Episode 4: Kirstie Wright and her rocks and wriggles

Kirstie Wright, Ph.D, on the coast

Kirstie Wright is a geoscientist who researches volcanic and sedimentary systems. She has a degree from Leicester University and a PhD from Durham University and worked in the petroleum industry before changing careers to become an academic researcher.

She is currently a GCRF funded postdoc at Deep Water and Lyell Centre of Herriot Watt University investigating deep-water depositional systems and associated landslide generated tsunamis through interpretation of seismic data, morphometric analogues and numerical modelling.

Her previous work has focused on various aspects of the development of the Faroe-Shetland Basin, including the stratigraphy of lava deltas, analysis of syn- and post-rift sedimentary systems and the effects of basin uplift on petroleum systems.

She is also involved in a range of science outreach activities and is a director of North Sea Core which collects and transforms unwanted core material from the offshore petroleum industry to help reach a variety of geoscience subjects.

Below is the full transcript of the episode. Enjoy, and do provide feedback or get in touch with Kirstie Wright via Twitter: @rocksandwiggles and NorthSeaCore: http://www.northseacore.co.uk


Jazmin, Nuzhat, Kirstie

Jazmin: 00:07

Hello, and welcome to the What on Earth Podcast. I’m your host Jazmin.

Nuzhat: 00:11

And I’m your host Nuzhat. In this podcast we celebrate Earth, environmental and planetary scientists from diverse backgrounds and get to know what they’re up to.

Jazmin: 00:23

We also speak to scientists from different disciplines about how we can decolonise science and make it more inclusive for everyone.

Nuzhat: 00:32

In this episode, we’ll be talking to an earth scientist about their research. Today we have Kirstie Wright. Hey, Kirstie. [Kirstie] Hi. [Nuzhat] So introduce yourself to our audience?

Kirstie: 00:43

I’m Kirstie, I am currently a postdoc and early career researcher at Herriot Watt in Edinburgh.

Jazmin: 00:49

What made you want to be a geologist?

Kirstie: 00:53

That’s a really good question. I don’t know, I was just always fascinated by rocks, and you know minerals, and fossils, especially dinosaurs obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid. I was always sort of picking up pebbles and rocks and putting them in my pocket. And my mum was always finding them in the washing machine. You know, so I was just something about the earth’s history, and how you- they could be recorded, and something you could hold in your hand was just fascinating to me. So, the older I got, the more I thought I wanted to be an archaeologist. And it was only until I got to A level, I’d lucky enough to go to a school that did geology, that I realised that there was the option for that sort of thing. So yeah, I was really lucky to, you know, do geology A level. And then that was pretty much all I wanted to do and haven’t looked back.

Nuzhat: 01:47

That’s really cool. I always tell people like when they asked me why I like being a geologist, I always say that it’s really cool that you can have a rock and then you can just uncover the Earth’s history in it and all its patterns.

Kirstie: 01:58

Yeah, it’s kind of like reading a book. [Nuzhat] Yeah! [Kirstie] [You can] peel back the layers or go through the pages. It’s just, it’s just fascinating to me that you can tell the history of what happened through a few bits of stone or looking at sedimentary layers. It’s just, it’s like, time travelling. I just, it’s just yeah, there’s something so special about it. And I’m quite obsessed about rocks. I mean, Jaz has been to my place, and it’s just so many rocks and boxes. [Jazmin] Yeah, but it’s great. [Kirstie] Yeah, it’s just, it’s as much a passion it is, as it is a subject I study. So yeah, it’s just something that I always wanted to do [when I] realised that that was an option. So-

Nuzhat: 02:45

That’s really cool. Yeah, I remember like, the first time I realised I was in love with geology was like, I was on a trip in Nepal and Kathmandu. And then there was- we were visiting some temples, and you can see the mountains in the background. And I realised like, oh, the- just from the rocks, I could tell all these used to be like under the sea a long time ago, and they’ve been pushed up. And it just made the trip a lot more exciting just to have this kind of history right behind the temple. Like right behind, you’ve got the comparison between the Earth’s history and the human history, right?

Kirstie: 03:19

Yeah, me- makes you feel cool. But actually, kind of also, you know, you’re part of something quite special.

Nuzhat: 03:28

Yeah. So, you’re a geologist. What was your journey like to reach this point?

