skip to primary navigationskip to content

Recent news and blogs

A ‘wet’ Summer: Cambridge and Tenerife

By Nikki Sridhar from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Oct 08, 2019.

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: …

Women in STEM: Dr Helen Williams

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Oct 03, 2019.

My research has taken me all over the world. I have been lucky enough to work in remote places like Kohistan in northwest Pakistan, Tibet, Iceland and Greenland, collaborating with a wide spectrum of great people and experiencing many interesting cultures and places.

I use rocks as pieces of forensic evidence. They help me to understand how the chemistry of the Earth and other planets has evolved since their formation more than four billion years ago. I work on a range of problems, including trying to understand how the plate tectonic processes can help cycle elements like iron, carbon and sulfur between the Earth’s surface and deep interior. I am also trying to find evidence for the Earth’s earliest internal melting events in 3.7-billion-year-old rocks. My work involves analytical lab work and plasma mass spectrometry as well as sample collection and fieldwork. 

I’m an Earth Scientist with a very broad scientific background. I read Natural Sciences in Cambridge as an undergraduate and leaned towards the biological sciences initially. I took earth sciences to broaden my scientific horizons and found I loved it, so switched to this in my second year.  After my PhD, I held a series of postdoctoral research positions and fellowships in the UK and abroad. There are so many people in Cambridge who are enthusiastic and passionate about research and understanding the world around them, and I find this uplifting, motivating and intellectually stimulating. I feel this environment brings out the best in me.

I’ve always wanted to have a career where you have a sense of real discovery. I remember when I made my first major scientific discovery during my first postdoc position at ETH-Zurich. When I looked at the emerging data patterns, at first I didn’t believe what I was seeing, then I was so excited I felt almost physically sick. For me, these rare moments are worth the sacrifices (and there are many) that are needed for a career in academia. Another really exciting project involved carrying out experiments that simulated the conditions of the Earth’s lower mantle (about 720km below the Earth’s surface) and using isotope tracers to understand how reactions taking place in this part of the Earth could have governed the chemical evolution of the Earth’s surface, and made our planet habitable.

One of the best pieces of advice I was given was to turn every decision you make into the right one. If I were to offer any words of advice I would like them to be “don’t give up” -  but that is rather simplistic. Everyone feels like giving up at some point but, realistically, I think it’s a case of being proactive and making continued forward progress however tough you are finding things. It’s easy to get discouraged by situations or by comparing yourself to others. It’s also easy to find everything overwhelming - but a lot of small steps can take you where you want to be. I also feel it’s always important to ask advice and heed it, but ultimately you have to make your own decisions and stick with them. Occasionally you have to be prepared to take risks and sometimes you have to decide between difficult options. 

Dr Helen Williams is a Reader in Cambridge's Department of Earth Sciences and a Fellow of Jesus College. Here, she tells us about using rocks as pieces of forensic evidence, what it's like hundreds of kilometres below the Earth's surface, and why Cambridge brings out the best in her. 

Creative Commons License
The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

UKRI fellowship enables further research on the origins and evolution of birds

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Sep 20, 2019.

Announced today, Dr Field, University Lecturer in Evolutionary Palaeobiology, has been named a recipient of a Future Leaders Fellowship by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Dr Field is an expert on the origins and evolution of birds, and his award, entitled 'Modernisation, diversification, and domination: Macroevolutionary origins of living bird diversity', will fund his research for the next several years.

Mussels could 'tough out' climate change

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Aug 21, 2019.

Global environmental change is generally bad news for life on Earth. But the future may not be entirely doom and gloom. Cambridge biologist Luca Telesca and colleagues have conducted the first large-scale examination of natural variation in biomineralisation in ecologically and economically important Atlantic mussel species Mytilus edulis and M. trossulus within their natural habitats. Little is known about the processes, which allow species such as these to vary regionally. So the researchers tested the mussels ability to vary the production and composition of their calcareous shells which provides them with a resilience to the impacts of climate change in their shallow marine habitat.

Women in STEM: Fiona Iddon

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Aug 15, 2019.

My sisters and I were the first in our family to go to university so I was very excited to get the chance to study Geological Sciences at Leeds. I’ve always had an interest in the natural world, I loved physical Geography at school and everything just clicked when I studied Geology for A level. It’s such a broad subject, there is always something new to learn and explore, and the fieldwork in amazing, even if the weather is slightly damp!

Volcanology is definitely the coolest bit of geology. Volcanoes are such powerful natural phenomena and there is so much we still don’t know about them. The more we understand about them the better we can be prepared for future eruptions, and we can also help people harness their energy through geothermal exploration.

My fieldwork on the Main Ethiopian Rift was incredibly exciting. I went there several times to collect rock samples and make field observations. It’s such an amazing country. The landscape is awe-inspiring, the food is interesting, and the people so warm and friendly.

There is a strong volcanology community here, despite the clear lack of volcanoes in Cambridgeshire! This has allowed me to learn from lots of different people, experts in their own fields. The knowledge pool here is so diverse, from analogue experiments to gas geochemistry and volcano seismology. The name also carries weight in the international community, increasing interest in my work at conferences and fostering collaborations. Day to day I’m usually at my desk, crunching numbers and stressing over spreadsheets. As a volcanic geochemist, it is really important to collect high-quality chemical data and find interesting patterns. My thesis aims to improve understanding of where magma chambers are and how they behave in continental rifts.

My area of research is a great field to be part of. The Main Ethiopian Rift is part of the larger East African Rift, which is causing the horn of Africa to split away from the rest of the continent. This type of volcanism has not received much research attention, and a lack of literature can be challenging but new discoveries are so exciting. There are well over 50 volcanoes in Ethiopia, some of which have erupted in dramatic fashion and formed vast calderas in the past, and with the second-fastest growing economy in the world, the number of people and infrastructure near to them will increase. I have integrated my work with geophysics to improve volcanic monitoring efforts in the region and aid in geothermal exploration, an increasingly important energy source for Ethiopia.

