Research in Lockdown: Fieldwork Disrupted

Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Java; image credit: NationalGeographic/Manamana

My PhD concerns a longstanding question—how do valuable metals move through volcanic systems? Since starting my PhD in September 2018, I’ve been looking forward to testing my hypotheses on this topic in the field, on a six-week expedition called the Metals in Magmas field campaign. Like many Earth scientists, I spent months planning the project’s logistical and technical details. But, two weeks before the fieldwork was set to begin, the outbreak of the current global pandemic stopped the project in its tracks. My plans are now on hold and my PhD can’t continue as originally billed. In this blog post, I hope to share my perspective on the impact of COVID-19 on my PhD research.

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Imaging of North-Sulawesi subduction in the Celebes Sea

How does subduction start? The answer to this question remains enigmatic and controversial. The process of subduction, which drives global plate tectonics and helps to shape the Earth as we know it, began as early as 4.1 Ga, but how the first subduction zone initiated remains unknown. Some have argued that the plate tectonic cycle was kick-started by spontaneous subduction at passive continental margins, yet such a phenomenon has thus far not been observed in a modern plate tectonic setting. Consequently, scientists have a very limited understanding of what mechanisms may initiate spontaneous subduction.

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A ‘wet’ Summer: Cambridge and Tenerife

This summer I was lucky enough to complete an internship in Environmental Consultancy with Mott MacDonald followed by a Hydrology Field Training Programme run by GeoTenerife. As a geologist, it can be hard to see how an Earth Sciences degree can be directly used outside of academia or the traditional field of Oil and Gas: the internship and training programme seemed a good way to explore alternative options.

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