Postgraduate research opportunities

Understanding and reducing bias in fracture data collection for improved geoenergy development

This exciting PhD project will explore how cognitive and physical bias in fracture data collection (at different scales of enquiry) affect fracture presentation in geological models and, critically, how these uncertainties influence model outcomes for geoenergy and engineering applications.

Number of places

1

Funding

Home fee, Stipend

Opens

30 October 2020

Deadline

15 February 2021

Duration

4 years

Eligibility

Essential: The applicant should hold a minimum of an upper second class BSc Honours degree (or equivalent) in subjects relevant to Physical Sciences.

Desirable: Additional experience or skills development relevant to geoscience such as modelling, structural geology, hydrogeology, subsurface fluid storage, or relevant to cognitive psychology and data representation.

 

The ideal candidate should have a desire to work in an interdisciplinary, applications-focused field of recognised international importance in geoscience. They will be a practical self-motivated person who will lead the development and direction of their project. Applicants should hold (or expect to get) a minimum of an upper second-class honours degree or an MSc with distinction in physical sciences, maths, or a related field. They would preferably have some geological modelling experience, and an interest in developing these skills further.

Project Details

This is an exciting PhD opportunity to engage in highly cross-disciplinary research. The project brings together geoscience, psychology, data science, and aspects of engineering geology. The project will explore how cognitive and physical bias in fracture data collection (at different scales of enquiry) affect fracture representation in geological models and, critically, how these uncertainties influence model outcomes for geoenergy and engineering applications. The work will involve fracture data collection through different methods, and will apply principles from cognitive psychology. The research will improve how fracture datasets are collected and interpreted across a range of scales, ultimately increasing confidence in geological models and enabling low-carbon geoenergy applications. The outcomes are crucial to de-risking low-carbon geoenergy and environmental engineering applications.

As well as the joining community and opportunities within the GeoNetZero CDT (the Centre for Doctoral Training in Geoscience and the Low Carbon Energy), the student will join the lively Faults and Fluid Flow (FAFF) research group in Strathclyde’s Dept of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Fracture data are used to populate geological models which can inform decision making on reservoir properties, rock strength, seal integrity, and anticipated fluid flow. Failure to recognise and account for uncertainties in fracture data can limit model outcomes, with significant ramifications for a range of applications, including for secure subsurface storage. Despite this, current approaches to fracture data collection and interpretation rarely account appropriately for the multiple sources of uncertainties such as the resolution of the tools that we use to capture the presence and geometry of faults and fractures, to the range of cognitive and physical biases that affect and limit the data we collect (Andrews et al. 2019; Shipton et al. 2019). Such uncertainties affect fracture data observed using any approach and at a range of scales of enquiry.

In this project, the PhD student will investigate different approaches to capturing, modelling, and mitigating uncertainties in fracture data representation and how these approaches influence confidence in models derived from those data.

Specifically, the student will:

  • Collect and interpret new fracture datasets using different approaches or scales of enquiry (e.g. outcrop field sites and tunnels (dm- to m-scale), remote sensing (km-scale), or X-CT scans (micron- to mm-scale)
  • Design and conduct group workshops (these could be run online or face-to-face, or both, depending on what is appropriate) to collect empirical data on the interpretation of the same datasets by a wide range of geoscientists (e.g. Figure 1)
  • Explore the consequences of these uncertainties in the resulting fluid flow model outcomes and their applications
  • Explore the sources of uncertainty in fracture data collection, and approaches to mitigate biases and reduce uncertainties, including protocols for ‘crowdsourcing’ data collection/interpretation within teams.

Field sites will be selected to inform geoenergy applications, for example, granites or sedimentary aquifers to inform geothermal systems or in caprock/overburden units to inform geological storage. Workshop participants will include geoscientists from both academia and industry (we will approach the CDT’s industry partners), and at least one of these workshops will be delivered as part of a short course for the CDT on bias in geological data collection and interpretation.

 

Project outcomes will improve how fracture datasets are collected and interpreted across a range of scales, ultimately increasing confidence in geological models and enabling low-carbon geoenergy applications. The outcomes are crucial to de-risking low-carbon geoenergy applications, environmental engineering, and informing effective policy.

