Research

The field of Geosciences is broad, and our research focus covers multiple branches of it. Some of the main interests at the moment include environmental topics related to groundwater and contaminated soils, the genesis of plutonic and volcanic igneous rocks, evolutionary palaeontology of mammals based on fossil teeth, and the structure and evolution of the continental crust. We are focusing on scientific research that makes it possible to understand geological processes and the structure of the Earth using our modern and diverse laboratory infrastructure. You can find more information about research in the study tracks via the linked pages below.

Natural hazards associated with the ground and bedrock are important topics, because the consequences may be on the increase worldwide due to a more complicated and extensive built-up environment. The increasing vulnerability means that even minor natural phenomena may cause economic loss today. Risk assessment in a broad sense can be understood to include the study of earlier harmful occurrences and estimation of the respective loss in modern terms. This applies especially to rare natural events.

Seismic hazard assessment aims at obtaining ideas about the spatial and temporal occurrence of earthquakes and return periods of seismic events of different sizes. The output of hazard assessment is typically given as the probability of exceedance of a given ground motion value in a given place and time interval. Assessments of seismic hazard are necessary also in low-seismicity areas for the safety of sensitive structures such as nuclear power plants.

Besides seismic hazard assessments for near-by areas and overseas, research conducted at the Department includes participation in a project aimed at setting up an alarm, warning and information exchange system that rescue personnel can use in the event of an emergency.

Economic geology is concerned with Earth materials that can be utilized for Economic and/or Industrial purposes.  Commonly the term refers to metallic mineral deposits and mineral resources (ore geology). Under Finnish circumstances these materials include precious and base metals, non-metallic minerals, and dimensional stone. Economic Geology has been a strong graduate and post graduate field for many decades in Finland, and our research and training in Precambrian ore formations is especially well known. Following research projects are ongoing at the Department: hydrothermal gold deposits like the ore of Pampalo in Ilomantsi, Eastern Finland, carbonatites and related ores, rare-earth element (REE) and gem-bearing granitic pegmatites like the gem beryl pegmatite of Luumäki and topaz-bearing pegmatite of Kymi in South-Eastern Finland.

Palaeontological research at the University of Helsinki investigates mammal faunas and vegetation of the past, both how they have changed in interaction with each other, under changing climate and increasing human impact and what processes have led to the changes observed. Current research areas include the history of Eurasian vegetation during the last ten thousand years, the environments of human evolution in Africa during the last five million years, and the history of climate, environments and ecosystems in Asia during the last 65 million years. We focus on the evolutionary processes of species and communities and the reconstruction of past environments and climates using a trait-based methodology called ecometrics, first developed in Helsinki. Other core methods include analysis and modelling of large fossil datasets, 3D-analysis of shape, climate modelling, isotope geochemistry, analysis of micro-organisms like pollen and diatoms, and laboratory experiments. We carry out related fieldwork in Finland as well as in the Baltic countries, China, Iran and East Africa.

 

Research on hydrogeology and environmental geology at the University of Helsinki is focusing on shallow, low temperature and deep geoenvironments under changing climate and increasing human impact. Ongoing research projects are targeting to better understanding of groundwater reservoirs and their interactions with natural systems and human-induced disturbances, especially in mining environments.

We focus on the hydrogeological and hydrogeochemical 3D aquifer characterization and modeling, groundwater – surface water interactions as well as the long-term hydrogeochemical evolution of deep groundwaters.  Our core methods include 3D hydrostraticraphical and hydrogeochemical modeling, hydrogeochemistry, isotope geochemistry and remote sensing (infrared).

The group has a long tradition on research of groundwater –surface water interactions in different environments. Recent studies have been focused on developing temperature-as-a-tracer techniques, especially thermal infrared remote sensing methods to characterize groundwater discharge to surface waters and wetlands either by helicopter or using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

Petrological research conducted at the department has a wide scope. We use modern petrographical, mineralogical, geochemical, isotope geological, and geochronological methods and concepts to study timely petrological processes per se as well as utilize these results as proxies in the study of more general geologic concepts. Much of the reseach is focused on granitic systems, the origin, evolution, and metallogeny of A-type granites and related mafic rocks in particular. Further targets of interest include Paleoproterozoic to Archean silicic and mafic magmatism, crustal anatexis, mid-Proterozoic supracrustal sequences (continental quartzites, redbeds, subaerial basalts), and young (Miocene to Recent) volcanic and plutonic systems. The acquired data are used, on a broader scale, for modeling crustal evolution (formation and reworking) of Fennoscandia and the North American Cordillera. In the advent of micro (and nano) scale geochemical and isotopic research methods, we have developed a new spatially controlled micro sampling method for studies that aim to resolve, for the first time in 4D, magma chamber processes that control the evolution of major silicic systems.

 

Magma-wallrock interaction in crustal magma chambers (a process known as crustal assimilation) is critical to the evolution of a magmatic system and formation of many of the most economically important base and precious metal deposits. Although such generalized model is largely accepted, details on how these interactions take place are relatively poorly characterized. One of the major issues has been the lack of models that integrate mass and energy exchange, thermodynamics and geochemistry. The current project runs from 2016 to 2021 and explores magma-wallrock interaction at three major intrusive complexes in USA, Finland, and Antarctica in a multidisciplinary study that includes state-of-the-art computational modeling with recently developed energy-constrained equations. The modeling will be tested against existing and potentially new geochemical data and wallrock partial melting experiments that will provide unprecedented insight into generation of layered intrusions and associates ore deposits. A postdoctoral researcher, a doctoral student will be hired for the project and there will be opportunities for several graduate study topics for undergraduate students. More information on the project and its current state, including a frequently updated blog, can be found from here.

Principal investigator of the project: Dr. Jussi S. Heinonen

Huge volcanic eruptions about 180 million years ago resulted in the emplacement of the Karoo continental flood basalts and related volcanic and plutonic rocks in southern Africa and Antarctica that used to belong to a supercontinent called Gondwana. The Karoo lava flows once covered an area of about 2 000 000 square kilometers with an average thickness of one kilometer – their original volume corresponds to about 100 times that of the modern Baltic Sea! The origins of these huge eruptions have been highly debated. Finnish geoscientists have visited Dronning Maud Land in Antarctica since 1989 – the latest such expedition took place during the Antarctic summer 2007–2008 and new ones are planned. The Finnish Antarctic research station Aboa at Vestfjella (S73°03, W013°25) has served as a base for the expedition teams. The detailed collection of samples from rare rock types and positive responses from funding agencies (namely the Academy of Finland) have ensured the continuation of the research and have resulted in several publications in high-profile international journals. The foundations of our research along the years have been built on broad international collaboration and the utilization of up-to-date geochemical and geochronological analyzing methods. Nowadays, the research group has its main quarters at the Finnish Museum of Natural History, but the Department of Geosciences and Geography (and the precedent Department of Geology) has always been, and remains to be, an important collaborator in the research. More information of the previous project and its results can be found from here.

Contact person: Dr. Jussi S. Heinonen