Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor Matthew Pritchard, Cornell University, USA

Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor Matthew Pritchard

Developing new models of the transcrustal magmatic system at the Altiplano-Puna Deformation Anomaly

7 Jan - 26 Jul 2019


Matt Pritchard is a geophysicist who is interested in how the Earth's surface deforms in response to earthquakes, magma movements, glacier dynamics, and human manipulation of subsurface fluids (carbon sequestration, hydrocarbon withdrawal, and more). His primary research tools are satellite radar and optical images and has been involved in the science teams of two NASA missions to plan the observation strategies. His geographical foci are in several areas: North and South America, Africa, and Russia. His remote studies have motivated over a dozen trips to South America and several field projects in Bolivia and Chile, including several involving Bristol scientists. He has co-authored scientific papers and proposals with six faculty members at the University of Bristol and spent six months as a Visiting Professor at the University of Bristol in 2016. Pritchard also has long-standing research and teaching interests in planetary science and has published papers on the Moon and Venus and helped lead fieldtrips on Earth to study analogs to the surfaces of Mars and Titan. He received a B.A. in physics from the University of Chicago, and then M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology. After a year as a Harry Hess postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University, he has been a faculty member at Cornell University for 13 years in the Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences. He currently serves on the U.S. National Academy of Sciences Standing Committee on Seismology and Geodynamics, is a member of the Advisory Board of the Carl Sagan Institute, and is the U.S. national correspondent to the International Association of Geodesy.


The path that magma takes through the crust is not well understood -- where is magma stored and under what conditions will it erupt? While this question is of fundamental scientific interest, it is also directly related to understanding the hazard posed by volcanic systems that are showing signs of activity and unrest. This project seeks to understand the cause of unrest and the architecture of the magma storage system within the central Andes, home to the world's largest imaged zone of silicic partial melt, the Altiplano-Puna Magma (or Mush) Body. This region is globally anomalous in having a ground deformation pattern 150 km in diameter lasting several decades centered on Uturuncu volcano, Bolivia. A research team including Cornell and Bristol has in the past collected data that constrains the surface deformation, composition, gravity change, and subsurface seismic and electrical resistivity structure at this volcano. In this project, we will develop numerical models to integrate this data into a new thermo-mechanical model of the transcrustal magmatic system we have documented here. In particular, we seek to answer the question: What is the cause of large deformation anomaly in the Altiplano-Puna: a magmatic diapir, cyclic up and down movements from magma mush reorganization involving magma and/or volatiles, or something else? During my visiting professorship at Bristol, I will deepen my existing collaborations with the world-renowned Bristol volcanology group to answer this question. The goal of the proposed 6 month visit (only 3 months of funding are requested here) is to develop testable hypotheses for future field observations. I am also drawn to Bristol to establish new collaborations with others in the School of Earth Sciences as well as the Bristol Glaciology Centre in the School of Geographical Sciences.

During his stay in Bristol, Prof. Pritchard will be hosted by Professor Joachim Gottsmann (Earth Sciences)