Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Research Facilities

World-class analytical and computing facilities support the Earth and Atmospheric Science Department's teaching and research programmes. Learn more about these research facilities below.

  • Centre for Earth Observation Sciences

    Earth Observation Science plays a key role in

    monitoring environmental changes,
    resource management, and
    formulating sustainable development policies.

    Basic and applied research initiatives support our ability to

    assess and monitor changes in biodiversity;
    monitor and assess effects of forest fires;
    enhance mineral and mining exploration;
    monitor snow cover and land ice;
    produce maps of land cover; and
    provide information and support to Alberta's natural resource industries and public sector agencies that provide stewardship, set policy, and identify long-term strategy.

    These research initiatives give us the ability to play a role in environmental risk mitigation through research that allows us to:

    forecast ice jam floods during the break-up of river ice,
    estimate snow water equivalent for modeling of watershed hydrology, and
    assess soil moisture conditions

    There are three areas of science and technology that define current and future advances in these domains:

    remote sensing, primarily through spectral and hyperspectral imaging, exploits the fact that most materials reflect light in diagnostic ways;
    intelligent image analysis, aimed at shape and motion analysis, segmentation, physics-based modeling and animation, and image based rendering; and
    spatio-temporal data management approaches for the co-analysis of imagery with data collected from networks of very small sensors spread over large areas of interest (e.g., forests). Both basic and applied research initiatives in these areas are well advanced at the University of Alberta.

    Centre for Earth Observation Sciences investigators are part of a wide-ranging, international network of research initiatives, funded by provincial, national, and international agencies.

  • De Beers Laboratory of Diamond Research

    The laboratory is equipped for the study of diamonds and their syngenetic mineral inclusions. Equipment includes several high powered stereo and petrographic microscopes, a conventional and a digital photomicrographic system, polishing equipment (for inclusion preparation) and micro-FTIR (Thermo-Nicolet Nexus spectrometer and Continuum infrared microscope).

    Faculty Advisor: Thomas Stachel - Diamond Research Group

  • Fluid Inclusion Laboratory

    The Fluid Inclusion Laboratory is located in Room 3-01F of the Earth Sciences Building. It is equipped with three different fluid inclusion stages and two dedicated Olympus microscopes, as well as two reflected/ransmitted light Olympus BX60 microscopes with 35mm and digital photomicrographic capabilities.

    The main fluid inclusion microthermometry installation consists of a Linkam THMSG600 heating/freezing stage mounted on an Olympus BX50 microscope with a 40X SLCPlan long-working distance fluorite objective lens, 2X image magnifier, and video camera and printer. This stage is suitable for heating work to 600°C, and freezing work to -196°C; temperature is controlled to within 0.1°C by a TP93 programmable controller.

    A second Olympus BX60 microscope is fitted with infrared-transparent optical components, and can be mounted with either a Linkam FTIR heating/freezing stage for study of fluid inclusions in infrared light, or a TS1500 high-temperature stage for heating work up to 1500°C. The stages are controlled by a TMS94 programmable controller. An Electrophysics 7290A Micronviewer infrared camera provides images of fluid inclusions present in minerals transparent to infrared light but opaque to normal visible light. Such minerals include sphalerite, wolframite, tetrahedrite, tennantite, molybdenite, hematite, and pyrite. The high-temperature stage enables study of fluid and melt inclusions from magmatic hydrothermal ore deposits and igneous rocks.

    Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jeremy P. Richards

  • Glacier Hydrochemistry Laboratory

    The Glacier Hydrochemistry Chemistry Laboratory is located in 2-250 in the CCIS Building. The laboratory consists of a walk-in freezer equipped for the cutting and viewing of ice cores, and a semi-clean analytical facility dedicated to the analysis of major ions and total organic carbon on samples of snow, glacier ice, and glacial meltwater in which solute concentrations are typically very low. The laboratory houses a HEPA filtered laminar flow hood and fume hood, Dionex 500 and 600 ion chromatographs (dedicated to analysis of cations and anions respectively) and a Shimadzu TOC5000a organic carbon analyzer with solids module. It is also equipped with an autoclave and balances. Data produced in the laboratory are used in investigations of glacier mass balance, weathering processes, carbon cycling and contaminant behaviour in Arctic and alpine glacier systems. We also have a dedicated clean (Class 1000) laboratory with a Class 100 clean cold room and a separate walk-in ice core storage facility.

    Faculty Advisor: Dr. Martin Sharp

  • High Temperature Planetary Petrology Laboratory

    The High Temperature Planetary Petrology Laboratory, located in ESB B-14, is run by Dr. Chris Herd. The facility operates three one-atmosphere, CO/CO2 gas mixing furnaces in total: two GERO furnaces with a maximum temperature of 1700 °C; and one Deltech furnace with a maximum temperature of 1600 °C. Oxygen fugacity is controlled by an external ZrO2 sensor located in a reference furnace; a configuration which allows for greater efficiency in experimental setup. The furnaces can be used to simulate the conditions of formation of planetary basalts and other igneous rock types, investigate minor/trace element partitioning, carry out diffusion experiments, or for mineral synthesis.