The best day I’ve had so far was when I learned how to install geophysical equipment in Ethiopia. I’m a complete novice when it comes to geophysics so it was great to learn from an expert. The equipment is used for measuring the electrical conductivity of the Earth. The measurements we carried out can indicate the presence of magma in the Earth and have produced intriguing results that, along with my geochemical knowledge, I’m helping to interpret. It took a whole team of scientists and local people all morning to dig the holes and bury the equipment; there was a real sense of teamwork, even with the language barriers!

I’ve developed a real passion for making science accessible. This was prompted by my experiences as the assistant editor of a history of science book produced by Cambridge University Press. It showed me that there are viable and exciting careers outside of academia, and I am due to start a career in publishing this fall.

A friendly collaborative attitude goes a long way.  So many female scientists I have encountered feel the need to be tough and uber-competitive to survive in what they perceive as a ‘man's world’.  Be kind and stay true to yourself.

 

Fiona Iddon is a PhD student in the Department of Earth Sciences, where she studies volcanoes. Here, she tells us about making science accessible, being the first in her family to go to university, and working at the place where the horn of Africa is splitting away from the rest of the continent. 

Fiona Iddon at Mount St. Helens

Creative Commons License
The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

AI used to test evolution’s oldest mathematical model

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Aug 14, 2019.

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, the University of Essex, the Tokyo Institute of Technology and the Natural History Museum London used their machine learning algorithm to test whether butterfly species can co-evolve similar wing patterns for mutual benefit. This phenomenon, known as Müllerian mimicry, is considered evolutionary biology’s oldest mathematical model and was put forward less than two decades after Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.

The algorithm was trained to quantify variation between different subspecies of Heliconius butterflies, from subtle differences in the size, shape, number, position and colour of wing pattern features, to broad differences in major pattern groups.

This is the first fully automated, objective method to successfully measure overall visual similarity, which by extension can be used to test how species use wing pattern evolution as a means of protection. The results are reported in the journal Science Advances.

The researchers found that different butterfly species act both as model and as mimic, ‘borrowing’ features from each other and even generating new patterns.

“We can now apply AI in new fields to make discoveries which simply weren’t possible before,” said lead author Dr Jennifer Hoyal Cuthill from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences. “We wanted to test Müller’s theory in the real world: did these species converge on each other’s wing patterns and if so how much? We haven’t been able to test mimicry across this evolutionary system before because of the difficulty in quantifying how similar two butterflies are.”

Müllerian mimicry theory is named after German naturalist Fritz Müller, who first proposed the concept in 1878, less than two decades after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859. Müller’s theory proposed that species mimic each other for mutual benefit. This is also an important case study for the phenomenon of evolutionary convergence, in which the same features evolve again and again in different species.

For example, Müller’s theory predicts that two equally bad-tasting or toxic butterfly populations in the same location will come to resemble each other because both will benefit by ‘sharing’ the loss of some individuals to predators learning how bad they taste. This provides protection through cooperation and mutualism. It contrasts with Batesian mimicry, which proposes that harmless species mimic harmful ones to protect themselves.

Heliconius butterflies are well-known mimics, and are considered a classic example of Müllerian mimicry. They are widespread across tropical and sub-tropical areas in the Americas. There are more than 30 different recognisable pattern types within the two species that the study focused on, and each pattern type contains a pair of mimic subspecies.

However, since previous studies of wing patterns had to be done manually, it hadn’t been possible to do large-scale or in-depth analysis of how these butterflies are mimicking each other.

“Machine learning is allowing us to enter a new phenomic age, in which we are able to analyse biological phenotypes - what species actually look like - at a scale comparable to genomic data,” said Hoyal Cuthill, who also holds positions at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and University of Essex.

The researchers used more than 2,400 photographs of Heliconius butterflies from the collections of the Natural History Museum, representing 38 subspecies, to train their algorithm, called ‘ButterflyNet’.

ButterflyNet was trained to classify the photographs, first by subspecies, and then to quantify similarity between the various wing patterns and colours. It plotted the different images in a multidimensional space, with more similar butterflies closer together and less similar butterflies further apart.

“We found that these butterfly species borrow from each other, which validates Müller’s hypothesis of mutual co-evolution,” said Hoyal Cuthill. “In fact, the convergence is so strong that mimics from different species are more similar than members of the same species.”

The researchers also found that Müllerian mimicry can generate entirely new patterns by combining features from different lineages.

“Intuitively, you would expect that there would be fewer wing patterns where species are mimicking each other, but we see exactly the opposite, which has been an evolutionary mystery,” said Hoyal Cuthill. “Our analysis has shown that mutual co-evolution can actually increase the diversity of patterns that we see, explaining how evolutionary convergence can create new pattern feature combinations and add to biological diversity.

“By harnessing AI, we discovered a new mechanism by which mimicry can produce evolutionary novelty. Counterintuitively, mimicry itself can generate new patterns through the exchange of features between species which mimic each other. Thanks to AI, we are now able to quantify the remarkable diversity of life to make new scientific discoveries like this: it might open up whole new avenues of research in the natural world.”

Reference:
Jennifer F. Hoyal Cuthill et al. ‘Deep learning on butterfly phenotypes tests evolution’s oldest mathematical model.’ Science Advances (2019). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw4967

Researchers have used artificial intelligence to make new discoveries, and confirm old ones, about one of nature’s best-known mimics, opening up whole new directions of research in evolutionary biology.

We can now apply AI in new fields to make discoveries which simply weren’t possible before
Jennifer Hoyal Cuthill
Butterfly co-mimic pairs from the species Heliconius erato (odd columns) and Heliconius melpomene (even columns). Illustrated butterflies are sorted by greatest similarity (along rows, top left to bottom right)

Creative Commons License
The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

More Impressions from ‘not a geologist’ – the Part III Spain field trip 2018

By Sarah Humbert from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Jul 22, 2019.

