Professor Stephen Flint and Dr David Hodgson, from the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, have been awarded £1 million by a global consortium of 11 of the world's leading oil companies to study how sand is transported through and deposited in deep-sea submarine channels. Scientists will study ancient channel systems in the Karoo area of South Africa, which are now exposed above sea level.
Submarine channels transport sediments such as sand, mud and silt from shallow marine waters to the deep sea and contain much of the recently discovered oil and gas reserves outside the Middle East. The cost of drilling a well to extract new reserves in slope channel reservoirs can cost over $50 million (£29 million) and so it is crucial that exactly the right position is targeted. Only sand filled channels can produce oil and so scientists at the University will work on predicting which channels contain sand and which are filled with mud and silt, based on analysis on the characteristics and setting of the Karoo systems.
Professor Flint said: "We will be using the latest laser imaging, satellite mapping, helicopter-based high resolution photography and 3-D computer modelling in our field work to capture the data required to understand and predict sand transfer and storage mechanisms."
The computer models will be used by oil companies to guide development of new oilfields throughout the world, in order to dramatically increase the efficiency of oil recovery and help guarantee future energy supplies. The team will also use the data to improve understanding of the mechanisms of sand transfer from shallow shelf to deep ocean floor, in order to predict how submarine landslides and related natural hazards, such as tsunamis, occur.
Professor Flint added: "It is important that new and efficient ways of increasing recovery of oil reserves are found. Many factors can disrupt the supply of oil, such as increased costs, disputes, and natural disasters. Our research will help in providing accurate identification of areas of interest to oil companies, but it will also help us explain and better predict how sediment is distributed to the deep oceans."