What are you researching: In my research, I use the seismic waves generated by earthquakes to image the Earth’s interior. These waves travel through different parts of the Earth with different speeds, and that speed is related to the physical properties of the material such as its temperature and composition. My project focuses on imaging structures in the region of the core-mantle boundary, about 2800 km below the surface. In this region, seismologists have found continent-scale piles of material that are seismically slow compared to the surroundings. It’s not clear at the moment what the nature of these ‘large low velocity provinces’ is, but they are thought to play an important role in mantle convection and the thermal and chemical evolution of the Earth. They have been linked to surface hot-spot volcanism and the existence of large igneous provinces (where large amounts of magma have been generated in a relatively short period of time). This suggests that they are thermal structures, which could be giant mantle plumes or plume clusters. Alternatively, LLSVPs might be hot but dense, sitting at the bottom of the mantle and being heated by the core. Understanding the processes occurring deep within the Earth is crucial to gaining a complete picture of how our planet works, and the surface that we observe.
Academic background: I studied Physics as an undergraduate and Masters student at Cambridge. In my fourth year I became interested in geophysics, and chose to do my Masters project on the seismic structure of the inner core.
What is your motivation: I’ve always been interested in the processes that create the natural landscape, and studying geophysics gives me the opportunity to apply the Physics that I learnt at an undergraduate level to the Earth. There is much to discover about the deep mantle, and I think that this makes it an exciting topic for a PhD.
The best moment of the PhD so far: One of the best things about my PhD so far has been learning to use new software to process my data. It’s also been exciting to have a first look at my data and think of explanations for interesting features of the seismograms.
The worst moment of the PhD so far: The worst moment was accidentally deleting a directory that I needed using the bash rm command – ironically I was trying to back it up at the time!