featured image of geochemical technology validation showing the canaries Fokke and Sukke in laboratory coats besides a steaming retort and Fokke asking: very impressive colleague, but does it also work in theory?

Works geochemical technology validation also in theory?

We can predict performance and validate geochemical technology before application and testing in the natural environment on large scale and long term.

When we apply geochemical technology on the small scale and short term, we can readily monitor its performance and establish to what extend the prediction of its working is correct. The theory of a geochemical process is tested by putting it into practice. Geochemical technology validation is immediate and straight forward

When designing geochemical technology for application on a larger scale and longer term, then the testability of the theory decreases. Simultaneously, the consequences of eventual malfunctioning become more serious and therefore the prediction of the course of events needs to be more accurate.

Since we can no longer readily prove the working of geochemical technology in practice, we need to ask ourselves, can we prove the working of geochemical technology in theory? How can we assure a priori geochemical technology validation? Such are not trivial questions and are subject of vigorous discussions on model validation in science and engineering of, for instance, the long-term stability of disposal sites for hazardous (radioactive) waste (Nordstrom, 2012). If we think we can indeed forecast results of geochemical technology, then what instruments are available for predicting the future most accurately?

We can distinguish four ways for obtaining high-quality geochemical technology and for improving the prediction of its working within the natural environment.

  1. Nature provides examples. By analyzing samples and explaining the distribution of measurements, we gain understanding of past and ongoing geochemical processes. This understanding is tested each time we study present processes and the way they leave traces in the fossil record. The past is the key to the present and the future.
  2. Laboratory- and pilot field tests provide another way to test our understanding of geochemical technology. Of course, only to a certain degree, because transposing technology to a different scale and into the natural environment, increases uncertainty as the effect of unknowable influences also increases.
  3. Conceptual- and scientific models provide the means to discuss our understanding of the working of geochemical technology and to put it to logical tests. Models should be elegant and simple, reflecting their limitations as an idealized representation of a complex reality and facilitating communication with a broad and critical audience.
  4. Finally, geochemical technology should be designed and applied in such a way that it automatically attains stable- or neutral equilibrium, so that it never evolves to an unpredictable unstable state.

For discussing the theory of geochemical technology in further detail, we might ask ourselves: What models most elegantly represent geochemical technology?

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What is geochemical technology?

When using geochemical processes to improve the environment, we apply geochemical technology and perform geochemical engineering.

Schuiling (1990) defines geochemical engineering and presents an example of a very early application of geochemical technology. He writes: “If we adopt the definition that geochemical engineering is ‘the use of geochemical processes to improve the environment’, then it can be said that Hannibal practiced geochemical engineering when he poured acetic acid over limestones to secure a passageway for his elephants across the Alps (LIVIUS)”.

Geochemical technology arises from combining principles of the science of geochemistry with the practice of environmental engineering. While geochemists study the chemistry of the earth and the geochemical processes that define the distribution of minerals and chemical elements in rock, water and air; geochemical engineers apply this understanding of geochemical processes in the engineering of the natural environment.

Geochemical technology typically:

  • Fits within the course of geochemical processes and goes with the geochemical cycle;
  • Uses mineral reagents to control chemical elements in configurations that stay stable on the long term;
  • Aims at solutions for environmental problems that blend better into the natural environment and;
  • Provides innovative tools for environmental management that help to better conserve, control and protect precious natural resources.

What are examples of geochemical technology? .