When is the real ‘end’ of a PhD?

By Brendan Hanger
Recently a number of the original OnCirculation contributors have reached the ‘end’ of their PhDs including Evan, Kelly, Nick and myself; however this has led to the question, ‘When is the true end of the PhD?’ or in popular terms ‘Can I call myself a doctor yet?’. Here in Australia, the PhD approval process is different to many other countries, based on our relative isolation from the rest of world. In this post I am going to talk about the various ‘end’ points and where they fit into the process. These stages are what I have been through or still have to come here at RSES, but are similar to most departments around the country.

Continue reading “When is the real ‘end’ of a PhD?”

Deepest Undersea Vents Discovered

Black Smoker in the Cayman Trough (
Black Smoker in the Cayman Trough (

by Brendan

Last night I came across a BBC article showing that a team of UK scientists have discovered a field off hydrothermal vents almost 5 km below the ocean surface in the Cayman Trough, part of the Caribbean Sea.


These hydrothermal vents (often known as Black Smokers) are formed on the sea floor near plate boundaries where superheated water escapes from fissures in the Earth’s surfaces. Continue reading “Deepest Undersea Vents Discovered”

From the archives: The Kermadec Arc Explained

Black Smoker vent in the Atlantic (Source:

by Brendan (originally posted 17th May 2012)

Earlier this week, Mike and myself wrote about a period of dramatic growth of the Molowai submarine volcano, part of the Kermadec arc to the north of New Zealand. This morning I came across a good video from 3NewsNZ that describes the Kermadec arc/trench environment and includes many of the features that make science videos cool, including black smokers, false colour bathymetry, strange marine life forms and  even sharks.

You can find the video here –

From the archives: What do Chocolates and Diamonds have in common?

by Brendan (originally posted 25th May 2012)

Pelletal Lapilli with a diamond core (Source:

Today I came across an interesting headline – Chocolates and diamonds: Why volcanoes could be a girl’s best friend, seems like an unusual combination to me, so I investigated further. It turns a team from the UK, led by Thomas Gernon have been investigating the formation of pelettal lapilli, which are small pieces of rock surrounded by quenched juvenile magma, or in simple terms a piece of rock coated in lava. These are commonly found within kimberlites, which are the major source of diamonds, with this study focusing on kimberlites in South Africa and Lesotho. Continue reading “From the archives: What do Chocolates and Diamonds have in common?”

The World is ending today, so we’re taking some time off…

By Claire

Shortly the Earth will begin to disintegrate, or will explode from the inside out, or will get hammered by something from space, or will erupt and shake itself to pieces (not to mention the zombie plague) so it seems like a good time to reflect on the first year of our blog.

My David Attenborough impersonation
My David Attenborough impersonation

The magnificent Kelly Strzepek, blog founder extraordinaire kicked off the blog with a post on her midterm in December last year. Since then, she has blogged her way to Antarctica and back, shared the highs and lows of life as a PhD student, filled us in on countless new scientific discoveries, and some not so scientific ones…

wichwonwerks128650332134104553We’ve also been brought on a journey by Nick, who has walked us through his PhD, posting about his stalagmite’s journey from a cave, to a rock saw, to the polisher, to the mill, to the weighing room, and (finally) to the mass spec… still using the mass spec… WORK DAMN IT!!


Lava spewing from a volcano near Eyfafjallajokull, Iceland, 2010 (Source:

Brendan has been a never ending source of information about volcanoes in Australia, volcanoes under the sea, supervolcanoesvolcanic YouTube clips and, well, anything to do with volcanoes really. Not that this is all he posts about. We’ve also read some great stories about selling T-Rexs, Mercury, Lasers and pennys.

Evan "clearly" convinced that he has found some dinosaur footprints.

Evan – our resident geophysicist – has brought us posts about, everything really. From conferences and fieldtrips, failures of justice, failures of Google and failures of science, oceanography, seismology, climatology and geology, we’ve learnt about it all.

c_06182010And then there’s myself, the climate change nut. I’ve posted about all things weather and climate (including the difference between the two). I’ve ranted about the carbon tax, arctic sea ice loss, sea level rise, greenhouse gas emissions and our inability to limit the worst effects of climate change. I’ve given lessons on interpreting weather maps, posted about thousands of spiders and campaigned for renewable energy. No wonder my husband thinks I’m a hippie!

port-tumblr_m8chcbHQ5U1rozo50o1_500-620x414We’ve also had some great posts from our guest contributors. Mike has taught us about the importance of cats in geology, brought us the latest in hairstyles and alien geologists. Kate has posted about elephants, giving presentations and fieldwork. Adi has kept us up to date with all things “space”, posting about Curiosity, the Higgs Boson, views from space and scientific experiments from the international space station.

As you can see, we’ve had a hugely busy year, posting about all things earth science and we are taking a well earned break.

But don’t despair! We will be running a series called “From the archives” over the holidays, where we re-visit some of our earlier posts.

We will be back and blogging on the 7th January.

Until then, have a great Christmas and thanks for all your support in 2012.

From the oncirculation team.

The core of OnCirculation from top, Kelly Strzepek and Evan Gowan, and bottom, Claire Krause, Nick Scroxton and Brendan Hanger
The core of OnCirculation from top, Kelly Strzepek and Evan Gowan, and bottom, Claire Krause, Nick Scroxton and Brendan Hanger

Not-so-Serious Sunday 30

by Brendan

It has been a few weeks since I have posted a volcano video, so I thought I’d find one. This one shows lava pouring into the sea on the coast of Hawaii.