Kirstie: 03:36

I’m very non-traditional. So yeah, I said, I did A level geology. And then after doing that, I went to art college, which is totally not the done thing. I just, I really like art, and I wanted to do it. But I’m also quite a scientist at heart, so that art college didn’t fulfil that deep need in me to do geology and science. So I, but it was really great to learn how to draw a rock. After that, I went to do my geology degree. I went to Leicester and did a four-year geology degree. After that, I was really interested in doing a PhD. But I also thought I needed a bit more experience. So, I went into the industry, I went to work for a petroleum consultancy. And after a year there, I actually got a PhD doing what I wanted to do, which is sort of a mixture of looking at volcanoes and volcanic rocks, but also looking at how basins develop in stratigraphy. So, I did my degree, my PhD and then I actually went back into industry for nearly five years. So, I worked for an oil and gas company who were interested in me because of the work I [had] done in my PhD. And then after out nearly five years, I decided that I missed the research element. So, when you’re in industry, it’s quite fast paced, you get really cool data, and you get to work with excellent people. And it’s, you know, you’re doing really challenging work, but you don’t get the time [to] investigate things as much as you want. So, I decided that I’d like to try and get back into academia, you know, with using the experience I have. So, a postdoc came up, and I applied, because they were specifically looking for people with industry experience, and I got it. And then so yeah, I’ve kind of dived back in and forth between academia and industry. I think it’s given me a really unique set of skills and a unique perspective. So yeah, now I’m back in academia, I’m on my second postdoc in Edinburgh at Heriot Watt.

Nuzhat: 05:54

Okay, that’s cool. Can I ask you to describe a little bit about your PhD? What was your PhD about?

Kirstie: 06:02

So, my PhD was on volcanic seismic stratigraphy and geomor- geomorphology. [Nuzhat] Okay! [Kirstie] lots of long words. But it was basically looking at what happens when you get large amounts of volcanic rock. So, a large igneous province entering a basin, like a big basin where you get normal sediments deposited, but it’s depositing like sedimentary rocks. So, this was an area between the Faroe and Shetland Islands above Scotland. And it was at a time when the North Atlantic was trying to rift apart. [Nuzhat] Yeah. [Kirstie] So you’ve got the rifting occurring, plus the proto-Icelandic plume occurring. So, it’s basically lots of things going on. And you’ve got huge amounts of volcanism occurring. So, you have lots of volcanoes, massive flood basalt intrusions, everything happening. And what I was looking at was, these flood basalts were kind of like pouring out and when they come into contact with water, they sort of quench and fragment into hyaloclastic breccias, which are kind of like big clumps of basalt really. And you see it on Hawai’i, if enough pour- comes out and pours out and enters a body of water, it forms a delta a bit like a classic delta but made of lava. [Nuzhat] Wow, okay! [Kirstie] They’re really cool! And you can actually see these happening on Hawai’i. They are like, cool and deltas- lava deltas happening in 2018. But in the West Shetlands in the sort of the early Eocene, we had a huge swathe of these occurring. And you can map them on seismic data. So that’s what I was doing. I was sort of like mapping these prehistoric lava deltas, and the flood basalts and sort of like seeing how they evolved. Could we match the geometries and geomorphologies to things we see in modern day? And that was actually fronted by some oil and gas companies, because they’re looking for oil and gas in in those sort of regions. So, it was really interesting to kind of mix volcanics and stratigraphy. And it’s- an it’s an area of research that’s fairly new in the last 20 years and it’s still something I’m working on, on the side. So-

Nuzhat: 08:31

So, you mentioned that, that you’re looking at seismic data. So, what kind of seismic data are you looking at and how do you get hold of that data?

Kirstie: 08:40

So I work with seismic reflection data, so it’s a bit like, if you gave Earth an ultrasound like you would for a baby or kidney stones, you send sound waves down, and they come back up, and they get them sorted out to give you an image. And you can interpret that image. So, a lot of the time I’m working with data that’s been collected for hydrocarbon exploration, or I mean, obviously, there’s data- different types of data. Sometimes this collected for wind farms or for other things. A lot of the time it’s, it’s donated by oil and gas companies, because they take big, big surveys, which is really nice, because they do, they do great, great work.

Nuzhat: 09:32

Okay, just one more question. So, you mentioned that you’re looking at volcanic products produced during the formation of these large igneous provinces. So how does oil and gas come into it?

Kirstie: 09:46

So, it used to be thought that volcanics is really bad. As in like, you’d stay away from anywhere with volcanic rocks when you were looking for hydrocarbons because they affect seismic imaging, it’s difficult to drill through them. It could stop hydrocarbons from migrating. But the more we’ve understood about them, the more we understand about the volcanic processes, how they’re distributed, how they change over time with being buried, it’s been realised that they may not be such a negative effect. And we learn to drill through them, we’ve learned to image through and around them, that they may actually sometimes enhance hydrocarbons. So, it’s about knowing more about the subsurface, and about how volcanic rocks are in place and evolve to burial in the basins. So, I know hydrocarbons aren’t popular, but we still need them right now. [Nuzhat] That’s true. [Kirstie] So there’s always that trade off. And while we still need them, we are going to have to still look for them. You know, while we go through the energy transition, and we need them to keep the lights on and hopefully make the, you know, the renewable energies. So, we have to look for them where we haven’t looked before. And some of those areas are basins with volcanics in.

