PhD Student, Australian Earthquake Geology, Tamarah King @tamarahking: A Day in the GeoLife Series


PhD Student, Tamarah King, studying earthquake geology in the Australian Desert.

NAME: Tamarah King


AREA OF EXPERTISE: Earthquake geology, paleoseismology, structural geology


EDUCATION: Bachelor of Science – 3 years
Master of Science (Earth Sciences) with honours – 2 years
PhD – current (2.5 years)

TWITTER NAME: @tamarahking

What’s your job like?

I go into the field after recent earthquakes to understand the intensity and distribution of shaking damage, and I apply that knowledge to hunt for past earthquakes in the landscape and geomorphology. As a geologist who studies earthquakes, I look at how earthquakes affect the rocks and landscape (rather than dealing with squiggly lines, like seismologists!)

What’s a typical day like?

Lots of my fieldwork is in the Australian desert, so I’m up before dawn to get started before the heat sets in. After a quick breakfast (no coffee, so I conserve water) I’ll pack my bag with 3-5 liters of water, lunch, sunscreen, global positioning system (GPS) camera, notebook, compass, tape measure, GPS, satellite phone and drone. My field day objectives then depend on what I’m investigating.


PhD Student, Tamarah King, studying Australian deserts with her drone. ©2018 Tamarah King

If it’s a recent surface rupture, I’ll head off with my field-hand to hike to the rupture. When we find it, we take photos, measurements and notes of the rupture, damage to vegetation, cracking, and other surface features. We’ll send the drone up to take overlapping pictures of the area so I can make a digital elevation model to determine the fault offset, and an orthomosaic photo so I can map the damage.

I then hunt for outcrops of rock to map out the intensity of damage. I’ll take notes, photos, and measurements of outcrops and surface damage across the region, up to 50 kilometers (km) away from the surface rupture. Lots of information has to be collected on foot, so I might walk up to 15-20 km in a day. That way I don’t miss anything crucial by driving over it, but it’s hard to cover all the area so I collect drone imagery and landscape photos to hunt for more clues when I get back to my desk.

If I’m looking for palaeo-earthquake damage, I might target my fieldwork to large outcrops of rock that may preserve damage for long periods of time. I’ll take my drone and fly over and around the outcrop so I can make a 3D model as a permanent record to refer back to. I then climb over as much of the outcrop as possible, taking notes and measurements of any suspicious damage (fallen boulders, displaced rocks, cracks) and collecting samples to determine the erosion rate and exposure time of the outcrops. I then look for clues of earthquakes in rivers, gullies, hills, cliffs and range fronts. These might be abandoned streams, waterfalls, rockfalls, abrupt changes in river direction, etc.

About an hour before sunset I head towards home, so I can make dinner before it’s dark. I then use the ‘diesel generator’ (the four wheel drive!) to charge the batteries for my drone, camera, GPS, and satellite phone. Where possible, I’ll have a solar panel set up to charge a car battery, which can charge all these things. I then make dinner, consolidate my notes from the day, plan what I’m going to target the next day, send a message to check in at home, and head to bed!

What’s fun?

Finding brand new earthquake damage in remote places, that nobody else has seen before! Walking across a landscape that is beautiful and free from modern human influence, and trying to understand and respect the ~ 60,000-year history of Australia and the landscapes.


PhD Student, Tamarah King, studying earthquakes in the Australian desert. ©2018 Tamarah King

What’s challenging?

Being self-reliant in an extreme environment and making decisions that balance my desire to collect scientific information, but also my safety. It’s also incredibly hard charging all my technology in the desert! I spend so much time rigging up solar panels or running a car at night to charge things.

What’s your advice to students?

My number one tip is to ask questions if you don’t understand! Don’t be intimidated. You’re there to learn, and you have every right to ask questions.

My second top tip–don’t obsess about getting the ‘answer’. There are very few ‘right’ answers in geology. Your task is to determine the ‘most right answer’ with the available evidence. Focus on the process of learning, problem-solving, and justifying your opinions with good evidence.


Tamarah King, Australian PhD Student ©2018 Tamarah King

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