TS
Tectonics and Structural Geology

Interviews

Meeting Plate Tectonics – Dan McKenzie

Meeting Plate Tectonics – Dan McKenzie

This blog series presents bi-weekly interviews with outstanding innovators and researchers that bloomed the theory that revolutionised Earth Sciences — Plate Tectonics. Stay tuned to learn from their experience, to discover the advices they share, to find out where the newest challenges lie, and much more!


Meeting Dan McKenzie


Prof. Dan McKenzie is one of the key actors empowering the Plate Tectonic Theory. He was Professor of Geophysics in Cambridge until he retired in 2012. He is mainly known to have published, together with Robert Parker, the first paper on Plate Tectonics. “The North Pacific: an example of tectonics on a sphere” describes the principles of plate tectonics, where individual aseismic areas move as rigid plates on the surface of a sphere.

The trick is to know what is tractable and also what is not understood.

You are known to have published the “very first paper” on plate tectonics. How did this contribution came about?

I was a Physics undergraduate in Cambridge. Then I became a graduate student of Teddy Bullard with whom I worked on the fluid dynamics of the mantle before it became at all understood. He got me to a conference in New York, where I heard for the first time all the works that Vine had done on, eventually, plate movements. While examiners were reading my PhD, I did the work of my first paper on plate tectonics. It was concerned with the thermal consequences of plate creation on ridges. In Summer 1967, I went to Scripps and there I was reading a paper by Teddy on fitting the continents. It occurred to me that the method he used, Euler’s theorem, actually was a way to describe all surface motions of the Earth. And so I did. I wrote, what then turned out to be the first paper on plate tectonics, which was published 1967. I don’t have priority. Jason Morgan gave a talk at the AGU in the Spring of 1967. But his abstract was completely different from the talk he gave. I had read his abstract not too long before he gave the talk, and I missed it. It made no impression at all on the AGU.

Since then, I worked a bit on Plate Tectonics, but it became quickly a dead end. I was intrigued by some observations from ocean Islands, which showed that their sources had been isolated from the convecting of the mantle for about a thousand million years. This seemed extraordinary to me! So I got interested in the whole question as how you generate melt. I worked on that for quite some time. I’m still working on that.

I have gone beyond my wildest dreams

I worked on a lot of areas in the Earth Sciences and I have gone beyond my wildest dreams (laughs). It never occurred to me that I would be given all this prices and funding –it is all very flattery!  But I am always amazed by the fact that my papers are read and cited.

 

Dan McKenzie (1976) – Credit: The Geological Society (Mckenzie Archive)

How do you remember the beginnings in your career, what was your main motivation?

I never had an overall plan about what to do for my career. I simply work on what I find interesting and what I think that I and other people might be able to understand. I put my mind to it. There is no point in working on things everybody understands, nor in working on something that is totally intractable, because eventually, you won’t catch it either. The trick is to know what is tractable and also what is not understood. I particularly watched the technology. Most of what I have done followed a change in technology. You have to have some feeling that you can do something new and interesting, otherwise you are just going to get lost. If hundreds or thousands of people do the same thing, that is not the sensible thing for me to do. I have nothing to add to that. They do much better than I would. But the data is marvellous, and I can use it to do all kinds of things. The best scientific problems are clearly interesting, clearly not known and not understood, but tractable. There is no point whatsoever, trying to attack problems that are not tractable.

[Plate Tectonics research] was frankly a bit of a disappointment

What would you say, has been the favourite aspect of your research? 

I think the one that had the most influence on my career was certainly plate tectonics. That was frankly a bit of a disappointment. It was so successful that it really needed no further work. I spent an enormous amount of energy in the 1960’s in trying to make the theory as simple and as obvious as I could. And I succeeded, and other people were part too, but we succeeded too well (laughs).  And it did become really routine. Since that time, there haven’t really been any changes. So, it isn’t my favourite at all!

My favourite is trying to understand the mantle convection (of which plate tectonics is one aspect). Trying to understand the fluid dynamics of mantle convecion is really the dominant aspect of the research I have done for fifty years.

