Earth Sciences Assoc. Prof. awarded prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant

Earth Sciences Assoc. Prof. awarded prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant

Congratulations to Associate Professor Hauke Marquardt, who has been awarded a prestigious Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC).

Consolidator grants are designed to support outstanding researchers and applicants must demonstrate the ground-breaking nature, ambition and feasibility of their proposals.

Hauke has been awarded the grant for his project, titled: “Deep Earth Mantle Phase Transition Maps: Studied by Time-Resolved Experiments” (DEEP-MAPS). It will research the properties of materials at the extreme temperatures and pressures typical of planetary interiors, in particular to study the behaviour of deep Earth materials.

Seismic wave velocities will be measured in the Oxford laboratories using laser-based spectroscopy methods coupled to diamond-anvil cells to simulate the conditions of Earth’s deep mantle.

Processes in the Earth’s lower mantle govern our planet’s inner dynamics and impact on surface plate tectonics. As such, a quantitative understanding of the physical and chemical properties of the lower mantle is pivotal to model Earth’s dynamic evolution, including the long-term chemical interactions between mantle and atmosphere that are vital to the development of habitability on Earth, and possibly other planets. While advanced imaging such as seismic tomography, is providing increasingly detailed three-dimensional maps of the lower mantle, there remain great challenges in interpreting these maps to resolve questions about significant chemical variations and the dynamics of the deep Earth.

Cartoon illustrating some of the major research questions that will bve adressed by DEEP-MAPS.

There are currently some crucial missing links in our understanding and interpretation of seismic observations of the Earth’s deep interior, largely due to the huge pressure, temperature and compositional variations and limitations from experimental measurements at planetary interior conditions that are extremely slow.

Superfast time-resolved measurements of density and crystallographic structure at high pressure and temperature will be performed by novel methods employed at Synchrotron Facilities, photo shows a setup at the Extreme Conditions Beamline at DESY, Germany.

DEEP-MAPS will employ a novel class of time-resolved high pressure/-temperature experiments that reduce by several orders of magnitude the time for key experiments. This will allow DEEP-MAPS to map lower mantle properties and their seismic signature with unprecedented coverage under the relevant conditions. This five-year project will transform our ability of how to scale from laboratory measurements to geophysical processes, constituting a step-change in our understanding of planetary interiors.

Seismic Tomography model of Earth’s mantle. Colors denote different observed wave speeds. DEEP-MAPS will provide the legend to relate images like this to real physical mantle properties. Image courtesy of Karin Sigloch.

The ERC operates according to a “curiosity-driven”, or “bottom-up”, approach, allowing researchers to identify new opportunities in any field of research. Accordingly the portfolio ERC funded projects spans a wide range of topics and research questions.

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “Knowledge developed in these new projects will allow us to understand the challenges we face at a more fundamental level, and may provide us with breakthroughs and innovations that we haven’t even imagined. The EU’s investment in frontier research is an investment in our future, which is why it is so important that we reach an agreement on an ambitious Horizon Europe budget for the next multiannual budget. More available research funding would also allow us to create more opportunities everywhere in the EU – excellence should not be a question of geography.”

Since 2007, more than 9,000 projects have been selected to receive ERC funding throughout the EU Member States and the associated countries. The University of Oxford’s Department of Earth Sciences department has received a total of 12 ERC awards since 2010.