EGU Blogs



As you may have gathered from my enthusiastic title I just submitted my thesis! After 6 years of hard work it’s been passed in. To celebrate I decided to make this really cool word cloud showing the most frequently occurring words in the thesis, which currently contains a total of 55,713 words. The bigger the font the more common the word. As you may notice 129I occurs a lot, 1,220 times to be exact, since it is the topic of the entire thing. WordCloud

Here is a pic of the whole thing ready to turn in to the grad studies office. Now that this thing is done hopefully I’ll be able to get back to blogging a little more frequently. Actually, I have ideas for several posts saved up including summaries of a few of my thesis chapters.


By the way, I lied above. I’m going to get a beer to celebrate. Cheers!

I’m on TV!!

I’m on TV!!

About a year ago I was asked to appear as a guest on a kids television show about rocks and minerals called Finding Stuff Out. I was asked to come an talk about rocks, minerals, geology in general and how I got interested in geology. The show is for 8-10 year olds and it is truly fantastic! It has a really interesting format where kids actually ask questions and the host, Harrison, answers them with the help of experts (me), goes to places to find the answers or does experiments. In the end the show concludes with an answer to the question that started it all. In the case of my episode it was about diamonds.

I was fortunate enough to be involved in a significant amount of the show including the “gold” panning challenge and the final wrap up at the end of the show, which has a bit of a humorous slant to it!

This was my first experience filming anything let alone a full out TV show so I was not sure what to expect when I arrived at the studio in Montreal. The first thing I was given was a terrific lunch, so that was a nice way to start the afternoon off.

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Next I was shown to the set, which is incredible. See the pics below. It is truly amazing what the set designers and prop people can accomplish and I was pretty impressed. I was then given a script that had a few talking points. The actual dialog and what I say in the video is me speaking in my own words and basically making it up on the spot. This was pretty difficult so we would usually do a couple of takes as I polished my delivery a bit. All in all the 10 minutes of video that you see below took about 5-6 hours to shoot. The challenge section was by far the longest as we had to keep re-doing sections of the panning.

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There is also a lot of people watching as we would shoot each scene including sound people, script editors, prop people, cameramen…..and more. This was kind of a weird feeling since it felt like I was performing some sort of live show but I was supposed to be speaking directly to Harrison. I had to keep reminding myself not to worry about everyone else. Harrison, who looks younger than he actually is, was also fantastic. The guy is crazy talented and is a big part of making the show so interesting and popular. I had a great day shooting the episode and hopefully it won’t be my last experience with this sort of thing! Maybe I’ll do a video blog here or two when I finally finish my PhD!??

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Click here to display content from

I’ve edited the video above so it only includes parts of the show that I was in. There is lots more.

Hope you enjoy it!!

Guest Post: Dr. John W. Jamieson – Using seafloor mapping to find missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370

Guest Post: Dr. John W. Jamieson – Using seafloor mapping to find missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370

On March 8th, 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.  Evidence from satellite tracking suggests that the aircraft may have crashed into the Indian Ocean several 1,000 kms west of Australia and this is where the search is now focused.  No debris or oil slick related to the aircraft has so far been found.  However, signals consistent with the “pings” of the flight data recorder were detected in two areas, several 100 kms apart from each other.  A search of the northernmost location, using an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) owned and operated by the United States Navy has so far turned up no sign of wreckage of the aircraft.  The intent of this blog post is to explain what instruments are being used to locate the wreckage, how they work, what are their limitations, and hopefully provide some clarity and perspective on the monumentally difficult task that lies ahead for the searchers.

Why is finding something on the seafloor so difficult?  The methods we use for mapping and surveying on dry land (e.g., aerial photographs, satellite imagery, laser and radar mapping) rely on the electromagnetic spectrum (e.g., radio frequencies, the visible spectrum and even infrared photography).  Electromagnetic waves attenuate quickly in seawater, however, and can only propagate over short distances (sunlight only penetrates the top 200 m of the ocean, known as the photic zone).  The result is is that we cannot see through water very well using electromagnetic waves, and the oceans effectively shield us from surveying the seafloor using traditional means used on land (and on other planets!).  So, to map the seafloor, alternative techniques are required.