I am driven by wanting to understand things, rather than by the uses that people make of my understanding

After all the time you have spent in science, where do you see the biggest challenges right now in your field?

Dan McKenzie (mid 1990s) – Credit: British Library (Voices of science)

The present surface of Mars is so thick that it isn’t actually moving, but it seems it did in the past. So probably, in the early history of Mars, it did have something like Plate Tectonics. And I am sure that, if and when we ever get good images, the works on fluid dynamics will actually give us a handle of what is happening on this and other planets. But you need extraordinary increased spatial resolution images to actually see what is happening on planets in the solar system.

 

You have contributed greatly to establishing the revolutionary Theory of Plate Tectonics. Still, one might wonder – what are the real-world applications of your research?

McKenzie & Parker (1967). Nature, 216(5122), 1276–1280.

The understanding of plate motions has completely changed our views on seismic risk. At present, I think GPS is an enormous step forward in our understanding of seismic risk. Now, you can actually see the elastic strain that accumulated on plate boundaries using GPS. For instance, Tibet is moving southwards with respect to India. But there have been no really big earthquakes along the Himalayan front in historical times. It is quite clear from the GPS that there have been huge but very infrequent earthquakes. What has been happening in Indonesia and also in Japan, is likely to happen here: it will unzip and there will be earthquakes. I wish the Indians would take it more seriously… My friends and I reckon that somewhere in central Asia this century there will be earthquakes which will kill millions of people. That is a frightful thought.

…somewhere in central Asia, this century there will be earthquakes which will kill millions of people, and that is a frightful thought

The thing  I have done that had the most economic impact is getting an understanding of how oil is produced in sedimentary basins. That is a paper in which I put together our understanding of how such basins were formed. Which is simply by stretching of the continental crust. It is not like Plate Tectonics, because the extension is not localised, but distributed. That was the key. It took us long to understand that because we were actually trying to think in terms of plate motions, or plate boundaries. The paper is six pages long but no one ever reads the second three pages (laughs). If I had written only three pages, it would have had the same impact…

What I am doing now doesn’t have the same impact… Understanding mantle convection beneath the plates is not going to be of nearly the same significance, frankly. It is fascinating to see how it works, but it is a different matter. I am driven by wanting to understand things, rather than by the uses that people make of my understanding.

Well,  it will come to a use eventually!

Yes, understanding can be always be used… for good and bad reasons… look at nuclear physics.

Rather than more support, there should be less support

After being many years active in the academia, what would you change to improve how science is done in your field now?

This is not a question I ever thought about… I think my answer to that will be a bit complicated…

The real danger, in all subjects, is that the bright young people have lots of opportunities to be a graduate student and to obtain a PhD. And then they get trapped. They are not really good enough to get a proper tenure position in a university. But they are basically good enough to get a postdoc. They discover quite late in their careers, sometime in their thirties, that this is not going to work, that they are not going to get any further. And then they have real crashes. I think there is too much encouragement, on the funding agencies particularly, to carry people to keep on doing postdocs. This is really quite unfair. These people are really clever and they could have a much better career. How do you stop people from doing this, I do not know. Rather than more support, there should be less support (laughs). Of course, the people employing the postdocs, the tenured staff, object very strongly to this. Scientists, once they get a tenured position, want someone to do the work. They got the grant to employ people. They get the credit.

Get out of [academia]!

So, taking this you just mentioned into account, what advice would you give to Early Career Scientists?

Get out of it! (laughs). Unless you have very good chances to get a good position, get out of it and do something else before you get too old! That is what I always tell.

My career is of no use whatsoever to anyone

When you were an Early Career Scientist, did you always see yourself staying academia? What were your career expectations in that sense?

