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‘International superstars’

Earth Sciences hosts second Marie Skłodowska-Curie researcher


By Kelly Foss

The Department of Earth Sciences is hosting its second prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Post-doctoral Global Fellowship recipient in recent years.

Dr. Patricia Cadenas Martínez, originally from Spain, joined the department in July. She follows Dr. Caroline Lotout of France, who completed her two-year term this past fall.

The highly competitive fellowship supports early career scientists of all nationalities and fosters excellence in research. It targets recent PhDs who wish to carry out activities abroad, acquire new skills and develop their careers. The global fellowships can be for 2–3 years, with the first year or two spent abroad, followed by a mandatory year in Europe.

The year they applied, Dr. Cadenas Martínez and Dr. Lotout competed against nearly 10,000 other applicants and were among 1,500 selected.

Dr. Patricia Cadenas Martínez

“When I submitted my proposal, I felt very satisfied, because you know when you have done your best,” said Dr. Cadenas Martínez. “It was a hard but rewarding process.”

“Many were telling me I probably wouldn’t get it on my first attempt, so I thought I would get feedback from the reviewers and try again next year.”

She is working with Dr. Kim Welford’s Memorial Applied Geophysics for Rift Tectonics (MAGRiT) group on the project, SUBduction Initiation at Magma-poor Rifted Margins: An Atlantic Perspective, or SUBIMAP.

Throughout Earth’s existence, supercontinents periodically break into pieces and separate, creating new oceans.

These pieces may eventually reverse direction and come back together through subduction, a process that actively occurs at present, for example, along the margins of the Pacific Ocean.

Dr. Patricia Cadenas Martínez stands in front of a large board with graphs on it in a conference centre.
Dr. Cadenas Martínez presenting a poster at a conference this year.
Photo: Submitted

Lithospheric fragments may collide and eventually form mountain belts.

This cycle of opening and closure of oceans is known as the Wilson cycle, named for Canadian Tuzo Wilson.

Understanding the Wilson cycle is important when deciphering the continuing evolution of Earth’s oceans and mountain belts.

“Many studies address how subduction evolves, but we don’t know much about how it is initiated,” said Dr. Cadenas Martínez. “The southern North Atlantic, and particularly, the Iberian Atlantic margins, are a valuable natural laboratory for this investigation. Ocean opening and closure occurred in the past here and different evolutionary stages are preserved.

“Our project will study the role of pre-existing lithospheric structures on the evolution and reactivation of passive margins, using observations derived from the Newfoundland and Iberian Atlantic margins, coupled with kinematic reconstructions of lithospheric plates and numerical models,” she continued.

“We are building a very strong and wide-working team.” — Dr. Patricia Cadenas Martínez

The SUBIMAP team is international and multidisciplinary, with members currently from Canada, Portugal, Spain and France. Dr. Cadenas Martínez also plans to work with specialists in Australia and Germany in the coming years.

“We are building a very strong and wide-working team,” she said. “We hope this will open many possibilities for future projects and allow us to continue working together.”

Dr. Caroline Lotout

Dr. Caroline Lotout applied to the fellowship because she had a clear vision of the research she wanted to develop, and who she wanted to work with.

A woman in a had and scarf with mountains in the background
Dr. Caroline Lotout
Photo: Dr. Caroline Lotout

She says it’s a “game-changer” in a scientific career: it allows a researcher to manage their own project for three years, acquire new skills, extend their network, gain visibility and participate in multiple conferences, and manage a grant of approximately €250,000.

“It also shows you’re able to obtain competitive international funding, which is almost mandatory to get a permanent position. I was just out of my PhD when I received the fellowship, so as an early career researcher, it also helps build your confidence.”

While at Memorial, Dr. Lotout worked in collaboration with Dr. Aphrodite Indares.

Her project is titled Conditions and Duration of High-tempeRature Processes in Large Hot orogeNs: Insights from the Grenville TECtonics, or CHRONOTEC.

It is about timing the building of the Grenville orogen — a process that involved the burial, thickening and heating of parts of the Earth’s crust more than a billion years ago to form the supercontinent, Rodinia.

“Deciphering the duration and conditions of metamorphism in orogenic systems is crucial to understand large-scale tectonic processes,” said Dr. Lotout. “In the last few decades, the development of thermodynamic modelling and instrumental advances in elemental and isotopic analysis have opened new avenues to unravel the timing of events within the rock metamorphic history and our understanding of tectonic processes and crustal evolution.

“The CHRONOTEC project investigates rocks across a pressure gradient and analyses the isotopic and elemental record of garnet and zircon, allowing us to better understand the behaviour of these two chronometers under metamorphism at high pressure and temperature, and to discuss the tectonic styles of the Grenville orogeny, in particular, and large hot orogens, in general,” she continued.

Dr. Caroline Latout takes a selfie of herself in hiking clothes while standing on a rocky hilltop with ocean, hills and blue sky and clouds behind her.
Dr. Caroline Latout takes a selfie at the Tablelands, Gros Morne National Park.
Photo: Submitted

Dr. Lotout has returned to France to complete the last year of her project.

She’ll return to Memorial in the spring for further work on some of her findings and will co-chair a scientific session with Dr. Indares at the Geological Association of Canada-Mineralogical Association of Canada joint annual meeting in Sudbury from May 24–27.

Global reach

Dr. Greg Dunning is the head of the Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Science.

He says he is pleased to see the department attract “international superstars” like Dr. Cadenas Martínez and Dr. Lotout.

“Their contributions to the research taking place in the Earth Sciences department, as well as their daily interactions with faculty and students, enhance the calibre and atmosphere of inquiry in the department and also bolster its reputation and global reach,” he said.

“In addition, the outcomes of their very different projects will contribute significantly to our understanding of the major fundamental plate tectonic processes that have shaped and continue to transform our dynamic planet. Such international exchanges and research relationships are important as they expose everyone to new ideas and opportunities for growth.”

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