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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Investigating mantle plumes in the depths of the world’s oceans - Dr. Kate Rychert. An academic profile

Published: 11 February 2014

Dr Kate Rychert is a Lecturer of Geophysics at National Oceanography Centre Southampton, the waterfront campus of Ocean and Earth Science and home to one of the largest earth and marine science communities in Europe. Researching seismology, the scientific study of earthquakes and seismic waves has interested Dr Kate Rychert, since the start of her academic career.


Part of her research in the depths of the world’s oceans involves investigating mantle plumes, streams of hot rock rising up from the Earth’s core.

“It’s a fascinating subject and very relevant to the world we live in,” she explains. In her research, she now uses seismology to image the structure of the Earth’s crust and upper mantle to understand how continents formed and evolved.

They are thought to be behind some of the Earth’s more active volcanoes located in the middle of tectonic plates, for example, those of Hawaii. Seismic waves deep beneath the seabed are used to detect these plumes and Kate’s work involves using seabed sensors to collect high resolution seismic data. She uses the data to detect variations in seismic wavespeed. These can be used to image the base of the tectonic plate and also to locate regions of the mantle where a small amount of melt might exist.

A recent article in Nature Geoscience magazine describes her recent analysis of data from a warm region discovered around 150 kilometres under the sea off Hawaii, 100 kilometres from the nearest island. This could mean this particular plume bends as it reaches the surface. Kate also spoke to the American Geophysical Union about her discovery of similar features in the Galapagos Islands, Iceland and the Afar region in Eastern Africa. “This research is important for our understanding of Earth processes including its formation and evolution. It may help us predict earthquakes and eruptions and could hold clues to climate change,” she says.

The Lecturer in Geophysics studied for her undergraduate degree at Boston University and her masters and PhD at Brown University before taking a postdoctoral post at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. She crossed the Atlantic for a fellowship of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) at the University of Bristol before joining Ocean and Earth Science at Southampton in 2011 to become part of a lively group of seismic researchers working on a range of cutting-edge issues.

Currently on maternity leave, Kate is pleased to be part of a Faculty of Natural and Earth Sciences initiative to support female academics to maintain links with their research. A University grant enables a recently hired postdoctoral researcher, Dr Savas Ceylon, to continue work on several of her projects while she is on leave.

Kate has been appointed to the Royal Astronomical Society’s prestigious Bullerwell Lecturership for 2014 in recognition of her achievements so far. As part of her responsibilities, she will deliver keynote lectures on her work at the European Geosciences Union meeting in Vienna in April and the British Geophysical Association postgraduate meeting in September and write an article for the RAS journal. This award to ‘an outstanding young geophysicist working in the UK’ is named after the first Chief Geophysicist of the British Geological Survey.

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