June 27, 2006

Project to explore conditions inside the planet

by Tim Crosby

 CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A Southern Illinois University geophysicist will travel to Cairo, Egypt, and provinces adjacent to the Red Sea as part of study funded by the National Science Foundation aimed at finding new ways to take the Earth's temperature.

Dhananjay "Tiku" Ravat, a professor in the geology department in the College of Science at SIUC, is the principle researcher on the project, which he will conduct in concert with Egyptian scientists. The $60,000 funding for the two-year project is through a grant administered by the NSF in conjunction with the U.S. State Department and the U.S.-Egypt Joint Science and Technology Board.

Ravat and his colleagues will work on using magnetic field measurements to gain information about conditions inside the planet. The method seeks to infer temperatures in the Earth's crust and lithosphere, the uppermost layer of the mantle.

Researchers specifically will examine the area of Egypt where the country flanks the Red Sea. Ravat said plates of the Earth's crust in that region started separating about 36 million years ago, making it ideal for temperature research.

"There is a high influx of heat in that area," said Ravat, whose specializations include the study of magnetic fields in geology and geophysics, "We'll be using the magnetic fields to infer temperature variations, which can tell us about the geologic evolution of the area."

The researchers will work in two phases, the first concentrating on improving the method of

using magnetic fields to measure internal temperatures. The second phase involves using the method to make inferences about several geologic features.

For instance, Ravat said certain temperatures indicated by magnetic fields could tell researchers whether the area has the right conditions for mature petroleum deposits. It also has application in studying volcanism, seismic events and the nature of the crust and lithosphere.

Ravat, who joined the SIUC faculty in 1991, will partner with Ahmed Salem, director of research at the Egyptian Nuclear Materials Authority, on the project. The two worked together on previous projects, he said.

The project includes several exchanges, with Ravat and SIUC students visiting Egypt and Egyptian scientists and students visiting SIUC. The first Egyptian contingent could arrive as early as spring 2007, Ravat said. SIUC's group will visit Egypt at a later date.

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