Nuzhat: 11:25

Okay. Yeah, that’s really interesting. I would have thought that you, I’d like you said, I would have thought that anything related to igneous activity you would avoid when it comes to oil and gas exploration-

Kirstie: 11:36

That’s, that’s typically been the thought, but actually, you know, you need to understand more about them to know what bits to avoid and which aren’t so bad, and how to maybe [get] the most out of it. [Nuzhat] Okay. [Kirstie] So, you know, it’s like the more you know, the better, which is why we do the research.

Nuzhat: 11:57

That makes sense.

Jazmin: 12:00

But isn’t it the more you know, the less you know? [Kirstie] That is also the case. [Jazmin] You’ve talked about industry a little bit, and you did in an industry for six years in total? [Kirstie] Yeah. [Jazmin] So what work did you do while you’re in industry? And what was it like?

Kirstie: 12:25

So, the longest I had in industry was five years working for oil and gas company, which was a Danish national company called DONG Energy stood for ‘Danish Oil and Natural Gas’. They were part hydrocarbons, part wind, part bioenergy. So, it was a bit of a mix. Since then, they’ve sort of split the individual sections apart, and sold bits off. But when I was working for them is part of the oil and gas division. And I largely worked on development and exploration in the west of Shetland. So, where I did my PhD, which is why they hired me. So, I was doing anything from looking at the water sandstones to the volcanics, to Bayesian modelling, to reservoir sort of, like, making models of the reservoir look like. They, they got us working with the different teams in Norway, Denmark, anything from geology to geophysics, petrophysics, it was a real sort of like, yeah, I’ve got a lot of experience, because it was a very small company. So, you kind of ended up being a bit of a jack of all trades. And it was, it was a really good learning experience, really. And industry has so many clever people. I was really, really fortunate to be working with some of the smartest people I know, it was, it was really great. I learned a lot. Actually, a lot of what I do now is very, very similar to what I did in industry, it’s just, I get to spend longer. And I may not have access to everything I need. As in, you know, I deal with the data management myself, or I do all the problem solving myself. I can’t just go and ask for a friendly petrophysicist to help me out. I have to learn to do it myself. It’s very similar. Actually, I use all the same techniques and all the same interpretive skills.

Nuzhat: 14:35

Okay, so you mentioned that you took a non-traditional route to where you are now which involved a lot of like transitioning back and forth between industry and academia. And I think first of all, that’s great. We need more examples of people or about more examples of being able to like shift between the two, according to what if you are interested in or what is very relevant. But in your experience what it was, what was it like transitioning between industry to academia or vice versa?

Kirstie: 15:07

It was really hard. I would say it’s; it was not easy. I mean, I was fully committed to it and passionate about it. But academia is not very accepting of people coming from industry, unless you come in, as the professor with 30 years industry experience, you know, unless you’re going into the top, and they’re looking for that. I had to start from the beginning, really and I don’t feel especially, you know, looking for new- looking for the next job. Next postdoc, I don’t necessarily feel like the extra years I had are taken into account. It’s not to say everyone, but there’s not necessarily that, oh, you don’t have five years extra postdoc experience, therefore, you know, you’re not, you’re not equivalent. You know, I could say that I have team management, I have management skills, I’ve worked very, you know, high intensity team, you know, I’ve delivered big projects, you know, all those sort of things that are very important, but aren’t necessarily seen. So, you have to work extra hard to try and get that message across. I think there’s a lot to be said, you know, for people transitioning between the two, I think there should be more flow, because you get that broader experience. And you can, you know, industry should learn a lot from academia, and the skills they bring, and I think vice versa. So, it doesn’t mean I regret the change, I don’t at all, because I’ve got to work with some great people and do some amazing work. But I do, I do think you have to be aware of what you’re getting into, because it’s not easy.

