On melted shoe soles to junior professorship

  Ms Richter selfie with lava Copyright: © OVPF
25/01/2022
 

Dear Ms. Richter,

On January 1, 2022, you will take over the newly established WISNA junior professorship "Remote Sensing of Natural Hazards". Why did you choose Aachen and what will be your focus in teaching and research in Aachen?

RWTH Aachen University enjoys an outstanding reputation in the national and international research landscape. That is attractive, of course. I also like the location of the city and the university in the center of Western Europe. Since I spent the last few years in the region around Potsdam and Berlin and in overseas France, respectively, this region, which is still unknown to me, opens up completely new and exciting perspectives for me.

My special personal interest is in complex geophysical processes and process couplings at active ocean island volcanoes. Thus, I am involved in the study of volcanic architecture, genesis, and stability, as well as volcano-tectonic processes and associated multiple hazards and cascading effects of natural hazards. I have been and continue to be involved in volcano monitoring and crisis management of numerous volcanic eruptions. Methodologically, my focus is on the analysis of spatially dense satellite-based Earth observation data, most particularly on the application of radar remote sensing and radar interferometry (InSAR), including InSAR time series analysis, which I integrate with temporally dense field-based data (e.g., GNSS and seismic data) and evaluate in synthesis. In addition, modern methods for data acquisition and processing of high-resolution digital terrain models (DTMs) are applied in my research. These include stereophotogrammetry based on airborne or UAV-based data, (multitemporal) bistatic TanDEM-X-CoSSC evaluation, or data collection using terrestrial laser scanners.

Accordingly, one focus in teaching will be on teaching radar remote sensing methods, such as multitemporal differential radar interferometry for the detection and monitoring of earth surface deformations. The spectrum of possible applications is broad: urban subsidence, geo-resource exploration, landslides, glacial flow, earthquake deformations, and subsurface magma movements can be measured using this method and allow the investigation of the causative processes, for example through modeling. However, we will also learn methods for data collection and calculation of topographic terrain models, which play a fundamental role in the assessment of natural hazards. Having worked for several years at volcano observatories in Hawai'i and La Reunion, I would also like to share my experience with and important aspects about natural hazard management.

  Selfie in front of volcano Copyright: © GFZ Potsdam

You studied geography in your bachelor's degree and geoinformatics in your master's degree at the University of Jena and subsequently completed your doctoral thesis on "Investigating hazards and the evolution of volcanic landscapes by means of terrestrial and satellite remote sensing data and modeling" at the GFZ and the University of Potsdam, respectively, from 2012-2017. How did you get into remote sensing and natural hazards and what fascinates you so much about this field?

If I am completely honest, I started studying geography in the fall of 2004 with the hope that this subject would take me around the world. That expectation has worked out. I have worked at numerous active volcanoes around the globe over the past few years. Even in my bachelor's degree, I was particularly interested in the application of satellite data to detect changes in the Earth's surface. I worked at DLR's German Remote Sensing Data Center for an internship and my bachelor's thesis, and specialized in remote sensing and geoinformatics for my master's degree. I was fascinated by the fact that you can measure a few centimeters of ground motion per year with almost millimeter precision using a satellite system that sends microwaves to Earth more than 500 km from the Earth's surface in space and records reflected signals. So I studied exactly how this works, where to obtain such data, and what it can be used to look at. When the application of this method took me to the Kīlauea volcano in Hawai'i and I experienced my first volcanic eruption there, there was no more exciting topic for me and the course was set for my future research focus.

  Ms Richter takes lava sample Copyright: © OVPF

Your special focus is on the study of volcanoes. In recent months, you have been active on La Palma and reported on the eruption several times in the German media. What makes this volcanic eruption so special? How important do you consider scientific public relations in the field of natural hazards?

