Friday, 13 July 2012

Mineralogist, Petrologist or Volcanologist?? Lorraine explains

I asked Lorraine Field what the difference between her job, a mineralogist and petrologist, and a volcanologist is. It's a question that we've been asked a lot on Facebook since she appeared on the VolcanoLIVE programme on BBC2 and the article on BBC News website was published.

Here's what she says about her job at the BGS & how it's different from the role of our volcanologists:

I’m a mineralogist and petrologist at the BGS. My role involves taking a rock sample and investigating the micro-scale – the mineralogist part is to do with looking at minerals, and the petrologist part is determining their history and formation. I now work on all types of rocks, although I am particularly passionate about igneous rocks. Rocks are made up of packages of material, so in an igneous rock, these are crystals and glass, but in a sedimentary rock these can include crystals, rock fragments, clays, fossils and organic materials. I will look at samples using various techniques e.g. optical microscopes and scanning electron microscopes, to look at the textures in the samples, as well as individual crystals and grains. From this we can glean information about the history of the rock, how it was formed and what had happened to it since. It’s a bit like forensics – taking the little jigsaw-puzzle clues and putting them together to work out what has happened - but on a rock! In my PhD I worked on two volcanoes in Africa, and from looking at the crystals in the sample was able to calculate the time the crystal had been in the magma since it formed; the depth magma had been stored at; how much water had been in the original magma; and we were also able to gain some dates using the argon content in some of the crystals.  Some crystals are like mini - C.Vs, you can determine an awful lot from just looking at the clues in that one crystal, but some are more tricky, and you need to look at them in relationship to the other crystals in the rock.

A volcanologist is involved in the study of volcanoes as a whole, particularly the physical aspects – for example, ash plumes, and they will also look at the hazards. In reality, different disciplines (for example, mineralogists, geophysicists, remote sensors and volcanologists), work together to gain an overall understanding of a volcano.

Hope that helps clear that up!! Any more questions i can put to Lorraine about the work she does or her experiences filming for the BBC?

BGS Press Officer, Edinburgh

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