The last field trip that our undergraduates take is the fourth year, Part III trip to Spain. Run in the break between Lent & Easter term the trip aims to gather all the aspects of the course and put them together as a cohesive whole. Other trips focus on specific research areas: e.g. Sedimentology and …

‘Crystal clocks’ used to time magma storage before volcanic eruptions

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Jul 18, 2019.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge used volcanic minerals known as ‘crystal clocks’ to calculate how long magma can be stored in the deepest parts of volcanic systems. This is the first estimate of magma storage times near the boundary of the Earth’s crust and the mantle, called the Moho. The results are reported in the journal Science.

“This is like geological detective work,” said Dr Euan Mutch from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, and the paper’s first author. “By studying what we see in the rocks to reconstruct what the eruption was like, we can also know what kind of conditions the magma is stored in, but it’s difficult to understand what’s happening in the deeper parts of volcanic systems.”

“Determining how long magma can be stored in the Earth’s crust can help improve models of the processes that trigger volcanic eruptions,” said co-author Dr John Maclennan, also from the Department of Earth Sciences. “The speed of magma rise and storage is tightly linked to the transfer of heat and chemicals in the crust of volcanic regions, which is important for geothermal power and the release of volcanic gases to the atmosphere.”

The researchers studied the Borgarhraun eruption of the Theistareykir volcano in northern Iceland, which occurred roughly 10,000 years ago, and was fed directly from the Moho. This boundary area plays an important role in the processing of melts as they travel from their source regions in the mantle towards the Earth’s surface. To calculate how long the magma was stored at this boundary area, the researchers used a volcanic mineral known as spinel like a tiny stopwatch or crystal clock.

Using the crystal clock method, the researchers were able to model how the composition of the spinel crystals changed over time while the magma was being stored. Specifically, they looked at the rates of diffusion of aluminium and chromium within the crystals and how these elements are ‘zoned’.

“Diffusion of elements works to get the crystal into chemical equilibrium with its surroundings,” said Maclennan. “If we know how fast they diffuse we can figure out how long the minerals were stored in the magma.”

The researchers looked at how aluminium and chromium were zoned in the crystals and realised that this pattern was telling them something exciting and new about magma storage time. The diffusion rates were estimated using the results of previous lab experiments. The researchers then used a new method, combining finite element modelling and Bayesian nested sampling to estimate the storage timescales.

“We now have really good estimates in terms of where the magma comes from in terms of depth,” said Mutch. “No one’s ever gotten this kind of timescale information from the deeper crust.”

Calculating the magma storage time also helped the researchers determine how magma can be transferred to the surface. Instead of the classical model of a volcano with a large magma chamber beneath, the researchers say that instead, it’s more like a volcanic ‘plumbing system’ extending through the crust with lots of small ‘spouts’ where magma can be quickly transferred to the surface.

A second paper by the same team, recently published in Nature Geoscience, found that that there is a link between the rate of ascent of the magma and the release of CO2, which has implications for volcano monitoring.

The researchers observed that enough CO2 was transferred from the magma into gas over the days before eruption to indicate that CO2 monitoring could be a useful way of spotting the precursors to eruptions in Iceland. Based on the same set of crystals from Borgarhraun, the researchers found that magma can rise from a chamber 20 kilometres deep to the surface in as little as four days.

The research was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

References:
Euan J.F. Mutch et al. ‘Millennial storage of near-Moho magma.’ Science (2019). DOI: 10.1126/science.aax4092

Euan J.F. Mutch et al. ‘Rapid transcrustal magma movement under Iceland.’ Nature Geoscience (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41561-019-0376-9

The molten rock that feeds volcanoes can be stored in the Earth’s crust for as long as a thousand years, a result which may help with volcanic hazard management and better forecasting of when eruptions might occur.

This is like geological detective work
Euan Mutch
Magma erupting at the Holuhraun lava field in August 2014

Creative Commons License
The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

Professor Richard Harrison appointed Head of Department

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Jul 18, 2019.

Richard Harrison (Fitzwilliam 1990), Professor of Earth and Planetary Materials and Fellow of St Catharine’s College, will take over as Head of Department on 1st August 2019.

Women in STEM: Victoria Honour

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Jun 20, 2019.

I have always loved the great outdoors and I was lucky enough to grow up on a working family farm. At my state school, I enjoyed science, but it all seemed a bit detached from the real world. Earth Sciences is great because it uses all the sciences to better understand our planet (and others!). I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Oxford in the Earth Sciences Department. I then spent a year doing an MSc in Mining Geology at the Camborne School of Mines in Cornwall, before coming to Cambridge for my PhD.

If you find something intriguing or want to ask questions about how something works, then you're a scientist. Science is about exploring new frontiers, finding out something brand new. Science doesn't care about your gender identity. So even if you don't know anyone like you, who has followed the career you want or taken the subject you want to study at A-level, it doesn't matter, follow what you love and help discover something new.

I am researching the physical behaviour of emulsions in porous media. While emulsions are widely studied in the petroleum industry, carbon sequestration and food science, my interest lies in how these liquids behave during the evolution of large bodies of molten rock trapped beneath the Earth's surface. As magmas cool and solidify in the Earth's crust, they can split into two immiscible liquids - one silica-rich and one iron-rich. The different physical properties of these liquids mean that they may separate from each other, comparable to vinegar mixed with oil. This has important implications for the chemical evolution of the magma and hence the development of related ore deposits and the style (explosivity) of volcanic eruptions.

I combine experiments, geochemistry and nanoscale imaging techniques to quantify the physical behaviour of emulsions in magma. By understanding how emulsions form and migrate, we can gain insight into ore deposit formation and location. The igneous petrology community in the Department of Earth Sciences is a world-leading group of scientists, and it is fantastic to have the opportunity to discuss ideas, hear about the latest petrology research and learn from such a group.

I have a number of very different projects, which makes every day rather different. Today I finished cutting up 84 rocks with a circular saw. I collected these on a six-week field trip to east Greenland last summer. I am processing these rocks to find out their chemistry and origin.