To be honest I did not think about these things… My position was rather particular. I wrote the first paper on Plate Tectonics at age 25. And I reckoned I was going to get a job! (laughs). So, I did not worry too much about that. When I was offered a job, I was offered a position at Cambridge, a full professorship at Manchester and one of the grand professorships at ETH in Switzerland. All at the same time! (laughs). I chose to stay in Cambridge and got married. For some time I was very poor, but I reckoned that would change. And it did. I never really worried about money. My career was not in any way planned and is no guide to anyone. Nothing like Plate Tectonics has happened since, it was really singular. So my career is of no use whatsoever to anyone. Things were different. When I started, there were almost no postdoctoral positions…

 

Dan McKenzie (2014) – Credit: Cambridge University

 

Interview conducted by David Fernández-Blanco

Meeting Plate Tectonics

Meeting Plate Tectonics

The sixties brought us many moving moments: Woodstock, the civil rights movement, the moon landing… and the establishment of the plate tectonic theory.

Tectonic Smile – Credit: Google Earth

It is during the turbulent late sixties that scientists published groundbreaking manuscripts proving that pieces of the Earth’s outer layer are in a constant state of  motion.

Late 1967 to mid 1968 Dan McKenzie and Robert L. Parker,  Jason Morgan and Xavier Le Pichon, amongst others, established that crustal motions on Earth approximate rigid body rotations on a sphere and that plates conforming the Earth’s upper layer have rates of motion that can be calculated thanks to paleomagnetic data. Five decades have passed since the advent of the plate tectonics theory, and it might take many more decades to fully understand all its implications.

 

Here, at the Tectonics and Structural Geology ECS-team, we can’t help but wonder where we are we standing today, what the biggest achievements have been and which aspects of the plate tectonic theory still scape our understanding. Fortunately, a commemorative conference celebrating the 50 anniversary of plate tectonics, held in Paris in June 2018 under the title “Plate tectonics: Then, Now & Beyond”, provided a unique opportunity to seek for answers. Initiator David Fernández-Blanco made his way to Paris and together with Anouk Beniest interviewed several researchers that greatly contributed and still contribute to the Plate Tectonics Theory. This blog series presents bi-weekly the interviews (a total of 15) held with these outstanding minds, from which ECS have so much to learn!

Let’s get started with Dan McKenzie!

EGU – Realm and Maze? An interview with Susanne Buiter, the current chair of the EGU Programme Committee

EGU – Realm and Maze? An interview with Susanne Buiter, the current chair of the EGU Programme Committee

source: ngu.no

Susanne Buiter is senior scientist and team leader at the Solid Earth Geology Team at the Geological Survey of Norway. She is also the chair of the EGU Programme Committee. This means that she leads the coordination of the scientific programme of the annual General Assembly. She assists the Division Presidents and Programme Group chairs when they build the session programme of their divisions, helps find a place for new initiatives and tries to solve issues that may arise. This also includes short courses, townhall and splinter meetings, great debates, events on arts and other events. The programme group also initiates discussions on how to include interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary science and how to accommodate the growth of the General Assembly. Questions: Micha Dietze, Annegret Larsen (both GM Early Career Representatives), and Anouk Beniest (EGU TS Early Career Representative)

 

Susanne, you are a perfect example of a scientist bridging scientific work with scientific management. What brought you to this and how do you manage keeping the balance?
I would not call it perfect! And I find it not so easy to keep a balance. I am very fortunate that my employer, the Geological Survey of Norway, recognises the importance of organisations like EGU for the geoscience community in Europe. That means that I can partly use working hours for EGU activities and that is a great help. For me, EGU fulfils an important task in bringing people together for networking, starting new projects, discuss new ideas and I would like to contribute to making that possible. I guess one thing led to the other, but what is important for me is that all activities are truly fun and rewarding.

 

It seems you have filled almost all the different possible jobs within the EGU: giving talks, discussing posters, judging presentations, convening sessions, coordinating ECS activities like short courses, acting as Programme Group member and leader, serving as TS Division President, and now working as Programme Committee Chair. Could you describe what the main goals of the EGU are for you, and what brought you to become such an active member of the EGU community?
I see the role of EGU as serving the geoscience community through enabling networking, discussions and information sharing. Our General Assembly is very important for this and also our journals. I love the outreach and education that EGU does, through the GIFT programme and attempts to interact with politics and funding agencies. By the way, the short courses are for and by all participants, including the ECS, but not only!

