TEAM FIRE: Jacob Richardson loves to look at lava

Next up from our week in outer space-esque Iceland is volcanologist and planetary scientists Jacob Richardson (@jacobrichardson). Jacob is a post-doc at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, and for this trip he’ll be out on the Holuhraun lava flow surveying the vent where most of the lava came from in 2014-2015.

Jacob was always interested in nature and the outdoors, especially since he camped a lot with his family as a kid, so geology became a natural fit. But he only learneJacobFieldPhotod that geology was a career choice in college!

I chose geology after taking a general-education geology course in college. I was hooked and a couple of years later I realized I could study these same processes but on other planets. I got an internship after cold applying to the NASA undergraduate research program, and that introduced me to volcanic processes.

Volcanology and planetary science are each pretty narrow career paths to stay within, but I have been lucky enough to have supportive mentors and colleagues that have helped me continue to combine these sub-disciplines and make a career out of it.

The work I will be doing as I’m tweeting for Real Scientists is field geology at a 3 year-old flood lava flow. We are using a scanning terrestrial lidar to create a high-resolution point cloud of the interior of the volcanic vent that sourced most of the lava in this flow. Part of this field excursion will also involve processing some data in the field, to actively visualize the vent back at camp.

After this field work, I use lidar and topographic data at my office to characterize the dynamics of lava flows and eruptions. Some of this field work will directly feed into research on how lava flows on the Moon and Mars and how volcanic landforms degrade over time.

I study how volcanoes have resurfaced planets over millions and billions of years to understand how these planets evolved over these same time scales. Volcanoes erupt the gases that make up planetary atmospheres, they erupt chemical components that are the building blocks of life, and their underground heat can help life survive on otherwise cold planets like Mars. Also volcanoes are really sweet.

One of my work-related side projects is making 3D print models of geophysical data and presenting these at NASA public outreach events. I like to work with raw data to create new kinds of 3D models that haven’t been thought up yet and so far I’ve had some success printing planetary crusts, volcanoes, and the Apollo landing sites. This extracurricular project is really exciting because everyone from kids to the most tenured professors get excited at the same models.

Please welcome Jacob to Real Scientists!


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