CORDIS - EU research results

The nanoscale control of reactive fluids on geological processes within the solid Earth

Project description

Nanoscale processes in the solid Earth could have the power to move mountains

The Earth is a terrestrial planet dominated by crystalline rocks. The flow of water through its rocks is associated with reactions that play an important role in various processes including the structure of the planet and the carbon cycle. Most people would consider the transport mechanisms of fluid flow through the rocks to be driven by large-scale macroscopic properties and events. While such things are certainly important, focussing only on these may not reveal the full story. The EU-funded nanoEARTH project is investigating nanoscale fluid–rock interactions, incorporating processes that occur inside mineral nanopores and developing models of the multiscale physical processes. The project's outcomes will help bring nanoscience to the forefront and highlight its relevance to geoscience.


Fluid-driven mineral reactions chemically modify enormous portions of the Earth’s crystalline lithosphere. These reactions drive fluid-mediated rock transformation processes that governs the stability of mountain belts, the formation of hydrothermal mineral deposits and the sequestration of anthropogenic CO2 as well as many other processes. I propose that contrary to our current thinking, the re-actions themselves are driven by self-promoting nanoscale transport phenomena.
Existing geological frameworks lack a quantitative understanding of mechanisms that control the rates of reactive fluid-rock interaction. This is because they do not account for the pervasive influence of nanoscale dynamics on the redistribution of elements within geological materials. The nanoEARTH project will solve this by defining the predominant transport processes occurring in mineral nanopores and the dynamic behaviour of fluid-rock interaction.
To achieve the nanoEARTH aims and break through current limitations in our understanding of fluid-rock interaction, I will use my expertise in the multi-scale physics of geological processes. I will combine (1) novel nanoscale experiments that will establish transport mechanisms through natural and synthetic mineral nanopores and (2) unique in operando observations of fluid-driven mineral transformations at multiple length scales with (3) molecular-to continuum-scale transport modelling that is (4) constrained by geological observations.
Through this integrative strategy, I will deliver new knowledge to redefine how the reaction of fluids with minerals self-generates a mode of transport that mobilises elements and controls the rates of fluid-driven transformation. This will impact geoscience research well beyond the project duration and bring the nanoscience of geological processes a quantum-leap forward in defining it as an integral part of solid Earth science.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 572 500,00
3584 CS Utrecht

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West-Nederland Utrecht Utrecht
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 572 500,00

Beneficiaries (1)