Nuzhat: 17:02

Yeah. Because right now, I have left the kind of academic sector and I mean, I’ve only been one month into this current job I’m at, and I’ve learned quite a lot. In terms of, okay, I’m working in something that’s quite different to Earth Sciences. But I’ve learnt a lot about the kind of this, I guess, ‘soft skills’, I’m going to put that in like air quotes, that’s really necessary to make you like a really good researcher. For example, like, I think I went straight from like undergrad to pretty much like PhD. And when you’re a student, you don’t really have great work ethic, because you’re taught like, any moment of your life can be given into, like your studies, and from academia to PhD, that line between like, your work, and your interests is very, very blurred, and academic- academia has that really toxic mentality of like, you know, the more you work, the better researcher you are, which is completely untrue. Because there are other skills that you need to become a, like a good researcher, including being able to work in a team, to be able to manage your time, to work effectively, to learn different programs, softwares. And it’s, it’s really, really frustrating how, like, how academia kind of makes itself separate to other sectors. And for you it sounds even more frustrating because you were still working in the sciences, you’re working in a very, very relevant field. So, for you to transition from an Earth Science industrial sector to an Earth Science academic sector. And for you to find it hard it’s even more frustrating to imagine what it’s like for people who’ve decided to maybe see what different career is like. I’m

Kirstie: 18:59

It’s strange because I’m almost sometimes I’m working with the same people or in contact with the same people I’m just on the other side. But it’s amazing the change in view people have if you’re working from one sector to the other, then you’re like, I haven’t changed, my abilities and mentality haven’t changed. I still do exactly the same thing. I’m just I’ve just got a different title. Yeah, I mean, you’re right you’re entirely right. You know, you can you learn to collaborate, you learn to manage, you learn work ethic, and accountability, which sometimes is missing?

Nuzhat: 19:39

Definitely accountability, or responsibility.

Kirstie: 19:42

I’ll probably get in trouble for saying that. But there is so much we could learn from some of the things that occur in industry, like how they- how they do things.

Nuzhat: 19:52

Definitely, I think, becoming a lot more of an efficient person by working outside of academia for once, but I think another frustrating part, like, I guess Jaz can talk about it, is that, you know, I think with academia sometimes, like what you want to study isn’t always, you know, like something that has been funded at the moment. So sometimes you have no choice but to leave academia as well.

Jazmin: 20:19

Yeah, [be]cause I am in that situation right now, like, I, yeah, it’s like, I just academia is not really, it the moment. Like I don’t, nothing’s appealing and convincing me to stay so it’s like, well, if you’re not convincing me to stay, then why should I bother? You know, so, I don’t. So, I am actively looking for jobs outside of academia. And I think that’s exciting for me, [be]cause I mean, you guys know me, I’m a very restless person and very impatient, as well. And so like, I am sat here at the moment, not really, I mean, I’m writing up papers, so that is kind of still academic stuff. But other than that, I’m not doing anything. And you know, just keep on trying to find something in academia, it’s like, what the hell’s the point and like, I need to do something new. Otherwise I’m gonna go so crazy, I might end up hurting my own father. But this, like, I just want to do something new.

Kirstie: 21:24

You have to be, you don’t have to be in academia to be scientists, or a researcher, you’ll be great outside of- [Jazmin] Yeah. [Kirstie] academia. I mean, I’ve got to the point where my boss is probably not be pleased with this, but he knows. But when, you know, there are things that I want to do that obviously aren’t, aren’t funded, but I just, I carve out time to do them. [Jazmin] Yeah [Kirstie] You know, it’s lucky enough that I’ve got access to things that I can just, you know, set aside a weekend or an evening, I’m just like, well, I’m just gonna, just gonna do it, because no one’s who is paying me. But I really want to have a look at it. You know, I decided that no one I’m just, I’m just not in the mood to that for anyone to stop me. I’m just gonna do it.

Jazmin: 22:09

Yeah. I’m like that, I was like, I do want to do stuff. But for me, it’s just motivation. [Kirstie] You’ll get there.

Nuzhat: 22:16

I think we just academia has to let allow people to explore the careers and not like, prioritize people that are willing to go into sciences in a very, like, narrow, traditional route. So, I was today, I was listening to a webinar about the science of the physics curriculum, and how to make it more engaging. And they said, they don’t like using the term ‘pipeline’, because it makes you think there’s like one destination, they like the term ‘ecosystem’. And I like that, because kind of each ecosystem kind of interacts with each other as well, you should be able to move from one to another, your ecosystem should be allowed to evolve as well and interact. And I think it would be such- I think science itself will be cutting itself. If it only prioritises, a specific type of academic and the one that, you know, goes straight from school to professorship, like-

Kirstie: 23:19

Yeah, I mean, that was one of the good things about industry was, like, when I started, I was on three training courses a year, you know, and that was fantastic. Which was so- you know, and they were all very variable. Whereas, since I’ve started, I haven’t had any training courses, actually, the one I had, I had to pay for myself. [Nuzhat] Oh. [Jazmin] Wow that’s really nice of them. [Kirstie] which was a coding course. And that has been so worthwhile, because that allowed me to go and get my next postdoc.

