Microseismic Monitoring for Environmental and Geotechnical Engineering Applications
Submitting InstitutionKeele University
Unit of AssessmentGeneral Engineering
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Engineering: Environmental Engineering, Resources Engineering and Extractive Metallurgy, Interdisciplinary Engineering
Summary of the impact
Keele University has a forty year history in the theory, development and
application of microseismic (small-magnitude `earthquakes') monitoring and
characterisation methods for the investigation of geotechnical and
geo-environmental problems, which continues to form a key aspect of its
environmental and sustainability agenda, one of Keele's overarching
Since 1993, Professors Young & Styles' research at Keele, within the
EPSAM Environmental Engineering Group, has led to new international
standards in the monitoring of ground deformation and fracturing
associated with underground mining (coal, salt, gypsum), coal-bed methane
extraction, high-level nuclear waste disposal and, most recently, the
emission of low-frequency vibrational noise from wind turbines and the
exploitation of shale gas hydrocarbon reserves.
Keele's research has been instrumental in developing new hardware,
software, data acquisition, processing and visualisation technologies that
are now considered de facto across the international microseismic
monitoring community (both industrial and academic). Keele's research work
has contributed to the significant development of new, UK on-shore gas
reserves and the de-regulating of Ministry of Defence (MOD) land for
long-term renewable energy development.
Microseismic monitoring is the detection, location and characterisation
of low amplitude earthquakes generated by small-scale movements in the
sub-surface. These can be natural (i.e. the movement of active geological
faults) or man-made (e.g. the collapse of abandoned seams in coal mines).
Generally, these low amplitude earthquake events are only detectable by
sophisticated seismic monitoring systems although their impact can be
severe (e.g. local subsidence, ground water flow disruption, etc.).
Microseismic monitoring allows researchers to assess the location and
time- dependent nature of these events (e.g. where and how subsidence will
occur) therefore providing predictions for environmental risk management
and mitigation strategies.
The monitoring techniques developed at Keele are able to detect the
smallest underground microseismic events (a very complex and difficult
task) and the research has found relevance across the wider sector of
environmental engineering (e.g. wind farm turbine monitoring, development
and exploitation of new on-shore gas reserves) and geological/geotechnical
engineering (e.g., coal and salt mining collapse).
From 1993-2000, Microseismic research at Keele was led by Professor Paul
Young (Chair of Applied Seismology) where many of the commercial
microseismic processing and monitoring techniques used today in the mining
and geotechnical engineering industries were pioneered. Professor Young is
currently the Vice-President (Research) at the University of Toronto,
Canada and Keck Chair of Seismology and Rock Mechanics. In 2000, Professor
Peter Styles joined Keele as Chair of Applied and Environmental Geophysics
continuing the theme of applied microseismics research. Professor Styles
has been at the forefront of international high-resolution microseismic
data processing and monitoring research for over thirty years. He is the
Past-President of the Geological Society of London, a Board Member of the
British Geological Survey and Geophysical Advisor to the Coal Authority.
One of the main research areas within the EPSAM Environmental Engineering
Group is focused around the technical development of hardware, software,
methodological approaches, fundamental theory, data processing,
numerical/mathematical modelling and data interpretation/visualisation
methods for the monitoring, evaluation and characterisation of these
microseismic signals, predominantly in the mining and energy sector. The
research is practical and applied in nature and has been funded by UK
research councils (NERC, EPSRC), The Royal Society, EU, UK and
international industry (e.g. National Grid Carbon, Wind Energy (Newfield),
Proven Energy, Reactec) national Government agencies (DTI, DECC), the
Ministry of Defence and regional and local government (e.g. Advantage West
Midlands, Vale Royal Borough Council, £600k).
References to the research
Pringle JK, Styles P, Howell CP, Branston MW, Furner, R, and Toon SM.
(2013). Long term time-lapse microgravity and geotechnical monitoring of
relict salt-mines, Marston, Cheshire, UK, Geophysics 77(6):
Manly DMJP, Styles P, and Scott J. (2002). Perceptions of the public of
low frequency noise. Journal of Low Frequency Noise, Vibration and
Rushforth I, Moorhouse A, Styles P. (2002). A case study of low frequency
noise assessed using DIN 45680 criteria, Journal of Low Frequency
Noise and Vibration 21(4):181-198.
