Position: PhD Student
Research School of Earth Sciences
Australian National University
Area of study: Paleoclimatology (The study of past climates)
Project: Pleistocene Climate & Volcanism in the Indonesian Archipelago as recorded in the speleothem climatic archive.
What does that mean?
I study speleothems, they’re cave deposits such as stalagmites, stalactites and flowstones. Actually, stalactites are pretty rubbish at recording climate and would be a real pain to collect from the ceiling, so I mainly work on stalagmites, the ones that grow up.
Each layer of a stalagmite builds up as it precipitates out of ground water, each falling drop contributing to a tiny layer of calcium carbonate. Each layer of this calcium carbonate also contains lots of different elements, which vary as the conditions in and out of the cave change. Using fancy machines with flashing lights and bits that go beep (or a mass spectrometer as serious scientists like to call them) I can analyse this changing chemical composition through each layer, therefore telling me what conditions were like in and above the cave when that layer formed. Simple eh!
My stalagmites are from the island of Flores in Indonesia, and they date to between 10,000 and 50,000 years old. My work focuses mainly on working out what was happening to the vegetation above the cave, what was happening to the monsoonal rainfall, and also checking to see when there were any big volcanic eruptions going on.
How did I get here?
Urm, I used to really like Dinosaurs! And volcanoes, and earthquakes and hurricanes and all sorts of natural disasters and planets and space – the kinds of things that all young boys around seven enjoy. Then I forgot about them. Years later I found myself studying Geography and a few sciences and maths at school and wondering what degree I should be taking. I almost went with Physics. Then I found Geology, it was everything I liked about Geography, and everything I was good at (science), plus it had all those things I used to really like in it too.
So I did a degree in Geology at Oxford in the UK. After three years I was ready to get out, bored of studying. But I did my fourth year and found myself accidentally doing a climate related project, doing real science and real research in a lab. It was so much fun I decided to carry on. I checked out a few places, concluding that going abroad would be fun. Thanks to a little emotional blackmail as well as the seemingly stupid idea of turning down a place in Barcelona I found myself in Canberra at the ANU.
Where will I go?
This is the kind of question my parents ask, and lots of people older than me – as well as some younger who feel as if life should be planned out. If I had a plan as to what I wanted to do with my life, it wouldn’t have been this. But at each point in life I’ve taken the option that seemed like the most fun and I’m having a great time doing so. Where next? I won’t pretend to have plans as to what to do after my PhD. I think I’d like to stay in science, as an academic, or maybe something like Risk Management. Or it could be something completely different.