Surface environment and collection management
***While the museum building is closed for
renovation, scientific research continues at Tervuren.***
The service conducts fundamental research on dynamics of transfers in current and past surface environments and on the interface between the four geospheres: lithospheres (continental crust, oceanic crust, soil), hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere.
This research is specifically focused on the following three areas:
- External silicon (Si) cycles, notably regarding soil-plant exchanges, land-ocean mass transfer and modern and Archean silicification processes. After oxygen, silicon is the most abundant element in the earth's crust. As such, quantification of the cycles is crucial to understand the mechanisms controlling many geological and environmental processes.
- Biomineralization, which plays a fundamental role in major geochemical cycles (carbonates, silica, iron oxides) and provides unique and important geological evidence on the development of current and past ecosystems.
- The evolution of soils and aquifers, which change with the complex rhythms of seasons, climate change, subsidence-exhumation cycles, physico-chemical parameters induced by biological and anthropogenic processes. Multidisciplinary understanding of the factors of their evolution has become an indispensable prerequisite to answer questions on vulnerability and renewal of these essential resources.
The service bases its research on various biogeochemical tracers measured with original analytical methodologies that use advanced spectroscopy equipment (LA-ICP-MS, MC-ICP-MS, SF-ICP-MS) in partnership with the universities of Brussels (ULB and VUB). In 2002, the team notably succeeded in the world's first measurement of the isotopic composition of silicon using a multi-collector inductively coupled plasma spectrometer (MC-ICP-MS). The team has since used this tracer in many areas: soil-plant cycles, plankton productivity in oceans, the Great Lakes and rivers (Congo, Amazon), silicification, hydrothermal alteration, etc.
The service coordinates the management of the Earth Sciences collections (minerals, rocks, fossils, geological maps, and aerial photographs) and is in charge of the physical management of the mineralogy and paleontology collections.
The service participates in research networks and ensures efficient transfer of knowledge to Belgian, European and overseas universities.