The Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences housed a collection of instruments that measure the physical properties of rocks in both static and dynamic states to provide rate laws, empirical relationships and define new mechanistic descriptions of the behaviour and evolution of earth materials. This substantial research expertise is nationally unique, but it developed incrementally and separately in several different research groups. In 2004, UBC committed space and funds to create a new laboratory to support high-temperature and high-pressure experimentation: the Centre for Experimental Studies of the Lithosphere (CESL). The lab now houses equipment for research in petrology, geochemistry, structural geology and volcanology. As a catalyst for this initiative to consolidate and build critical mass, UBC has refurbished a lab space. This involved repainting, re-wiring, upgrading water and compressed air systems, and moving all relevant experimental equipment to the new space. This investment should pay dividends by providing a research and learning environment that will foster collaborative research.
Currently, projects for the new year include water-rock interactions in metamorphic systems (Greg Dipple), the rheological evolution of welded ignimbrites (Kelly Russell) and the evolution of permeability in dolomite and dolomite-calcite composites (Lori Kennedy). For more information regarding research capabilities and projects, please contact
The experimental examination of mechanical and transport properties is one of the most active and dynamic research fields in the geosciences. It is driven by technological advances, which permit simulations and observations that were not achievable just a few years ago. This new facility will contribute to a wide range of research programs including: 1) deformation of crustal and mantle rocks, 2) the study of fluid-rock interactions and transport phenomena, 3) physical property measurement of crustal and mantle materials, and 4) properties and physical chemistry of magmatic systems. Two of the major research areas are outlined below.
One of the most basic enterprises in the Earth Sciences is to understand the relation between the structure of a material and its properties. Many of the important questions currently being addressed in seismology, geodynamics, structural geology and petrology, for example, requires the input of hard, physical measurements of material properties.
A major new collaborative research project (Tosdal, Oldenburg, Russell, Dipple, Scoates) between the Geophysical Inversion Facility and the Mineral Deposits Research Unit in EOS requires measurement of magnetic susceptibility and density of rock samples from four major ore deposits. The physical property data form the bridge between the geologic data (field maps and drill programs) and the remote sensing of unexplored mineral deposits. These data are essential for inverting geophysical measurements into predictions of the geometry and distribution of ore deposits. To evaluate the potential of volcanic deposits to act as natural storage depots for hazardous material, their physical properties and how the properties change with changing physical conditions (such as P,T) must be known. Russell and Kennedy are currently addressing this problem. The structural geometry of mantle lithosphere, which provides insight into mantle convection processes can only be deduced using seismology. To generate an accurate geophysical model of mantle geometry, the elastic properties of lithospheric lithologies (e.g. Vp/Vs) must be known. M.G. Bostock and M.G. Kopylova both use elastic property data in their research on the behaviour of the lithospheric mantle.
The rheological behaviour of the geomaterials (i.e. the relationship between stress, strain and strain rate), ranging from the melt material (volcanic and intrusive) through to the lower mantle, controls the manner in which the Earth deforms. Quantification of the rheological behaviour of materials can only be accomplished through experimental deformation, which provides the data required to formulate an empirical constitutive flow law for the material of interest. Using these flow laws, we can predict the strength or the strain rate of various rock types, hence of various locations within the earth, under a range of physical conditions (e.g. P,T, Fluid composition). This information allows us to predict fundamentally important issues regarding Earth's behaviour, such as the strength of mantle convection, the timescales of compaction and welding in volcanic tuffs (J.K. Russell), and the potential strength of earthquakes (E. Hearn, L.A. Kennedy).
CESL is a new laboratory and will need upgrades to existing equipment, and purchase of new instruments to create a comprehensive facility for the simulation and measurement of physical earth processes. Funding for the new upgrades will be sought after from NSERC and UBC research funding agencies.
The rock deformation equipment housed in CESL is diverse and innovative. For example, we can measure crack development and fluid flow in large samples (see table below) under brittle conditions or the generation of melts from materials under high temperatures. Rock deformation experiments are performed so that we can determine the mechanism and evolution of deformed rocks and to quantify their rheological behaviour.
Measurements made: Rock strength (i.e. rheology) at a variety of physical conditions (i.e. temperature, confining pressure, pore fluid pressure, fluid chemistry). Obtain differential stress, strain and strain rate relationships as a function of extrinsic parameters.
|Temp (°C)||Confining P (MPa)||Fluid System||Sample Size||Status/Comments|
|Heard Rig |
|1000||Gas -up to 600||Dry||1/2" by 1"||Requires new
pistons, and intensifier. |
Superb stress measurements
|Large sample rig (LSR) |
|Up to 800||Gas Up to 200||Flow-through pore fluid pressure||Up to 2" by 4"||Operational - excellent for permeability studies and upper crustal deformation|
|Solid Medium triaxial press||Up to 1400||Salt mixture |
Up to 1000
|Pore pressure only||3/4cm by 2 cm||Operation but - needs upgrades
for data acquisition.
|Environment low load press (uniaxial)||Up to 1000||Not yet applicable||dry||Up to 2"x4"||Operational - excellent for studies of low strength materials.|
This equipment historically was an internationally renowned centre for phase equilibrium studies. The modern manifestation of this research lies in the exploration of the role of trace elements and isotopes in tracking chemical processes as well as in the mechanisms and rates of sorption and reaction. The equipment is also essential for the synthesis of starting materials for other experimental investigations.
|Temp °C||Confining P||Fluid||Comments|
|Piston-Cylinder||Up to 1800||500-6000 MPa||No||Operational: requires upgrade to data acquisition system.|
|Hydrothermal Cold-seal lines||Up to 500||200 & 500 MPa||yes||About 50% operational. 7 vertical furnaces, 16 horizontal furnaces. Pressure medium is the fluid phase. Useful for phase equilibrium studies and synthesis of starting materials for other experiments. Requires upgrade to temperature controls and monitoring, and new gas intensifier.|
|Lindbergh muffle furnace||Up to 800||Ambient atmosphere||No||Operational. Essential for synthesizing starting materials at controlled gas fugacities.|
Detailed characterization of the physical properties of starting materials
and run products is essential for the extraction of rate laws and constitutive
relationships. The same equipment can be used to make measurements on natural
samples, thus provided a firm bridge from the experimental realm to the
|Helium Picnometer||Measures porosity||Operational|
|Density||Density||Precise and accurate measurement of density of consolidated materials using conventional water immersion techniques.|
|Magnetic Susceptibility Meters (x2)||Measures susceptibility||New equipment purchased by the Mineral Deposit Research Unit. Mobile, field and laboratory measurement of magnetic susceptibility of consolidated materials|