When Andreia Plaza-Faverola was growing up in Venezuela, her father would take her snorkeling to a place that the locals referred to as ‘The Bubbles.’ This spot received its unusual nickname due to a natural phenomenon that allows methane gas to leak from the seabed and rise to the surface of the water.
Plaza-Faverola was completely unaware that her interest in this strange activity would coincidentally reappear as a major research focus in her career, ultimately securing her a Starting Grant from the Tromsø Research Foundation in the amount of NOK 11 million, plus an additional NOK 12 million contributed by the UiT Department of Geosciences/NT Faculty, and an additional NOK 3 million provided by the Norwegian government.
UNDERWATER CURIOSITY POTENTIAL FACTOR IN CLIMATE CHANGE
Her research project is appropriately called SEAMSTRESS, as it will investigate the effects of stress placed on underwater seams in the marine areas west of Svalbard. Her working hypothesis is that regional processes such as plate tectonics contribute to cracking open the sea floor and to the release of deeply held methane gas reserves into the ocean.
This underwater gas release is commonly referred to as methane seepage, and is more than just an underwater curiosity. Methane is one of the most powerful greenhouse gasses driving climate change due to its effectiveness at absorbing heat, and scientists are trying to determine to what extent methane release from marine environments contribute to the change.
Methane seepage can occur on land, in lakes, in permafrost areas, as well as under the sea. Plaza-Faverola’s research focuses on that occuring in marine settings at continental margins, specifically in Arctic areas.
Geophysical data showing cracks in the sediments and the pathways where methane moves until reaching the seafloor. Text: Andreia Plaza-Faverola
NEW EXPERIMENTS AND MODELING COULD PROVIDE ANSWERS
To test the hypothesis, the SEAMSTRESS project begins with an experimental phase in which seismological, seismic, geomechanical and petrophysical data will be combined to get a quantitative idea of how much stress is exerted on the sediment and the amount of deformation experienced at present day. Those data will then lead to a second phase in which the total stress in the region will be modeled, accounting for various forms of stress and how they affect the properties of faults, fractures, fluids, and sediments.
If the project is successful, the plan is to use this approach in other areas to quantify Earth system interactions on a global scale.
The project starts with an experimental phase where geophysical and geomechanical data will be used to measure the forces deforming the sediment. Text: Andreia Plaza-Faverola
TROMSØ RESEARCH FOUNDATION SUPPORTS YOUNG, TALENTED RESEARCHERS
Plaza-Faverola is a young researcher at The Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment, and Climate (CAGE) at UiT The Arctic University of Norway and has worked there as a researcher since 2013. The Tromsø Research Foundation’s Starting Grant will secure her position as research manager for 4 years, and also cover the placement of one post-doctoral candidate. The Faculty of Science and Technology and the Department of Geosciences will also fund one PhD position each to work on the project. This is an important milestone for Plaza-Faverola, as leading a research group is a major stepping stone in academia.
Another benefit of the grant is that the university will release a permanent, tenured position in Plaza-Faverola’s field toward the end of the project, a move that could set her up for a long-term career in academia.
Text: Jessica Green