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Laboratory and field measurements, and interpretation of self-potential signals that arise in response to water flow is a fractured basement rock in N-W Scotland - application to characterisation of subsurface fracture patterns

   School of Engineering

  , , Dr Donald John MacAllister  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Self-potentials (SP) arise when an electrolyte (e.g. groundwater or brine) flows through a porous rock (hydrocarbon reservoir or aquifer). This is caused by the mobilisation of ions which populate the bulk electrolyte and the electrical double layer formed at the electrolyte-rock or electrolyte-oil/gas interfaces. When pressure, concentration or temperature gradients are exerted on the fluids saturating porous media, electrolyte ions within the pore-space are mobilised and an electrical potential difference is established. Based on the type of gradient that induces the flow of ions, SP can be classified into three main categories; namely 1) the streaming or electrokinetic potential (EK) due to pressure gradients; 2) the electro-chemical or exclusion-diffusion potential (EC) due to concentration gradient; and 3) the thermo-electric potential (TE) due to a temperature gradient1. SP analysis has proven to be a powerful tool with which fluid fronts can be monitored. The location and shape of these fronts, which depend on reservoir/aquifer geological heterogeneities among other factors, can be predicted tens to hundreds of meters away from the monitoring well1. Moreover, previously published studies2, 3 have demonstrated that SP can be used for characterising water flow through fractures as well as fracture patters of crystalline bedrock systems.

The aim of this project is to acquire laboratory and field SP and other geophysical data obtained from a fractured system at N-W Scotland, and based on these data to interpret flow patterns and geological features of the system. Laboratory experiments will be carried out using readily available equipment at the School of Engineering in order to measure the EK (and associated with it zeta potential) and EC, both of which are essential for numerical simulation of SP measured in the field. The interpretation of measured geophysical signals will be carried out using available flow scenarios from a hydrogeophysical modelling tool (e.g. COMSOL) combined with a bespoke SP-solver. The project will improve our understanding of the SP response to water flow in fractured systems thus further promoting more accurate characterisation of such systems, a problem which remains one of the main challenges for groundwater and oil and gas sectors.

The project will be carried out in collaboration with the School of Geoscience and the British Geological Survey (BGS), with the corresponding contribution from Dr Jean Christophe Comte and Dr Donald John MacAllister. The project is suitable for students with geoscience, geology, engineering or other relevant background.

The project will require Additional Research Costs (ARC) to cover expenses associated with field work, BGS visits and consumables required for laboratory experiments.

Selection will be made on the basis of academic merit. The successful candidate should have, or expect to obtain, a UK Honours degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent) in geoscience, geology, engineering or other relevant background.


Formal applications can be completed online: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/pgap/login.php

• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering

• State name of the lead supervisor as the Name of Proposed Supervisor

• State ‘Self-funded’ as Intended Source of Funding

• State the exact project title on the application form

When applying please ensure all required documents are attached:

• All degree certificates and transcripts (Undergraduate AND Postgraduate MSc-officially translated into English where necessary)

• Detailed CV, Personal Statement/Motivation Letter and Intended source of funding

Informal inquiries can be made to Dr J Vinogradov () with a copy of your curriculum vitae and cover letter. All general enquiries should be directed to the Postgraduate Research School ()

Funding Notes

This PhD project has no funding attached and is therefore available to students (UK/International) who are able to seek their own funding or sponsorship. Additional research costs of approximately £2,000 per annum, will also be required. Supervisors will not be able to respond to requests to source funding. Details of the cost of study can be found by visiting View Website.


1. Jackson, M. D., M. Y. Gulamali, E. Leinov, J. H. Saunders, and J. Vinogradov. (2012). Spontaneous potentials in hydrocarbon reservoirs during waterflooding: Application to water-front monitoring. SPE J., 17(01), 53– 69, https://doi.org/10.2118/135146-PA.
2. Wishart, D. N., L. D. Slater, and A. E. Gates. (2008). Fracture anisotropy characterization in crystalline bedrock using field-scale azimuthal self potential gradient. Journal of Hydrology, 358(1–2), 35–45, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2008.05.017.
3. Jougnot D., Roubinet D., Guarracino L., Maineult A. (2020). Modeling Streaming Potential in Porous and Fractured Media, Description and Benefits of the Effective Excess Charge Density Approach. In: Biswas A., Sharma S. (eds) Advances in Modeling and Interpretation in Near Surface Geophysics. Springer Geophysics. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-28909-6_4.

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