The rock whisperers…

The rock whisperers…

The Geodynamics 101 series serves to showcase the diversity of research topics and methods in the geodynamics community in an understandable manner. We welcome all researchers – PhD students to professors – to introduce their area of expertise in a lighthearted, entertaining manner and touch upon some of the outstanding questions and problems related to their fields. This month, Manar Alsaif, PhD student at Université Montpellier, discusses actual rocks and field work!

In a discipline increasingly shaped by models, what can the rocks still tell us?

Flicking through your typical geodynamics bodies of work, most of the papers are on some kind of modelling – be it analogue, numerical, or something using seismic data. This is hardly surprising considering that geodynamics is all about the depths of the Earth, where we cannot make direct observations. But at some point, we need to check the results of these models, and checking them means looking for the observables. This is ok for the global scale – we can measure gravity and magnetism and the like, but what about smaller scales? And more detail? And the kind of complexity we cannot yet model? Our observations are restricted to the Earth’s surface – but this is actually not a bad place start. There is still a lot that we can learn from good old fashioned field work. And in fact, a lot of the motivation for models comes from an observation of something not understood, or not previously thought of.
So if you need a little inspiration for your next research project, I implore you to literally take a hike!

Apart from a source of inspiration, where does field work fit into a geodynamics workflow? I’d say it fits on top (no pun intended), since all geodynamic processes have a surface expression (at least to some degree).
Take plate motion, for example. Whether a plate moves laterally or vertically, that motion is recorded in the rocks. Palaeomagnetism will trace lateral motion, while thermochronometry will give you a vertical history of the rocks. More often than not, it will reveal a complex history of the rocks and the plate in which they lie. This complexity includes a myriad of processes e.g. fluid action, metamorphism, deformation, diagnesis, etc. These are all processes that are still not fully understood but which we can address by picking up a rock and looking at its mineralogy, its texture, its veins, its contact with its surrounding rocks, its P-T history, its fractures, their strain patterns, etc.

This is by no means an exhaustive article on field methods, I merely mention some examples of how field methods can be useful. So if field geology can be so useful, why are there fewer and fewer scientists doing it? Well, there’s the popular misconception that field geology is only geological mapping, and that the world’s geological surveys have more or less taken care of that already. In reality, some geological surveys have done a marvellous job at mapping out the rock units, but half of a geological map is actually interpretation. This interpretation will constantly change with new understanding of processes and with new data, especially where rock exposures are few and/or flighty.

Apart from the misconception that all field geology has ‘been done’, there are some practical reasons why geodynamicists veer away from field studies. Firstly, there is a mismatch of scales. Generally, the smallest scale a geodynamicist will deal with is a plate – that is already a scale which is too large for field work in practice. But as we argued above, field studies can tell you so much, so what do you do? Go strategic! Pick a few practical locations on your plate, where you might find the products of the processes you’re looking at. For example, if you are looking at obduction, go look around the high pressure rocks, which have probably already been mapped – thank you, local geo survey. If you’re looking at active faulting, use topography and satellite data to help guide you, and then a little thermochronometry can go a long way. If you’re looking at processes behind magmatism, look around your magmatic rocks, and then let the powers of geochemistry come to your aid. There are so many other examples that field geologists do and new tricks that we could start to do with a little creative thinking.

Drone field geology, bridging geo-scales. Tectonic study of Northern Scandinavia by CEED U. Oslo researchers Hans Jørgen Kjøll and Torgeir Andersen. Picture provided by Hans Jørgen Kjøll.

This is all made much easier by using satellite data as a first line of attack. Never before have we had such fine satellite data to simply strategising as we do now.
So maybe it’s also time to move on from old fashioned geological mapping – especially where pretty good maps already exist- and move on to more comprehensive, strategic field campaigns. And remember, technology can be our friend, we need not shy away from it. The photo here is not merely a gorgeous landscape, it is a drone picture by Hans Jørgen Kjøll and Torgeir Andersen of CEED, U. Oslo (seen as the people-looking lines in the middle of the photo). They are seen here flying a drone to get high resolution field data in rugged, inaccessible northern Scandinavia, while simultaneously bridging the scale of typical field work to large scale tectonics.
Similar advantages can be had by using LIDAR, various GPS methods, shallow logging techniques, etc. Perhaps it’s time to stop thinking of geologists as the hammer-hand lens people, and of geophysicists as the gadget people, and of geodynamicists as the code people. Perhaps it’s time to blur the lines, work together and learn from each other.

All of this might eventually give us more real data to plug into our models, perhaps refine some of the parameterisation, or at the very least, give us something against which to compare our model predictions.

After all, George Michael said it best: “Let’s go outside”!

50 years of plate tectonics: then, now, and beyond

50 years of plate tectonics: then, now, and beyond

Even if we cannot attend all conferences ourselves, your EGU GD Blog Team has reporters that make sure all significant geodynamics events are covered. Today, Marie Bocher, postdoc at the Seismology and Wave Physics group of ETH Zürich, touches upon a recent symposium in Paris that covered one of the most important milestones of geodynamics.