    Recent experimental investigations include the crystal morphology of impact shock melt pockets in martian meteorites, the behaviour of Co and Ni partitioning in planetary basalts, and the cooling rate of mesostasis in nakhlite meteorites.

    For inquiries, please send an email to highT@ualberta.ca.

  • Hydrogeology Laboratory

    Computing Facilities:

    The Hydrogeology Group has a variety of computing platforms for numerical simulation, data processing and graphics visualization. Group dedicated machines include an IBM RS/6000 (dual processor) and two Sun Ultra workstations and about ten PCs. Computing software includes a combination of commercially available and academic research programs as needed for specific projects. These include:

    Numerical Models: Argus-SUTRA, Basin2, BasinMOD, Flonet/trans, FRAC3DVS, GMS, InHM, Mike SHE, Rift-2D, SWANFLOW, Visual MODFLOW and VapourT;
    Petroleum Databases: Accumap, GeoOffice;
    Graphics & Visualization: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, AutoCad, Corel Draw and Tecplot; and
    Mapping: ArcView, Surfer

    Field Equipment:

    For field-based projects, the Hydrogeology Group has a collection of meteorological instruments, vapour concentration devices, and thermistor strings. There are three field PCs, a handheld GPS and a shallow soil corer. We also have a comprehensive suite of instruments for well-head sampling from petroleum wells.

    We also use additional equipment owned in cooperation and/or available from a web of collaborators within the University: neutron and density probes (Renewable Resources), motorized portable auger drill (Civil Engineering), surface water monitoring instrumentation (Biological Sciences) and a differential GPS (Geophysics). These departments also house a large number of other specialized instruments and expertise that we have access to on a project specific basis.

    Faculty Advisors: Dr. Carl Mendoza and Dr. Ben Rostron

  • Ice Core Laboratory

    Representing more than 10,000 years of evidence of changes to our climate in 1.4 kilometres of ice core samples, the Canadian Ice Core Archive (CICA) collection at the University of Alberta represents invaluable potential for researchers around the world to answer critical climate change questions. With a well-established reputation for research excellence in the Canadian north, researchers from the University of Alberta have spent decades getting to the bottom of what is happening at the top of the Earth, a region increasingly recognized for its valuable water, mineral, and energy resources. The CICA facility consists of a -36C ice core archive storage room, -25C freezer lab with ice physical processing and imaging capabilities, and a room-temperature ice core analysis lab housing a Picarro L2140-i oxygen isotope analyzer, Dionex ICS 5000 ion chromatograph, Horiba Aqualog UV-800-C Spectrofluorometer, Beckman Coulter Multisizer 4e, Zeiss petrographic microscope, and more.

  • Micropaleontology Laboratory

    The Micropaleontology Lab is located in ESB 1-11A. The lab has state of the art microscopy and imaging equipment facilitating departmental research projects by students and faculty. A Mettler Toledo MX5 Balance on an anti-vibration table is also housed in the lab.

    The lab has two Zeiss Axio Imager A1 transmitted light compound microscopes capable of polarizing, differential interference contrast (DIC), and phase contrast viewing. DIC is becoming the standard for viewing relatively transparent biological specimens and makes specimens appear 3D. The Axiovision software, associated with the microscope, documents what settings the microscope is set at when images are taken, e.g., objective power, focal depth, etc. Calibrated scale bars and annotations can be added while processing images. One of the scopes has a teaching tube attachment allowing a specimen to be viewed simultaneously by two people.

  • Ocean/Climate Modelling Laboratory

    The Ocean/Climate Modelling Lab is located in Room 3-101 in the Tory Building. The atmospheric sciences group has developed a computational laboratory devoted to the investigation of atmospheric and oceanic climate as well as related geophysical fluid dynamical problems. At the heart of the lab are two high performance computational systems: a fully expandable Silicon Graphics Origin2000 multi-cpu server with 195MHz R10000 microprocessors; and a HP/COMPAQ M-Series rack with 2 833MHz and 3 600 MHz Alphaserver DS series cpus. An extensive archiving and backup system is used to store for analysis the output data from numerical integrations performed on these machines. Advanced graphical imaging techniques are employed to visualize the complex three-dimensional flows of the simulated atmosphere and oceans.

    To support the use of the high performance workstations, the laboratory contains a suite of modern Pentium IV PCs for connecting to the workstations, as well as for local analysis and reporting tasks. A multi-media machine provides access to a scanner, a cd-burner and graphical software. Output support is provided through a colour laser printer and a Tektronic Phaser 850 solid ink colour printer.

