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Department of Geology

Departamento

Department Head: Sergio Sánchez del Moral

 

 

 

 

 

The Department of Geology is focused on quality scientific research with respect to the Earth physical systems at different spatial and temporal scales, including the causes and potential consequences of natural Earth processes (e.g. sea level changes, floods, climate change and carbon cycle) and the genesis, availability, distribution and potential depletion of natural resources (e.g. soil & soil pollution, water, minerals and rocks).

 

The Department of Geology aims at making an important contribution to the scientific understanding of societal issues such as climate change, natural and cultural heritage, environmental pollution, soil and water management, genesis and exploitation of rocks and mineral resources, natural hazards (river floods, coastal flooding), and international development collaboration.

 

 

Research Themes


Research in the department can be grouped into the following two areas of focus:

 

Geoenvironmental records of Global Change

Geological archives and geomarkers allow deciphering and assessing the long-term effects of global changes on earth surface processes (geological, hydrological and geochemical). The general objective is to investigate driving mechanisms behind landscape evolution and climate changes over different spatial and temporal scales, trying to discern among natural and anthropogenic forcing.

 

Mineral and planetary sciences

The department research programme in mineral and planetary geology focus on the geochemical, molecular and luminescent properties of minerals and the Museum's historical collections of rocks, minerals, meteorites and ores.

 

In order to study the wall corrosion processes induced by visitors in the Altamira Cave (Northern Spain), a multidisciplinary study was carried out to monitor the microclimate variables (temperature, relative humidity, CO2 and 222Rn concentration. A prime example for a giant crystal lined geode study by MNCN researcher J García-Guinea. It is composed by gypsum with maximum size of crystals of about 2 m, an 8 m in length. Mina Rica, at the village of Pulpí, in Almería (SE Spain).

 

Specific target topics are:

• Physico-chemical properties, thermodynamic and kinetic stability of minerals and the natural rock formation
• Study the biogeochemical mechanisms of inter-exchange sub-surface/atmosphere for the greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4, vH2O)
• Evolution and impact of coastal systems to changes in sea level changes
• Deciphering long-term hydrological and sedimentary cycles and their relationships with their drivers (climate, vegetation and human activity)
• Biogeochemical processes occurring in soils and sediments that influence the form and mobility of metals and metalloids in the Earth's near-surface environment.

 

On-going Research Projects:

 

Impacts of climate and environmental changes in the palaeoflood hydrology and associated risk on Mediterranean regions (CLARIES)

 

PI/Contact: Gerardo Benito

 

The aim of this project is to develop a methodological approach for a long-term estimation of runoff and sediment production associated to flooding. This methodology combines a multi-data from palaeoflood hydrology, geomorphology and documentary sources (thematic and topographic maps, technical reports, written records, population and land use census), to be implemented in a simplify rainfall-runoff and sediment production models (TETIS-SED). The modelling results are providing long-term water and sediment production fluxes associated to flooding over the last 500 years. The model results are interpreted in the context of climate and environmental changes, which provide analytical basis for understanding of the impacts, vulnerability and strategies for adaptation in the context of future climate and socio-economic scenarios.

 

 

 

Mobile Terrestrial Laser Scanning used to obtain high resolution topographic data for quantification of bedform changes and gravel transport. Monitoring station of water flow and groundwater recharge (WADE Project). 

 

Sourcing methane and carbon dioxide in subsurface environments (SMACSE)


PI/Contact: Sergio Sanchez-Moral

 

Earth's surface temperature is inextricably linked with the carbon cycle and the natural and/or induced variations of the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs). Recent research on the microclimate dynamics and the geochemistry of subterranean environments suggest that these systems, located immediately below the surface, can operate as sinks/reservoirs and/or emitters/sources of carbon dioxide (CO2) depending on external meteorological and soil conditions. With regard to methane (CH4), very recent results of our research indicate that the near-surface cavities of the uppermost vadose zone can act as short-period active terrestrial sink for atmospheric CH4. The contribution of these sub-surface systems to the global fluxes of GHGs could be notably significant but the control on sub-surface dynamics remain poorly understood. Shallow caves are favourable sites to investigate the transport mechanisms' controlling the gaseous exchange processes as they are easily accessible natural macropores close to the surface.

This research proposal is aimed at identifying the environmental factors controlling the CH4 and CO2 exchanges between subterranean environments, soils and atmosphere, measuring or estimating the parameters required to quantify gases flow. The achievements and results of this project could be of particular importance for modelling diverse climatic scenarios in the future and are expected to respond several unresolved key questions and scientific challenges concerning GHGs dynamic.


