Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards
Organisation: University of Southampton
Dates: Jan 2015-Dec 2019
Summary: My research is focused in three areas: how continents break apart; the origin and future fate of methane gas stored beneath the seabed in an ice-like substance called hydrate; and how volcanoes work. I address these questions by probing the outer parts of the Earth’s interior with sound and electromagnetic waves. The outer shell of our planet is broken up into plates which move around slowly. Over millions of years, continents separate and coalesce, leading to the formation of new oceans or the destruction of old ones. Before continents separate there is normally a long period of stretching and thinning of the crust. In some places, the crust is ultimately removed entirely and the mantle is exposed at the seabed. I study how this thinning and mantle exposure comes about. Methane hydrate is widespread in the pore spaces of the sediments overlying the margins of continents. It is a potential future energy resource, but also represents a potentially dangerous climate feedback agent, because hydrates can be destabilised by ocean warming and the methane thus released is a potent greenhouse gas. I investigate how much methane is present and use computer models to predict what will happen to it in the future. Sound waves are particularly sensitive to the presence of molten rock inside the Earth, and I also use them to investigate how and where molten rock is stored beneath active volcanoes.