Last year I spent a couple of months at the University of Liege in Belgium, to conduct experiments that involved heating powdered rock to 1100 degrees Celsius and then 'freezing' it at different temperatures. In between trips away, I analyse different rock samples using lab equipment in the Department of Earth Sciences and then spend time processing the data using a variety of software. In Earth Sciences, we work with limited datasets, because you can't sample the whole planet, so we have to make interpretations from our data. The first time my work showed something new was a really exciting moment - I finally felt like a 'proper' scientist!

During fieldwork in east Greenland I camped 400 km away from civilisation.  I spent five weeks with five other scientists in a truly spectacular environment, with stunning iceberg-filled fjords, fantastic wildlife, dramatic mountains and glacial eroded rocks with no vegetation: perfect for geologists. It was a great experience, working in the field, making observations, discussing and refining hypotheses; a really nice collaborative approach to science!

Read more about Victoria and her research at her blog

Victoria Honour is a PhD candidate in the Department of Earth Sciences, who studies magma and emulsions. Emulsions are generally studied for making things like mayonnaise, ice cream, moisturiser or in the petroleum industry for petrol or diesel. But Victoria looks at them to see how molten rock (magma) solidifies when it’s trapped beneath the Earth’s surface. Here, she tells us about her research, camping in Greenland and volcanic eruptions. 

Creative Commons License
The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

Past climate change pushed birds from the northern hemisphere to the tropics

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Jun 10, 2019.

The researchers, from the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, applied climate and ecological modelling to illustrate how the distribution of major bird groups is linked to climate change over millions of years. However, while past climate change often occurred slowly enough to allow species to adapt or shift habitats, current rates of climate change may be too fast for many species, putting them at risk of extinction. The results are reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Palaeontologists have documented long-term links between climate and the geographic distributions of major bird groups, but the computer models needed to quantify this link had not been applied to this question until now,” said Dr Daniel Field from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, the paper’s co-lead author.

For the current study, the researchers looked at ten bird groups currently limited to the tropics, predominantly in areas that were once part of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana (Africa, South America and Australasia). However, early fossil representatives of each of these groups have been found on northern continents, well outside their current ranges.

For example, one such group, the turacos (‘banana eaters’) are fruit-eating birds which are only found in the forests and savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa, but fossils of an early turaco relative have been found in modern-day Wyoming, in the northern United States.

Today, Wyoming is much too cold for turacos for most of the year, but during the early Palaeogene period, which began with the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs 66 million years ago, the Earth was much warmer. Over time, global climates have cooled considerably, and the ancestors of modern turacos gradually shifted their range to more suitable areas.

“We modelled the habitable area for each group of birds and found that their estimated habitable ranges in the past were very different from their geographic distributions today, in all cases shifting towards the equator over geological time,” said Dr Erin Saupe from the University of Oxford, the paper’s other lead author.

Saupe, Field and their collaborators mapped information such as average temperature and rainfall and linked it to where each of the bird groups is found today. They used this climatic information to build an ‘ecological niche model’ to map suitable and unsuitable regions for each bird group. They then projected these ecological niche models onto palaeoclimate reconstructions to map potentially-suitable habitats over millions of years.

The researchers were able to predict the geographic occurrences of fossil representatives of these groups at different points in Earth’s history. These fossils provide direct evidence that these groups were formerly distributed in very different parts of the world to where they are presently found.

“We’ve illustrated the extent to which suitable climate has dictated where these groups of animals were in the past, and where they are now,” said Field. “Depending on the predictions of climate change forecasts, this approach may also allow us to estimate where they might end up in the future.”

“Many of these groups don’t contain a large number of living species, but each lineage represents millions of years of unique evolutionary history,” said Saupe. “In the past, climate change happened slowly enough that groups were able to track suitable habitats as these moved around the globe, but now that climate change is occurring at a much faster rate, it could lead to entire branches of the tree of life going extinct in the near future.”

The research was funded in part by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Reference:
Erin Saupe et al. ‘Climatic shifts drove major contractions in avian latitudinal distributions throughout the Cenozoic.’ PNAS (2019). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1903866116

A bold response to the world’s greatest challenge
The University of Cambridge is building on its existing research and launching an ambitious new environment and climate change initiative. Cambridge Zero is not just about developing greener technologies. It will harness the full power of the University’s research and policy expertise, developing solutions that work for our lives, our society and our biosphere.

Researchers have shown how millions of years of climate change affected the range and habitat of modern birds, suggesting that many groups of tropical birds may be relatively recent arrivals in their equatorial homes.

Climate has dictated where these groups of animals were in the past, and where they are now
Daniel Field
L-R: Knysna Turaco, Great Blue Turaco, Knysna Turaco

Creative Commons License
The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

Perched for take-off

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Apr 02, 2019.

Perching birds, ranging from sparrows, tits and jays to the South African White-bellied Sunbird, form the largest and most diverse group of living birds. With over 6,000 species belonging to 143 families, the passerines, as they are technically known, have had astonishing evolutionary and geographical success. Within the last 45 million years they have spread out around the world. Now, for the first time the evolutionary tree of all major groups of perching birds has been mapped out in a study involving Daniel Field of the Department of Earth Sciences in Cambridge and led by Carl Oliveros and Brant Faircloth of Louisiana State University.

Geological Society awards for Cambridge researchers

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Mar 04, 2019.

Congratulations to Professor Marian Holness, Dr Nigel Woodcock and Dr Brendan McCormick Kilbride who each received awards from the Geological Society of London. The awards were presented on President's Day on 6 June 2019.

Historic Quito-Galápagos Alumni trip

By Sally Gibson from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Feb 27, 2019.

The joint Cambridge-Oxford Universities Alumni trip to Historic Quito and Galápagos in September 2018 was the first time I’ve acted as a Trip Scholar. From the outset, I was intrigued as to who would be in the group and how the dynamics would work. I could not have been more pleased with the way things …

Using AI to avert ‘environmental catastrophe’

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Feb 21, 2019.

Funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Centre for Doctoral Training in Application of Artificial Intelligence to the study of Environmental Risks (AI4ER) is one of 16 new Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) announced today. The Cambridge Centre will be led by Professor Simon Redfern, Head of the Department of Earth Sciences.

Climate risk, environmental change and environmental hazards pose some of the most significant threats we face in the 21st century. At the same time, we have increasingly larger datasets available to observe the planet, from the atomic scale all the way through to global satellite observations.

“These datasets represent a transformation in the way we can study and understand the Earth and environment, as we assess and find solutions to environmental risk,” said Redfern. “Such huge datasets pose their own challenges, however, and new methods need to be developed to tap their potential and to use this information to guide our path away from environmental catastrophe.”

The new Centre brings computer scientists, mathematicians and engineers together with environmental and geoscientists to train the next generation of thought leaders in environmental data science. They will be equipped to apply AI to ever-increasing environmental data and understand and address the risks we face.

At the same time as human-induced climate change becomes increasingly apparent, urbanisation and the growth of megacities generate other risks, as society becomes potentially more fragile and vulnerable to geohazards such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods and tsunamis. Alongside satellite data, autonomous sensors, drones, and networks of instruments provide increasingly detailed information about such risks and their potential impacts.

Examples of the projects we are already engaged in that apply AI methods to exploring environmental risk include the use of satellite observations to chart the distribution and pathways of whales through the oceans, large datasets to understand biodiversity changes in woodland habitats, machine learning to understand earthquake risk and the use of drones to monitor hazards at active volcanos.

Cambridge is a world leader in artificial intelligence and machine learning research, and many of our AI researchers work alongside world leaders in environmental monitoring and modelling, including from the British Antarctic Survey and elsewhere at the University.

The new centre combines this work with the interests of dozens of external partners including Microsoft, DeepMind, The European Development Bank, Friends of the Earth, the European Space Agency, the Environment Agency, resource industry leaders and policy partners, to form an outstanding alliance focused on leading the next generation of environmental data science forward.

The first cohort of PhD students will start their studies in October 2019.

The new Centre is part of an overall £200 million funding announcement, which will support more than 1000 new research and business leaders in AI across the UK.

“Artificial intelligence has great potential to drive up productivity and enhance every industry throughout our economy, from more effective disease diagnosis to building smart homes,” said Business Secretary Greg Clark. “Today’s announcement is our modern Industrial Strategy in action, investing in skills and talent to drive high skilled jobs, growth and productivity across the UK.”

“The UK is not only the birthplace to the father of artificial intelligence, Alan Turing, but we are leading the way on work to ensure AI innovation has ethics at its core,” said Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright. “We want to keep up this momentum and cement our reputation as pioneers in AI.  Working with world-class academic institutions and industry we will be able to train the next generation of top-tier AI talent and maintain the UK’s reputation as a trailblazer in emerging technologies.”

A new Centre at the University of Cambridge will develop artificial intelligence techniques to help address some of the biggest threats facing the planet. 

These datasets represent a transformation in the way we can study and understand the Earth and environment, as we assess and find solutions to environmental risk
Simon Redfern
Hurricane

Creative Commons License
The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

Magnetic properties of meteorite ‘cloudy zones’ revealed

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Feb 12, 2019.

Tales from Bear Island: a month of Arctic fieldwork (or, four weeks without a phone)

By Sean Herron from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Feb 05, 2019.

In August 2018 I was lucky enough to join a CASP expedition to Bear Island, in the Norwegian High Arctic, as a field assistant and as part of my Part III project. My journey to the arctic began as so many do, in Heathrow airport. We unloaded the minivan-sized taxi required to get all our …

‘Magnetic graphene’ switches between insulator and conductor

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Feb 01, 2019.

The international team of researchers, led by the University of Cambridge, say that their results, reported in the journal Physical Review Letters, will aid in understanding the dynamic relationship between the electronic and structural properties of the material, sometimes referred to as ‘magnetic graphene’, and may represent a new way to produce two-dimensional materials.

Magnetic graphene, or iron trithiohypophosphate (FePS3), is from a family of materials known as van der Waals materials, and was first synthesised in the 1960s. In the past decade however, researchers have started looking at FePS3 with fresh eyes. Similar to graphene – a two-dimensional form of carbon – FePS3 can be ‘exfoliated’ into ultra-thin layers. Unlike graphene however, FePS3 is magnetic.

The expression for electrons’ intrinsic source of magnetism is known as ‘spin’. Spin makes electrons behave a bit like tiny bar magnets and point a certain way. Magnetism from the arrangement of electron spins is used in most memory devices, and is important for developing new technologies such as spintronics, which could transform the way in which computers process information.

Despite graphene’s extraordinary strength and conductivity, the fact that it is not magnetic limits its application in areas such as magnetic storage and spintronics, and so researchers have been searching for magnetic materials which could be incorporated with graphene-based devices.

For their study, the Cambridge researchers squashed layers of FePS3 together under high pressure (about 10 Gigapascals), they found that it switched between an insulator and conductor, a phenomenon known as a Mott transition. The conductivity could also be tuned by changing the pressure.

These materials are characterised by weak mechanical forces between the planes of their crystal structure. Under pressure, the planes are pressed together, gradually and controllable pushing the system from three to two dimensions, and from insulator to metal.

The researchers also found that even in two dimensions, the material retained its magnetism. “Magnetism in two dimensions is almost against the laws of physics due to the destabilising effect of fluctuations, but in this material, it seems to be true,” said Dr Sebastian Haines from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences and Department of Physics, and the paper’s first author.

The materials are inexpensive, non-toxic and easy to synthesise, and with further research, could be incorporated into graphene-based devices.

“We are continuing to study these materials in order to build a solid theoretical understanding of their properties,” said Haines. “This understanding will eventually underpin the engineering of devices, but we need good experimental clues in order to give the theory a good starting point. Our work points to an exciting direction for producing two-dimensional materials with tuneable and conjoined electrical, magnetic and electronic properties.”