On any world map that includes information on the ocean floor (e.g., Google EarthTM) you can see features such as ridges, seamounts, the continental shelves and submarine trenches.  These features were mapped using satellite altimetry, a technique in which orbiting satellites use radar to measure small spatial variations in sea level.  The uneven surface of the ocean results from variations in Earth’s gravitational field, which is stronger above positive features (e.g., a volcano) on the seafloor, due to the presence of more mass, relative to regular abyssal plain.  The increased gravitational pull causes seawater to preferentially flow to that location, resulting in an elevated ocean surface height directly above the volcano, or a dip in ocean surface height above a trench.  These sea surface variations can be translated into a map of topographic features on the seafloor (Fig. 1).  The resolution of the map, however, is only 1-3 km, which means features on the seafloor smaller than a few kilometers cannot be resolved (note that most media outlets covering the Malaysia Airlines search have been inaccurately reporting the resolution as 20 km).

Figure 1: Global seafloor topography map derived from satellite altimetry data.  Source:

Figure 1: Global seafloor topography map derived from satellite altimetry data. Source:

To generate maps of the seafloor with higher resolution, hydroacoustic or SONAR (Sound Navigation And Ranging) methods are used.  Unlike visible light or radio waves, sound waves are compression waves and can travel greater distances in water, and hydroacoustic techniques (e.g., the “pinging” of a flight data recorder) are the standard methods used for underwater mapping and communication.  Multibeam sonar is a mapping technique where a series of acoustic beams are emitted simultaneously downward to the seafloor in a fan-shaped geometry perpendicular to the direction of travel of a ship, submarine or other carrier platform.  The time taken for the acoustic signals to reflect off the seafloor back to a receiver is converted into a depth.  By using multiple beams, a swath underneath the ship that is roughly equally to 2 to 7 times the depth can be mapped, producing a 3-D topographic image of the seafloor beneath a vessel as it moves forward.  Modern multibeam systems can produce maps with a resolution of ~30 m (actual resolution is dependent on several parameters including depth and speed of the vessel).  It would take a fleet of 10 ships 15 to 45 years of continuous surveying to map the entire ocean floor at a resolution of ~40 m.  Although the resolution of multibeam mapping is significantly higher than the global satellite map, it is still inadequate to be of any use for finding a downed aircraft.

Higher resolution maps can be generated if the multibeam transmitter and receiver are closer to the seafloor.  This is achieved by mounting multibeam systems onto instruments towed deep beneath a ship by a cable, or, more recently, using AUVs such as the U.S. Navy’s Bluefin-21, which are effectively underwater drones that can be programmed to fly at prescribed altitudes above the seafloor.  From heights of 50-100 m above the seafloor, resolutions of less than 1 m can be achieved, which is good enough to find objects on the seafloor such as sunken ships, containers that have fallen off cargo ships, or aircraft wreckage (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: Example of a 2 m resolution image of the seafloor, derived from autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) multi-beam SONAR data.  This image is from the Juan de Fuca Ridge, in the NE Pacific Ocean. The mound in the foreground has a diameter of ~75m and a height of 26 m.

Figure 2: Example of a 2 m resolution image of the seafloor, derived from autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) multi-beam SONAR data. This image is from the Juan de Fuca Ridge, in the NE Pacific Ocean. The mound in the foreground has a diameter of ~75m and a height of 26 m.

A related hydroacoustic method that is commonly used (including for the Malaysia Airlines search) is side scan sonar.  Instead of emitting acoustic beams downwards, beams are emitted outward and downward at a wider angle, relative to multibeam sonar.  The intensity of the reflected signal is measured, producing an acoustic “image” of the seafloor.  The advantage of side scan sonar is that hard, solid objects stand out clearly, and, because the survey “swath” is wider than that for a multibeam survey, a larger area can be covered.

The initial search area for MH370 was a 314 km2 area where a pinging consistent with that of the Boeing 777’s black box was detected.  This area was surveyed with a U.S. Navy Bluefin-21 AUV using side-scan sonar, covering an area of ~40 km2 per day.  This initial survey turned up no evidence of the missing aircraft.  As the search radius expands, the area of seafloor to be covered increases exponentially.  For example, expanding the survey area to cover 60,000 km2 of seafloor, which is likely the next step, would take over two years with a single AUV.  However, this area will first be mapped using ship-based multibeam (a process that has already started), before choosing new targets to survey more thoroughly with an AUV.

In 2009, Air France flight AF447 crashed in the Atlantic Ocean en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. The wreckage of the aircraft, including the flight data recorder, was found two years later after searching nearly 17,000 km2 with 3 REMUS6000-type AUVs (one from GEOMAR in Kiel, Germany, and two from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts, USA).  Figure 3 shows side scan reflections that were the first images of wreckage on the seafloor from the Air France flight.  Luckily, the wreckage came to rest in a flat, featureless area within a very mountainous region of seafloor near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, so that the reflections seen in the image stood out easily.  Had the wreckage come to rest in an area such as that shown in Figure 2, the wreckage would not necessarily stand out so clearly.