Nuzhat: 23:52

So, point being, academia needs to learn to not be so stringent, and who can become academic.

Kirstie: 24:01

Yeah, I think it’s- I think there’s such and I like the movement, where it’s not always about publications, it’s about impact in general. [Nuzhat] Definitely [Kirstie] So there’s so many other ways to not, I don’t like the metric idea, but to what the way to, you know, capture the impact. You know, it’s not just about the publications, it’s about what else you do around, you know, the talks, you know, the, you know, talking to people, the way’s you interact, you know, the communication there’s a lot- there’s so much more well-rounded, you know, there’s so many other things.

Nuzhat: 24:41

I like to think like, oh, I would want academia to be like, part of the journey and not the destination.

Kirstie: 24:48

Yeah. It’s a good way to put it.

Jazmin: 24:52

Yeah, I like that yeah, that’s a good motto. Okay, so you said you are doing a postdoc currently. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

Kirstie: 25:08

Sure. So, at the moment, I’m doing a postdoc on landslides- so submarine landslides and their tsunamigenic potential and this is at Herriot Watt with Uisdean Nicholson and collaborators from the BGS and across Indonesia. At the moment, we’re looking at a number of landslides previously identified by Rachel Brackenridge, who now is at Aberdeen, and I’m looking at the idea of how these landslides could have developed and if they could produce a tsunami. So, this is through [cough] sorry- this is through seismic mapping and numerical modelling. So, we sort of like flying back onto the coast, and then let it run down and seeing if it produces the tsunami wave and what happens to that wave with the local bathymetry. So, the local coastlines. Yes, it’s a really cool project. It’s been delayed slightly, because of COVID. So, the seismic data got stuck in Indonesia. But it is on its way, I think any day now, fingers crossed. And we were meant to be doing some fieldwork looking for onshore tsunami deposits, because obviously, you know, the wave or wash some of them onshore. So, we’re hoping that we’ll go ahead maybe at the end of the year, or probably next year, and that will be done by our partners at Heriot Watt in Malaysia. So since then, with the time that I’ve had, with no seismic data, I’ve been trying to develop this morphometric database, which is basically a massive collection of parameters of landslides and their associated tsunamis. I’m trying to use that to gather indicators of what we can use in our modelling. So, if I have a landslide of x volume, how fast would it travel? And what sort of size wave would it create? So, because we don’t have that sort of, like, we don’t know how fast it would travel, we need to have a- we have- need to have something that we can estimate from. So, this is why we’ve been collecting all this data. And I’ve been using Python to make lots and lots of graphs and sort of like correlate things and, you know, yeah, so I’ve been learning new skills.

Jazmin: 27:50

Python scares me.

Kirstie: 27:54

It’s very useful. It just takes a while to get your head around it. It is another language.

Jazmin: 27:59

Yeah. Yeah, I would like to know, I mean, I mean, maybe that’s why I should be spending my free time doing right now. But I would want to with the extra stuff you’re doing on the side. Of course, me and Kirstie, we have been actually having a conversation about this with the landslide database. Because in my own PhD research, I have found evidence of a landslide happening during a volcanic eruption. And I told Kirstie about it, and she’s like, oh my God, we could actually try and figure this out! Yeah, because there’s some stuff like it’s missing in the story. In particular- in our cases, we don’t know how much volume generated the tsunami. So yeah, so it’ll be interesting to try and figure that out. [Kirstie] Yeah, we can kind of reconstruct it. [Jazmin] Yeah. So yeah. So we could with the data you have, you can try and reconstruct things and yeah, I have a little bit of data and yeah, we’re hoping, when I can, to try to figure this out. So, we’re actually going to be working together, which I think is really cool. [Nuzhat] So cool. [Kirstie] Try and collaborate. [Jazmin] Yeah. [Kirstie] Would be awesome.

Nuzhat: 29:12

I think is always amazing when you see like, early career scientists collaborating on a project that’s like, you know, their own kind of idea. We’re always dictated by like what senior scientists are interested in. But this is so cool.

Jazmin: 29:25

Yeah, we need it more. We need more. [Nuzhat] Yeah.

Kirstie: 29:28

I mean, this is, this is something that kind of both of us were like, well, we kind of have two data sets and if we put them together with a little bit more work, we can actually produce something awesome. [Jazmin] Yeah.