    Faculty Advisors: Dr. Andrew Bush and Dr. Paul Myers

  • Physical Geography Laboratory

    The Physical Geography Lab is located in 3-80 in the Tory Building. This lab is a teaching facility for the department, but it also contains facilities for the analysis of grain-size properties of the coarser fractions of sediments and soils (by wet and dry sieving). The lab houses a range of instruments and equipment for routine analysis of water a nd sediment chemistry (e.g., spectrophotometers, titration equipment, pH, conductivity and dissolved oxygen meters). The lab is used by graduate students, and by undergraduates taking courses in geomorphology and biogeography.

  • Radiogenic Isotope Facility

    Location: ESB 1-03

    The Radiogenic Isotope Facility (RIF) in the Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta features several Class 100 cleanroom (including Class 10 workstations) laboratories used for the chemical separation of various elements prior to mass spectrometer analysis. The mass spectrometer laboratory houses two thermal ionization (solid source) instruments—a Vacuum Generators VG354 and a Micromass Sector54. The facility has recently installed a NuPlasma Multi-Collector ICP Mass Spectrometer equipped with a New Wave Research UP-213 laser ablation system.

    The RIF offers analyses in a wide range of isotope systems, including U-Pb geochronology on minerals such as zircon, titanite, monazite and baddeleyite, as well as Cd, Rb-Sr, Sm-Nd, Lu-Hf, Pb-Pb, and Re-Os analyses of rocks, minerals, ores and other samples. In addition, current research projects involving in-situ analyses using the laser ablation-MC-ICP-MS configuration include: Hf isotopic characterization and U-Pb dating of detrital zircon populations, Sr isotopic investigations of fossilized teeth and mantle (e.g. clinopyroxene) and magmatic minerals (e.g. perovskite), and common Pb studies of various low abundance Pb (< 1 ppm) minerals. Usage of the RIF includes local, national, and international scientific collaborators, government agencies, and commercial users.

    Faculty Advisors: Dr. Robert A. Creaser and Dr. Larry M. Heaman

  • Rock Crushing and Mineral Separation Laboratory

    The Rock Crushing and Mineral Separation Lab is located in B-05 in the Earth Sciences Building. It provides the following equipment: three rock saws (8", 14", 24"), 2 jaw crushers and a disc mill. For powdering samples prior to geochemical analysis, agate, ceramic, carbide and steel swing mills are available; and for mineral separation a Wilfley shaker table and two Frantz isodynamic separators can be used.

    Graduate students must receive training before being allowed to access the equipment. The lab is only available during the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 pm., Monday through Friday. Weekend access is not available.

    Technician: Mark Labbe

  • Sedigraph Laboratory

    The Sedigraph Laboratory is located in Tory 3-24. It houses a Micromeritics Corporation Sedigraph 5100, which is used for analysis of the grain size distributions of fine-grained (0.1-300 micron) sediments. Projects using this facility include the analysis of small-scale variations in sediment properties within annually laminated lake sediments to synthesize high temporal resolution records of sediment transport and palaeoclimate within drainage basins in periglacial environments. There are only two such instruments in western Canada, so some contract work is done on the instrument, e.g., for the BC Geological Survey and the Provincial Museum of Alberta.

  • Sedimentary Research Laboratory

    The Sedimentary Research Lab is located in Tory 3-116. There are three computers in the lab, two printers (B&W: laser jet Hewlett Packard, and color: Minolta, laser), plus a petrographic microscope with a digital camera for taking photographs of thin sections (both Nikon). There is also equipment for magnetostratigraphy: an AF demagnetizer and a spin magnetometer.

    Research techniques include outcrop and core sedimentology coupled with subsurface methods involving interpretation and correlation of well log and seismic data.

    Faculty Advisor: Dr. Octavian Catuneanu

  • Selfrag Laboratory

    The SELFRAG Laboratory uses a high voltage pulse power fragmentation system to disaggregate samples along individual grain boundaries to produce high quality mineral separates maximizing the yield of intact grains. The SELFRAG Laboratory was established with support from ISOMASS Scientific Inc. and is ISOMASS’s demonstration SELFRAG laboratory in Western Canada.

    Faculty Advisor: Graham Pearson

  • Spectral Imaging Facility

    The Spectral Imaging Facility encompasses a suite of instrument providing basic data for the support of remote sensing investigations.