Coastal geomorphologic response to sea level and climatic interactions during the Quaternary: Atlantic-Mediterranean linkage area and Canary and Cape Verde archipelagos.(GEQUAMAT)


PI/ Contact: Caridad Zazo

 

The project will focus on the reconstruction of the history of sea-level changes and its relationship with the climatic changes occurred during the last 3My both at a regional and local scales. Temporal resolution includes from orbital scaled oscillations to rapid changes occurred at centennial or decadal scales. Given the current interglacial climatic framework and, hence, highstand conditions, the reconstruction of sea level changes will be based on the geomorphological, sedimentological and faunal signals archived in the marine, transition and associated terrestrial morphosedimentary units, not forgetting the erosional features, that allow to deduce paleo-sea level positions. Chronological approach will be given by different dating methods (U-series, radiocarbon, luminescence, paleomagetism, etc.).
Experience obtained in previous projects allows us to select a number of sequences where, depending on the desired temporal resolution, the most accurate and reliable results of sea level and climatic changes can be obtained. The final goal is to widen the knowledge about the most outstanding triggering mechanisms of sea level changes at regional and local scales, trying to discern among oceanographic, atmospheric and ice volume changes.

 

 

Beach cemented deposits at La Caleta, aged ca. 130 kyr MIS 5e.U-series measurements. Background the Famara volcanic reliefs.

 

Extreme Wave Events in the Ibero-Magrebí atlantic area: geological record of Holocene tsunamis and cyclones (e-HOLO)


PI /Javier Lario; Contact: Caridad Zazo (Researcher)

 

In the SW of Iberia have been described extreme waves events (EWE) that occurred on the coast and have left a record sedimentological, geomorphological and paleontological features to study them. These deposits have been associated most often with tsunamis although there the phenomenon of cyclones and storm arises produced by a gravity wave is normally associated with large landslides or seismic events. During the Holocene have been identified almost eight EWE in this area, five of them of tsumani origin. The criteria used (sedimentology, geomorphology) are not unequivocal and more detailed research need to be done in order to define these deposits.

The project's main objective is to define criteria to identify from the geological record the tsunamigenic events that affected the South Atlantic coast of Iberia and North Africa (Gulf of Cadiz) during the Holocene (last 11.700 years). This is will allow to complete the paleotsunamis catalogue that have affected the mainland coast, and to adjust and calculate periods of recurrence of these events, focusing on the prediction of these events and minimizing the risk associated with them, as well as obtain seismic data associated with these events.

 

Imbricated boulders showing flow direction towards inland and interpreted as being transported by large waves produced by tsunamis in the Mediterranean.

 

The role of colloids as environmental nanovectors of toxic elements in contaminated soils

 

PI/Contact: Fernando Garrido (Fernando.garrido@mncn.csic.es)

 

This project has a two-fold objective: (1) to study the role of soil natural colloidal particles as nanovectores of toxic elements in the contamination process of the soil-water system and (2) to evaluate the possible influence of water and solute preferential pathways as fundamental mechanism that leads to nanovector transport in contaminated soils. By means of an experimental plan including advanced techniques such as field-flow fractionation to characterize the soil colloidal fraction and X-ray absorption spectroscopy for element speciation in colloidal solid phase, the scientific team of the project aims to investigate the fundamental mechanism that determine the transport, retention and distribution of toxic elements in soils affected by toxic dumping, abandoned mine soils or agricultural soils.

 

 

Rainfall simulation experiments to study surface and groundwater fluxes of pollutants (solute and coloidal particles) from mining tailings, Madrid Province.

 

Siliceous bioconstructions and other continental opaline deposits in volcanic and sedimentary settings


IP Contact :M.A. Bustillo

 

This project focuses in the study of opaline continental deposits with a possible biogenic origin in both, continental and sedimentary settings. Siliceous rocks with an organic record are considered to be the key to characterize Precambrian stromatolites and to interpret the first mechanisms of land colonization. In the volcanic realm the study is done in speleothems of volcanic caves in the Terceira Island (Azores Islands) and in opaline low temperature hydrothermal dikes of Cabo de Gata zone (Almeria, Portugal). In the sedimentary realm, the objectives are planned to find a microbial influence, or any other biogenic activity, in the opaline beds from Tertiary sections. The aim is interpret the genesis of the different deposits, dealing with the possibility of a bacterially induced precipitation of opal.

 

 

Botryoidal silica stromatolites on the walls of the Branca Opala Cave (Terceira Island)

 

 

 

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