Figure 3:  Side scan image of initial discovery of Air France 447.  The debris appears as bright reflections on an otherwise flat seafloor.  Source:

Figure 3: Side scan image of initial discovery of Air France 447. The debris appears as bright reflections on an otherwise flat seafloor. Source:

A major difference with the Air France search, compared to the Malaysia Airlines search, is that floating debris was discovered within a week of the crash, providing searchers a clear target from which to base their search.  The current search location in the Indian Ocean is constrained by satellite data, which defines a broad area spanning 1,000s of kms, and two separate reports of potential acoustic flight recorder pings, spaced 100 kms from each other.  With no physical sign of any wreckage, this search is indeed daunting and may take many years.


About the author:

John Jamieson is a research scientist at GEOMAR – Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, in Kiel, Germany.  John obtained his B.Sc. in geology from the University of Alberta in 2002, his M.Sc. in isotope geochemistry from the University of Maryland in 2005, and his Ph.D. in marine geology from the University of Ottawa in 2013.  John specializes in the study of mineral deposits that form at hydrothermal vents (or “black smokers”) on the seafloor, and the development of technology and methods for submarine exploration.  His research has led to participation on several research cruises and projects in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  He has twice dived in the ALVIN submersible on the Juan de Fuca Ridge in the NW Pacific to depths of over 2,000 m.  His research currently focuses on the use of autonomous and remotely-operated vehicles and their mapping capabilities to locate and understand the geological controls on the formation of mineral deposits on mid-ocean ridges.  He works with governments, international organizations and industry on aspects related to seafloor mining.

The author, on board the French research vessel Pourquoi Pas?, with the GEOMAR REMUS6000-class AUV “Abyss” which was used in the search for the Air France flight AF447 wreckage.

The author, on board the French research vessel Pourquoi Pas?, with the GEOMAR REMUS6000-class AUV “Abyss” which was used in the search for the Air France flight AF447 wreckage.

Some 2014 Ph.D Goal Setting

For my first post of the new year I thought it might be a good idea to make some resolutions, especially since everyone else is doing it. Part of doing graduate work is setting goals, ignoring those goals until the week before, and then working 22 hour days to achieve them. Ian, (my supervisor), if you’re reading this I swear that is just a joke!

Source –  “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham.

In all seriousness though I am hoping that 2014 will be a big year for me. My ultimate goal is to have hopefully defended by this time next year or at the very least submitted my thesis. Of course, I am falling into the obvious trap pictured below by publicly announcing my intent to finish within a year.

Source – “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham.

However, I think that if I set reasonable goals and work really damn hard I can get this thesis done. Hopefully, no major issues occur in the lab or elsewhere that delay things. The easiest way to accomplish this Herculean task is to break it down into somewhat more bite-sized chunks and tackle those one at a time. Trying to think of this as a whole will not help me accomplish anything. Luckily for me uOttawa accepts thesis’s? theses? that are composed of a collection of separate articles, which is the format that I’ll be using.

2014 Goals

– Finish paper on combustion technique – this is nearly done, just have to respond to the journal reviewer comments.

– Continue writing Fukushima paper. Getting there…..this one is not writing itself at the moment, but I am making slow progress every day. If you were at Goldschmidt 2013 you heard this talk.

– Finish all lab work related to iodine and 129I transfer in the Wolf Creek watershed and synthesize data – this is also nearly done, just a few more samples to run on the AMS. Of course the data synthesis and some statistical analysis will take some time.

– Write paper on Wolf creek watershed, make figures, etc.

– Data synthesis and writing of large scale Yukon watersheds project. Got a paper to write here now that I have all the data. Of course there is lots of work to do still on figure making and data analysis as well.

– Learn about noble gas extraction and fissionogenic xenon isotopes…also learn more about stats.

– Start combustion extractions of iodine in Bruce deep geologic repository site core and analyze on AMS and ICP-MS.

– Go to England and analyze xenon isotopes in Lancaster???? Not sure if this is happening yet. Fingers crossed!

–  Synthesise data and write paper on fissionogenic isotopes in ancient groundwater.

– Go to a conference, be it AMS13 in France, GSA in Vancouver, etc….or maybe go to two.

– Get some writing done at the cottage this summer!!!! Very important.

– Staple all this crap together and turn it in.

– Defend! Oh god, I hope this one happens in 2014!

I am flip-flopping between the last two panels at the moment! (Source) – “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham.

Wish me luck, oh yeah, I have to do some blogging here and there as well. On that vein, I would love to have a few more guest posts, since as you can see I am going to be busy this coming year. So if you read this, and are interested in sharing your research, please contact me in the comments or on twitter and we can arrange something.