Active tectonics and geohazards
Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat. Photo courtesy: Paul Cole

Active tectonics, earthquake hazards and risk

Geological studies of earthquake faults provide important information for societal assessments of seismic hazard and risk, as well as contributing insights into the rates and pattern of present-day and recent geodynamics. This field of 'earthquake geology' is wide ranging, but here at Plymouth it involves identifying signs of seismic damage in the cultural record (archaeoseismology), indications of fault movements from the geomorphological record (tectonic geomorphology), using shorelines and relative sea-level changes to track crustal deformation (coastal tectonics) and a range of methods to investigate the growth of topography in mountainous regions (palaeoaltimetry). Fieldwork has been carried out mainly in the seismically active Mediterranean region, principally in Greece, Turkey, southern Italy, Spain and Morocco.

Magmatism and volcanism

Research involves investigation of volcanic processes, magmatic systems as well as those associated with the mantle. Explosive volcanism and the hazards associated with volcanic activity including pyroclastic density currents, fallout and reworked tephra such as lahars and the communication of information relating to them is a vibrant area of research in the centre. Other areas of research focus on the process of mantle melting via the study of mantle rocks in ophiolites, isotope analysis of mantle-derived Osmium-bearing minerals in river and beach sands, and petrological studies of primary mantle magmas such as picrites and lamprophyres. A new field of growing research is the use of state-of-the-art superfast automated mineralogy using scanning electron microscopy to provide quantitative characterizations of mineral concentrates, including rare earth element-bearing minerals and kimberlite indicator minerals and xenocrysts.

Geo-risk and geo-communication

Communicating geoscientific information to those stakeholders that can use it for wise environmental decision-making is emerging as a critical but thorny issue in many aspects of applied geoscience, not least in areas relating to novel and controversial geo-technologies. Contemporary debates over energy or resources, or threats from climate change or natural hazards, require highly technical subjects to be effectively conveyed to everyone from policy makers to the general public. Current research focuses on how non-specialist audiences make sense of geoscientific information (‘geo-cognition’) and how we can better engage communities in contested geoscience problems (geothermal energy, carbon capture and storage, and seismic risk). The research is highly interdisciplinary, with current projects collaborating with experts from psychology, sociology, anthropology and human geography in the burgeoning field of ‘social geoscience’.