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Computer simulation of fluid flow in the deep Earth

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Image Credit: Generation of sharp reaction fronts in peridotite as a result of reactive fluid flow. Fluid enters the domain in a thin fraction on the left and infiltrates to the right into the wall rock. A monomineralic garnet vein (red) is formed on the left, preceded by a pyroxenite layer (green).

Water from the oceans can be brought deep in the Earth in subduction zones. This water can be released again at various depths and it can also carry other chemical elements such as Si, C, and S. It can be responsible for economic ore deposits, it may trigger Earthquakes, and it facilitates melting which can lead to volcanic eruptions at the Earths surface. We use computer simulations to understand such processes.

So, how do fluids flow and react in rocks at depth? How are fluid pathways generated? What is the role of chemical reactions in generating porosity and facilitating fluid flow? Our research group specializes in computer simulations to answer these questions. We use Thermolab (Thermodynamics in Matlab) to calculate chemical equilibrium in rocks, minerals and fluids. With Thermolab it is easy to integrate local equilibria with mathematical models describing the physics of fluid flow and chemical reaction. The partial differential equations are then translated to computer codes using numerical modelling techniques such as Explicit and Implicit Finite Difference schemes or the Finite Element Method.