On the 25th and 26th of June, the Parisian Collège de France was celebrating the anniversary of the plate tectonics revolution with a symposium entitled 50 years of plate tectonics: then, now and beyond. For this occasion, the organizers Eric Calais, Anny Cazenave, Claude Jaupart, Serge Lallemand, and Barbara Romanowicz had put together a very impressive list of presenters, starting with Xavier Le Pichon, Jason Morgan, and Dan McKenzie during the first morning!

The very impressive program of the 50 years plate tectonics symposium

Needless to say, it was a blast, and a great occasion to focus on the big picture and reflect on the evolution of Earth sciences within the last 50 years.

Watch it online!

But don’t panic if you missed it: all the presentations are available online now on the Collège de France website. So relax, brew yourself a cup of coffee, and enjoy the symposium from the comfort of your own home 🙂

Xavier Le Pichon
Image courtesy of Martina Ulvrova

Important panel
Image courtesy of Martina Ulvrova

Dietmar Müller
Image courtesy of Marie Bocher

Let’s talk about disability in geosciences

Let’s talk about disability in geosciences

Climbing towards outcrops during fieldwork for your undergraduate studies simply isn’t doable for everyone. However, this doesn’t mean that there are adequate alternative solutions available. This week, Katy Willis, PhD student on strain-localisation in the continental lithosphere at the University of Leeds, UK, discusses disability in the geosciences, because regardless of who you are a career in geosciences should be available to you.

On June 4th, 2018 at The Geological Society in London, the UK branch of the International Association for Geodiversity (IAGD) was launched under the name DiG-UK (Diversity in Geosciences, UK), and I was one of those in attendance. The IAGD focuses on the inclusion of people with disabilities within the geosciences, and DiG-UK has incorporated this aim along with championing a better representation of black, Asian, and other ethnic minority groups. Here, I am going to focus on the disability inclusion.

Before I go on – and it’s a shame that I have to type this in the 21st century – let me point out that just because a person has a mental or physical handicap it in no way detracts from their ability to study geosciences or advance in a career in either academia or industry. What hinders them is the barriers that are erected by others before their careers even start. There are a range of disabilities. Anyone may experience a temporary one, like a broken leg restricting your mobility. Some people may experience longer term issues, for example depression triggered by the death of a parent. It may be a health issue that has intermittent effects, such as Crohn’s disease. Or it could be a lifelong issue, such as partial blindness or complex mental health issues.

Geosciences is a broad term for anything from geology to paleo-climate, right up to geodynamics. The one thing that unites such studies, especially at an undergraduate level, is fieldwork. In the UK, an accredited geology degree requires a component of fieldwork, and graduation above a certain level may demand an extended independent fieldwork experience lasting weeks. This is all well and good if you are physically and mentally capable of doing such work, but each year a small proportion of students find themselves unable to go on fieldwork. The old “solution” was to give them a desktop study while the rest of the year went off to Cyprus, Scotland, or Spain. The field group would form close friendships while away, so that those left searching dusty library shelves felt partially excluded from their year group. Hardly an acceptable solution.

The inaugural DiG-UK meeting brought together academia and industry to discuss disability inclusion. An open session looking at how different organisations have got people thinking about disability inclusion and how to practically implement it got us all chatting and sharing ideas. I was delighted to see the approach the Open University had taken regarding fieldwork. It acknowledges that not all field locations are accessible to those with physical disabilities, but there is no need to prevent such students attending field trips because there will remain a number of locations that can be readily visited. For the inaccessible locations they set up a local WiFi network and use iPads so an able bodied person can stream a live image to those who can’t reach that particular outcrop. Genius!

Manchester Metropolitan University has developed a “Diversity Dash” game to help groups understand the many barriers that all students and staff can face. Each team is allocated a character, and a range of scenarios are presented (lab work, unexpected meeting on the top floor, taking notes in lectures). The teams then have to find realistic ways in which their character can take part in the scenario. The characters cover a range of people, from someone who has a pregnant partner through to the rich student that seems to have everything but certain issues are causing increased complications.

If universities automatically allow for the provision of disabled people in their fieldwork plans, then it allows students to continue their studies should they suffer a mild injury such as a sprained ankle. During my undergraduate time, I saw two people fail to finish their course because the university was unable to accommodate their disability needs. They were intelligent people, who knew that beyond graduation lay geoscience careers that did not rely on fieldwork, but they could not pass that barrier of obtaining the appropriate degree. In both cases a few simple adjustments would have allowed them to finish.

It behoves any institute to set up a framework that encourages practical and workable disability inclusion in the geosciences. Organisations such as DiG-UK and the IAGD can provide valuable information on how to do this. Our area of study – geodynamics – sees many of us sat in front of a computer, but a lot of us were required to carry out field studies at some point in our education. It added to our knowledge and experience and in my case it inspired me into the direction of geodynamics and the desire to understand the broader picture.

