Meet the Scientist #18 – Johanna Van Daele

This post is part of the GeoConnect³d blog.

Hello! My name is Johanna Van Daele and I’m a Geologist working on research and policy advice at the Flemish Planning Bureau for the Environment and Spatial Development (VPO).

Born and raised in the beautiful, medieval city of Bruges, I moved to Leuven in 2011 to start my studies in Geology at KULeuven. In 2016, I finished the joint KULeuven – UGent master in Geodynamics and Georesources, with a thesis about the granite-related Nb-Ta-Sn deposits in East Rwanda. Having fallen head over heels in love with the Central African geology and thanks to an FWO PhD Fellowship, I could continue to work in the Ore Geology & Geofluids research group of prof. Muchez, to investigate the tectono-metamorphic evolution and geodynamic framework of the Karagwe-Ankole Belt in more depth. During my PhD project, I studied the Kibuye-Gitarama-Gatumba area in West Rwanda through the view of several geo-disciplines; metamorphic petrology, structural geology, geothermobarometry and radiometric dating. By combining these multi-disciplinary insights, I was able to reconstruct the P-T history of the Karagwe-Ankole Belt, and shed some light on its geodynamic (plate tectonic) evolution from ~1400 to ~500 million years ago, a period of approximately 1 billion years!

At the end of August 2020, I defended my PhD, and I took up a new challenge: working as a researcher and policy advisor for the Flemish Government. In October 2020, I started exploring the (for me very exotic) deep subsurface of Flanders, with a main focus on managing regulatory aspects of deep geothermal projects, contributing to the development of a long-term vision for subsurface management in Flanders, and being involved in research that increases our knowledge of Flanders’ subsurface and supports a sustainable subsurface policy. One of the research projects I joined is the GeoConnect³d project, for which I looked into multiple types of geomanifestations in the area of Flanders, Germany and part of the Netherlands, France and Luxembourg.

You can find me on ResearchGate and LinkedIn.

The road to geology

According to my parents, I have been fascinated by rocks since I was a little kid, and I was always collecting them during our family holidays abroad. During one trip, my rock-hoarding apparently got so extreme that I only got to select three of them to take home. The rest we put under a tree to collect “the next time we pass by”. Till today, I have a large part of my childhood collection occupying several shelves in my room, and —who knows— maybe one day I can reunite them with the ones that didn’t make the cut (my dad states he still knows the exact location where we left them).

Growing older, my interest in rocks faded away a bit, not to say I totally abandoned it. In contrast to the hard dilemma when forced to select which rocks to keep, my choice of taking the minimum science programme during secondary school was quickly made. I was far more interested in Greek and mathematics, and was convinced I never ever would go into sciences!

But then came the moment to decide which further studies I would undertake… Not having a clue what to choose, I was browsing university brochures to get more inspiration when —to my big surprise— I discovered the existence of a scientific discipline in which the Earth is investigated using rocks as story-telling tools: geology. I was shocked, what an eye-opener! At that moment, it became crystal-clear (pun intended) where my professional future would lie. And I have never, not even a single time, regretted my choice of one decade ago.

Rocks rock!

As you might have guessed, I have a big heart for rocks, so I would count many rocks as my favourite. My childhood collection was largely based on visual aspects, like a particular colour(-change), lustre, shape, ‘appealing’ vein patterns or just intuition, rather than focusing on a specific rock type. Actually, I am still fascinated by any rock, especially when I look at thin sections (seeing micro-images of beautiful crystals or grains mixtures really can take my breath away) or when I get the chance to learn more about its petrogenesis.

But if I have to pick a favourite one at this moment, I would choose a metamorphic rock. Some of the samples I collected during my PhD, mostly greenschist-low amphibolite facies, Al-rich rocks, just have an amazing mineralogy and crystallography, with abundant biotite, amphibole, euhedral garnets, and in some cases cm-sized staurolite twins. Unfortunately, such rocks have (to my knowledge) not yet been discovered in Flanders, let alone that they crop out along kilometre-long road sections like in Rwanda.

The currently most researched formation in the deep subsurface of Flanders is the Lower Carboniferous Limestone Group (“Kolenkalk”), because it is suitable for multiple subsurface applications. I am not yet very familiar with carbonates, but I like their versatile character and can’t wait to discover more on their mineralogy and to explore their diagenetic and reservoir history. As unknown often implies unloved, I think you can expect an updated answer on this question quite soon.   

Sample KG16JD043 of my PhD-project: beautiful staurolite twins in a garnet-bearing metapelite along the road from Kibuye to Cyangugu (Rwanda)

A new GeoConnector

I only joined the GeoConnect³d project since a few months, but I already have learned a tremendous lot of new things. I especially like the well-thought database-structure of the Structural Framework and Geomanifestations, which deliberately maximizes straightforward functionality and visualization, while safeguarding flexibility for data input and querying at the same time. The distribution and characteristics of Geomanifestations combined with the outcomes of the Structural Framework will offer a unique support to solve burning policy questions concerning deep subsurface management.

In addition, it is nice to see how this approach is transferable to other regions. The international character is another aspect of GeoConnect³d I really appreciate. It’s great to get to know other geologists passionate about the subsurface of their country or region, to learn about their geology through the interesting discussions about the Structural Framework and Geomanifestations, and to exchange experience on how to deal with specific policy challenges. Actually, making the geomanifestations inventory for thermal springs, CO2-seeps and volcanic phenomena (which occur mainly in the Eifel area in Germany), felt quite a bit like planning a geo-oriented holiday trip. It took me on a wonderful virtual journey from behind my desktop.

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