I would really like to encourage ECS to submit session proposals during our call-for-sessions in Summer. And please consider to submit your abstract with oral preference, so conveners can schedule ECS talks.

 

Could you shed some light on the structure of this big ship called EGU in a few sentences?
What characterises EGU is that the union is by the community and for the community. EGU has a small office in Munich that oversees the day-to-day operations and coordinates our media activities (www.egu.eu). They are also EGUs long-term memory. We have 22 divisions from Atmosphere Sciences AS to Tectonics and Structural Geology TS. The division presidents are usually also chair of their associated Programme Group, with the same abbreviations AS, BG, CL etc that you see in our programme at the General Assembly in Vienna. They schedule their parts of the conference programme. For this, programme group chairs rely on the work of conveners (you!) to propose and organise sessions. Division presidents are also member of EGU’s council, together with EGU’s executives. Here decisions are taken on budgets, committee work, new executive editors of journals etc. EGU has among others committees for awards, education, outreach, publications and topical events (https://www.egu.eu/structure/committees/). Copernicus is hired by EGU for organisation of the General Assembly and publication of the 17 journals (https://www.egu.eu/publications/open-access-journals/). All EGU journals are open access. Sorry, that was rather more than a few sentences…

 

How flexible – in your experience – is the EGU administration and organization on a scale of 1-10?
A 9! I would have like to say a 10, but improvements are always possible. The EGU office, executives, divisions and committees put a lot of effort in coordinating all activities. We actually rely on flexibility as EGU is bottom-up. This is also how new initiatives find a place. For example, EGU2018 will have a cartoonist-in-residence and a poet-in-residence, a new activity I am very excited about and that was proposed by participants.

 

Regarding the ECS, which role do you feel should they play at EGU level? What is running very well and what would you like to change? Where do you think are fields where you see opportunities to become more active?
About half of participants to our General Assembly identify as ECS according to the survey from 2017 and abstract submission statistics for 2018. So they should play an important role! Not only in the General Assembly, but also in our committees. The ECS representatives are important for their feedback to council, making the ECS opinions heard, and starting new activities, such as the networking reception, many short courses, and the ECS lounge. What I would like to change? More ECS session conveners please! I would really like to encourage ECS to submit session proposals during our call-for-sessions in Summer. And please consider to submit your abstract with oral preference, so conveners can schedule ECS talks.

 

What is most important for ECS to know about the EGU structure?
Know your ECS representative. At the General Assembly, come to the ECS forum on Thursday at lunch time and the ECS corner at the icebreaker. Connect with scientists in your division(s) by attending the division meeting.

 

From your perspective, what can we do to motivate more ECS to actively shape “their” EGU?
It is building on what you already do: share information on EGU, the divisions, that we are bottom-up and therefore rely on suggestions by community members. Encourage ECS to suggest sessions, volunteer as committee member when there are vacancies (these are advertised on www.egu.eu and through social media), and organise activities at, before and after the General Assembly. Encourage ECS to use the conference in Vienna to network with all participants, not only through ECS channels, and find new opportunities that way. My observation is that many experienced scientists love to discuss with ECS and perhaps even start new collaborations.

 

Which ways and approaches do you see to better connect ECS within and between Programme Groups?
I find especially connections *between* Programme Groups very interesting, not only for ECS. EGU is growing to a size that it has become more difficult to find time to look outside your own bubble. We have been investigating ways to make our programme more interdisciplinary and perhaps in the future also transdisciplinary, to try to create new approaches. That said, I am happy to see at the ice-breaker and networking reception that many ECS identify with more than one division! It is important to cross borders, that is where a lot of exciting research happens.

 

The mentoring programme is a rather new feature for many divisions. Could you give some feedback on how it went last year? Will it be a permanent item during the EGU General Assembly?
We organised the mentoring programme in 2017 as a pilot, which we on purpose kept somewhat low profile to generate feedback and develop our tools. We see the programme as a networking opportunity for both first-time and experienced attendees. Feedback was very positive, so we are rolling out in full this year. We offer matching, two meeting opportunities at the General Assembly and some guidance.