Young RP, Hazzard JF, Pettitt WS. (2000). Seismic and micromechanical
studies of rock fracture, Geophysical Research Letters 27(12):1767-1770.
Hazzard JF, Young RP, Maxwell SC. (2000). Micromechanical modelling of
cracking and failure in brittle rocks, Journal of Geophysical Research
Styles P. (2010). An assessment of the REACTEC/Wind Energy damping system
for the reduction of ground vibration in the 3 to 6 Hz band and the
implications for Eskdalemuir IMS seismometer array station", Report to the
Scottish Government, Department of Planning and Appeals.
Styles P, Stimpson IG, Toon SM, England RJ, Wright M. (2005).
Microseismic and infrasound monitoring of low frequency noise and
vibrations from windfarms: Recommendations on the Siting of Windfarms in
the Vicinity of Eskdalemuir, Scotland. Report to MOD/DTI/BWEA, July 2005,
Vella G, Rushforth I, Mason E, Hough A, England RJ, Styles P, Holt T,
Thorne P. (2001). Assessment of the effects of noise and vibration from
offshore windfarms on marine wildlife. Department of Trade and Industry,
Energy Technology Support Unit (DTI/ETSU) report w/13/00566/REP
Styles P, Toon SM, Bryan-Jones A. (1996). Microseismic monitoring work in
the vicinity of Asfordby Colliery including the seismic mapping of the
location of mechanical failures in the Overburden: Research Contract
2069/3 (International Mining Consultants). 116 p.
Details of the impact
From 1993-1998 Keele researchers were awarded grants from the Atomic
Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) Underground Research Laboratory (~£1 million)
for the "Application of Induced Seismicity to Radioactive Waste Management
Programmes". At this time, Applied Seismology Consultants Ltd. (ASC) was
formed around the research strengths of Keele's Applied and Environmental
Geophysics Group . ASC is now part of Itasca International ,
a world-leading microseismic/geotechnical engineering company. Keele-based
research has improved our understanding of rock fracturing/seismicity
around the construction of nuclear repository tunnels and its influence on
the development of fluid flow around radioactive waste materials. The
research has underpinned the fundamental design of all underground
repositories and impacted on the selection/mode of nuclear waste disposal
internationally. The techniques and software developed during these
Keele-based projects (e.g. InsiteTM) are now routinely used by
international companies associated with the construction, monitoring and
disposal of nuclear waste underground (e.g. SKB Sweden, INERIS, ANDRA
& ENS France) .
Professor Styles (Chair of Applied and Environmental Geophysics) was the
first to show the importance of microseismic monitoring for the prediction
of coal-face outbursts, a world-wide problem in anthracite mines. He has
advised the Australian and Canadian Mining Industry on how to combat these
problems using microseismic techniques with Australian monitoring of coal
mines now based on research he initiated and developed at Keele .
In 2009, Professor Styles was a member of the Foreign Office Clean Coal
Technologies Mission to Australia as scientific advisor to the national
coal industry on the development (and hazard implications) of developing
Coal Bed Methane (CBM) energy. In the UK, the Outburst Prediction system
developed by the group was deemed by HM Inspector of Mines to be a
mandatory requirement for mines in the UK, which laid the foundation for
new mine-stability monitoring technologies in the salt/gypsum industries.
In 2002, Keele was awarded a £600k grant from Vale Royal Borough Council
for the Microseismic Monitoring of Salt Mine Instability in Northwich,
Cheshire (2002-2007). The research provided vital information on the
stability and deformation characteristics of ground above and surrounding
the mines and was pivotal in the design and ongoing monitoring of English
Partnership's £32 million remediation programme (funded from the
Government's Land Stabilisation fund). The stabilisation of the mines led
to the establishment of the 2007+ "Northwich Vision" regeneration
programme and the comprehensive Northwich Urban Design & Public Realm
Strategy of 2010 .
Keele-based microseismic research has led to staff serving on (and
Chairing) a number of key government policy-making advisory groups
- DEFRA/DTI Criteria Proposals Group (CPG), Sub-Surface Exclusion
Criteria for Geological Disposal of Radioactive Waste (MRWS), 2006-7.
