Dr. Rafid Al-Khoury

Dr. Rafid Al-Khoury, from Delft University,  came to EPFL on the 11th of August 2015 and gave a presentation entitled “Computational Geoenvironment: Background, Challenges and Approaches”.

Computational geoenvironment is a field of research related to the earth planet. Almost all known sciences that we are aware of are involved in geoenvironment. Geology, physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and engineering, among others, are involved. Nevertheless, we remarkably know little about what is happening beneath our feet. In 1985, Richard Feynman stated, “Strangely as it may seem, we understand the distribution of matter in the interior of the sun far better than we understand the interior of the earth.”. This statement is fairly valid until today! Though, with the advent of computational sciences, we are currently having better understanding of the earth geology and the natural and manmade activities that are involved. Yet, we are still at the beginning, and further discoveries in geosciences and geoengineering require a lot of efforts and investment. Advent in computational geoenvironment is one of the core elements for better understanding of the earth interior behaviour, and hence for an effective utilization of its space.
The field of computational geoenvironment is challenging, inspiring and fascinating. It involves modelling fundamental elements for life on earth and humans wellbeing, mainly: water, energy, materials and environment. Groundwater flow, energy extraction, energy storage, mining, waste storage, contamination, sequestration of CO2, and geological events are only few examples of geoenvironmental activities. Such activities typically involve ambiguities and uncertainties stemming from the nature of the geological formations and the complicated coupling between geometry, fluid and heat flow and mechanical forces. As a result of this, engineering projects dealing with the interior of the earth usually do not get the public support, since the authorities so far are not very much capable of providing convincing evidences on the safety of constructing and running such projects. The attempt by geoscientists to promote computational geoenvironment as a field of research is not only timely, but crucial to promote advancing on understanding and mastering the geoenvironmental events and activities.
In this lecture, I will give a short historical background of the development of poromechanics. I will briefly address physical processes and phenomena which are of particular interest to geoengineers and geoscientists. I will present relevant theories and approaches that are in use to model geoenvironmental processes. Then, I will emphasize on the challenges and approaches for formulating computational models essential for analyzing and designing geoenvironmental systems. Focus will be placed on techniques for developing innovative computational tools, and will show how a good combination between the mathematical formulation and the numerical procedure can make the complicated nature of geosciences feasible for engineering practice.