In September I am taking part in a field trip to Anglesey UK. There will be a range of people going and we aim to discover which methods assist inclusion and accessibility in the field (and which don’t!). Then the findings will be shared so real and practical ways of being inclusive can be implemented for geoscience fieldwork across the UK (and hopefully internationally).

So, go on. What are you going to do this month to help people with disabilities become more involved in geosciences?

Follow DiG-UK on twitter: @DiG_UK_IAGD

Happy blog birthday!

Happy blog birthday!

If the title and image didn’t tip you off: the EGU Geodynamics blog is celebrating its first anniversary! Almost exactly 1 year ago (okay, so it’s one year and one day, because I wanted to stick to the Wednesday upload schedule), the EGU GD blog was launched! Yay! Applause! Good thing we’re not insanely vain about or proud of this and going to milk this event with a blog post. Oh wait…
Prepare for a lovely blog post where we will be celebrating ourselves (mainly), our guest authors (we’d be lost without them), and our faithful readers (you! unless it’s your first time here… in which case: welcome!).

Since the start of our blog, we have been trying to provide you with a weekly dosis of geodynamics or general-academic-life posts every Wednesday. This didn’t always go according to plan, as we had a few hiccups – most notably in February 2018, when we had an all time low of zero posts. Oops. I will use the fact that I was organising and attending a conference as an excuse. Other – less serious – hiccups occurred at other times when we very sneakily uploaded on a Thursday or a Friday instead of the promised Wednesday. Notwithstanding these hiccups, we still managed to write 58 (!!, excluding this one) posts! That’s even more than one post a week on average!
*pats herself and her team on the back*

What did we write about?

Most of our blog posts were part of our regular features, such as our popular Geodynamics 101 series, which has since been adapted into a successful EGU short course in collaboration with the EGU ECS Geodynamics team. We have also discussed several Remarkable Regions and Peculiar Planets. Several new, exciting papers have been discussed in our News & Views posts and we have reported about several Conferences, such as Nethermod and the EGU GA. Other travel adventures – often with a more geological focus – have been described in our Travel Log. To make you laugh; discuss about the current academic environment; and give you tips on how to make posters, figures, and presentations, we have the popular Wit & Wisdom posts. So, just to summarise: there is a blog post for everyone.

Who (and how many) are you (= our readers)?

We have quite a large amount of readers (hoorah! it would be very sad if no one read these posts. Which might ironically end up to be the case for this post…), with on average a minimum of 100 unique visitors per blog post, but recently nearing 200 or more unique views per blog post (and that is not counting the people that just stay on the homepage of our blog and don’t actually click on the post). Our most popular blog posts include The Rainbow Colour Map (repeatedly) considered harmful with almost 2000(!) unique views, How good were the old forecasts of sea level rise? with more than 500 unique views, and Going with the toroidal mantle flow with almost 400 unique views. Our unique readers come from all corners of the world (see figure below).

Amount of users of our EGU GD blog website per country for the last year

Who are we?

We have a very enthusiastic blog team that has been working round the clock the past year to provide you with all this content! If you still don’t know who we are by now, you can check out our introduction post here. We also recently had a new addition to the blog team, who has already written his first blog post. Together, the five of us hope to keep this blog running for at least another year! However, we wouldn’t be able to provide so many regular geodynamics posts if it weren’t for the outstanding contributions by our many guest authors. They have really proved to be the backbone of this blog, so they deserve a proper shout out! While hunting for all the names of our guest authors in our blog record, I found the following 27 wonderful people who contributed one or more blog posts (because yes, these amazing guest authors sometimes came back for more and insisted on writing multiple posts!):

• Alice Adenis
• Manar Alsaif
• Suzanne Atkins
• Marie Bocher
• Clint Conrad
• Fabio Crameri
• Juliane Dannberg
• Maximilian Döhmann
• Richard Ghail
• Saskia Goes
• Kirstie Haynie
• Matthew Herman
• Charitra Jain
• Agí Királi
• Kristina Kislyakova
• Maurits Metman
• Luke Mondy
• Elvira Mulyukova
• Jessica Munch
• Lena Noack
• Vojtech Patočka
• Jyotirmoy Paul
• Adina Pusok
• Cedric Thieulot
• Anthony Osei Tutu
• Sabin Zahirovic
• Yue Zhao

And now what?

Speaking for the entire blog team, we have had a blast this year and we are very much looking forward to continue with this blog and to bridge outreach, geodynamics, and general academic life. We hope that we can more firmly establish ourselves in the geodynamics community in the coming year and hopefully we will meet and collaborate with many more (recurring) guest authors to continue making this blog a success. Thanks to everyone who has been involved in the blog in any way by either writing or reading it. Cheers to another successful year!