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Massey, Erica


Profile Erica MasseyResearch Topic: A comparative study of the palagonitization of tholeiitic and alkaline sideromelane resulting from volcano-ice interaction in Iceland and Wells Gray, BC, Canada.

Research Location: UBC Okanagan

Research Supervisor: Dr. John Greenough

Research Description:

Over the past 2 million years, explosive, glaciovolcanic (volcanism occurring under glaciers) eruptions have occurred throughout Iceland and British Columbia. These events still occur frequently in Iceland, although former ice sheets are now mostly melted. Many of these eruptions produced vitric, fragmental volcanic deposits that are highly susceptible to hydrothermal alteration that partly transformed glass into palagonite. Because palagonitization rates depend on temperature, the preserved deposits can provide general constraints on the cooling conditions of the volcanic pile within the glacier. Although the formation of palagonite in glaciovolcanic deposits has been investigated in Iceland’s tholeiitic systems, no studies have compared its formation to BC’s alkali olivine basalt (AOB) deposits. The mechanisms controlling the alteration of basaltic glass (sideromelane) to gel-like palagonite and clay minerals are not fully understood. This study tests the hypothesis that the composition of the parent volcanic glass affects the mineralogy of palagonite, and will also investigate whether palagonitization is isovolumetric. Samples from BC and Iceland that contain palagonite were collected and are being examined, in order to characterize pre-alteration textures and degrees of palagonitization, and to constrain element mobility during palagonitization.

Home Town: Lake Country, BC

Country: Canada

Faculty/School: Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences

Program: Master of Science in Environmental Sciences

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I decided to pursue a graduate degree while on a one-year exchange study at the University of Iceland. The studies and extensive fieldwork in volcanology, glacialogy, glacial geology, geochemical analysis, geothermal energy, etc. ignited my curiosity about how volcanoes and glaciers interact, and the resulting geology. I hadn't realized before how much of British Columbia's geologic past involves this same volcano-ice interaction. The more I looked into the topic, I knew that pursuing a graduate degree would be exciting because the topic fascinated me and was born out of my own curiosity.

Pursuing a M.Sc. degree provides me unique opportunities to use modern analytical technology that I was not able to use during my undergraduate degree and it will open up more opportunities for leadership in the science community.

Why did you decide to study at UBC's Okanagan campus?

I chose UBC Okanagan for my graduate studies due to a combination of reasons. It was important to have the academic and professional support of a supervisor knowledgeable in mineralogy and petrology. Also, UBCO's Charles Fipke Centre for Trace Element Research is a world class lab that provides the opportunity to use the latest analytical technology, i.e. SEM/EDS (Scanning Electron Microscope), LA-ICP-MS (Laser Ablation), EMPA (Electron Microprobe) and optical mineralogy lab equipment.

The opportunity at UBCO to do Graduate Teacher Assistant work in the Earth & Environmental Sciences has been an excellent experience. UBC is also one of the world's top universities, which will help to ensure a solid foundation for my future and career opportunities.
Also, the Okanagan is home for my children and I! It was a win-win decision.

What impact do you hope your research will have?

The alteration of basaltic glass during palagonitization has a broad, important role in Earth’s environment. Its influence ranges from the ocean’s chemistry to the stability of volcanic edifices and includes bioalteration processes in volcanic glass not well understood. Alteration of basaltic glass in water-rich environments is critical for controlling the composition of the water involved, and the porosity/permeability of the resulting deposits. Palagonite is thought to give evidence for water on Mars and may be important today for hosting potential sources of geothermal energy. Subaqueous volcanic deposits may have harboured early life on Earth, or possibly Mars, a topic that presents a relatively unexplored frontier in comparison to research confined to sedimentary rocks in the search for traces of early life on Earth.

The potential use that palagonitized sideromelane may play in quantifying heat flux from volcanic activity, understanding Martian crust, and as a paleoclimate proxy is impressive.  The study of palagonite has been collaborative, yet controversial. The impact that my research will have, is to contribute in the understanding of the controlling mechanisms of palagonitization and to further the knowledge of how glaciovolcanic deposits have played an important role in the Earth's past history and in our environment today.

To summarize, I think that we are all curious about how our Earth and the millions of planets in our solar system were formed. These processes continue today in our environment on a microscopic and macroscopic level. It is fascinating and beautiful to view the crystallography and mineralogy of these rocks under the optical microscope! Volcanism and glaciers are powerful systems that illustrate well the delicate balance of high temperatures not far beneath our feet and the atmosphere that supports all life, including us. I hope that my research impacts not only the science community, but also the general public to inspire that innate curiosity in all of us.



Canadian Graduate Scholarship Master Program - NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship


Last reviewed shim11/20/2015 2:16:48 PM