Western leads NSF-funded, multi-university research into ancient rocks

Contact: Deanne Puca
Photo of Dr. Stephen Kaczmarek

Dr. Stephen Kaczmarek

KALAMAZOO, Mich.— Western Michigan University is leading efforts at multiple universities to better understand the composition of ancient rocks, specifically dolomite. 

Dr. Stephen Kaczmarek, associate professor of geological and environmental sciences, and his collaborators at the University of Michigan and Grand Valley State University have been awarded a three-year, $420,830 grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation for laboratory experiments.  A doctoral student and two undergraduate researchers at Western also will be engaged in the research.

The research is centered on dolomite, which is a calcium-magnesium, carbonate mineral common in what’s called the "rock record."  The team led by Kaczmarek will experimentally investigate the process by which dolomite is formed. The rock was formed in vast amounts in ancient times but sparsely in modern times. Geologists have studied the "dolomite problem" exhaustively to determine what conditions in the past were favorable to create the mineral.

"Dolomite is potentially an untapped record of past conditions on Earth," says Kaczmarek. "And once we better understand the conditions under which dolomite forms, we can better understand Earth history."

Micrometer scale crystals that are formed during a laboratory experiment

Micrometer-scale dolomite crystals are formed during a laboratory experiment.

The findings from this research will provide insights on a variety of sedimentary and geochemical processes that occur near Earth’s surface as well as allow geoscientists to improve both their understanding of the natural environments where dolomite forms and the usefulness of dolomite as a geochemical archive of Earth’s history.

In addition to helping improve geological interpretations of the rock record, Kaczmarek also hopes that the findings from this study will lead to better characterization of the subsurface rock reservoirs that host groundwater, oil and natural gas and can serve as sites of carbon capture for carbon dioxide generated through human activity.

Carbon capture and storage in underground rock reservoirs is one of the hottest topics in earth science. It has been hailed as a potential solution to the problem of global warming.

"The collaborative aspect of this project is particularly exciting," says Kaczmarek. "We've got a great team of researchers, and we’re all located in Michigan"

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