A day in the life of… Isobel

by Isobel Yeo

Lab: The Submarine Volcanism Lab

Mentor: David Clague

Project: It’s hard to come up with a ‘typical day’ because what I do is so varied. I’m a volcanologist and my project is concerned with how oceanic crust is being made at mid-ocean ridges (where the tectonic plates are moving away from each other). You wouldn’t know it but 70% of the earth is covered in oceanic crust and it’s almost all being produced at the 80,000km of currently active mid-ocean ridges, yet scientists still don’t completely understand how it’s being made. This is mostly because it’s so difficult to study. Many mid-ocean ridges lie more than 3000m below the sea so you need lots of ship time and special submarines or robots to go and study them. At the moment I’m mapping out lava on the seafloor at 3 mid-ocean ridge segments off the west coast of America. I’m using video collected by a robot (usually called a remotely operated vehicle or ROV), geochemistry from the rocks the ROV collected and incredibly high resolution bathymetry collected by MBARI’s autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) which allows me to look at features on the seafloor which may be only a few meters across. My mentor, Dave, has also dated some of the lava flows using the biology so I’ve just started to work out what order they erupted in.

Areas of seafloor

The manipulator arm on an ROV can be used to collect samples

It’s not all work in the lab though! In two weeks I’ll be going out on a ten day research cruise on the MBARI ship, the R/V Western Flyer. We’ll be sailing out into the Pacific to look at some really big underwater volcanoes using the ROV. It’s lots of work and long day’s but it’s worth it. It’s so incredible to be on a boat floating almost 3km above the seafloor and be able to move around and look at things as though you were down there walking around!

Point fissure eruption in Iceland

Subject: I was always interested in volcanoes when I was little and actually produced my first report on volcanology at school when I was 6. During my teens I drifted around a few different career ideas and it wasn’t until I was 16 (and convinced I was going to be a fashion designer) that I went on my first geology field trip to Iceland and it blew me away. I think the day that really clinched it we had climbed up a glacier so we could look down on the out-wash from an old volcanic eruption. It was incredible! It had washed away a highway and all that were left were these twisted pieces of metal. I realised that I was fascinated by volcanoes and the awesome power they have in a way that I never had been by textiles. So, as soon as I got back, I switched my A-levels to sciences and applied to a geology degree. Now I’m just finishing the second year of my PhD and I still find volcanoes as amazing as I did that day on the glacier!

Geology fieldwork in the UK


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