 

This studentship is part of the GeoNetZero CDT - the Centre for Doctoral Training in Geoscience and the Low Carbon Energy. This PhD comes with a UKRI level fully-funded studentship, including fees and stipend. The studentship is due to commence 01 October 2021. The fees and stipend can only be awarded to UK students (and not to EEA or International students).

The ideal candidate should have a desire to work in an interdisciplinary, applications-focused field of recognised international importance in geoscience. They will be a practical self-motivated person who will lead the development and direction of their project under the support and guidance of the supervisors. Applicants should hold (or expect to get) a minimum of an upper second-class honours degree or an MSc with distinction in physical sciences or a related field.

 

For further information on the studentship please contact Dr Jen Roberts.

 

References:

Andrews, B. J., Roberts, J. J., Shipton, Z. K., Bigi, S., Tartarello, M. C., and Johnson, G. (2019) How do we see fractures? Quantifying subjective bias in fracture data collection, Solid Earth, 10, 487–516, https://doi.org/10.5194/se-10-487-2019.

Z. K. Shipton, J. J. Roberts, E. L. Comrie, Y. Kremer, R. J. Lunn and J. S. Caine. (2019) Fault fictions: systematic biases in the conceptualization of fault-zone architecture, Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 496, https://doi.org/10.1144/SP496-2018-161.

 

Funding Details

Funding details available at https://geo-net-zero.hw.ac.uk/phd-opportunities/

The 4-year studentship funding is for tuition fees at the UK level only.

Applicants from outside the UK would need to provide their own funding to cover the difference between International and UK (Home) tuition fees.

The 4-year PhD studentship is funded as part of GeoNetZero CDT; a Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Geoscience and the Low Carbon Energy Transition.

The studentship includes a £5K per annum Research and Training Support Grant to maximise the student’s development and opportunities by supporting e.g. equipment facilities, data collection, and conferences and other training and development opportunities.

The PhD studentship is fully funded and covers Home student tuition fees and annual stipend at the level agreed by the UK’s Research Council organisation, UK Research & Innovation. It includes a budget to facilitate your research e.g. for computer and equipment facilities, lab consumables, data collection, conference and training course travel. 

 

Supervisor

The student will benefit from a great and varied supervision team who enjoy working together. Jen, Zoe and Gareth are based in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Strathclyde; Clare is at the University of Aberdeen.

 

Dr Jen Roberts is a Chancellors Fellow in Energy. She is an interdisciplinary scientist with expertise on socio-technical risks of environmental engineering, particularly around CO2 leakage from geological stores. Jen will be the primary supervisor and main point of contact for this studentship.

 

Prof Zoe Shipton is Professor of Geological Engineering. She has world-leading expertise in fault zones and fluid flow.

 

Dr Gareth Johnson is a Research Fellow with expertise in geochemistry and structural geology applied to energy geosciences.

 

Dr Clare Bond is a Reader in Structural Geology at the University of Aberdeen. 

Further information

The student will join the active and growing multidisciplinary Faults and Fluid Flow (FAFF) research group within the Centre for Ground Engineering & Energy Geosciences, in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Strathclyde. They will be supported attend and present at conferences, and to undertake research placements if desired.

In addition to the GeoNetZero CDT’s Training Academy they will join the University of Strathclyde’s 60-credit postgraduate training programme leading to the Postgraduate Certificate in Researcher Professional Development.

This PhD will equip the student with multidisciplinary skills including field skills, data processing and modelling, and understanding of psychology and decision sciences. These skills would make them suitable for a range of employment options, such as working in conventional and emerging geoenergy, geological risk, resource extraction, environmental engineering, policy, or academia.


Figure 1. Fieldwork mapping an outcrop fracture network. Here, we were investigating if 8 field geologists collected the same fracture data from the same scanlines: they didn’t…! See Andrews et al., 2019 for more.

 

A student undertaking fieldwork on a beach

How to apply

For further information on the studentship, including details of how to apply, please contact Dr Jen Roberts.