My research has taken some interesting twists and turns... A
trip to Yellowstone in winter revealed a novel mechanism of silica
precipitation that operates around silica depositing springs at sub-zero
temperatures around the globe. Basically, water flows from springs at
boiling temperatures, freezes and forms water ice that has a network of
microscopic brine-channels in which silica then precipitates forming cryogenic particulate
that looks a lot like fossilised microbes. This precipitation mechanism
could have been active around ancient hot springs on Mars.
Another unexpected find, a fossil coot (Fulica americana)
in ancient hot spring deposits of Yellowstone, pointed to the
possibility of vertebrate preservation in hot springs by
cast/mould-style preservation formed by silicification of carcass
encrusting microbial mats.
A random conversation (about the
likelihood of finding plant fossils on volcanic oceanic islands) with Swedish plant systematist Cajsa Lisa Anderson led to a series of
exploratory palaeobotanical investigations on the flanks of the
volcanoes of the Canary Islands and the discovery of numerous fossil
floras dating back to the Miocene.
Unusually high pH water (up to pH 12-13) flowing from lime-kiln
waste tips on the Black Mountain in South Wales are creating aprons of
calcium carbonate that have morphological and textural similarities with
hot spring travertine aprons. I co-supervise a PhD student, Louis
Emery, who is investigating how the aprons form and the very special
ecosystem associated with the springs.