- NDA Geosphere Characterisation Panel (2008-present),
- Royal Society Committee on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
- President of the International Commission on Hydrocarbon Exploration
and Seismicity in the Emilia region, Italy (2013-present)
In 2011, the Department of Energy and Climate Change invited Prof. Styles
to join the independent evaluation panel investigating the
implications/nature of microseismicity associated with "Shale Gas
Hydraulic Fracturing" in Lancashire. Their 2012 report "Preese Hall Shale
Gas fracturing, Review & Recommendations for induced seismic
mitigation" has been pivotal in the government's decision to resume UK
Shale Gas exploitation on the basis of low microseimic risk. Key
recommendations of the report were that future shale gas operations should
include...."seismic monitoring to establish background seismicity"
and an "effective monitoring system that can provide automatic
locations and magnitudes of any seismic events in near real-time" .
The research undertaken at Keele in the past fifteen years has underpinned
the development of these techniques and the methodologies needed to meet
the report's recommendations . This work has led to Keele's
involvement in the recently formed RCUK and industry-funded ReFINE
Consortium (Researching Fracking in Europe) with Durham, Newcastle and
Heriot-Watt as HEI partners.
Keele has been instrumental in developing our understanding of the
nature, magnitude, risk and implications of ground vibrations from onshore
wind turbines. In 2004-6, the group was funded by the MOD to undertake a
£115k programme of research at Eskdalemuir, Scotland. The project assessed
the impact of turbine-related microseismic noise on the MOD's nuclear test
ban treaty seismometer network and showed that, within certain distance
limits, wind turbines have little influence on the network's detection
capability or human health (as presented in a 2011 House of Lords debate ).
Keele-based work has had a major, positive impact on the development of
the UK's onshore wind provision and led directly to the permission for,
and construction of, 1.5 GW of renewable wind energy in the Southern
Uplands of Scotland, equivalent to inward investment of £1.5 billion. This
research has been highly commended by the Ministers of State for Energy
& Defence  and has helped the UK government meet its
commitment to the Kyoto CO2 emission reduction targets (through
renewable energy provision). The outcomes of Keele's research have also
been integrated into the 2006 US "Report To The Congressional Defence
Committees on The Effect of Windmill Farms On Military Readiness" along
with the recommendation that the Keele-developed monitoring methodologies
be adopted for all US wind farm sites . This work also has
implications for the monitoring of offshore Carbon Capture and Storage
(CCS) in the presence of an extensive network of offshore wind-farms with
current research being funded by DECC and NGC (Nanjing High Speed Gear
Sources to corroborate the impact
 Applied Seismology Consultants "Microseismic Monitoring of the
Engineered Environment" software InsiteTM
 ITASCA International - http://www.itascacg.com/
 Styles P, Bishop I, Toon SM. (1997). Surface and borehole
microseismic monitoring of mining- induced seismicity, in McCann DM,
Eddleston M, Fenning PJ. Reeves GM. (eds) Modern Geophysics in Engineering
Geology, Geological Society, London, Engineering Geology Special
Publications 1997, v. 12, p. 315-326, DoI 10.1144/GSL.ENG.1997.012.01.29
 Cheshire West and Cheshire, Northwich Urban Design &
Public Realm Strategy (page 9)
 Executive Summary from report "Preese Hall Shale gas
fracturing, review & recommendations for induced seismic mitigation.
Report to the Department of Energy and Climate change" pi-iii. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/preese-hall-shale-gas-fracturing-review-and-recommendations-for-induced-seismic-mitigation
 Davies R, Foulger G, Bindley A, Styles P. (2013). Induced
seismicity and hydraulic fracturing for the recovery of hydrocarbons. Marine
and Petroleum Geology. 45:171-185.
 House of Lords debate: 18 Oct 2011: Column WA51.
Lord Marland (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Energy and Climate)
"A comprehensive study of vibration measurements in the vicinity of a
modem wind farm was undertaken in the UK in 1997 by ETSU for the
Department of Trade and Industry (ETSU W/13/00392/REP). The report found
no evidence that ground transmitted low frequency noise from wind
turbines is at a sufficient level to be harmful to human health. These
findings were confirmed by a study published in 2005 by the Applied and
Environmental Geophysics Group of the School of Physical and
Geographical Sciences at Keele University titled Microseismic and
Infrasound Monitoring of Low Frequency Noise and Vibrations from
 Letter from Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Ministry
of Defence, Minister of State for Energy, Department of Trade and
Industry, and Chief Executive, British Wind Energy Association.
 "Report To The Congressional Defense Committees on The Effect
of Windmill Farms On Military Readiness" 2006. Office of the Director of
Defense Research and Engineering, Dept of Defense, United States.