Cumbre Vieja is an active ocean island volcano that has its origin in a mantle anomaly. As such, it is one of those volcanoes that I have focused on in my particular research focus in recent years. It erupts very irregularly and, measured by our human time scale, rather infrequently. This makes each of its eruptions a rich source of data, providing information about its internal architecture and about its eruptive behavior. Because volcanic eruptions are insanely spectacular natural events, they attract their own form of tourism. For the safety of the affected population and the approaching tourists, communication of scientifically sound data interpretations and findings to the public and close cooperation with the relevant civil defense authorities are essential.

  molten shoe sole Copyright: © OVPF

Besides La Palma, you have explored volcanoes in Hawai'i, La Réunion and Indonesia, among others, as well as in Chile and Mexico. Do you have a special favorite volcano and if so, why? Have you ever been in a dangerous situation related to volcanoes?

The Kīlauea volcano in Hawai'i will always be special, because this is where it all started for me in 2010-2012. Back in March 2011, I witnessed the Kamoamoa fissure eruption and thus my very first volcanic eruption up close. You never forget something like that. In addition, the Kīlauea had an eruption of the century in the summer of 2018, through which incredible research-relevant insights into the system and the coupling of caldera collapses with flank eruptions were gained. However, I would not want to leave Piton de la Fournaise unmentioned, as I learned a lot there during my longest research stay totaling 30 months at an active volcano.

Is working on volcanic eruptions dangerous? I collected photogrammetric data on active eruption fissures -secured by a harness, but half hanging out of flying helicopters without windows and doors. The soles of my shoes melted from time to time when I was walking on fresh lava fields, volcanic gases brought tears to my eyes, my car got stuck in heavy ash rain and thick ash coating on the roads, I collected fresh lava bombs just where they went down, still hot. I stood right on the precipice of some vertical and very deep crater rims of active volcanoes, for example, to take laser scanner measurements. One prepares very well for such undertakings. There is direct contact with the local authorities and colleagues who keep an eye on the current situation and data, and all safety precautions have to be meticulously observed. So far, I have not put myself in mortal danger, even though some situations could have taken dangerous turns.

  snowwhite mountain Copyright: © GFZ Potsdam

You did not take the classic path of a habilitation, but instead went the way of a W1 junior professorship with tenure track (WISNA) to the W2 professorship "Neotectonics and Georisks" (successor to Prof. Reicherter). Why did you choose this path and what opportunities do you see in this academic career model?

The junior professorship allows me to get to know the entire range of tasks of a professorship and to test and prove myself in all areas of responsibility. In addition, it already gives me an insight into the ongoing research projects and teaching content at the university, as well as in the faculty and the department, and thus gives me the opportunity to have a say in content at an early stage. I think there is no better way to prepare for a full professorship.

  Taking sample from flowing lava Copyright: © OVPF

With your appointment to the junior professorship, you will supervise doctoral students. What guidelines are important to you in the training of your junior scientists and how do you plan to implement this in your junior professorship?

Above all, I want my doctoral students to enjoy their work. I want to get young people excited about scientific issues. I want them to take tools with them on their way and apply them creatively, competently and independently. Important to me are interdisciplinary solutions, the generation of measurable successes through realistic teaching and learning goals, and the professional and personal development of the doctoral students. Applied work also includes research stays and field work, in which I would like to involve the young scientists from the very beginning. In my experience, you develop a completely different relationship to data that you collect and process independently in the field before you work with it. In teaching, I want students to enjoy attending my classes and not feel overwhelmed by the content, but rather enjoy thinking about solutions independently, deeply, and in a focused way. So at the heart of my personal understanding of teaching are the concepts of motivation, development, dialogue and focus.

For the last few years, you have been employed at the Geo Research Center in Potsdam and have given individual lectures primarily at the University of Potsdam. How does scientific operation at a university differ from a research center?

At a university, teaching and working with students take on a more central role than at a research center. I look forward to working with the next generation of scientists. This will hopefully keep me curious, creative and flexible for a long time.

  Ms Richter with helicopter Copyright: © OVPF

With your appointment, students hope, among other things, for an expanded range of volcanology-related field events. Do you have any plans for this, if applicable?

I work in a focus on active ocean island volcanoes and would very much like to visit some of them with students. For example, the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, or even La Réunion in the Indian Ocean would be good places for field events. I have been on study excursions to China and California myself in my studies and very much hope to be able to implement such trips at RWTH as well. As long as larger excursions remain limited by the pandemic situation, however, we will also visit nearby volcanic regions, such as the Eifel.

Thank you for the interview and have a good start in Aachen!