Endless resources. Not.

The views and opinions expressed, are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Guideline Geo AB

We live like there is no tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day. The wheels are running faster and faster. Live each moment like it’s your last. Follow your passion. Go with the flow. Time heals all wounds. We’ll all be laughing about this soon. It could be worse. The customer is always right. Two wrongs don’t make a right. The bigger the better. What’s done is done. Variety is the spice of life. No news is good news. Been here, done that. Success is the key to happiness.

It seems that everything is limitless, never ending, always growing in forms of newer and more modern products and activities. Can we continue like this? I have been in several places around the Earth, which makes me reconsider my lifestyle and my level of consumption. At least for a minute or two. I will tell you about some of those. And summarize how we can use geophysics for better management of our resources.


Mines and mountains

I love to hike in the northern mountain regions of Sweden, comparably flat and nicely undulating, few trees, plenty of mosquitoes, fresh water in creeks and open horizons in every direction. One of the most beautiful spots is Stekenjokk, about 815 km North-East of Stockholm. It is the highest area on the Swedish National Road Network and an important area for reindeer husbandry. During winter times the road is closed due to the amount of snow and wind speeds reach up to 45 m/s. But during summer it is a very popular area for fishing and hiking. When you reach Stekenjokk, you are welcomed by several lakes, with blue, glimmering water, makes you want to take a bath or… are they lakes? Some with those uniform, high edges? No, those are mine tailing dams. Up here a copper mine was active between 1976 and 1988. Just 12 years of mining but the remains will be seen for several hundreds of years to come. The copper mine tailings contain an enriched sand, covered with water; and so it shall remain, as the sand contains all sorts of dangerous materials harmful for the environment and is best preserved in under-water conditions. Some years ago, over 100 million Swedish crowns were invested to raise the dam walls and prevent leakage into nearby creeks. The contrast between this invisible continuous threat and the surrounding nature is striking.


Containers and Barrels

Some 10 years ago I had the opportunity to visit The Netherlands with my colleagues, to check out some interesting geotechnical challenges. This took us to Rotterdam, the largest port of Europe. And around number 13 in the world, after Shanghai and several other Chinese ports. It was fascinating and scary at the same time. Enormous new land areas had been created out in the North Sea, reaching high above the water surface, with water gates for the canals to prevent flooding (which is another important issue of today). The number of containers was uncountable (but if you insist on trying, be warned they handle some 11 million a year ), stacked high, higher, highest and stretching for kilometers. In every direction. I have never ever seen so many containers at the same time, and with a non-stop chain of ships approaching from the ocean. All filled with products for the European market, for you and me, made of huge amounts of raw material of every kind. Do we actually need all this?

I have the same feeling of ‘uncountable’, on my visits to Greenland, where the remains of World War II are still seen in several locations. Most striking was the temporary airfield Bluie East 2, used for re-fueling the airplanes on their way back and forth to Europe. This time it is the oil barrels that are too numerous to comprehend, and just left behind when the war ended. The words recycle, reuse and remake did not apply and now nobody is responsible. Today it is rust and an unknown risk of contamination.

temporary airfield Bluie East 2, used for re-fueling the airplanes

Querries and Gotland

One of my favorite places on earth is Gotland, this limestone island in the middle of the Baltic Ocean. It is amazing due to the geology, vegetation, long beaches, and solitude (ok, maybe not in June to August). The limestone has created fantastic touristic features such as statuesque sea-stacks and cavities with green water, and it attracts plenty of people. But limestone is also used for cement, building blocks and material for the iron smelteries. Ships arrive, get filled with different fractions of limestone, creating hole after hole, affecting the vulnerable groundwater in this tourist paradise.


With all due respect. What goes around comes around. There’s no time to waste. We need large-scale solutions to this global crisis. We’re all in this together. Do something already. Think outside the box. Work smarter, not harder. Yes! So, what can we do? What can we do to try to decrease the speed of the use of our ending resources? And what can we do to take care of what we already have dug up and left behind?

My answer is, who would guess, GEOPHYSICS… from the air, on the ground and in boreholes, once again 😊. These amazing methods are used to get an overall picture of the underground conditions, a fast and cost-efficient means of both mapping your resources and keeping an eye on the leftovers.


Use geophysics to FIND:

  • Hydrocarbons, in an optimized way, until cleaner options are at hand
  • The most efficient and cost-effective resources to mine. Maybe the limestone you look at is layered with clay in-between and by that less useful. Or maybe the copper ore is smaller than expected and larger ones are found in less vulnerable environments.
  • Minerals needed for our renewable technologies such as wind power, electric vehicles with batteries and solar panels.
  • Areas with geothermal energy which can be used as an environmentally friendly power and heat source for both domestic and industrial use.
  • Locations suitable to be used as carbon sinks, in other words CO2storage-site characterization.
  • Safe and sound places for installation of solar and wind power farms, to decrease our oil and gas dependence.
  • The hidden leftovers and contaminants such that we cantake care of them before they do any further harm.


Use geophysics to MONITOR:

  • Mine tailing dams, to get an early warning of leachate or need of repair.
  • Gas movements around our CO2storage-sites or emissions of hydrocarbons as methane.
  • Closure and rehabilitation of mining operations.
  • The leftover contaminants, which sometimes are best to leave untouched.

Also check the article regarding Landfill: Our Planet Not a waste dump as well. Today used as a resource again. And for further inspiration, read how geophysics can be applied to the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals https://library.seg.org/doi/10.1190/tle40010010.1

Jaana Gustafsson, Applications Specialist, Phd

The views and opinions expressed, are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Guideline Geo AB