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Staff Research Profile: introducing…Chris Satow

Tell us about yourself

Chris SatowI am currently an Early Career Researcher in the School of Natural and Built Environments, investigating the relationships between climate change and volcanic eruptions.

I studied Geology and Physical Geography at the University of Edinburgh from 2003-2007 and progressed to an MSc degree in Quaternary Science run jointly at that time between Royal Holloway, UCL and Queen Mary within the University of London. These two degrees preserved my broad interests across the Earth Sciences. Fieldwork was particularly formative for me, emphasising the range of spatial and temporal scales which we have to entertain within our discipline. I became fascinated with links between seemingly familiar Earth Surface processes, and internal processes. For example the proposed link between low pressure atmospheric systems and earthquakes or the mechanism by which erosion can drive mountain building. These links challenge our intuitive perceptions of the influence of natural processes. During my PhD at Royal Holloway University of London, I was part of an international and interdisciplinary research group. The project utilised tephra (volcanic ash) deposits preserved within climate and archaeological records in the Mediterranean region to precisely link the two, avoiding the chronological uncertainties which arise when employing other dating techniques such as radiocarbon. A major outcome was that climatic cooling had little impact on Early Modern Humans and Neanderthals and inferred that competition between the two populations was to blame for the demise of the Neanderthals. An aside to this project was the revelation that there are significant numbers of unidentified eruptions evident in marine sediment records and this is the root of my current research agenda at Kingston.

Prior to coming to Kingston, I worked in the education department of the Natural History Museum in London for 18 months, and concurrently with the Open University as an Associate Lecturer.

What is your current research focused on?

I am currently investigating the applicability of tephra layers (deposits of volcanic ash), preserved in ocean sediment cores, to the study of volcanic processes. In particular, some tephra layers are so thin and far from their source volcano that they can only be detected by careful processing of sediment and examination of its components under a microscope. These so-called 'crypto-tephra' deposits sometimes reveal previously unknown eruptions of volcanoes, and examination of their chemical composition using analytical techniques such as EPMA, LA-ICP-MS or SIMS can contribute to our understanding of the internal-processes contributing to eruptions. We are currently using these to investigate the influence of sea-level change on the eruptive style of volcanic islands.

What are you passionate about?

I'm passionate about sharing and communicating the results of research, both with the public and with the students of the university. Beyond the scientific impacts of our research, we must ensure social impacts of our work by opening opportunities for everyone to become excited by science.

How does your research affect people's everyday lives?

Over 500 million people worldwide are directly at risk of hazards associated with volcanic eruptions. Furthermore, everyone on Earth is being affected by climate change. The direct applicability of these research interests is what fuels my enthusiasm for research. For example, our 2012 paper highlighting the rapid response of sea level to polar temperature change was included in the IPCC's 2013 report.

If you could change one thing in the world what would it be?

The short term planning (electoral cycle) of governments. This, more than anything, prevents long term investment in climate change and natural hazard mitigation and adaptation.

With unlimited research budget, I would...

Initiate a global retreat centre for young Earth Scientists with free (carbon-neutral) travel! This would permit early career scientists to dedicate a month or two a year to meet, process data, form collaborations and discuss results.

What is the best thing about researching at Kingston University?

The supportive environment for Early Career Researchers; a dedicated network and frequent internal funding opportunities provide support and refinement for promising nascent research ideas which may otherwise be neglected due to a short career track-record.

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