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Durham earthquake researcher recognised with prestigious international award

Research and Engagement Discover my world      
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Dr Jenny Jenkins, an Assistant Professor from our Department of Earth Sciences, specialises in the study of earthquakes.

Jenny has recently received the Wollaston Fund in the Geological Society Awards 2024. The annual award recognises early career geoscientists who have made excellent contributions to geoscience research and its application, both in the UK and internationally.

Dialogue spoke to Jenny to find out more about her research.

Dr Jenny Jenkins
Dr Jenny Jenkins

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your research interests.

I am an observational seismologist. I use recordings of earthquakes and background seismic “noise” to image the interior of our planet’s deep structure. My work has stretched from imaging the Earth’s crust – top 10s of kilometres - and how it is formed and deformed, through the upper mantle - 100s of kilometres down, providing insight into how mantle moves and flows with time, down to just above the outer core - 1,000s of kilometres down, where I found evidence for enigmatic extreme structures.

Much of my research so far has focused on Iceland, one of the most seismically and volcanically active regions in the world.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently planning fieldwork for this summer, where I will lead a team involving experts at the University of Iceland and Iceland Geosurvey. The team will install a new network of seismometers throughout the remote central Icelandic highlands.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office has an excellent national monitoring network that covers much of southern and northern Iceland, where most hazardous volcanoes are found. Central Iceland by comparison is far less active than much of the rest of country – but that’s not to say there’s nothing going on there – far from it.

There are several active volcanoes covered by glaciers with associated geothermal systems, and persistent earthquakes have been observed over the last several decades. But because of the limited number of nearby seismic instruments, very little is known about the causes.

Our new network will allow us to observe small local earthquakes currently below the level of detection, locate them with a high degree of accuracy and analyse their source characteristics to work out what’s causing them. We will also be able to use recordings of continuous seismic background noise to image the subsurface and identify regions where seismic waves travel particularly fast or slow that will help us learn about the internal structure of volcanoes in the area.

Finally recording of distant global earthquakes will allow us to image large-scale crustal structure, to explore how it changes as you move gradually away from the centre of the Icelandic hotspot (potentially caused by a deep mantle heat source) and consider what this suggests about how crustal formation varies with changing melt sources.

This will be my first opportunity to lead a seismic deployment, and I’m excited to get the chance to work on this underexplored area of Iceland.

We’ve heard you have received the Wollaston Fund in the Geological Society Awards 2024. Congratulations! How does it feel to be the recipient of the award?

I don’t know who nominated me but as an early career researcher it’s certainly a huge confidence boost to think that more senior colleagues think my work is good and interesting enough to take the time to write an awards nomination.

Given how busy academics tend to be, that’s a huge compliment!

Who inspires you professionally?

Inge Lehmann inspires me. She is a female seismologist who discovered the earth’s inner core in 1936 through careful observation of seismic data. She also ran several seismic observatories.

Away from work, what’s your idea of a perfect day off?

A perfect day off for me would include a sunny hike in the hills with my husband carrying our little girl in her hiking backpack. Preferably finishing in a pub or a café for cake and a cup of tea.



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