and in regional settings using seismic and electromagnetic waves for a better understanding of plate tectonics and the evolution of the Earth, with broad implications for hazard and climate. We apply and develop seismic full waveform inversion techniques to obtain highly detailed physical property estimates that can be applied to engineering, geohazard analysis and imaging Earth’s mantle and core. Our collaborations with industry partners ensure that these developments remain societally relevant and are rapidly applied in practical situations. We are continually developing new instrumentation to make autonomous geophysical measurements on the seabed, both for long durations (up to a year) and at high frequencies (up to 4kHz). Distributed Acoustic and Distributed Temperature sensors are being used on both pre-installed (e.g. associated with marine High Voltage cables) and purposefully laid fibre optic cables to measure a range of ocean and Earth processes, including ocean temperature fluctuations, waves and tides and earthquakes. We are also developing machine learning techniques to interrogate large geospatial datasets such as earthquake catalogues to identify patterns and potential natural and anthropogenic, with important implications for future hazard assessment and mitigation. Machine learning and AI techniques are also being used to interrogate high resolution rock core images (including XCT-scanner imagery) and borehole data. This enables us to extract objective data from large datasets on rock alteration, porosity and permeability in subsurface fluid flow systems.

Earthquakes & wastewater injection, Oklahoma, USA
Earthquakes & wastewater injection, Oklahoma, USA. Image: Thea Hincks

Key Goals:

  1. To determine physical parameters relevant to engineering from geophysical data – Remote data might much better characterise the physical properties of the sediments and their variation than large numbers of cores. This may also help to assess the potential for offshore slope failures.
  2. To use Distributed Acoustic and Temperature Sensors as tools for high-resolution marine measurements and monitoring – This means both high frequency and high spatial resolution.
  3. To assess how earthquake occurrence is related to human activity - What are links between earthquakes and underground fluid injection associated with enhanced oil recovery and wastewater disposal?
  4. To image Earth’s deep interior – Mantle convection and plate tectonics shape the planet we live on and are fundamental to our understanding of hazard, the deep-water cycle that has made Earth habitable for billions of years and climate change.

How do we do it?

In the Geology and Geophysics Group we have a range of marine geophysical equipment which we use to address the goals within this research theme; some equipment is commercial and some custom-built to our specifications.

RRS Discovery, March, 2017
Image credit: Kate Rychert

We investigate whether methods developed in hydrocarbon exploration can be successfully applied down to sub-m scales.

We operate (together with Durham University) the NERC Ocean Bottom Instrument Consortium which supports a broad range of UK Earth science.

We collaborate with groups in computer science and the Turing Institute to effectively apply cutting-edge statistical methods to Earth datasets.

We use the global seismic database and data we collect from temporary (1 – 2 year) deployments and high performance computing facilities (IRIDIS) to model waveform propagation and integrate with other international geoscientists to determine the physical and chemical properties of the Earth.

Image right: Southampton scientists and ship’s crew retrieving ocean bottom seismometers from the RRS Discovery during a PI-LAB expedition in March, 2017.

Links to other Research Themes

Engineering, environments and energy in coastal and continental shelf environments

Staff MemberPrimary Position
Prof. Jon Bull Associate Dean Research
Prof. Justin Dix Professor in Marine Geology & Geophysics
Dr Tom Gernon Associate Professor in Earth Science
Dr Nicholas Harmon Associate Professor in Geophysics
Prof. Tim Henstock Professor of Geophysics
Prof. Tim Minshull Professor
Dr Catherine Rychert Associate Professor in Geophysics
Prof. Damon Teagle Professor of Geochemistry
Dr Thea Hincks Senior Research Fellow
Callum Clay Postgraduate research student
Sara Lise Underhay Postgraduate research student
Dr Yujiang Xie Research Fellow in Passive Source Seismology
Dr Petros Bogiatzis Research Fellow
Dr Kontantinos Leptokaropoulos Research Fellow
Yuhang Dai Postgraduate research student
William Buffet Postgraduate research student 
Michael Faggetter Postgraduate research student
Fiona Simpson Senior Research Fellow in Electromagnetic Geophysics and Space Weather
Ellen White Postgraduate research student


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