Nuzhat: 29:41

What are the two data sets that you guys have? [Jazmin] Kirstie do you want to go first?

Kirstie: 29:48

Well, I’ve got this data set I’ve been creating. And I also working with people on the modelling software which is open source. So, I’ll know how to run that and also how to manipulate the data or fill in the gaps. So, and also, I can get hold of the satellite data and any other sort of subsurface data. And then Jaz has done all the work on Saint Vincent, especially when the historical records, which are, you know, are eyewitness reports of what has happened-

Jazmin: 30:22

Yeah, so that’s why I have so I have the eyewitness accounts. And like, it’s mainly so where this little- it’s a little- it’s only a tiny bit of my thesis, but it was, it was just some, like a couple of newspaper articles and a couple of papers just mentioned it casually that oh, there was a tsunami. I was like, okay, this bit odd, but then actually matched that with other historical information, including only two photographs taken in 1902, and 1907 that said that there was evidence of subsidence and landslide evidence, basically. And it was also reports in the area of quite a lot large earthquakes happening. So originally, I thought this is probably associated with just with the volcano and the explosions, but actually, combining all this evidence together, it’s like, actually, there was a lot of earthquakes happening around the same time, there was a report of a tsunami, that’s probably a landslide. So for that, that’s where we need to find out if the two are related in some way, which probably would be, but I think the issue that I will- will come across when I dig in more, is that Mont Pele on Martinique erupted within this same period, but also generated some local tsunamis as well. So I think there’s going to be a little bit confusion with that, but the tsunamis from Mont Pele came from the pyroclastic density currents, not landslides, that’s, that’s gonna be another exciting little bit of the puzzle to-

Kirstie: 32:04

It shows that it’s really important to understand these systems because like volcanic islands are so prone to collapse and cause localised tsunamis. You know and the populations on volcanic islands are already living with a significant hazard in terms of the volcano. So, like, we went to Stromboli together, which was awesome. But, you know, there are dual hazards. And the last tsunami they had was actually quite deadly, it caused quite a number of deaths. So, you know, you when you have those dual hazards, you kind of need to be extra vigilant, important to understand these systems.

Nuzhat: 32:48

So, you mentioned the model and predicting, like, if you have like a landslide, what kind of tsunami it could generate. So, what kind of information do you use to model? So, in terms of like, is the slope of the environment important or the volume? Like what kind of variables do you look at?

Kirstie: 33:09

Yeah, so we try and get as much information as possible. So, you have the, the volume of either what’s failed, or what’s about to fail. You have the water depth, and you need the speed, initial acceleration, and then a max velocity. And you try put this all in together, there are more complicated models such as, like the density of the material that’s failing. You could- I mean, there’s a lot of stuff like, but ideally, just like the volume and the slope, and the water depth. And the idea is to kind of see if it makes a big enough wave. The thing with landslide waves is you actually get the one going forward. But you also get one going backwards. [Nuzhat] Okay, [Kirstie] because you’re- it’s not quite like a tsunami generated by a fault, which is one way. [Nuzhat and Jazmin] Yeah, yeah. [Kirstie] So that they’re quite deadly, because they move faster, they’re more localised, you don’t get the long period of warning you do with earthquakes. So, they can- because they tend to be quite closer to the coast. So, it’s really important to understand how they- how they work, and there’s been so much work done. Some places are really well understood, but there hasn’t been many in the Makassar Strait in Indonesia, where we’re working. So, it’s a really interesting study. I’m- it’s the first time I’ve done anything like this. As I said, I’ve been sort of like lots of volcanics, but I’ve been fascinated by it. Absolutely fascinated.

Nuzhat: 34:56

So, you mentioned you’re working and the Makassar Strait? You mentioned? So why is there interest in studying landslides and tsunamis in this region?

Kirstie: 35:09

So, they- the idea was that- so the data we got is from the oil and gas industry. And they’ve imaged lots of these mass transport deposits for these landslides and then the idea came about because obviously, there’s lots of communities along the coast that are prone to if there was a big tsunami. Actually, the one that’s most important is that recently, in the last couple of years, it was announced that the capital city of Indonesia was moving. So from Jakarta to Borneo, and actually, the most recent ident location identified is at the end of Balikpapan Bay, which entered- if you’ve got a big tsunami basically coming towards the coast, it’s going to get funnelled up this embayment. [Jazmin] Yeah. [Kirstie] And it would be devastating for this new capital city. And I’m sure, like all of the, you know, geological surveys and things have been done. But the idea that, you know, you could have a new capital city, and, you know, or the associated populations living in some way that’s potentially deva- it could be devastated by tsunamis is quite worrying. I mean, that’s just a potential, you know, that none of these tsunamis that we’re- or landslides that we’re looking at have occurred in living memory. [Nuzhat] Okay. [Kirstie] But it’s being prepared and know what could happen. So, you can always mitigate against them.

