Steven Smith: Shake, rattle & roll


Sleeping on my living room floor in the nights following the Christchurch 2011 earthquake (the collapsed chimney making the bedrooms out of bounds ), I vividly recall listening to the booming and grinding of geology below. I absorbed every minute of it in equal measures of fear and awe. It is those very deep earthquake processes that both fascinate Steve, and keep him in his day job as a Geology Department Lecturer.

So when the opportunity came for Steve to move to tectonically active NZ from the more geologically ‘genteel’ United Kingdom, it would have been rude for him to say no.   Now much of his field research is associated with an ancient fault system that spans a large part of the country and which caused uplift of the characteristic red rocks of the Dun Mountain Ophiolite Belt. Prior to arriving here, he was already familiar with the Ophiolite Belt as it’s famous in geology textbooks round the world.  So Steve is understandably chuffed to be contributing to knowledge of how the Belt was uplifted more than 50km to the surface from the mantle.

Rocks carry their own story including a heap of information on their cumulative history.  Through studying the preserved microstructures in rocks resulting from tectonic grinding processes, much can be revealed about the controls that make rock creep slowly or move quickly. An Italian state-of-the-art earthquake simulator called SHIVA (which incidentally Steve was involved in developing) is also used for laboratory testing.  Weighing in at a robust four tonnes, SHIVA simulates the extreme deformation conditions typical of earthquakes such as high pressure and velocity, and includes the movement and even melting of rocks.

A childhood love of the mountains and glaciers initially led Steve on his geology journey. And now when he is out in the mountains, his greater understanding of the underlying processes allows a different perspective on the dynamism of nature that surrounds us.

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