Sebastian Goodfellow, a researcher at the University of Toronto, listens for hidden signals that the ground is about to move beneath our feet.
That includes so-called “induced” earthquakes that stem from human activities such as hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) and enhanced geothermal systems.
“Think of the cracking sounds a cube of ice makes when you drop it in a cup of warm water, or the sound a wooden stick makes when you bend it until it breaks,” says Goodfellow, an assistant professor in the department of civil and mineral engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.
“This occurs as a consequence of sudden localized changes in stress, and we study these microfracture sounds in the lab to understand how rock responds to changes in stress, fluid pressure and temperature.”
While the frequency of these sonic clues is beyond the range of human hearing, they can be picked up with acoustic emission sensors. The challenge, however, is that scientists must listen continuously for hours in the absence of a method to predict when they will occur.
“We’re talking about more than a terabyte of data per hour,” says Goodfellow. “We use a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning to extract patterns from these large waveform datasets.”
Goodfellow’s study of induced seismicity project is one of 27 at U of T – and nine from U of T Engineering – to share more than $8.2 million in funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund (Read the full list of researchers and their projects).
Named for the late U of T President Emeritus John R. Evans, the fund equips university researchers with the technology and infrastructure they need to remain at the forefront of innovation in Canada and globally. It also helps Canadian universities attract top researchers from around the world.
“From sustainable electric transportation and engineering of novel materials to non-invasive neuro-imaging and applications of AI in public health, U of T researchers across our three campuses are advancing some of the most important discoveries of our time,” said Leah Cowen, U of T’s associate vice-president, research.
“Addressing such complex challenges often requires cutting-edge technology, equipment and facilities. The support provided by the Canada Foundation for Innovation will go a long way towards enabling our researchers’ important work.”
Goodfellow’s team will use the funding to buy a triaxial geophysical imaging cell fitted with acoustic emissions sensors as well as hardware for high-frequency acquisition of acoustic emissions data. The equipment will enable them to carry out controlled experiments in the lab, test better algorithms and develop new techniques to turn the data into insights – all to better understand processes that lead to induced earthquakes.
By learning more about how these tiny cracks and pops are related to larger seismic events such as earthquakes, the team hopes to help professionals in a wide range of sectors make better decisions. That includes industries that employ underground injection technologies – geothermal power, hydraulic fracturing and carbon sequestration, among others – along with the bodies charged with regulating them.
“Up until now, our poor understanding of the causal links between fluid injection and large, induced earthquakes limited the economic development of these industries,” says Goodfellow.
“Our research will help mitigate the human and environmental impacts, leading to new economic growth opportunities for Canada.”
Here is the full list of 27 U of T researchers who received support for their projects:
Cristina Amon, department of mechanical & industrial engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering: Enabling sustainable e-mobility through intelligent thermal management systems for EVs and charging infrastructure
Jacqueline Beaudry, department of nutritional sciences in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Lunenfeld-Tannenbaum Research Institute at Sinai Health: Role of pancreatic and gut hormones in energy metabolism
Swetaprovo Chaudhuri, U of T Institute for Aerospace Studies in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering: Kinetics-transport interaction towards deposition of carbon particulates in meso-channel supercritical fuel flows
Mark Currie, department of cell and systems biology in Faculty of Arts & Science: Structural Biology Laboratory
Marcus Dillon, department of biology at U of T Mississauga: The evolutionary genomics of infectious phytopathogen emergence
Landon Edgar, department of pharmacology and toxicology in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine: Technologies to interrogate and control carbohydrate-mediated immunity
Gregory Fairn, department of biochemistry in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and St. Michael’s Hospital: Advanced live cell imaging and isothermal calorimetry for the study immune cell dysfunction and inflammation
Kevin Golovin, department of mechanical and industrial engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering: Durable Low Ice Adhesion Coatings Laboratory
Sebastian Goodfellow, department of civil and mineral engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering: A study of induced seismicity through novel triaxial experiments and data analysis methodologies
Giovanni Grasselli, department of civil and mineral engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering: Towards the sustainable development of energy resources - fundamentals and implications of hydraulic fracturing technology
Kristin Hope, department of medical biophysics in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network: Characterizing and unlocking the therapeutic potential of stem cells and the leukemic microenvironment
Elizabeth Johnson, department of psychology at U of T Mississauga: Baby Brain and Behaviour Lab (BaBBL) – electrophysiological measures of infant speech and language development
Omar Khan, Institute of Biomedical Engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering and department of immunology in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine: Combination ribonucleic acid treatment technology lab
Marianne Koritzinsky, department of radiation oncology in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network: Targeted therapeutics to enhance radiotherapy efficacy and safety in the era of image-guided conformal treatment
Christopher Lawson, department of chemical engineering & applied chemistry in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering: The Microbiome Engineering Laboratory for Resource Recovery
Fa-Hsuan Lin, department of medical biophysics in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Sunnybrook Research Institute: Integrated non-invasive human neuroimaging and neuromodulation platform
Vasanti Malik, department of nutritional sciences in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine: Child obesity and metabolic health in pregnancy – a novel approach to chronic disease prevention and planetary health
Rafael Montenegro-Burke, Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research and department of molecular genetics in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine: Mapping the dark metabolome using click chemistry tools
Robert Rozeske, department of psychology at U of T Scarborough: Neuronal mechanisms of dynamic emotional behavior
Karun Singh, department of laboratory medicine and pathobiology in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Toronto Western Hospital, University Health Network: Stem cell models to investigate brain function in development and disease
Corliss Kin I Sio, department of Earth sciences in the Faculty of Arts & Science: Constraining source compositions and timescales of mass transport using femtosecond LA-MC-ICPMS
Helen Tran, department of chemistry in the Faculty of Arts & Science: Macromolecular bioelectronics encoded for self-assembly, degradability and electron transport
Andrea Tricco, Dalla Lana School of Public Health: Expediting knowledge synthesis using artificial intelligence – CAL®-Synthesi.SR Dashboard
Jay Werber, department of chemical engineering and applied chemistry in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering: The Advanced Membranes (AM) Laboratory for Sustainable Water Management and Resource Recovery
Haibo Zhang, department of physiology in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and St. Michael’s Hospital: Real time high-resolution imaging and cell sorting for studying multi-organ repair and regeneration after lung injury
Gang Zheng, department of medical biophysics in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network: Preclinical magnetic resonance imaging for targeted brain tumour therapies
Shurui Zhou, department of electrical and computer engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering: Improving collaboration efficiency for fork-based software development