The research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Reference:
C.R.S. Haines et al. ‘Pressure-Induced Electronic and Structural Phase Evolution in the van der Waals Compound FePS3.’ Physical Review Letters (2018). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.121.266801

Researchers have found that certain ultra-thin magnetic materials can switch from insulator to conductor under high pressure, a phenomenon that could be used in the development of next-generation electronics and memory storage devices.

Magnetism in two dimensions is almost against the laws of physics, but in this material, it seems to be true
Seb Haines

Creative Commons License
The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

Interning at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences

By Anna Prescott from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Jan 31, 2019.

Over the summer, I was fortunate enough to complete a research internship at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS), known by locals as the ‘Biological Station’. I was therefore off to a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for two months to research the effects of climate change and swim with …

Research shows what it takes to be a giant shark

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Jan 24, 2019.

Have you ever wondered why the Megalodon shark became to be so big? Or wondered why some other sharks are much smaller?

Cambridge team reach bedrock to complete Antarctic ice core

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Jan 09, 2019.

WACSWAIN Drill Log: ice core complete!

By Eric Wolff from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Jan 08, 2019.

The aim of our fieldwork in Antarctica is to retrieve an ice core reaching through the entire depth of the ice cap on Skytrain Ice Rise, to obtain ice extending at least 130,000 years back in time. Last night, on Tuesday 7 January, we succeeded. The feeling of elation is all around me, with all …

WACSWAIN Drill Log: Christmas in Antarctica

By Eric Wolff from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Dec 31, 2018.

We’ve now been at Skytrain Ice Rise in Antarctica for about 6 weeks. In previous blogs, I have written about the life in camp and the drilling. Now, just after Christmas, it’s time to take stock of what we have achieved, and what we are aiming to do. The target is to drill an ice …

‘Treasure trove’ of dinosaur footprints found in southern England

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Dec 17, 2018.

More than 85 well-preserved dinosaur footprints – made by at least seven different species – have been uncovered in East Sussex, representing the most diverse and detailed collection of these trace fossils from the Cretaceous Period found in the UK to date. Click here to find out more. 

Two large iguanodontian footprints with skin and claw impressions

Creative Commons License
The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

WACSWAIN Drill Log: ice core drilling begins

By Eric Wolff from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Dec 10, 2018.

In order to achieve our goal of retrieving ice that is 130,000 years old, we need to drill a core to the bottom of the ice cap we’re camping on, through about 620 m of ice. All the work so far has been preparation for drilling, so what does the drilling actually involve? The end …

Liz Hide appointed as first full-time Director of the Sedgwick Museum

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Nov 28, 2018.

The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, the oldest of the University of Cambridge museums, has appointed its first full-time director.

WACSWAIN Drill Log: making camp in the Antarctic

By Eric Wolff from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Nov 26, 2018.

In my last blog I wrote about all the expertise needed to get us into the field. Well finally eight of us, including me, have reached Skytrain Ice Rise, and are experiencing all the steps needed before we can drill an ice core. Field leader Robert and field guide Caspar were the first to arrive, …

W.B.R. King – the Cambridge geologist who went to war

By Douglas Palmer from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Nov 11, 2018.

William Bernard Robinson King was awarded the Military Cross for bravery with the British Expeditionary Force before being evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940. He was a Cambridge graduate and World War I veteran who pioneered the use of geological expertise in the theatre of war. King went on to become the 11th Woodwardian Professor of …

WACSWAIN Drill Log: preparing for fieldwork

By Eric Wolff from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Nov 08, 2018.

Most of us assume that the key skills for our research are academic ones. But preparing for our field season in Antarctica for the WACSWAIN project, it’s obvious just how many other skills and attributes are needed, and how we rely on our non-academic support staff. Nine of us are now waiting at Rothera research …

Research on ice – introducing the WACSWAIN project

By Eric Wolff from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Oct 26, 2018.

Four Cambridge Earth Scientists are about to travel to Antarctica for three months, where they will turn to the past to assess the risks to the future of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Project leader Professor Eric Wolff explains the aims and importance of their research. Many large cities, and all those who get their …

Scanning Ediacaran fossils in Newfoundland

By Sasha Dennis from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Oct 24, 2018.

In September, I spent three weeks in Newfoundland, Canada working on world class Ediacaran fossil surfaces with Emily Mitchell, Charlotte Kenchington and Lucy Roberts. After eight hours of travelling, our bright red truck full of precision equipment, people and food arrived in the town of Portugal Cove South. We settled into ‘The Green House’, where …

Taking to the skies: measuring volcanic gas emissions using drones

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Oct 17, 2018.

Many of the world’s most hazardous volcanoes are either too remote or too active to make measurements safely from the ground. Cambridge Earth Scientists are now taking to the skies to investigate the gases being released by these elusive volcanoes.

Dragon watching: unlocking mysteries of lizard movement

By Luke Grinham from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Oct 05, 2018.

Evolutionary biomechanist and NERC DTP PhD student Luke Grinham’s research focuses on the evolutionary transition from a quadrupedal style of movement to a bipedal one in reptiles. I tend to take two different but complimentary approaches to answering my research questions: observations and interpretations of fossil material, and musculoskeletal anatomy and biomechanics of living reptiles. …

Metals mark magma for life

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Sep 03, 2018.

Gases erupted by volcanoes contain various volatile metal products. New research by Marie Edmonds and Emma Liu in Cambridge and Tamsin Mather in Oxford has discovered that different kinds of volcanoes have distinctive metal ‘signatures’, which reflect differences in how their magma forms.

Size matters: if you are a bubble of volcanic gas

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Aug 06, 2018.

A team of scientists, including a volcanologist and mathematician from the University of Cambridge, discovered the phenomenon through detailed observations of gas emissions from Kīlauea volcano in Hawaii.

