Robert Jacob '97 specializes in non-invasive methods for studying subsurface geology. Radar, magnetics, electromagnetics and other techniques allow him to sample a larger area than traditional drilling does, without disturbing the soil, rock, water or other elements under study.

In an opening scene in the movie "Jurassic Park," a geologist hits a hammer on the ground and an image of a dinosaur pops up on a computer screen. While Hollywood may have exaggerated a bit, the tools of modern geology are remarkable in their ability to sense what is hidden underground.

Robert Jacob '97, an assistant professor of geology, specializes in non-invasive methods for studying subsurface geology. As he explained, radar, magnetics, electromagnetics and other techniques all allow him to sample a larger area than traditional drilling does, without disturbing the soil, rock, water or other elements under study.

"Any invasive work has the potential for affecting the system," Jacob said. "I would argue that the geophysics has far less potential of affecting the process we are trying to observe."

Jacob has expertise in several non-invasive methods, but has specialized in using ground penetrating radar to sense subsurface water flow. In Rhode Island, he worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Rhode Island Conservation Service toward establishing a network of sensors that would assess soil-water content. The data collected would aid farmers with their decisions for watering crops. In addition, the data would help the state water board monitor drought conditions.

Pennsylvania will provide Jacob with some different field conditions.

"Most of what I've been working on in New England is sand and gravel, because that's what the glaciers left behind," he said. "In Central Pennsylvania, you get everything from clay to sand and gravel. I'm looking forward to playing around with those different options."

With the limits of geophysical sampling thus clarified, Jacob explains the benefits of using radar, magnetics, electromagnetics and other methods to figure out what is going on beneath the soil surface. Not only do the techniques allow him to sample a larger area than traditional drilling does, but they also do not disturb the soil, rock, water or other elements under study.

Posted Sept. 22, 2008

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