Courtesy of the University

A vibroseis truck visits Cornell to help the earth and atmospheric sciences department conduct a seismic study.

September 27, 2018

Seismic Survey Hopes to Further Cornell’s Carbon Neutral Plan

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Earlier this week, students and faculty from the earth and atmospheric sciences department conducted a seismic survey to gather data about geological formations under the surface of the University’s campus, the next step in studying the possibility of using Earth Source Heat to warm Cornell.

ESH is a major part of Cornell’s plan to become carbon neutral by 2035. By drilling under the Earth’s surface, ESH would use the natural heat in the Earth’s crust to heat campus in an effort to reduce fossil fuel usage, according the project’s website.

The seismic survey, also called vibroseis, is led by Prof. Larry Brown Ph.D. ’76, earth and atmospheric sciences, along with other EAS faculty. It is one of only a few geological research projects which uses the vibroseis truck, as it is usually conducted by big oil companies.

“We feel very proud of being explorers because this kind of survey has never been done … It’s kind of like planetary exploration. It’s the first rover picture from Mars except it’s 50 feet below here,” Brown told The Sun.

Brown and the team of undergraduate and graduate students from the College of Engineering installed approximately 400 nodes along the survey route off Game Farm Road and Stevenson Road to collect data on how the subsurface rocks react to vibrations and seismic activity.

The team used a vibroseis truck from the University of Texas, Austin. The truck sends seismic signals into the ground that reflect off various rock formations underground and are then measured by the nodes.

In addition to the artificial vibrations from the vibroseis truck, the team is also measuring the natural vibrations from microearthquakes and large trucks that pass by the nodes.

Both artificial and natural vibrations will help Brown and his team create an accurate map of underground rock formations to evaluate the best locations for ESH wells.

“This is very powerful new technology,” Brown said. “It really is a game-changer in my field of seismology.”

Brown said that he doesn’t think that the survey has disturbed any Cornell students or any operations of the University and its surroundings, as the survey route was collected off-campus.

The team has also put several earthquake seismographs on campus, as well as around Ithaca and Dryden High Schools, to record the vibration levels from the vibroseis truck there.

“You can’t feel this on campus, but it calibrates how the ground responds to shaking at these locations,” he said. “It’ll give us some clue about whether some parts of the campus will be more sensitive to vibrations than others and we can plan to mitigate any negative effects of those vibrations.”

The data will also be used as “fodder” for teaching students about subsurface imaging in earth and atmospheric sciences classes, according to Brown. He also stressed that this survey is a “very open project” and that all the information the team collects over the next few weeks will be available online soon.