PhD Student, Iceland Volcanoes, Thorbjorg Agustsdottir @fencingtobba: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Thorbjorg Agustsdottir, volcanic studies

NAME:  Thorbjorg Agustsdottir


AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Volcanoes, earthquakes, Iceland, rifting events

EDUCATION:  I am a 4th year PhD student, and I am a part of the University of Cambridge Volcano-Seismology group. We study earthquakes in and around volcanoes in the Northern and Eastern Volcanic Zones in Iceland where the plate spreading is accommodated by rifting events. Our dense network is focused around the Askja volcano and surrounding Vatnajökull ice cap and its many volcanoes. The group is lead by Professor Bob White.

My education and experience:
BSc in Geophysics, University of Iceland.
MSc in Geophysics, University of Iceland.
Part-time research and teaching assistant at the University of Iceland.
Currently PhD student in Volcano Seismology at University of Cambridge.
High level international athlete from high school to PhD.
Captain of Cambridge University Fencing Club Women Blues Team 2016-2017.

TWITTER: @fencingtobba



What’s your job like?

The job is great and interactive but also involves quite a lot of pressure to perform and deliver. My group collects its own data – which is great! To record earthquake activity, we use our local passive seismic network in central Iceland. This network is run by us in the Cambridge University Volcano-Seismology group in collaboration with the University of Iceland, and is supported by grants and equipment loans from the Natural Environment Research Council. Tiny earthquakes are often detected under volcanoes prior to eruption, caused by the movement melt beneath the surface. That is what I am working on! My research is focused on the seismicity associated with the 2014-15 Holuhraun eruption and the subsidence of the feeder volcano Bárðarbunga caldera.

What’s a typical day like?

A day in the office involves mostly working on the computer all day. We also have group meetings discussing various aspects of our work as well as paper discussions. Geophysics is quite computational as we are working with a lot of data. It involves using Linux Shell scripting, Python, Generic Mapping Tools (GMT), and many other programs. Everyone in the group helps each other with coding problems, and the environment is supportive. We also go regularly to meetings and conferences in the United Kingdom, Europe and United States.

A day in the field is completely different from the office job. We do our field work in Iceland where we need to drive around in big 4x4s servicing the seismic network, deploying new stations and repairing the old ones. We have also deployed instruments with a helicopter, snow scooters and skis but that is less common. Field days are long days involving a lot of manual labour and driving and in the evening quality checking our data. We were fortunate to have an eruption in our field area in 2014 – that was amazing!

===> Field Video of this Volcanic Eruption:  20140831_164555.mp4

What’s fun?

I really enjoy the field work in the beautiful Icelandic highlands. I also like the problem solving and the science part where we try to understand the data. The discussion with the group is something that I also really like, discussing ideas and discussing the problems.

What’s challenging?

For me the coding part is challenging as I am dyslexic but I still manage. Academia in general is challenging but challenges are also interesting and pushes you further. I have learnt so much the past 3.5 years in Cambridge.

What’s your advice to students?

Always follow your interest and intuition. Science is fun and very varied. It is hard work which pays off in my opinion, and it can take you to incredible places.

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