Oceans of opportunity

Hailing from a small town in Pennsylvania, Sarah Moriarty came to Memorial to study marine mineral resources with Dr. John Jamieson in the Department of Earth Sciences. Since starting her M.Sc., Sarah’s gotten lots of hands-on field work and networking opportunities (on top of her on-campus experience)—like exploring the Pacific seafloor in a submarine, working in a lab at Harvard University, and going on two international research cruises. Her end goal? To help increase our understanding of natural resources as the world moves towards a greener and more technologically advanced economy.

Where are you from?
I am from Catasauqua, Pennsylvania. It’s a small town about an hour from Philadelphia.

Are you the first person in your family to go to grad school? If so, how did that shape your graduate experience?
In my immediate family, yes. My family members all have B.Sc. or BA degrees, so a step further into graduate studies didn’t seem like an anomaly to them. Nevertheless, they are all extremely excited about the incredible opportunities for research and field work available to me at Memorial.

Where, and in what area, did you do your undergraduate or previous graduate work?
I received a B.Sc. in Geology and Marine Science with a concentration in oceanography from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. I also spent a couple of months at Chincoteague Bay Field Station in Wallops Island, Virginia, doing field research and coursework for my undergraduate degree.

Why did you choose to pursue a graduate degree?
At Kutztown University, I was encouraged by the faculty to go to graduate school. I also knew that receiving a graduate degree would improve my chances of landing a job related to my field of study.

Why did you choose Memorial for graduate studies?
I wanted to study the economic viability of marine hydrothermal sulfide deposits. Dr. John Jamieson in the Department of Earth Sciences at Memorial is one of the few people in North America that study that subject and thankfully he was accepting graduate students.

What is your degree program and area of specialization?
I’m pursuing an M.Sc. in Earth Sciences with a specialization in marine mineral resources.

Why did you choose this area of study?
The ocean is fascinating, and we still know so little about it. Only about 5% of the seafloor has been mapped in detail. Marine hydrothermal vent systems were first discovered just over 42 years ago, and new discoveries and scientific advancements are still being made frequently by the marine scientists. From both scientific and economic perspectives, it’s important to continue to grow our knowledge of marine hydrothermal vent systems as well as the ocean as a whole.

How would you describe your experience as a graduate student at Memorial?
My experience as a graduate student at Memorial University has been overwhelmingly positive. The graduate classes I have taken have been incredibly challenging and stimulating. I have earned a great deal not only about the given topics but also general skills imperative to succeeding in geology and academic environments. Plus, Memorial has excellent facilities that have been vitally important to my thesis research.

In addition to the research I have done here at Memorial, I completed analytical work in stable isotope labs with faculty and graduate students at Harvard University and the University of Maryland. I also went on two international research cruises to hydrothermal systems located on the East Pacific Rise and the Juan de Fuca Ridge in the Pacific Ocean. These research cruises provided me with invaluable networking opportunities and hands-on field work experience.

Memorial’s Earth Science department faculty, staff and graduate students have also been extremely friendly, helpful and supportive. The workshops and talks offered at Memorial have been incredibly useful and informative, and they have greatly enhanced my experience as a graduate student by allowing me to further cultivate my work-related skills and interests.

What is your research/thesis about? What is the goal of your research? What are the implications of your research project for the province, the country and the world?
My research involves using sulfur isotopes to constrain different environmental factors affecting marine hydrothermal vent systems on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, a mid-ocean ridge off the coast of Vancouver Island and the Pacific Northwestern United States. I am attempting to identify and categorize the endmember sulfur isotope signatures of a sedimented and sediment-free hydrothermal field in order to compare them to a hydrothermal field that may potentially contain sediment. Sediment overlaying marine hydrothermal vent systems traps hydrothermal fluid, which causes precipitation of hydrothermal sulfides below the seafloor and leads to larger, metal-rich seafloor massive sulfide deposits (SMS deposits). The metals in SMS deposits have significant implications for mining, electronics and renewable energy.

Many of the copper/zinc deposits in central Newfoundland were formed in similar environments on the ancient seafloor, so increasing our understanding of modern marine hydrothermal systems could ultimately help the Newfoundland mining industry. Identifying sedimented marine hydrothermal deposits is important as Canada, and the world as a whole, attempts to move to a greener, more technologically advanced economy.

Why did you choose this research question/topic?
The specific research topic was provided to me by my supervisor, which I am grateful for as I was previously unaware of the extensive range of applications of sulfur isotopes. The potential utility of multiple sulfur isotopes for identifying specific processes in hydrothermal systems is a subject I now find incredibly interesting. It still a relatively new topic that has a wide variety of implications for both economic and scientific initiatives.

How do you work with your supervisor? Does your work involve other students?
My supervisor, Dr. John Jamieson, has been extremely helpful in dealing with both the academic and administrative aspects of graduate school. We generally discuss thesis research on a weekly basis. Dr. Jamieson also organizes weekly lab meetings where the students in his Marine Mineral Resources lab discuss papers, data, and research problems we are having. I was also given the opportunity to accompany my supervisor on a 5-week research cruise to the East Pacific Rise (near the Galapagos Islands) where I gained additional field experience while assisting with scientific observations and mapping.

Are there any difficulties in life that you’ve overcome to pursue graduate studies?
Yes. Everyone, at some point, has life struggles and must work to overcome obstacles preventing them from reaching their goals. I think dwelling on what you’ve overcome often serves as a hindrance that further inhibits your success.

What are you planning to do after you complete your degree?
I would like to find a job in the marine geology field where I can spend a significant amount of time doing field work.

Do you have any advice for current and/or future graduate students?
Start writing your thesis as soon as possible, and add to it often. Attend as many relevant workshops and talks as you can. Also, despite the weather, St John’s is a beautiful city with a lot to offer, so make sure to take advantage of this unique experience.

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