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Geophysics has been a core science at Berkeley Lab for over 30 years, predating the 1977 formation of the Earth Sciences Division (ESD) within the Lab. During the world energy crisis of the mid-1970s, keen interest arose in finding alternative sources of energy. Thus, a number of UC Berkeley/Berkeley Lab scientists began exploring the possibility of finding geothermal energy sources using advanced geophysical techniques. This interest led to geothermal field explorations in Northern California, Nevada, and Mexico. Such projects soon expanded into geophysical studies of potential nuclear waste storage sites, and were the beginnings of ESD.
Since then, in addition to continuing and expanding its geothermal studies (in response to the abiding interest in locating and developing alternative energy sources), the ESD Geophysics Department (ESD Geophysics) has expanded its mission and now conducts work on a wide variety of geotechnical problems for energy and environment. This work includes remediation projects at contaminated DOE sites, CO2 sequestration studies to mitigate the impacts of global warming, and development and testing of new geophysical technologies for fossil energy and mining applications, geological and manmade hazards investigations, and basic research. In these endeavors, ESD geophysicists employ subsurface modeling, imaging, and laboratory studies to map contaminant transport near the surface of polluted areas, identify geothermal fluids and oil and gas deposits, access earthquake and volcanic hazards, and locate unexploded ordnance (UXO).
Today, ESD Geophysics scientists, postdocs, research associates, and graduate students, carry out a wide range of advanced research in fundamental and applied geophysics. ESD Geophysics is currently driven by two primary objectives. One is to advance geophysical approaches for quantifying subsurface properties, including fluid properties, saturation, porosity, pore pressure, permeability, and in situ stress from laboratory and/or field measurements at the earth surface or in boreholes. The other is the development of technologies for subsurface resource extraction, including seismically enhanced oil recovery and geomechanics-based subsurface-permeability enhancement. The current Geophysics Department Head is Greg Newman.