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U of O’s Pascal Audet named Sloan Research Fellow

Photo: Courtesy of Pascal Audet

A University of Ottawa geophysicist and rising star in the earth sciences field was one of 126 early career scientists to be recently selected as Sloan Research Fellows.

The fellowships are awarded to scientists in eight different fields from 57 post-secondary institutions in the United States and Canada. Since its inception in 1955, 43 Sloan Research Fellows have gone on to receive Nobel Prizes.

Pascal Audet, an assistant professor in the department of earth sciences, was awarded the prize for research he conducted last year on how large-scale agriculture projects in Central California were affecting the underlying crust of the earth.

Agriculture in California requires a lot of water, and “they don’t typically have a lot of water so they pump the water out of the ground,” explained Audet.

“They keep extracting the water but they don’t replenish the system and so that whole mass of water that’s out of the ground now is producing less weight on the crust of the Earth,” he said.

The Earth’s crust rises because of the lighter weight, which Audet’s teams found may be causing earthquakes on the San Andreas fault.

California is also facing a historic drought which is exacerbating the issue by forcing farmers to “dig deeper and deeper to get the water in the ground,” according to Audet.

Audet said he will put the $50,000 grant towards finding out if operations in the Alberta oil sands are having a similar effect on the Earth,  as well as funding graduate students’ research.

“(In Alberta) they also remove a lot of material from the surface to produce the oil from this tar sand, so also possibly we can see the ground readjusting to this extraction,” he said.

Audet wasn’t always planning on a career in geology when he was pursuing an undergraduate degree in physics at the University of Montreal.

“At the beginning I wanted to be an astronomer,” he said, but “quickly realized that you don’t do as much with an astronomy degree.”

He settled on more earthly ambitions and looked into different branches of applied physics, where he discovered geophysics. He asked one of his professors to do a summer internship in geophysics, which eventually led him to pursue graduate studies.

“Don’t be afraid to go up to the professor and ask for a project, summer work, anything,” said Audet. “We’re not mean people, we like to interact with students.”

Now’s an excellent time to be an earth scientist “because we’ll need more, and more earth scientists to take care of our planet,” he said.

“There’s no limit (to what) you can do with a science degree.”