Jr. Research Fellow, Structural Geology, Ritabrata @tatairbd: A Day in the GeoLife Series

This photo was taken atop a granite-gneiss dome which rises high amidst surrounding paddy fields. Copyright Ritabrata

NAME: Ritabrata

CURRENT TITLE: Junior Research Fellow

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Structural Geology, Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology

EDUCATION: Currently pursuing a PhD at Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, since 2015 (2 years to be completed in July); Master of Science in Geology (highest degree earned till date)

TWITTER: @tatairbd

What’s your job like?

My research is focused on resolving the timing, nature and spatial extent of deformation along a contact between an ancient Craton and a dynamic Mobile Belt. The Craton, which bears minimal signatures of low temperature deformation is juxtaposed against the Mobile Belt which has been deformed at high temperatures. Mobile Belts are essentially orogenic belts which derive their name from the evidence of the ‘movement’ they preserve. The one area I focus on has been transposed all the way from Antarctica, during the breakup of the super-continent Rodinia, which existed between 1.3-1.1 billion years ago. My job, therefore, is to build a tectonic framework to explain the dynamic processes which were operative in the agglomeration of these starkly different fragments of the crust into a single part of the Indian shield.

What’s a typical day like?

A typical day starts off with detailed analyses of thin sections of rocks under a microscope. Despite immense progress in analytical tools and methods, in my opinion, an optical microscope can never be dispensed with due to its invaluable help in quantifying mineralogy, textures and deformation signatures on a small scale. Once a particular section piques my interest, it is polished further and transported to the Electron Backscatter Diffraction (EBSD) apparatus to get a finer perspective of textures, micro-structures and mineral orientations within the sample. Analysis of EBSD data reveals a wide spectrum of information for the inquisitive mind, ranging from the nature and distribution of grain boundaries, to possible mechanisms by which rocks were deformed.

What’s fun?

The fun bit of my research is the satisfaction I derive when I can correlate field observations with structural plots and textures and micro-structures on the microscopic level, thereby drawing conclusions which hold true for all scales of observation. My love for nature is satiated to an extent by fieldwork which gives me an opportunity to explore geologically uncharted areas. To come across exposures and outcrops which have lithologies and structural imprints that are previously undocumented is thrilling and provides the passion that keeps me going at my work day in, day out, with gusto!

What’s challenging?

Firstly, I work in an area where the exposure level is generally very low. As a result, it is often necessary to traverse dense forests and foliage in order to search for outcrops which might eventually turn out to be crucial for my work. Secondly, inferences drawn might not always turn out to be true for all scales of observation. A rock which might appear very deformed at a cursory glance on the outcrop scale, might well retain pristine igneous textures when viewed under the microscope. To be able to explain these discrepancies is a major challenge, and one that requires a lot of brainstorming.

What’s your advice to students?

The field of geosciences is vast, diverse, and a field with ample opportunities to whet the appetite of an inquisitive mind. Be brave and explore domains which have not been worked on. Break out of conventional stereotypes, and try to address problems using novel techniques and innovative approaches which have not been tried before!