Most people understand that fossil fuels and uranium are the main sources of the energy that powers society. What is less well understood is that geologists and geophysicists are the professionals who search for, find, evaluate, and monitor the production of these resources for the benefit of everyone. In the 21st century the detrimental impacts on climate and the environment produced by the use of these ‘conventional’ fuels, and the fact that their quantities are limited, is forcing society into finding alternative and clean energy resources to substitute for them. The geothermal, solar, wind, and ocean wave potential of the U.S. and North America is currently an active area of research. Finding ways to transition from a fossil fuel economy to one in which these alternative sources dominate is one of the main challenges facing society today.
Energy research in Geological Sciences at UNC is proceeding on several fronts:
- Professors Rial, Lees, and Glazner have worked extensively in geothermal fields, examining fracture patterns that govern flow of geothermal fluids, earthquake swarms related to magma movement and fluid extraction, and volcanism and heat flow
- Professors Lees, and Rial teach geophysical methods that are used to remotely sense the underground environment in the search for petroleum, gas, water, and metals
- Professors Stewart study deposition and deformation of sedimentary rocks that host fossil fuels
- Professors Benninger, Coleman, and Glazner study the geochemistry of energy-critical metals such as uranium and the rare earth element