    Imaging Spectrometers

    The Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Alberta Advanced Education and Technology in conjunction with funding from private industry have enabled the purchase of two spectral imaging systems designed for imaging boxes of drill core but also use for a variety of other samples. The SisuROCK system has its own light source, and spans the 400-2500nm spectral range at a nominal spectral resolution of 8nm. These properties imply that key spectral features of minerals (e.g. iron oxide, clay, amphibole) can be captured. With this imaging capability, targets (e.g. silicate minerals, oxides, bitumen, water) can be examined in the context of their surroundings (e.g. spatial associations, distribution), allowing for the examination of meters of core per minute. SisuROCK is a unique imaging system in many respects: 1) it is an imager which can be configured for rapid core scanning or for detailed textural and spectral investigations, and 2) it can scan 25 feet of core in less than a minute. A second imaging system provides spectral imagery over 30 bands spanning the long wave infrared spectrum of 8-12 mm. Combined with SisuRock this system results in a unique geological spectral imaging capability in Canada.

    Point Spectrometers

    The Lab Facility also includes two portable point (non imaging) spectrometers that can be taken to the field: an ASD (Analytical Spectral Devices) Spectrometer and a FTIR (Agilent Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer).

    Faculty Advisor: Dr. Benoit Rivard

  • Stable Isotope Geochemistry Laboratory

    The Stable Isotope Geochemistry Laboratory has two isotope-ratio mass spectrometers (a Thermo MAT 253 and a Thermo Delta V Plus) equipped by a GasBench II system, a FLASH HT Plus Elemental Analyzer, a GC IsoLink, and custom-made off-line preparation and extraction manifolds that enable the analyses of isotopic compositions of a variety solid, liquid and gaseous samples, such as:

    15N/14N of silicate (at nanomole N2 level),
    15N/14N (and 18O/16O) of dissolved inorganic nitrogen,
    13C/12C and 15N/14N of organic matter and organic-rich rocks,
    13C/12C and 18O/16O of carbonate minerals and dissolved inorganic carbon,
    13C/12C and D/H of hydrocarbons,
    34S/32S of sulfide minerals, and
    34S/32S and 18O/16O of sulfate.

    Faculty Advisor: Dr. Long Li

  • Stable Isotope Laboratory

    The Stable Isotope Research Lab is located in 2-02 Earth Sciences Building. It is well equipped with eight extraction and preparation lines for analyzing oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon isotope ratios in carbonates, waters, silicates, and solid, liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons. It also houses a laser fluorination system. Isotope ratio analysis are done on a Finnigan Mat 252 mass spectrometer equipped with both a dual inlet multi-port as well as continuous flow GC-C-CF-IRMS system.

    Faculty Advisor: Dr. Karlis Muehlenbachs

    Technician: Olga Levner

  • Structural Geology Laboratory

    The Structural Geology Laboratory is located on the 4th floor of the Earth Science Building (4-10). It is used for the analysis of samples, maps and geophysical data from deformed sedimentary basins. It contains fixed and mobile computing facilities including field computers, a two-monitor PC with digitizing tablet, running seismic workstation software, Arc/GIS, and other programs for geophysical and structural analysis and interpretation. Also, a flatbed scanner attached to a power Macintosh is available, with both computer platforms able to share files through network connections. The Lab also contains Nikon petrographic microscope facilities with a digital camera. Standard field instruments are available for collecting orientation data and GPS locations.

    Faculty Advisor: Dr. John Waldron

  • U-PB Geochronology Facility

    The U-Pb Geochronology Facility conducts dating of a wide variety of U-bearing minerals (zircon, baddeleyite, monazite, titanite, rutile, carbonate, bioapatite) using conventional (TIMS) and in situ (LA-ICPMS, SIMS) methods. The facility is operated as open-access and hosts numerous researchers, graduate students and post doctoral fellows each year from both Canadian and international universities. Visiting personnel receive hands-on training and projects are completed in a timely manner. The facility also manages research requests from external organizations (e.g., geological surveys, industry).

    Faculty Advisor: Dr. Larry M. Heaman

Other Facilities

Faculty members, research staff, and students have access to various scientific equipment and laboratories in other departments of the university. Equipment used in this fashion includes:

Graduate students in engineering geology have access to state-of-the-art soil mechanics laboratory facilities in the Department of Civil Engineering and to rock mechanics facilities in the Department of Mineral Engineering. The Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences is also a member of a group of departments which utilize the University of Alberta SLOWPOKE reactor, used for instrumental neutron activation analysis for geochemical research.

Alberta Innovates

In addition, the Alberta Innovates (formerly Alberta Research Council) in Edmonton, through their Adjunct Professors with the Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, make a variety of laboratories available, e.g., a hydrothermal research laboratory for temperatures up to about 450°C, including flow systems, static autoclaves, calorimeters, a PVT laboratory, and analytical support services.

Alberta Innovates also develops a number of geochemical computer programs for oil and gas field calculations which may be of interest to graduate students.

Geological Survey of Canada

The Geological Survey of Canada in Calgary may make certain equipment accessible, e.g., GC-MS and vitrinite reflectance microscopes, subject to special arrangements. Many professors of the Department have individual connections to, and arrangements with, laboratories at other universities, geological surveys, and industry, that may be accessible for a graduate study project.