This year, in a rare turn of events, the AGU Fall Meeting took place far away from the West coast of the USA. The Golden Gate Bridge and steep streets of San Francisco were replaced with alligator-filled swamps and Creole cottages.
Almost 200 years ago, the young Charles Darwin came up to Christ’s College to begin a comprehensive theological education. In what could be considered the most productive procrastination in history, he instead spent much of his time in Cambridge attending lectures in the natural sciences, under the mentorship of John Stevens Henslow and Adam Sedgwick. On the subsequent Beagle voyage, Darwin undertook botanic and zoological studies but, in light of his seminal contribution to evolutionary biology, history often forgets that he also produced a substantial body of geological research.
Today, Christ’s College celebrates the role that it played in Darwin’s early life by facilitating scientific research on the Galápagos Islands. I currently hold the Charles Darwin and Galápagos Islands Fund Junior Research Fellowship and it is testament to Darwin’s broad-ranging interests that I am a geologist.
Skaergaard is a classic example of a layered intrusion. It is a wonderful natural laboratory for geologists and highly photogenic, with its striking igneous layering. There is near 100% surface exposure as not much grows there; an advantage of its location at 68°N. We have just returned from a six week expedition, studying this fascinating intrusion.
In July 2017, I found myself on my first non-compulsory fieldtrip as an undergraduate, in a group of 5 with two academic staff members and two PhD students heading to the Isle of Rum in the Scottish Inner Hebrides. The trip had been planned initially for my Masters project, but with Rum such a famous geological locality, everyone had work they wanted to do there.
During February 2015, I was lucky enough to participate in a research cruise off the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. For five weeks our family of geologists, geophysicists, oceanographers and crew collected data, mainly seismic and cores, on the James Clark Ross research vessel.
Since 2006, Professor Bob White has been operating a seismic network in the centre of the Icelandic highlands in order to understand how melt is distributed beneath the crust and hence how the crust is built. The volcano chosen is Askja, a spectacular composite volcano with 3 impressive, nested calderas. It last erupted in 1961 but its most spectacular eruption was a phreato-plininan eruption in 1875 which caused a mass exodus from NE Iceland. However, this summer, during a routine trip to download the data from the instruments it was side-lined by volcanic activity nearby.
Part 1 – Tracking the First Colonizers of Land
The Sun was setting fast. Only about half an hour before it sunk beneath the horizon. But that was just perfect. For that’s when the Sun’s low, raking rays clipped the surface of Tumblagooda Sandstone, perched high above the Murchison River gorge in Western Australia. And there, running across the surface, like sets of miniature railway tracks, were three sets of parallel rows of little footprints made by multi-legged arthropods about 430 million years ago. Each trackway was as wide as my hand. One animal had followed another, then veered off to the left. Another, more faint set, had cut across them, moments later. Each trackway marked the activity of these animals for maybe just 20 seconds of their lives hundreds of millions of years ago.