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Department of Earth Sciences


Dr Sanne Cottaar has been awarded the 2021 Royal Astronomical Society Harold Jeffreys Lectureship for outstanding geophysical research into processes in the Earth’s lower mantle and core.

The Royal Astronomical Society awards recognize scientists across the world for their significant achievement in the fields of astronomy and geophysics.

Dr Sanne Cottaar’s research investigates processes in the deep Earth, helping us understand the intriguing properties of the deep mantle and core. Sanne leads a group specialising in deep Earth seismology in the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge, which uses seismic methods to infer properties of anomalous zones in the lower mantle and core. Sanne helped produce an open-source toolkit for others to explore the thermoelastic behaviour of the Earth and other planets. Sanne received a European Research Council Starting Grant in 2019, and has already been awarded the 2015 Keiiti Aki Young Scientist award and the 2019 British Geophysical Association Bullerwell Lecture.

"I am honoured to receive a named lectureship from the Royal Astronomical Society, and especially one named after a Cambridge Geophysicist, Harold Jeffreys. Harold Jeffreys was instrumental in early studies on the structure and composition of the deep Earth and uncovering the first order nature of the boundary between the core and the mantle. My team continues to build on this work, but are now detecting strong heterogeneity on the core-mantle boundary on small lateral scales. Particularly, we are uncovering anomalous zones that are likely the roots to whole mantle plumes feeding into hotspots on the surface. We speculate these zones might be remnants from early Earth formation, or be spots where interaction with the core is possible. This work on the core-mantle boundary geology will be the focus of the lecture I will give at the National Astronomy Meeting this coming year" said Sanne Cottaar.

The awards also recognise outstanding contributions in public engagement and service to the astronomy and geophysics communities. An exhibition of Sanne’s work is currently on display at the Sedgwick Museum of Cambridge, and reproduced online. Sanne’s research group also worked with students from the Department and colleagues from the Sedgwick Museum to produce a series of teaching resources with the aim of promoting geoscience in schools.