COLOSSAL: Collaboration on “Flow across Scales” (Brazil, France, Norway, USA)

About the project

The Earth's crust is physically and chemically heterogeneous on essentially all scales from the microscopic scale of the roughness and defects on mineral surfaces to the continental scale. Different modeling approaches are required on different time and length scales, and the seamless integration of these approaches is extremely challenging because processes may be strongly coupled in the subsurface.

Through collaborations with geophysicists and physicists, we will study the couplings between fluid flow, deformation and fracturing that cover all the time and length scales of natural geological processes and we will train a cohort of MSc and PhD students in this domain. We will also train them during geological field trips, international conferences and scientific article workshops. To the best of our knowledge, due to the novelty of the theme, no group in Norway is actively working on these topics.

The research and education has relevant societal implications in the domains of geohazards (earthquakes, landslides, glacier collapse), groundwater resource (production and protection of aquifers, transport of contaminants in the ground), and georesources (geothermal energy, CO 2 sequestration, solution mining).


The primary objective of the partnership between eight universities in Norway, Brazil, France and the USA is to build the educational and research framework needed to develop a world-leading collaboration on fluid flow in porous and fractured media, with applications to groundwater, geohazards, georesources, and environmental science.

The educational secondary objectives are to provide students with skills, competence and experience in cross-disciplinary collaborations, combining specialized proficiency in experimental and observational methods, data analyzes and computer science.

The research secondary objectives are to facilitate synergetic interactions between students and researchers working in different countries to advance knowledge and understanding of: (1) Fluid mixing in porous and fractured media from the nano- to meso- and field scales; and (2) The coupling between fluids and fracture propagation in solids.


Fluid flows within fractures and the pore space in the subsurface are difficult to predict. Two main origins of these difficulties are:

1) the subsurface is heterogeneous on essentially all length scales from the nanoscale to the field scale and there is no obvious separation of scales;

2) during the fracturing of a solid, fluid flow is coupled with deformation and may control it.

Therefore, an approach that integrates nano to field scale heterogeneity and processes occurring over a wide range of time scales is necessary. Our goal is to contribute to the development of a quantitative understanding of such processes and train a new generation of MSc and PhD at the interface between physics and geology. We expect to produce high-level international research and educational impact on topics such as the behavior of water at a dynamic rupture front during an earthquake or on the onset of the collapse of a glacier under the control of pore fluid pressure.


The application stems from a joint collaboration between four groups at the University of Oslo (UiO).

(1) The Njord Center, led by François Renard, is a joint research unit between the Geosciences and Physics Departments.

(2) The Center of Excellence in Research Porelab has a component in Oslo led by Knut Jørgen Måløy.

(3) The Center of Excellence in Education Computing in Science Education ( CCSE ) is led by Anders Malthe-Sørenssen.

(4) The Mechanics group at the Department of Mathematics is led by Atle Jensen.

This collaboration between the four groups will be administratively placed at the Njord Center , which is a unique world-leading environment at the intersections of Physics, Geosciences, and Computer Sciences. The Njord Center develops cross-disciplinary theoretical, experimental, observational and computational methods and addresses the complexity of fluid transport, deformation, and pattern formation in porous media and crustal rocks.

The project COLOSSAL Involve eight universities from four countries (Norway, Brazil, France, USA) eligible for the 2019 INPARTS call. The selected researchers are renowned in their domains, with competencies in Geosciences (geology, glaciology, geophysics, hydrogeology), Physics (condensed matter physics, fluid mechanics), and Civil Engineering (geomechanics), making the project truly cross-disciplinary and at the forefront of science.

One of Njord Center's core study areas focuses on the transport, mixing and chemical interactions between fluids and solid in fractured and porous media. These processes occur over a wide range of length scales, from the atomic scale interactions between minerals and water, to laboratory scale porous media, such as sand, and to field scale systems such as aquifers, glaciers hosting groundwater, and large-scale fault zones where fluids are known to play a critical role during the earthquake cycle. In all these systems, complexity may arise because of the couplings between several fluids and between fluids and deformations of the solid.

The Njord Center has acquired a unique set of capabilities to work on these questions including expertise on the development of new theoretical concepts (illustrated by recent work on how friction controls the stability of glaciers [1] ), the complexity of multiphase transport in porous media [2] , field observations of the interactions between earthquakes and fluids [3] , [4] , and the development of state-of-the-art experimental techniques that allow dynamic imaging of fractures in rocks at the microscale [5] .