At many volcanoes around the world, gas emissions are monitored routinely to help with forecasting eruptions. Changes in the output or proportions of different gases - such as carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide – can herald shifts in the activity of a volcano. Volcanologists have considered that these chemical changes reflect the rise and fall of magma in the Earth’s crust but the new research reveals that the composition of volcanic gases depends also on the size of the gas bubbles rising up to the surface.

Until the latest spectacular eruption opened up fissures on the flank of the volcano, Kīlauea held a vast lava lake in its summit crater. The behaviour of this lava lake alternated between phases of fiery ‘spattering’ powered by large gas bubbles bursting through the magma, and more gentle gas release, accompanied by slow and steady motion of the lava.

In the past, volcanic gases have been sampled directly from steaming vents and openings called fumaroles. But this is not possible for the emissions from a lava lake, 200 metres across, and at the bottom of a steep-sided crater. Instead, the team used an infrared spectrometer, which is employed for routine volcano monitoring by co-authors of the study, Jeff Sutton and Tamar Elias from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (US Geological Survey).

The device was located on the edge of the crater, pointed at the lava lake, and recorded gas compositions in the atmosphere every few seconds. The emissions of carbon- and sulphur-bearing gases were measured during both the vigorous and mild phases of activity.

Each individual measurement was used to compute the temperature of the volcanic gas. What immediately struck the scientists was that the gas temperatures ranged from 1150 degrees Celsius – the temperature of the lava – down to around 900 degrees Celsius. “At this temperature, the lava would freeze,” said lead author Dr Clive Oppenheimer, from Cambridge’s Department of Geography. “At first, we couldn’t understand how the gases could emerge much colder than the molten lava sloshing in the lake.”

The clue to this puzzle came from the variation in calculated gas temperatures – they were high when the lava lake was placid, and low when it was bubbling furiously. “We realised it could be because of the size of the gas bubbles,” said co-author Professor Andy Woods, Director of Cambridge’s BP Institute. “Larger bubbles rise faster through the magma and expand rapidly as the pressure reduces, just like bubbles rising in a glass of fizzy drink; the gas cools down because of the expansion.” Larger bubbles form when smaller bubbles bump into each other and merge. 

Woods and Oppenheimer developed a mathematical model to account for the process, which showed a very good fit with the observations.

But there was yet another surprising finding from the gas observations from Hawaii. As well as being cooler, the emissions from the large gas bubbles were more oxidised than expected – they had higher proportions of carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide.

The chemical balance of volcanic gases such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide (or sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide) is generally thought to be controlled by the chemistry of the surrounding liquid magma but what the new findings showed is that when bubbles get large enough, most of the gas inside follows its own chemical pathway as the gas cools.

The ratio of carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide when the lava lake was in its most energetic state was six times higher than during the most stable phase. The scientists suggest this effect should be taken into account when gas measurements are being used to forecast major changes in volcanic activity.

“Gas measurements are critical to our monitoring and hazard assessment; refining our understanding of how magma behaves beneath the volcano allows us to better interpret our observations,” said co-author Tamar Elias from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

And there is another implication of this discovery – not for eruptions today but for the evolution of the Earth’s atmosphere billions of years ago. “Volcanic emissions in Earth’s deep past may have made the atmosphere more oxidising than we thought,” said co-author Bruno Scaillet. “A more oxygen-rich atmosphere would have facilitated the emergence and viability of life on land, by generating an ozone layer, which shields against harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun.”

Reference:
Clive Oppenheimer et al “Influence of eruptive style on volcanic gas emission chemistry and temperature” Nature Geoscience (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41561-018-0194-5

​Inset image: Clive Oppenheimer in Hawaii. Credit: Clive Oppenheimer

 

The chemical composition of gases emitted from volcanoes – which are used to monitor changes in volcanic activity – can change depending on the size of gas bubbles rising to the surface, and relate to the way in which they erupt. The results, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, could be used to improve the forecasting of threats posed by certain volcanoes. 

At first, we couldn’t understand how the gases could emerge much colder than the molten lava sloshing in the lake.
Clive Oppenheimer
Kīlauea eruption, 2018

Creative Commons License
The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

Back to school: introducing GCSE geographers to the geology of Dorset

By Carrie Soderman from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Jul 30, 2018.

In June, after the mad rush of exams and vivas, I found myself back at my secondary school in Birmingham, boarding a coach with some of my old geography teachers and over 60 Year 10 students. I had been asked to come along to highlight some of the amazing geology on show along the Jurassic …

Lessons about a future warmer world using data from the past

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Jun 25, 2018.

Selected intervals in the past that were as warm or warmer than today can help us understand what the Earth may be like under future global warming. A latest assessment of past warm periods, by an international team of 59 scientists from 17 nations including Cambridge Earth Sciences' Professor Eric Wolff, shows that in response to the warming ecosystems and climate zones will spatially shift and on millennial time scales ice sheets will substantially shrink.

Dating the emplacement of the Shap granite using zircon

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Jun 07, 2018.

G5a - the distinctive coarse-grained, pink granite exposed at Shap in Cumbria - has long been a favourite igneous hand specimen for Earth Sciences teaching in Cambridge. New research uses the age of zircon crystal formation to suggest a long gestation period in the mid-crust before its final emplacement 405 million years ago.

Sedgwick’s paper time machines

By Guest from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Jun 06, 2018.

21 May 2018 marked two hundred years since Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873) became the Woodwardian Professor of Geology in Cambridge. Staff at the Sedgwick Museum have organised events and displays to celebrate this special anniversary. In this blog we look at the Archive – beginning with Sedgwick’s early journals. There are more than 60 journals and …

L'Oréal UNESCO For Women in Science award for Dr Emma Liu

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Jun 04, 2018.

Congratulations to Dr Emma Liu, Leverhulme Research Fellow in Volcanology, who has been awarded a 2018 L’Oreal UNESCO For Women In Science fellowship to support her postdoctoral research.

Major shift in marine life occurred 33 million years later in the South

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on May 17, 2018.

A new study of marine fossils from Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand and South America reveals that one of the greatest changes to the evolution of life in our oceans occurred more recently in the Southern Hemisphere than previously thought.

