Solid Earth Dynamics Research
The Solid Earth Dynamics group is internationally recognized for effectively combining experimental, theoretical, and field studies to determine physical processes operative in the Earth's crust and mantle. Their research is interdisciplinary, and thus well suited to students with strong backgrounds in geology, physics, mathematics and/or engineering.
Structural Geology at Brown involves experimental, theoretical and field work. Emphasis is on obtaining an understanding of deformational processes over a range of scales from the sub-microscopic to the global. The use of continuum mechanics figures strongly in the theoretical work. Students with a strong undergraduate background in geology, physics, or engineering are well suited for study in structural geology. Coursework is individually tailored to match the background and interests of incoming graduate students. Courses are usually selected from many available in the Department of Geological Sciences, the Division of Engineering and the Applied Math Department. An important difference between undergraduate and graduate education is that original research plays an important role in graduate school. Students get involved in an individual research program in their first year. The importance of research compared to courses increases every year, as formal course work is completed and students become more experienced and able to conduct their research projects independently. Students normally undertake more than one research project in order to gain a variety of experience and background that will help them obtain the type of employment they each desire.
The structure group has built one of the best-equipped rock deformation labs in the country. Constitutive laws for frictional sliding of important rock types as well as the processes responsible for observed behavior can be determined in experiments on faulting and friction mechanics performed in a rotary shear gas apparatus. Field studies of faults help guide the laboratory experiments and test their applicability to nature. Theoretical modeling currently underway for Parkfield and Loma Prieta sections of the San Andreas investigates the reasons for earthquake instabilities to determine ways to attempt earthquake prediction. Experimental studies to determine grain-scale deformation mechanisms, microstructures, and flow laws operative in crustal rocks are conducted in 3 piston-cylinder apparatus capable of applying a wide range of temperatures, pressures, and strain rates. Specific studies concern the nature of the brittle-ductile transition, formation of mylonites and ductile shear zones, and the role of fluids in deformation. Collaborative studies with Prof. Emeritus Yund (mineralogy) investigate the interaction of chemical and mechanical processes in deforming metamorphic rocks. Field and theoretical studies of the tectonic history of New England involve collaboration with Prof. L. Peter Gromet (geochemistry).
Environmental geophysics applies ground penetrating radar, seismic, gravity, magnetic, electromagnetic, and resistivity techniques to characterize the Earth's subsurface for groundwater studies and engineering applications (see also Environmental Science).
Environmental geophysics and hydrology is a relatively new initiative at Brown University, and involves the application of geophysical methods and computer modeling to environmental investigations of groundwater flow, watershed dynamics, subsurface hazardous waste assessment and contaminant migration. We use computer modeling and field research — as well as the broad resources of interdisciplinary activity throughout the University — to follow the precept, "Think globally, but act locally," to investigate environmental problems that, while of local community importance, are paradigms of analogous concerns on the national and international scale.
Brown is unusually well equipped for experimental studies. The high pressure, high-temperature experimental rock deformation laboratory has three Griggs-type piston-cylinder apparatus designed for conducting experiments at temperatures up to 1200ƒC, pressures up to 1500 MPa, and time durations up to several months. This allows study of the deformation mechanisms and rheology of rock samples at conditions including those of the entire crust and upper mantle.
The lab also has a unique high-pressure rotary-shear apparatus capable of doing rock friction experiments to arbitrarily high displacements and torsion of solid samples to arbitrarily high shear strains. This machine uses gas as the confining medium, has a flow-through pore-pressure system, features internal measurement of displacement, torque, and axial load, and is interfaced to a UNIX computer for digital data acquisition and control. Consequently it can measure the mechanical properties of rocks and minerals with unusually high precision.
The laboratory also has facilities for coring, sawing and grinding of experimental samples and for petrographic examination of the deformed samples. The Department has a thin-section lab and technician, a machine shop and machinist. A nearby central facility houses modern scanning and transmission electron microscopes.
Brown is also well equipped for theoretical and field studies. Computer facilities include many high-end work stations, a departmental parallel computing facility, a variety of printers and access to the powerful campus parallel computing and visualization resources. All the computers are networked for high-speed communication as well as internet connection with supercomputer centers across the country.
Equipment for field studies includes surveying equipment and both a portable rock saw with diamond blade and a portable diamond core drill.