Fieldwork down under - December 2015

In December 2015 a team of UKCCSRC researchers, Ruta Karolyte, Stuart Gilfillan and Sascha Serno, later joined by Jen Roberts, had the opportunity to escape rainy Edinburgh weather for fieldwork in sunny Australia.  The aim of the visit was to collect gas and water samples primarily for my PhD project, which combines geochemistry and structural geology techniques to investigate the connectivity of fault-separated natural gas reservoir compartments in the Otway Basin and the origin of CO2-rich mineral springs surrounding Daylesford in Central Victoria.

Our trip started in Melbourne where we had a busy schedule of productive meetings with Max Watson from CO2CRC, Tara LaForce from CSIRO Energy and a useful opportunity to discuss our work with Ralf Haese’s research group at the University of Melbourne, complete with a tour of their impressive geochemistry labs. Finally, we paid a visit to Monash University where we discussed our work on Daylesford mineral springs and received some great advice from Ian Cartwright. We left Melbourne impressed with its wonderfully odd architecture, great food and very friendly people.

Then it was time to set off to Penola in South Australia, with a brief stopover to admire the Grampian Mountains on the way.  We started our fieldwork by sampling gas reservoirs with varying concentrations of CO2 and methane managed by Beach Energy Ltd. Here I learned the fine art of sampling gas from a well but the most challenging part was surviving the Australian heat whilst in long-sleeved clothing required by the health and safety regulations of working on an operational site!

Gas sampling in Penola

Our hard work was rewarded by local sightseeing opportunities, such as the Naracoorte caves full of megafauna fossils (marsupial hippopotamus-sized koala-like creatures once roamed this land!) and a traditional Naracoorte Christmas parade, featuring a friendly Darth Vader and an Australian-Scottish bagpipes band. In fact I thought the Australian spin on Christmas décor was fantastic and the regular sightings of tinsel-decorated trucks, kangaroos in Santa’s sledge, wombats in Santa’s hats and Christmas trees made of car tyres or lego blocks kept me entertained through the entire trip.

Australian Christmas attributes, a source of great joy for Ruta

Following a scenic drive along the Great Ocean Road which treated us with amazing views of Miocene limestone cliffs, we reached the CO2CRC Otway Project site, where we took a few more samples and I had a chance to learn more about the ongoing experiments at this active CO2 test injection site.

Visiting the CO2CRC Otway Project CO2 test injection site

The rest of the time we focused on sampling gas and water from CO2-rich mineral springs in and around a lovely Victorian town called Daylesford. The local people are very fond of these mineral springs and the health benefits of drinking mineral water, yet there are many unanswered questions in terms of their formation, CO2 source and CO2 effect on water that I aim to unravel during my PhD. Many springs naturally discharge into stream beds and can be spotted by gas bubble trails visible at the water surface. We spent the following 5 days locating the springs suitable for sampling benefitting from the local knowledge of Allan Chivas who had generously stopped off for a couple of days  to help us out on his cross-country trip from Wollongong to Aldelaide. Despite the benefit of the expertise of our Australian colleagues, we still often found ourselves following peculiar instructions from a rather outdated guidebook such as ‘locate a large manna gum tree with a piece of white quartz edged in the main fork, then walk on a bearing 24° magnetic to pick up a faint foot track’. This made me feel like I was on an exciting treasure hunt, for gas! The hunt turned out to be a success and we sent off our bounty, a box full of samples, back to Edinburgh.

CO2 bubbles visible in a stream, Stuart and Ruta sampling the gas

Two weeks went by quickly and Stuart and Sascha had to return home to Edinburgh while I remained to continue exploring Daylesford with a new companion, another UKCCSRC member Jen Roberts, who flew in to join me straight after completing her work at the IEAGHG International CCS Summer School in Perth. We focussed our efforts on studying the faults and fractures in the exposed Ordovician bedrock to better understand the structural controls on fluid migration in this unique location.

 Stuart departs to the UK, Jen arrives and is welcomed by a small kangaroo and we proceed to study fault damage zones

The last stop on my trip was Canberra, a quick flight from Melbourne over the Snowy Mountains (not very snowy at the time). Here I had a chance to meet the Canberra-based part of CO2CRC team and study the core samples from the Otway Project gas wells.

Fieldwork aside, the visit was very successful in terms strengthening the existent and creating new collaborations with Australian researchers. We’d like to thank Max Watson and Ralf Haese for hosting us at CO2CRC in Melbourne, Tara LaForce for welcoming us at CSIRO Energy, Ian Cartwright from Monash University for invaluable tips on locating Daylesford springs and Allan Chivas for coming all the way from Wollongong to collaborate on our quest to sample them. Thanks to Eric Tenthorey and the rest of Geoscience Australia for welcoming me in Canberra and discussing all things fault-seal, modelling, monitoring and more. Finally, we are thankful for the funding from CO2CRC which allowed this trip to happen.

Team Edinburgh feeling great having finished the fieldwork, thanks to the kangaroo for snapping the selfie

Author(s): 
R. Karolyte