Students considering problems in aqueous geochemistry typically combine laboratory and field work with a theoretical analysis. The time scales studied can be from fractions of a minute to millions of years. The temperatures considered are anywhere from below a solution's freezing point to temperatures of aqueous solutions in equilibrium with molten rocks. The program at SMU is firmly based in concepts of reaction kinetics and equilibrium thermodynamics. A convenient split is between low temperature and high temperature aqueous environments. Problems in low temperature surface and near-surface environments typically stress the kinetic nature of the process. Some of the topics considered in the department include the nature of fluids during paleoclimate reconstructions, the water cycle, urban surface water compositions and characterization of reactions at the mineral/solution interface. At elevated temperatures, time frames of concern are longer and equilibrium concepts take center stage. Research investigations include fluid cycling through midocean ridges and fluid evolution and composition during metamorphism are investigated.
Students can make use of equipment in the wet geochemical lab to measure the concentration of elements in solution and the electron microprobe lab to look at elemental concentrations and zoning patterns in minerals. Work in the stable isotope lab produces measurements of the light stable isotopes of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen in samples. These are often helpful in considering reactions involving aqueous geochemistry.