I encourage people to try a PICO presentation or convening a PICO session. I have run some poster-only sessions last years, which have been great fun as we had so much more time for discussions.

 

The EGU General Assembly can be overwhelming at first. What would you advice young (and not so young) researchers to do to have a successful meeting?
Attend short course SC2.1 on how to navigate the EGU (Monday at 08:30), read the first-timer’s guide to the General Assembly, and make sure you are on the mailing list for your division ECS representatives if they have one. Some divisions have an ECS evening event, do attend! Consider taking part in the mentoring programme of course. And prepare a personal programme before heading to Vienna. Not to follow it in detail, but at least to know where to go for talks, PICO, short courses, posters, and events. I would definitely use the General Assembly to talk to other participants, this is a great chance to expand your network.

 

Time and space are precious during the EGU General Assembly. There are over 10.000 contributions, many aiming at a talk, but ending up as posters, the session rooms are often overcrowded, the lunch break brings a rush and long queues. Is there any way the Union Council considers to improve certain bottle necks or are we already at the maximum of optimizing some of the conference logistics?
In 2017, we had ca. 17,400 presentations and 14,500 participants. We rented a new hall on the forecourt of the conference centre, which we will also have in 2018. This increased the conference space, taking pressure off the rooms and surely reduced queues. Copernicus and EGU work continuously on optimising the scheduling. We also started a broader discussion on future formats of the General Assembly. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage trying a PICO presentation or convening a PICO session. I have run some poster-only sessions the last years, which have been great fun as we had so much better time for discussions.

 

Many ECS approach their representatives because they are worried or disappointed to see their initiatives for scientific session proposals not succeeding. Instead they find year after year the same names behind established and crowded sessions. Do you have any advice how to deal with this or do you think this is not really an issue?
I am aware that this may unfortunately play for some sessions, but overall I think we cater well to new initiatives. My advice to Programme Group chairs is to encourage ECS conveners for new sessions and also to include ECS as part of long-running sessions that should rotate, and renew, conveners each year. Our General Assembly offers place for sessions on the basics and fields that require long-term developments, and at the same time also on new, emerging topics. Sometimes these sessions on upcoming topics may be small in number of submissions, but large in attendance. The best I can say to anyone is to discuss concerns or feedback regarding convening with the division president and the ECS division representative.

 

With the growing amount of members and participants (almost) every year, how do you see the EGU’s future both as a community and as one of the most important events?
EGU is an important voice of the Earth and space science community in Europe. I think the union should continue to do what it is good at: providing a platform for networking, discussions on new and old fun topics, and information sharing. I would like EGU to stay flexible and cater to new formats in its journals and at its General Assembly, the latter also in light of discussions on CO2 costs of meetings.

 

Thank you Susanne!
Could I emphasize again that EGU is bottom-up and depends on input from our communities? So please contact your ECS representative, the division president or me (programme.committee@egu.eu) with ideas and feedback!

 

Some more information online here:
www.egu.eu
https://meetings.copernicus.org/egu2018/information/programme_committee
https://www.egu.eu/gm/home/
https://www.egu.eu/gm/ecs/
http://www.geodynamics.no/buiter/

 

 

Publishing in Solid Earth: interview with Anna Rogowitz

Publishing in Solid Earth: interview with Anna Rogowitz

Following our previous blog about the EGU journal Solid Earth, we now would like to share some experiences of open access publishing in this journal with you. Therefore, we interviewed Anna Rogowitz, who recently published in Solid Earth, about her experiences. 

 

annaAbout Anna:

Anna is an Assistant Professor in the Structural Processes Group at the Department of Geodynamics and Sedimentology (University of Vienna, Austria) since December 2015. She finished her MSc degree in geology in the beginning of 2011 at the Institute of Geology, Mineralogy and Geophysics (Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany). Anna then carried on to a PhD in the field of structural geology with focus on strain rate dependent calcite deformation (Department of Geodynamics and Sedimentology, University of Vienna); using field observations in combination with detailed microfabric analyses to study strain localization processes in the lithosphere, with special focus on the ductile regime. Anna is also presently part of our TS ECS team.