Deploying nBOSS: the North Borneo Orogeny Seismic Survey

By Guest from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on May 04, 2018.

Bye bye “Beast from the East”. We couldn’t have chosen a better time (and location!) for some fieldwork as we left behind an extreme cold snap that froze the UK and dumped fresh snow on Cambridge. In March a team of seismologists from the University of Cambridge and University of Aberdeen boarded a plane for …

A musical, an opera and stand-up comedy: sharing Earth Sciences with the public

By Matthew Kemp from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Apr 27, 2018.

Making science – with all its complexities, uncertainties and nuances – palatable for the general public presents many challenges, and what better place to try this out than the Cambridge Science Festival. As a Research Assistant at the Department of Earth Sciences, I communicate science all the time. Whether discussing my work with colleagues, writing …

Cambridge Earth Sciences once again top amongst UK geology departments in the Complete University Guide

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Apr 25, 2018.

The Department is delighted to be placed first amongst UK geology departments once again.

1000 km down: seismologists probe the mid-mantle

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Apr 24, 2018.

Many questions remain unanswered about the mid-mantle, 600 to 1200 km below Earth’s surface. Does this layer decouple convection between the upper and lower mantle? How are processes here linked to plate tectonics and volcanism? Cambridge Earth Scientists are using seismic constraints to determine the compositional heterogeneity in the mid-mantle. They hope to identify processes which could obstruct or divert convection 1000 km down.

Brachiopods prove tougher than previously thought

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Apr 18, 2018.

A remarkable 120-year record of resilience to environmental change in the world’s oceans has been uncovered within a group of marine organisms called brachiopods. Although they are not well known today, brachiopods have had considerable importance in the evolution of seabed life.

Hot, warm or cold?: new insight into how columnar jointing forms

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Apr 13, 2018.

A new study by researchers at the University of Liverpool, with contributions from Cambridge Earth Sciences PhD student Fiona Iddon, has identified the temperature at which cooling magma cracks to form geometric columns such as those found at the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland.

Two billion year old salt rock reveals rise of oxygen in ancient atmosphere

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Apr 12, 2018.

A two billion year old chunk of sea salt provides new evidence for the transformation of Earth's atmosphere into an oxygenated environment capable of supporting life as we know it.

A day in the field: geological mapping of Northern Baffin Island

By Owen Weller from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Apr 10, 2018.

The Archean Eon (4–2.5 billion years ago) is one of the last great frontiers in our knowledge of the Earth. Plate tectonics is considered to have initiated during this time period, and large volumes of the continental crust formed, but fundamental questions remain regarding the timing, mechanisms and drivers of these transitions. Central to these …

Behind the scenes at the Sedgwick Club Conference

By Sean Herron from Cambridge Earth Sciences blog. Published on Mar 29, 2018.

It began with coffee. Like so many things in life, the Sedgwick Club Conference 2018 started with a healthy dose of caffeine. The doors to the Cambridge Earth Sciences department were nearly ready to be opened and the masses allowed to flood in for the annual speakers’ event. All that was left to do was …

Observing deep carbon with an Icelandic volcano

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Mar 23, 2018.

An important new chemical dataset from the basalt lavas of the Icelandic Borgarhraun volcano is helping Cambridge Earth Scientists John Maclennan and Dan McKenzie with colleagues from the US and Iceland estimate the carbon dioxide content of Earth’s mantle. Borgarhraun is one of the few places in the world from where it is possible to probe the mantle CO2. This new data, published in the latest issue of Geology will improve understanding of the link between volcanism and long-term climate change.

Evolution of land plants transformed sedimentation on Earth

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Mar 01, 2018.

The vegetation of our planet irrevocably changed surface processes on Earth. New research suggests the evolution of land plants in the Ordovician caused an increase in the volume of mud preserved on the continents. This marked a change in global sedimentation, with implications for the study of sedimentary processes on our planet and beyond.

Investigating the warm climate stability of the West Antarctic ice sheet

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Feb 19, 2018.

Recent modelling studies predict that anthropogenic warming could lead to the loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) in the next few centuries, and a big rise in sea level.

Blue mussel shape is a powerful indicator of environmental change

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Feb 12, 2018.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge and British Antarctic Survey have developed a new method to identify natural patterns of shell shape variation in common blue mussels.

Pteropods tougher than thought

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Jan 29, 2018.

Elegant little sea butterflies, more technically known as pteropods, are important members of the marine ecosystem because they are so abundant and are a food source for other marine organisms, especially whales.

RAS Gold Medal for Professor Robert White

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Jan 22, 2018.

Congratulations to Robert (Bob) White, Professor of Geophysics and Fellow of St Edmund’s College, who has been awarded the Royal Astronomical Society's Gold Medal for a lifetime of distinguished achievement in solid Earth geophysics.

The beginnings of communal life – 565 million years ago

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Jan 18, 2018.

Ancient rock strata exposed within the World Heritage Site of Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve, Newfoundland, record one of Life's very first communities of seabed dwelling macro-organisms. Known as the Ediacaran biota, it is around 565 million years old.

Going underground: Cambridge digs into the history of geology with landmark exhibition

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Dec 20, 2017.

A box full of diamonds, volcanic rock from Mount Vesuvius, and the geology guide that Darwin packed for his epic voyage on the Beagle are on display at the Cambridge University Library as part of the first major exhibition to celebrate geological map-making.

Enhancing the growth of plants on inhospitable land using a biological fertiliser

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Nov 20, 2017.

A simple mixture of organic waste, such as chicken manure and zeolite, a porous volcanic mineral, has been developed into a powerful bio-fertiliser which can also reclaim semi-arid and contaminated land.

Collaborating on carbon capture and storage

From Department of Earth Sciences. Published on Oct 25, 2017.

Cambridge Earth Sciences is part of a global project researching new sites for carbon capture and storage (CCS), supported by leading multinational minerals and energy company BHP.