Nuzhat: 36:59

Okay. So, they would rather mitigate the situation as opposed to avoid the situation at this point.

Kirstie: 37:06

I mean, we’re not working with the Indonesian government who are organised- you know, organising the capital city, it just happened to be that the project started with GCRF, at the same time that they started looking to move to capital. And it seemed to be that they were looking to move it onto the East Coast. So- [Nuzhat] Okay. [Kirstie] It’s just an addition to understand the systems.

Nuzhat: 37:34

Okay. So, this is a- I imagine this is a collaborative project. You said, you’re not working with the government, but because it’s working with Indonesian land. Can you tell us a bit more about the collaborative work between the different institutions that are interested in what you’re doing?

Kirstie: 37:55

Yeah, so we have a number of the local, like local geological surveys and universities with Heriot Watt has a campus out in Malaysia as well. And then they- the project is actually two parts. So, I’m doing one on the landslides and we have another part on the volcanic hazards. The idea is that that part is going to look at trying to communicate, but volcanic hazards through games, like one for the local community, because they don’t trust the government. And so, when a volcanic eruption event happens, like Merapi, they don’t leave. And it’s quite dangerous. It’s quite a lot of devastation. So, they want to kind of communicate the hazard and what you do. So, you know, the best places to go, what to do when ash happens. And then the idea is that we try and understand what the chances of these happening, how big the risk and then maybe using the models, we can try and communicate what it would be like, what you should do, you know, the best thing to do if a tsunami hits. So, we, unfortunately, we haven’t been able to go over because of COVID. But we have regular meetings, we always want to make sure that we are communicating effectively that they have, you know, everyone’s input is valid. We are nothing without local knowledge. So, they’re keen on getting permits, for example, field work. And, and just yeah, it’s been a real, really nice to work collaboratively with people outside of, for example, Scotland, working in another country. I’m really sad that we’re not going to get to go over because we had a big meeting planned at the end of the year, I’m still hopeful that maybe, but it’s- I find it’s really important, because we’re working in someone else’s country that we don’t step on any toes, but it’s, you know, the project is, is driven equally. There’s, there’s been an effort made for that.

Nuzhat: 40:27

Yeah, I think especially because we are trying to push the idea of decolonising science and one part is more collaborative international work, and work that is driven by the locals in a country, the indigenous folks. And I guess COVID has been like an eye opener and like, it’s been a huge barrier to international collaborative work. So, it’ll be interesting to see how different methods of collaboration and what comes forward in the future. And I also think, like COVID, has brought a good point as to why we need to try and push for earth science scientists, globally, local Earth scientists, because we can’t always do go- international field work, we can’t always go. But there are people there who can do field work, and there are people there who would be interested in being able to be trained and become earth scientists so that they could participate in this. And also, they you know- it I think COVID has been an eye opener for many things, but one specifically, like is trying to engage earth scientists from around the world.

Kirstie: 41:46

Oh, definitely. [Jazmin] Absolutely, I agree.

Jazmin: 41:55

Okay, so while you’re doing all this amazing work, and fascinating work, you’re also doing an interesting side project in repurposing geological core samples. Could you tell us more about that?

Kirstie: 42:09

I can, yes. So, the last two years on a project called North Sea Core. We recently became a Community Interest Company, which is pretty official. Yeah. So, me and another person called Henk, run this initiative to basically save and salvage discarded core material from the oil and gas industry that was really destined for landfill or to be destroyed. We collect it, and we upcycle it or transform it into teaching sets or display material for the geological community. So, for education or outreach, goes to universities or to displays in offices or people’s homes. Yeah, it’s very, very kind of wide ranging. And we’ve been doing that, yeah, just to make geology accessible really. Yeah.

Jazmin: 43:16

And in what different ways other than giving them out, was there other ways that you make this accessible? Like, so you’ve got like a database.