For our Australian readers: Channel Nine/win is showing the David Attenborough documentary “Frozen Planet” at 6.30pm on Sunday, should be a nice relaxing way to end the weekend.

The Fingerprint of Stars

by Brendan

Ever wondering how astrophysicists find out all about stars? If so, PhD Comics has produced this awesome video with the help of a team at Caltech. Well worth a look.

Not So Serious Sunday 29

A couple of days ago I found this great video that gives at idea of how the evolution of life occurred, scaled down to 24 hours. Check it out below.

What did Lasers tell us about how the Ocean Floor Formed

Photo credit: NSF and NOAA

by Brendan

Today, Nature published an article by two RSES researchers, Hugh O’Neill and Fran Jenner (now at the Carnegie Institution of Washington) that presents a fundamental change in our understanding of how the chemical composition of ocean floor basalts is controlled.

All of this is based upon what happens inside the magma chambers below the mid-ocean ridges and how this effects the so-called ‘incompatible elements‘, which are elements that much prefer to stay in the melt rather than become part of the minerals, as such their concentration in most minerals is very low. So how did a laser help work this out? Continue reading “What did Lasers tell us about how the Ocean Floor Formed”

An Active Volcano in Australia

by Brendan

The other day I found some satellite images from NASA’s Earth Observatory that appear to show current volcanic activity at Mawson Peak on Heard Island, an Australian island in the subantarctic Southern Island. The image below was captured by the Earth Observing 1 satellite, on October 13, and it is thought that an eruption happened about an hours before the image was taken.

Continue reading “An Active Volcano in Australia”

A simple guide to experimental petrology

Piston Cylinder Apparatus, RSES

by Brendan

If you read my bio, you will see that I list one of my areas of study as experimental petrology, and I’m sure plenty of people wonder what that even means, I know I didn’t really understand what it was when I first arrived at RSES to undertake an honours project doing experimental petrology. So what is it? Firstly, ‘petrology’ is the study of rocks, specifically their origin, composition, structure and distribution. The word itself comes from the Greek ‘petra’ – rock and ‘logos’ –study. The experimental in ‘experimental petrology’ is because we do good old fashioned experiments to understand how the rocks form, varying composition, temperature, pressure and a less well known variable ‘oxygen fugacity’. In this post I will try and explain it simple terms, feel free to ask questions via the comments section. Continue reading “A simple guide to experimental petrology”

Not So Serious Sunday 19

Amazing video showing the lava lake at Marum Volcano on Ambryn Island, Vanuatu

Not So Serious Sunday 17

Once again it is Sunday and since none of our other bloggers have posted anything about kittens, movies or dinosaurs I decided that we should show another video of a volcanic eruption. This time it is Yasur on Tanna Island in Vanuatu which has had almost constant eruptions since 1774 when James Cook visited.

Why did NASA send a penny to Mars?

by Brendan

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

If a geologist has ever shown you a set of their photos you have probably seen that they always include objects such as pens, lens caps, rock hammers or coins in the image. Then you probably asked why, to  which they replied that it is for scale. What does this all mean and why is it relevant to the Curiosity Rover and the penny that NASA sent to Mars?

Continue reading “Why did NASA send a penny to Mars?”

Not So Serious Sunday 16

by Brendan

Volcanoes are cool, as this video describing a fissure eruption at Kamoamoa on Kilauea  Hawaii in 2011. It contains some amazing footage of a fresh eruption including some awesome lava fountains.

Another Mars Lander Announced

by Brendan

Artist rendition of the proposed InSight (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) Lander. InSight is based on the proven Phoenix Mars spacecraft and lander design with state-of-the-art avionics from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory missions.
Credit: JPL/NASA

Hot on the heels of the landing of the Curiosity Rover, NASA has announced plans to send another mission to Mars in 2016, and it has a very strong grounding in geophysics. The mission, known as ‘InSight’, will focus on the internal structure and thermal nature of the planet. The lander will have two main instruments, a seismometer, which will be used to measure seismic activity (Marsquakes) and a heat flow probe capable of drilling down approximately 5 metres to obtain long term measurements of heat flow.

One of the big scientific questions around Mars is whether it has any sort of plate tectonics and if not, why not? Continue reading “Another Mars Lander Announced”

Curiosity fires up its LASER

by Brendan

Two weeks ago NASA’s Curiosity Rover touched down on Mars to begin its exploration of Gale Crater. After sending back many spectacular images and receiving some major software updates, it finally got the chance to use its laser last night, with the ChemCam (Chemistry and Camera Instrument) picking the poor unfortunate rock, named ‘Coronation’ (which is most likely basalt) for target practice. Continue reading “Curiosity fires up its LASER”

Not So Serious Sunday 13

Here at OnCirculation we have two broad groups, those of us that look at high temperature processes (Mike, Dom and myself) and those that look at low temperature things such as oceans, coral and stalagmites (Kelly, Nick, Claire, Aimee, Anthony) however sometimes the most spectacular things happen when hot meets cold. In this case I’m talking about lava (molten rock) from Hawaii entering the Pacific Ocean as in the video below:

Hawaii Lava Pacific Ocean

Pretty cool

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