Earth Science

The Earth Science Research Foundation performs recognized world-class earth and atmospheric sciences research and development to support Sandia’s national security missions.

Why our work matters

Knowledge of the Earth’s subsurface properties, structure and processes, and surface and atmospheric phenomena, as well as how engineered systems interact with the earth, can help Sandia contribute solutions to areas of national importance, including energy security, defense, intelligence, nuclear weapons, nonproliferation, disaster response, and climate security.

Our unique value

  • Expertise in energy production, storage, and security, as well as carbon capture, reuse, and sequestration
  • Persistent monitoring for nonproliferation, defense applications, and border security
  • Geotechnical systems analysis and engineering
  • Competencies in solving applied problems in subsurface flow and transport
  • World-class modeling, simulation, and imaging capabilities
  • Deep engineering expertise
  • Immense computational resources
  • Corporate foundation of scientific expertise in a range of fields

Our approach

Subsurface understanding


Improve the fundamental understanding of the Earth’s subsurface to advance solutions in multiple critical areas

Image of salt formations with wellbores


  • Develop methods and techniques for subsurface interrogation to enhance knowledge of the Earth’s near-surface (<30-km depth) properties, structure, and processes
  • For coupled subsurface phenomena, predict the large scale from observing the small scale and vice versa
  • Detect and characterize undetectable or buried structures
  • Develop subsurface imaging at high resolution and reliability
  • Develop atomistic-, molecular- and nanoscale understanding of solute–mineral–fluid systems
  • Address such challenges as high-noise environments and signal characterization, high-fidelity simulation of pseudo-elastic media, and instrumentation sensitivity and dynamic range

Engineer the earth from the surface


Improve the intersection of man-made systems with the subsurface

Elton Wright shows a torsional spring used to simulate the rotational vibration of the drill string in a Sandia experiment.


  • Develop knowledge to enable earth-coupled fuel cycles (fossil, nuclear, and renewable) and use of strategic earth materials
  • Predict induced seismicity based on the geological and geomechanical environment
  • Understanding of subsurface fluid flow at a variety of scales, including mechanical, thermal, and chemical effects
  • Improve the understanding of biological effects on geo-processes in the deep subsurface
  • Develop drilling systems that are rapid, silent, and environmentally friendly and that operate at high pressures and temperatures
  • Address such technical challenges as predicting the behavior of multiply coupled systems at multiple scales, determining in-situ subsurface stresses with high reliability, and the computational burden of simulations

Prediction of atmosphere/surface phenomena


Reliably predict atmosphere/surface phenomena

Aerial photo of Indirect and Semi-Direct Aerosol Campaign (ISDAC) terrain


  • Provide tools to explore the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, including climate models, geoengineering tools, and water systems
  • Understand the impacts of atmospheric conditions on surface phenomena
  • Develop surface-based measurements to validate atmospheric models
  • Develop premier ice models (sea and land) for climate simulations
  • Explore the effects of climate change on surface water and water chemistry
  • Address such challenges as modeling cloud systems, creating accurate models for both sea and land ice, and developing technologies for greenhouse gas monitoring

Current geoscience projects

Center for Frontiers of Subsurface Energy Security

Through the Center for Frontiers of Subsurface Energy Security, Sandia and the University of Texas at Austin are pursuing the scientific understanding of multiscale, multiphysics processes to ensure the safe and economically feasible storage of carbon dioxide and other byproducts of energy production without harming the environment.

Geochemistry of interfaces: From surfaces to interlayers to clusters

Our team of scientists is developing state-of-the-art approaches for understanding the molecular mechanisms that control the disposition of radionuclides and chemical contaminants in the natural environment.

Non-Darcian flow, imaging, and coupled constitutive behavior of heterogeneous deforming porous media

Much of the nation’s strategic approach to energy security in the coming decades will involve subsurface engineering in the realms of resource extraction and byproduct storage. To bolster energy security goals, Sandia is delivering experimentally validated constitutive laws and innovative computational tools.