[1] Thøgersen, K., Gilbert, A., Schuler, TV, & Malthe-Sørenssen, A. (2019). Rate-and-state friction explains glacier surge propagation. Nature Communications, 10 (1), 2823.

[2] Moura, M., Måløy, KJ, Flekkøy, EG, & Toussaint, R. (2017). Verification of a dynamic scaling for the pair correlation function during the slow drainage of a porous medium. Physical Review Letters, 119 (15), 154503.

[3] Petley-Ragan, A., Ben-Zion, Y., Austrheim, H., Ildefonse, B., Renard, F., & Jamtveit, B. (2019). Dynamic earthquake rupture in the lower crust. Science Advances, 5 (7), eaaw0913.

[4] Jamtveit, B., Ben-Zion, Y., Renard, F., & Austrheim, H. (2018). Earthquake-induced transformation of the lower crust. Nature, 556 (7702), 487. 

[5] Renard, F., McBeck, J., Kandula, N., Cordonnier, B., Meakin, P., & Ben-Zion, Y. (2019). Volumetric and shear processes in crystalline rock approaching faulting. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116 (33), 16234-16239.

The expertise developed in the Njord Center makes it a strong actor in basic science and in the applied fields of georesources and geohazards, with applications to groundwater and contaminant transport, CO 2 storage, and earthquakes and landslide physics. These applications are critical for Norway whose economy strongly depends on the exploitation and protection of underground resources, and which is exposed to several geohazards such as landslides. It is therefore critical to train the next generation of students in these domains.

However, to develop understanding of flow in porous and fractured media to the next level, the activities of Njord need to be strengthened in four directions:

1- Large-scale observational studies (fluid flow, fault zones) (Univ. Of Minnesota, Southern California, and Rennes);

2- Numerical modeling (flow of ice, turbulence in fractures, fluid mixing, atomic scale fluid-solid interactions (Univ. Rennes, Southern California, Grenoble Alpes, ENS Lyon, Parana, Pernambuco);

3- Processing of 3D time series of natural phenomena (earthquakes, groundwater flows) over a wide range of spatial and time scales (Universities of Pernambuco, Parana, Southern California);

4- Development and application of Big Data and machine learning techniques (all partners).


The project is related to on-going research activities at the Njord Center. These activities will cover 20% of self-funding required for this proposal.

- Norwegian Research Council projects: Frinatek: Hades (2016-2020), Friction (2019-2023). Petromaks II: Prometheus (2018-2022); Nano2021: Argus (2018-2021).

- Akademia project MODIFLOW funded by Equinor (2019-2023)

- ERC Advanced Grant DIME (2016-2021)

- Earthflows (Strategic Research Initiative, UiO, 2016-2023)

- Centers of Excellence in Research or Education: Porelab (2018-2027) and CCSE (2018-2025)


The target participants to the project are professors, researchers, PhD and MSc students from UiO and seven universities in Brazil, France, and the USA.

The project will be led by F. Renard (PI) and KJ Måløy (co-PI) who will foster synergetic cooperation between all of the partner universities. B. Jamtveit will be responsible for geological field activities. To ensure strong coordination, three Njord Center researchers will be responsible for the collaborations with each foreign country: 1. L. Angheluta (with USA), who is leading the EarthFlows program at UiO (8 PhD students); 2. T. Le Borgne (with France), who is currently leading an ERC Consolidator grant in hydrogeology; and 3. M. Moura (with Brazil), whose management skills were recognized by the Interpore Rosette Award.

Collaboration with Brazil : exchange of two researchers per year, one PhD internship (3 months) every year to and from Norway. One international conference on the analyzes of large and complex data sets will be organized in Brazil.

  • Federal University of Pernambuco, Brazil
  • Federal University of Paraná, Brazi

Collaboration with France : exchange of four researchers per year, target of one cotutelle PhD agreement signed every year, target of implementing Erasmus agreements between UiO and the three French partners, three field camps of one week open to MSc and PhD students to study an aquifer near Rennes (related to the hydrogeology course GEO4190 at UiO), three writing workshops open to early career researchers, to learn how to write scientific articles. Such scientific writing workshops have been successfully organized by the Njord Center since 2017 in Blesle (France).

  • University of Rennes, France 
  • University Grenoble Alpes, France 
  • ENS Lyon, France

Collaboration with USA : exchange of three researchers per year, two PhD and one MSc internships every year to and from Norway (3 months), one geological field trip every year to study active faults in California and fossil faults in Norway.

  • University of Southern California, USA 
  • University of Minnesota, USA



Published June 1, 2021 4:30 PM - Last modified June 1, 2021 4:30 PM