Kirstie: 43:26

Yeah. So, we have a big website, where there’s some material, digital material online, we, we put together teaching materials. So, there’ll be lots of sort of lengths of core put together stuff for that. We make expiration boxes, which is sort of like short, small teaching sections, samples with like, can samples. We’ve made prizes, or sometimes we make geoart, which is a bit of core framed. Yes, really wide ranging. And the whole idea is just that this, this material gets a second life. Because it’s, it costs so much out to get out of the ground and it’s so, so useful, you know, I mean, the idea of throwing rocks away is awful, I get really anxious about it. I mean, this material is so beautiful, like you’re talking about stuff that’s like two, three kilometres under the North Sea, you know, and it’s, it tells you so much about the history of the British Isles, it’s, you know, and it’s amazing how many places who teach geology don’t have stuff like this, you know, they don’t have any core samples. This is not just the UK we’ve sent material to America to Australia, across Europe. It’s you know, there’s places because the North Sea and the UK continental shelf is- has really good geology and it’s so well known. People want to use it for teaching everywhere. We’ve sent it across the world. And it’s been a- you know, we’ve got to learn a lot of, I’ve got to learn a huge amount about. And obviously we’ve got to get in contact with some very well-known geologists, some really enthusiastic geologists, some amateur geologists, you know, people who are doing science communication, but it’s all about getting people interested in earth science. And recently, we’ve had a lot of requests for research material. So lots of people are starting to use it for CCS, or geothermal research. Now, because you know, this material is, is no longer available, and you can’t get it at the BGS who destroy any of your sampling or use it. But some we’re the only place that has it, and we’re so happy to give it away or give it for research. So, it’s kind of getting a second life. It was once stuff for hydrocarbons. And now it’s getting a second life in the energy transition. It’s so exciting. You know, I just, I love to see this – people getting into geology, or just using it for geological research. So yeah, yes, it’s kind of it was started as a very small-scale thing, just out of Henk’s garage were we just make things. And now yeah, now it’s blown, blown up in the pandemic, become directors of our own company to cope. [Jazmin] Fancy.

Nuzhat: 46:38

So, people are interested in this, what was the company called again?

Kirstie: 46:41

Oh, it’s called North Sea core. And we have a website, you can find this on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.

Jazmin: 46:49

We’ll provide all that information. [Nuzhat] Yeah. [Jazmin] In the description of the podcast.

Kirstie: 46:55

Yeah, if you’re into rocks, yes, definitely a good place to geek out.

Jazmin: 47:00

Which I’m sure is everyone.

Nuzhat: 47:03

I think especially like, it’s very useful having that kind of teaching material just to have actual samples, because it just makes it a bit more exciting when it’s on your hand compared to an image in the textbook, like, the course is really exciting when you can actually pinpoint and be like, this is when this happened. And this is when that happened, like actually visually seeing it, but also touching it. But-

Kirstie: 47:25

Yeah, I mean, we’re always looking to add more stuff. For example, we got- we’ve recently got a seismic license from DUG to add seismic data. So, we’re always looking as a way to sort of expand on the core, but always you know, the core always the first thing people want to touch it or look at it.

Jazmin: 47:47

Sounds really exciting.

Nuzhat: 47:49

Yeah, I could tell that Kirstie’s she’s really passionate about this because she smiles so much talking about core samples.

Kirstie: 47:57

Yeah, I like rocks.

Nuzhat: 48:00

We will not challenge that but I’m talking about rocks. What is your favourite rock?

Kirstie: 48:08

That’s a very hard question. So much choice! I would probably say its basalt. But it’s just fascinating, you know, seeing molten rock come up to the surface and flow and the patterns it makes, and then you actually get a hold. Lava molten- what was once molten rock in your hand, is I just never ceases to amaze me.

Nuzhat: 48:40

I also agree, igneous rocks are the best kind of rocks.

Jazmin: 48:44

I also agree.

Kirstie: 48:47

Igneous rock, Dwayne Johnson and then every other type of rock.

Jazmin: 48:57

I’m okay with that. Okay, well, so we’re gonna wrap up now. But a final question is, how can people get in touch with you? And you can also just repeat the North core information again as well for everybody.

Kirstie: 49:15

You can find me on Twitter at rocks and wiggles. Also got a website, same name. Otherwise, you can yeah, North Sea Core. So, it’s northseacore [dot] co [dot] uk. And as I’ve said, you know, it’s just we’ve got LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

Jazmin: 49:34

Thank you.

Kirstie: 49:35

Thank you very much.

Nuzhat: 49:40

And that’s it from us. If you enjoy this podcast, please like, Subscribe, share and leave a review.

Jazmin: 49:46

If you have any feedback or want to get in touch with us, you can find us on whatonearthpodcast [at] gmail [dot] com or whatonearthpod on Twitter, or What On Earth Podcast on Instagram.

Nuzhat: 49:59

See you next time!


One thought on “Episode 4: Kirstie Wright and her rocks and wriggles

  1. Pingback: Between a Rock and a Hard Place; Being a Researcher with Industry Experience – EVIDENTLY SCIENTIFICAL

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