Research into deep subsurface processes under the Netherlands

15 November 2018

Eight innovative projects will research deep subsurface movements and processes under the Netherlands. The NWO Science Board has awarded a total of almost 9 million euros to these projects within the research programme DeepNL. This programme seeks to improve the fundamental understanding of deep subterranean dynamics that occur under the influence of human interventions. The projects concern, for example, how hot geological faults can become, ground subsidence as a source of information for subterranean processes, and predicting surface deformation.

There is unsufficient scientific knowledge available about the effect of human interventions deep under the ground. The programme DeepNL therefore wants to build up knowledge about deep subsurface movements and processes. With this programme, NWO is responding to the advice of the Dutch Safety Board to ensure a structural and long-term research programme into the problems related to gas extraction in the province of Groningen. Within the projects, senior researchers together with 31 new PhDs and postdocs will, over the next four years, perform laboratory experiments and fieldwork and use computer models. DeepNL is partly possible due to a financial contribution from NAM and is part of NWO's contribution to the Top Sector Energy.


The focus of this call is improved models and predictions for deep subsurface dynamics as a consequence of gas production in the Groningen reservoir. Twenty-four full project proposals were submitted for this first call within the programme. Each proposal was assessed by international experts during the peer-review process. After that, an independent international selection committee drew up an overall granting advice for the NWO Science Board.


The projects from this first call will lay the basis for DeepNL. In the coming years, more calls will follow for subjects that are still missing, the integration and application of results, and the structural strengthening of the research field. At the start of 2019, the researchers involved in the eight projects will come together during a first scientific meeting. The Knowledge Programme Effects of Mining established by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy will also join this meeting. The research results from DeepNL will be freely accessible to everybody.

Awarded projects

Comprehensive monitoring and prediction of seismicity within the Groningen gas field using large scale field observations
Prof J.A. Trampert, UU
Co applicants: dr K. Smetana UT, prof M.N.M. van Lieshout UT, dr H. Paulssen UU

Comprehensive monitoring of the Groningen gas field
The induced seismicity of the Groningen gas field can only be understood through the relation between gas extraction and subsurface response. To understand the dynamics of the system new approaches are required that are based on observational data. We will monitor the seismicity and determine stress changes, reservoir compaction and deformation of the overlying layers from seismic data. Advanced tools based on machine learning, model order reduction and supercomputing will be developed to model the recorded seismograms and to detect subsurface variations. Changes in earthquake risk due to changes in gas production will be assessed by stochastic modelling.

Science4Steer: a scientific basis for production and reinjection strategies to minimize induced seismicity in Dutch gas fields
Prof J.D. Jansen, TUD
Co applicants: prof C.J. Spiers UU, dr A. Barnhoorn TUD, dr H. Hajibeygi TUD, dr S.J.T. Hangx UU, dr D.V. Voskov TUD

What happens to the Dutch subsurface when used for the production, injection or storage of fluids? Does suddenly stopping production from a gas well in Groningen also stop earthquakes or may it provoke new ones? What are the effects of production and injection during underground gas storage? How does reservoir rock behave under fluctuating stresses? Our Science4Steer research addresses these questions with laboratory experiments and computer models to help society make better decisions. Many aspects are important in such decisions and many factors contribute. The role of science is to provide understanding how we can steer subsurface activities safely.

Probing the micromechanics of small magnitude earthquake slip
Dr A.N. Niemeijer, UU
Co applicant: dr M. Dekkers UU

Earthquake slip generates heat on faults which raises temperature and weaken faults. We will develop a method to measure temperature anomalies in outcrops and experimentally determine the effect of frictional heating on pore fluid pressure evolution to constrain the evolution of temperature and friction for small magnitude earthquakes. This information is necessary for the improvement of computer models of earthquakes and a better risk assessment.

InFocus: An Integrated Approach to Estimating Fault Slip Occurrence
Dr F.C. Vossepoel, TUD
Co applicants: dr Y. van Dinther UU, dr A. Niemeijer UU

InFocus: getting to grips with fault slip
Gas production can lead to fault slip in the subsurface, which can result in earthquakes. By combining measurements of fault slip in a laboratory with realistic physical models of fault behaviour, we can refine its properties and variables. This allows to better understand the processes at the fault’s interface. The aim is to provide probabilistic estimates of fault slip occurrence. This research will provide a decision-making tool that through considering different gas-production scenarios will help to minimize the effects of earthquakes for society.

A multi-scale, multi-physics framework for modelling the geomechanical response of sandstone reservoirs to pore fluid
Dr S.J.T. Hangx, UU
Co applicants: prof M.R. Drury UU, dr H.E. King UU, dr O. Plümper UU, dr C. Thieulot UU

Ongoing surface subsidence: how low can it go?
Extraction of fluids, like natural gas, from the Earth’s crust frequently results in surface subsidence and tremors. The cause lies in reservoir compaction, driven by the increase in effective overburden stress due to decreasing reservoir fluid pressure. However, the long-term surface impact of fluid production cannot be predicted confidently. The key barrier to obtaining appropriate models is that the physical and chemical mechanisms responsible for reservoir compaction are poorly known and quantified at realistic subsurface pressure and temperature conditions. We will quantify these mechanisms causing long-term subsidence and seismicity, to enable prediction via computer modelling.

Monitoring and Modeling the Groningen Subsurface based on integrated Geodesy and Geophysics: improving the space-time dimension
Prof R.F. Hanssen, TUD
Co applicants: dr F.C. Vossepoel TUD, dr E. Stouthamer UU, dr R.M.A. Govers UU

Subsidence: nuisance, telltale, or resource?
Subsidence is an inconvenient consequence of exploitation of the subsurface. By the same token, it is one of the most important sources of information to understand subsurface behavior. Using satellite data and advanced subsurface models, we investigate how to optimally integrate improved observational and modelling methods to understand what lies beneath.

SOFTTOP: Investigating heterogeneous soft top soils for wave propagation, cyclic degradation and liquefaction potential
Prof M.A. Hicks, TUD
Co applicants: prof C. Jommi TUD, dr M. Korff TUD/Deltares

This study investigates how accounting for spatial variations in material properties in the shallow subsoil and specific characteristics of sand and clay layers (non-linearity, degradation), combined with aspects found in induced earthquakes (repeated, short-duration loading), can lead to a more accurate quantitative prediction of the motion and deformation at the ground surface. It involves the development of a reliability-based analysis framework to assess the influence of the shallow subsurface and its variability. The design of a new dynamic testing facility, combined with laboratory testing, field tests and the development of material models will provide industry guidance and prototype analysis tools.

DeepImage: Multi-scale geophysical imaging, monitoring and forecasting of induced seismicity
Prof C.P.A. Wapenaar, TUD
Co applicants: dr D. Draganov TUD, dr C. Weemstra TUD, dr A. Barnhoorn TUD, dr R. Ghose TUD

Forecasting the ground motion in Groningen
With this research we aim to improve the forecasting of ground motion in Groningen, caused by possible future earthquakes. This requires understanding of the onset of seismic activity in the deep subsurface, the propagation of seismic waves through the layers of the earth and how these waves lead to ground motion. To this end we develop a new forecasting methodology, which combines laboratory experiments with seismic modelling and monitoring techniques. This research contributes to a better understanding of the relation between human intervention in the subsurface and its effects at the earth's surface.

Source: NWO