Cockrell School of Engineering
The University of Texas at Austin

Professor Mary Wheeler has been selected to receive the 2016 Institute for Computational Engineering Sciences (ICES) Grand Challenges Award. Selection for these awards is based on highly compelling research proposals related to the Grand Challenges in computational engineering and sciences that affect the competitiveness and international standing of the nation.

The project will develop a simulation to identify the likelihood of sinkholes developing from injection of wastewater and carbon sequestration in the subsurface. Research has already established that the formation of sinkholes requires three conditions: (1) presence of a thick dissolvable rock formation (like salt caverns); (2) large, higher temperature, fluid flow rates of unsaturated fluid, and (3) conditions for mechanical destabilization and rock failure.

Wheeler’s group will conduct computational studies of the microscopic degree to which each of these conditions must exist for the sinkhole to occur. This includes taking into account common rock and cavern environments, paired with the components of the wastewater or rate of carbon sequestration.