 

1. You recently published a very interesting paper in Solid Earth. In three or four sentences, what is it about?

Thanks! The study was part of my PhD thesis in which I analysed the isotopic and mechanical impact of strain localization in a calcite marble at varying strain rates. The manuscript is dealing with the simultaneous activation of grain boundary sliding (GBS) and dislocation motion as a powerful strain softening mechanism in calcite. We analysed a pretty highly strained calcite marble and observed grain size reduction by bulging recrystallization, resulting in an almost strain-free ultramylonite that got subsequently deformed by dislocation activity, with clear evidence for GBS. The combination of these two mechanisms has been recently discussed more often for experimentally deformed rocks (Wang et al., 2010; Hansen et al., 2011). For us it was a bit surprising, as the deformation occurred at high differential stresses, relatively low temperatures and strain rates of nearly 10-9 s-1. At these conditions, brittle deformation could be anticipated rather than ductile behaviour.

 

2. Why did you choose Solid Earth?

One of the Editors, Luca Menegon (Plymouth University) was a visiting professor at our department while I was working on the study. We discussed our findings and he suggested that I submit the work to Solid Earth, as they were working on a Special Issue on ‘Deformation mechanisms and ductile strain localization in the lithosphere’ at that point. The topic of the Special Issue fit perfect to our results, so it was pretty easy to decide for Solid Earth.

 

3. Did the fact that it is an open access journal contribute to your decision?

Definitely! I like the idea of research being accessible for everybody who is interested.
I know some colleagues that have access to only a very limited number of journals. Of course there is always the possibility to write an e-mail to the author and ask for a copy of a specific manuscript but I also know that especially young researchers might be too shy or afraid to do so. Another reason for choosing an open access journal was that part of my study was funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and open access publications are mandatory.

 

4. EGU journals have a very transparent peer-review process in which reviews and author replies are posted online. How did you experience this?

I think the idea of an open review process, where people interested in a specific topic can discuss a manuscript is great. Honestly, I would have liked more people to join the discussion on our publication. I think it helps to improve the quality of a manuscript and could also help to connect people. Maybe even result in more interdisciplinary studies.

 

5. As an early career researcher, what are the most important things you look for when choosing a journal to submit a paper to?

I always go with some suggestions to my co-authors and discuss with them what would be the best choice for our manuscript. One of the most important factors for me is if it is a journal that I read regularly and preferably has open access. As an early career researcher but not that young/early anymore I have to admit that the impact factor starts to play a more important role. And of course the publication costs. I prefer to spend my funding on research and analyses than the journal I publish in.

 

6. Do you have suggestions for improvements concerning the submission, review and publication process in Solid Earth?

I thought that it was a bit time consuming that the submitted manuscript got edited as a discussion paper before it went into the review process. Also the fact that we had to pay for the preparation of the discussion paper even though it might have possibly been rejected was something I disliked. But from what I understood, these two things have been changed already. Another thing is that I would like the entire review process to be public. Of course the discussion and review process has to stop at some point but I think it would be nice if this is not before the final decision by the editor has been made. I would like that further exchanges by editor and authors could also be followed and commented on by the community.

 

7. Do you have recommendations for authors who are considering publishing in Solid Earth?

Hah! Beside ‘Go for it’… No, I really think that Solid Earth is a great journal that covers a broad field of Earth sciences. The fact that it is open access and affordable (even for early career scientists that may not have a lot of funding) is a big plus. And different to some other journals, the review process is pretty fast, which nowadays is a very important factor. Personally, I would definitely consider to submit another publication to Solid Earth. Probably, I would try to motivate a few more people to comment on the manuscript during the peer-review process. Some people have started to announce their discussion papers in the Geo-Tectonics forum, which is a very smart idea.

 

Paper’s reference:

Rogowitz, A., White, J.C., and Grasemann, B., 2016. Strain localization in ultramylonitic marbles by simultaneous activation of dislocation motion and grain boundary sliding (Syros, Greece). Solid Earth 7, 355-366, Doi:10.5194/se-7-355-2016

 

This blog was established as a group effort of the T&S team.