The European Research Council (ERC) reaches an important milestone this year: 10,000 scientists and scholars from Europe and beyond will have been awarded funding to pursue their finest ideas at the frontiers of knowledge. To mark the occasion, on May 6th the ERC will welcome the 10,000th grantee and highlight others that have contributed to transforming science and research at a virtual event. In celebration, we take a look at some of the ground-breaking projects and outstanding researchers in the Department of Earth Sciences that have been the recipients of ERC funding.
Professor Ros Rickaby has recently won an award for her research proposal ‘SCOOBI – Seeking Constraints on Open Ocean Biocalcification.’ SCOOBI aims to further understand the ocean’s complex ecosystem and carbon cycle in response to the Earth’s changing climate through the study of coccolithophores and foraminifera (single-celled mineralising phytoplankton).
Prof Rickaby said, ‘I’m honoured that the ERC are willing to invest in me for a hat-trick of ERC grants and can continue the success of Oxford Earth Sciences with our fourth ERC Advanced Grant.’
‘Our research will use cutting-edge techniques to document and investigate the sensitivity of open ocean community calcification rates to the environment to answer two key questions: firstly, what limits modern marine calcification rates? And secondly, how will they respond to future natural and manipulated change?’
Prof Rickaby was previously successful with a Starting Grant (GRACE – 2008-15) and a Consolidator Grant (APPELS – 2016-22).
Professor Tamsin Mather is the recipient of an ERC consolidator grant for her V-ECHO project, which aims to test and exploit the promise of the chemical element mercury as a fingerprint of volcanism in the geological record. Rapid global change events punctuate Earth’s history and episodes of large-scale volcanism are a prime contender among the key processes that trigger and modulate these.
A highlight of the research so far has been the use of sedimentary mercury levels at the time of the Permian mass extinction to trace the collapse of land-based ecosystems and the resulting flux of organic carbon into the oceans.
Prof Mather said, ‘Understanding what has driven environmental change in the past helps us to understand how our planet has become and stayed the relatively hospitable place it is today and driven life’s evolution.’
‘The past is also the key to the future and studying these ancient events might allow us to gain new insights into the future progress of climate change and its impacts.’
Professor Rich Katz previously held an ERC Starter Grant for his project, ‘Ice ages, Sea level and Magmatism: Coupled oscillations (ISMAGiC), which looked to understand the interaction between climate and mid-ocean ridge magmatism on the time scale of Pleistocene glacial cycles.
Currently, Professor Katz holds a Consolidator Grant for ‘Magma-Assisted Tectonics: two-phase dynamics of oceanic and continental rifts (RIFT-O-MAT) which aims to understand the mechanical role of magma in continental and oceanic rifting.
Professor Katz said, ‘we are developing models of magmatic injection into the lithosphere to predict the forces and topography associated with rifting.’
‘A key hypothesis is that diking and its interaction with faulting enable continents to rift at much lower extensional stress than would be needed without magmatism. This addresses a key open question in the theory of plate tectonics.’
Other recipients from amongst current Faculty are Professors Chris Ballentine, Roger Benson, Hauke Marquardt, Karin Sigloch and Bernie Wood. Professor Alex Halliday and Dr. Kim Berlo were also award recipients although both have since left the University. A mention should also be made of two other department researchers – Andrew Walker and Chris Day – who are beneficiaries on ERC awards led by other non-Oxford academics.
A total of 13 awards have been made to the department’s academics as lead investigators. Head of Department, Prof Chris Ballentine said, ‘European Research council funding has been a major source of income for our department, but the ethos behind the funding is as important. The ERC funding process uniquely accepts the risk that tackling the most exciting science entails and enables the PI’s to take those risks. The ERC also recognises that it is investing in the students and postdocs in the respective research teams, critical for the longevity of the discipline.’