Science and Technology

Técnico alumna wins €2,8 million grant

Professor Ana Ferreira, Physics Engineering alumna and professor at University College London, won an ERC Consolidator Grant.

Professor Ana Ferreira, Physics Engineering alumna and professor at University College London (UCL), was one of the Portuguese researchers who won an ERC Consolidator Grant. The €2,84 million grant will allow professor Ana Ferreira to understand the upward movement of rocks that make up Earth’s mantle.

The UPFLOW- Upward mantle flow from novel seismic observations – project will analyse for the first time the structure of the upward flow in the Atlantic mantle, where the Azores, Madeira and Canary Islands are located, trying to “understand the upward movement of rocks towards Earth’s surface”, explains the Técnico alumna.

The UCL professor stresses “the mantle controls the occurrence of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Its upward movement to the surface controls the release of natural gases into the atmosphere, influences the evolution of the continents, produced volcanic mega-eruptions millions of years ago and may cause new mega-eruptions in the future”.

Professor Ana Ferreira and her team will conduct a passive seismic experiment in the Atlantic, placing about 40 OBS (Ocean Bottom Seismometer) on the ocean floor in the Azores, Madeira and Canary Islands. These devices will continuously record natural seismicity, which will allow to reconstruct the upward flow. This unprecedented experience will allow a high resolution (100-200 km), at a depth up to ~ 1,000-1,500 km. “This is the first time that an experience of this type will take place in the region of the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands, which will bring unique data to understand the region’s seismicity and volcanism and, more globally, the internal dynamics of our planet”, stresses the Técnico alumna.

The UPFLOW, coordinated by professor Ana Ferreira, results from a collaboration between the Técnico alumna, the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA), Instituto Dom Luiz (IDL), the Université Paris-Sud and the GFZ. IPMA’s Portuguese research vessel Mário Ruivo will transport the instruments and the scientific team that will place the seismometers on the ocean floor. “After 18 months, the ship will be re-used to collect the instruments”, shares professor Ana Ferreira. “IPMA will also contribute with its expertise in marine geophysics and geophysical knowledge of the Azores and Madeira”, highlights the professor. The IDL will build deep-sea seismometers that will be used in the seismic experiment and will participate in the analysis and modeling of seismic data and its geological and geophysical interpretation.

The project coordinated by the Técnico alumna will start in 2021 and will last 5 years. The ERC grant will be used for different purposes. “About €1 million will be used for the passive seismic experiment in the Atlantic. The rest will be mainly used to hire 3 postdoc researchers and a PhD student, and also on project missions”, says professor Ana Ferreira.

The team composed of Portuguese scientists will be able to understand whether new mega-eruptions are likely to occur in the future. Highly innovative computational methods will also be developed to build high resolution seismic images of the region.

The Técnico alumna started to become interested in biophysics and geophysics during her third year at Técnico. She discovered that she was passionate about seismology while she was studying physics and geophysics at École Polytechnique and had the opportunity to do a research internship at Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris. “That was when I decided to do my PhD and to work in this area”, says the researcher.