Philosophy of Research


William Harbert


Active projects  I am working on consist of using geophysics to investigate reflection seismic signatures of CO2, rock physics experiments and models related to detectable signatures of CO2 in rock formations, and risk assessment related to CO2 storage activities.  Other research activities include the use of  paleomagnetism to constrain the geological and tectonic structure, determine accurate dates using reversals of the magnetic field and environmental geophysics to detect polluted subsurface water and mine voids.   My research interests are often strongly international in their focus.  These efforts are made possible by the collaboration and support of scientists in many countries, but especially in Russia.  I am deeply grateful for the support and encouragement of colleagues and friends throughout the world!  Working with my colleagues has always been one of the most rewarding aspects of my career in science.


With respect to CO2 safe storage related research activities, I have been funded by the National Energy Technology Laboratory of the United States Department of Energy, to participate in reflection seismic imaging of an active CO2 injection site in Texas.  We have built a geodatabase with approximately 13.9 gigabytes of stacked, prestack, and well log information for this injection site.  As part of this research activity my team has analyzed the previously collected 3D reflection seismic data calculating a wide variety of seismic attributes.  We are also looking at amplitude versus offset (or amplitude versus angle) parameters to determine subsurface regions that may contain CO2.  In addition we designed and collected a 3D reflection seismic survey centered at an injection well.  This survey was designed for minimum cost and small footprint.  This dataset consisted of approximately 220 shots being recorded by an array of 5 lines with more than 1,100 geophones recording each shot.    This research is in active collaboration with the Southwest Regional CO2 Sequestration Partnership and Dr. Bob Hardage of the Bureau of Economic Geology.  Rock physics modeling has been completed now for a sample of the injection target  limestone formation  and is being repeated to investigate changes to the rock matrix during repeated cycling of CO2.  These measurements are  being modeled using standard rock physics models, such as Gassmann, to investigate if permanent changes occur as a result of variation of pore pressure.  Risk assessment is being investigated using reflection seismic, well log, geologic and other datasets in collaboration with scientists at the National Energy Technology Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory.   Software has been generously donated to this research effort by Seismic Micro Technologies ($900,000), Landmark ($2.961 million), and Schlumberger ($3.757 million).  I am deeply grateful for this support.  In addition SUN Microsystems donated 3 high end multiprocessor workstations and more than 1,000 gigabytes of disk storage capability.  Related to this work I served as a stakeholder on the Carbon Management Advisory Group, which drafted a report for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania focused on carbon management.


With respect to plate tectonics, major findings of my collaborators and I have contributed to a much more thorough understanding of the far-eastern region of Russia, specifically the Kamchatka Peninsula and the region of the Sea of Okhotsk.   This research has been funded with support from the National Science Foundation, and included several field seasons working with colleagues from several Russian scientific institutions and the GeoForschungsZentrum tectonics group from German Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe, Potsdam.  We have completely updated the plate tectonic models based upon new detailed field studies and laboratory measurements for this complex region.  Additionally highly readable summaries of both geophysical data and regional hydrocarbon related geology have been published for this region, widely useful to both the academic and commercial geological communities.  I have also chaired several scientific sessions dealing with this region and type of investigation.  During the course of these studies I have supported at the University of Pittsburgh several post-doctoral and senior scientist level scientists from Russian institutes.  The minimum period of stay at the University of Pittsburgh has been two weeks; the maximum visit has been for two months.  


At the center of this research effort I have responsibility for the Paleomagnetic Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh.  This is a unique advanced technology laboratory that uses liquid Helium cooled SQUIDS (super conducting quantum interference devices) to measure extremely low magnetic fields.  The Paleomagnetism Laboratory of the Department of Geology and Planetary Science at the University of Pittsburgh has a long and distinguished history. Originally founded by Dr. T. Nagata in the 1950's, the laboratory was operated by Dr. M. Fuller during the late 1960's and 1970's and Dr. V. Schmidt during the late 1970's and 1980's. As a regional scientific resource, hardware and software within the laboratory are configured for maximum ease of use. Demagnetization, both alternating field and thermal, and magnetic properties can be completed in a magnetically shielded environment. This collaboration has resulted in a publication looking at tectonics and aquifer evolution in Eastern Europe. I have maintained an “open door” policy with respect to students and faculty from surrounding institutions using this lab. 


I am a research scientist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History associated with the vertebrate paleontology group.  In this work the observed sequence of magnetic reversals in rocks, generally important with respect to fossil sequences and variations, is correlated with a well-dated global magnetic time scale to accurately determine the ages of the strata being locally studied.  I have advised a Ph.D. student, supported with funds from a National Science Foundation Award and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, working on the magnetic stratigraphy of a fossil rich sequence of rocks in Montana. Most recently, I have advised an Honors College undergraduate student in his field and laboratory based study of magnetic reversals preserved in rocks making up a critical Tertiary mammal site in Wyoming.  We were successful in deriving a series of high precision dates for the scientists studying fossils from this important section.  This was my second field study in collaboration with the Carnegie Museum. 


My environmental geophysics work to detect polluted subsurface water and mine voids has been in close collaboration with the Clean Water Team of the National Energy Technology Laboratory at the United States Department of Energy and resulted in many excellent thesis projects.  I was honored to be an ORISE researcher at this facility and am presently an RDS affiliated researcher at the NETL site.  The DOE and my team have directed active field based programs at sites in West Virginia, Maryland, Wyoming and Pennsylvania.  Using advanced technologies such as multifrequency airborne electromagnetics and airborne time-domain electromagnetics my colleagues and I have successfully accurately determined the presence of subsurface polluted water on the basis of the contrast in conductivity between these polluted waters with surrounding waters.  My collaborative work in this research area resulted in my being chosen by the Governor of Pennsylvania to serve on the Governor’s Commission Investigating Mine Voids and Mine Safety.  As a full voting member of this 8 member commission I participated in public hearings and was a co-author of the final commission report.


To aid in this environmental geophysics related research I have recently received a fully functioning digital seismic imaging system from WesternGECO valued at approximately $1 million.  This system allows accurate imaging of subsurface structure using energy impulses.