Apr 2019
Interview with Leading Scientist of Earth Science ITU Academician Prof. Dr. Hans Thybo

We carried out an interview with internationally renowned Prof. Hans Thybo, ITU Eurasia Institute of Earth Sciences, regarding his academic and work life.

He spoke candidly and answered our questions about his journey to becoming a scientist, being a member of ITU, the contribution of tectonic studies carried out in Turkey on studies carried out worldwide, and how these studies influence on our daily life. Thybo, who spoke about the potential of being an academic at ITU also touched on the subject of ITU’s international academic staff and opportunities.

Firstly, we thank you for accepting us for this interview by ITU Communications and Public Relations Office. Can you briefly summarize your journal of being a scientist?

Being a scientist is to me a passion which determines my whole life style. It provides the joy of contributing to new understanding of nature, to become inspired by colleagues, to be able to work on important topics, to create new knowledge that can contribute to developing society for the benefit of mankind, and a few times to have the wonderful feeling that you feel that you have made a fundamental discovery. In my opinion, the most satisfying part of being a scientist is to contribute to providing young colleagues fundamental understanding and training that can help them in the future to plan and carry out their own research at the highest level.

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Can we learn your motivation for deciding on ITU, as a research oriented and on-site working internationally well-known academician?

I feel privileged to have the opportunity to work at Eurasia Institute of Earth Sciences at ITU. The basic idea behind the formation of this institute is to bring scientists from a broad range of Earth science subjects together with the perspective of becoming mutually inspired. The working atmosphere is excellent among all the highly qualified and motivated scientists in the institute. I love to be in vivid and lively Istanbul and at the same time to stay on the wonderful campus in Maslak. It forms a great base for my activities, although I spend much time on travels for my field work, international collaboration and organizational posts, participation in conferences and research councils, and as member of advisory boards at other universities.

Can you point out the potentials of mutual advantages of being a part of the academic team and the research environment at ITU?

High quality research requires that you have basic, general understanding of the subject you study, that you have access to the facilities needed for carrying out your experiments, that you have the right idea at the right time, and that you are able to combine it all into a directed research plan which you are able to execute. The quality of such projects improve substantially when you have opportunity to discuss the content with other scientists who have other experience than yourself. I find that the being affiliated with the institute, close to the Maden faculty at ITU, provides me with great opportunity to test ideas and discuss possible future research with colleagues with profound knowledge.

What do regional tectonic studies in Turkey and Anatolia promise as a contribution to research and knowledge in the world?  In what kind of certain topics Tectonics of Turkey can be studied as a case and reflected on further research?

An important reason that I am at ITU is that, for long, I have dreamed about launching a large scale project to study the whole lithosphere in Turkey. The geology of Turkey is very special because it is one of the youngest continental areas in the world. This provides unique possibility to study present-day tectonic processes and to learn about how continents can form by amalgamation of small continental plates. This evolution undoubtedly formed high mountain ranges and today we can directly observe the structures from this formation at the surface. Actually, studying the lithosphere in Turkey may be the best possibility for understanding how the Himalayan region originally formed before the great collision between India and Eurasia formed the present Tibetean Plateau. My contribution to understanding these processes will hopefully be to provide images and models of the deep structure inside the crust and deeper parts of the lithosphere throughout Turkey and surrounding areas. Other Turkish institutions and observatories have already created one of the best networks of seismographs and GPS stations in the world and provided great coverage with other data. However, one type of basic information is still missing, which is data on the structure of the crust down to 30-40 km depth. I am an international expert on acquisition and interpretation of such data, and my ambition is that Turkey shall have a state-of-the-art coverage of the crustal structure within the coming 5-8 years and that a group of young Turkish geophysicists by then have been trained to independently carry on this type of studies, hopefully at a much higher level than what we can do today. 

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People usually are not aware of the effects of scientific research on the big picture and how it affects our daily lives. Can you give us some examples on what your studies triggers in other areas? And its potentials on our daily lives in general, for example health, social issues, energy etc..

Models of the structure of the crust and deeper lithosphere in Turkey have great implications for knowing the processes that built the Turkish region. It will provide knowledge of importance for assessing areas that can be of interest for hydrocarbon resources in several ways. First of all, the proposed research programme may identify hitherto unknown sedimentary basins, which are the places where hydrocarbons accumulate. The models will provide knowledge of the types of rocks that exist throughout the crust and lithosphere, which are needed to understand the change in temperature throughout the evolution. The temperature field is a key parameter for formation and retention of hydrocarbons. As an example, the models can identify areas where there has been strong magmatic and volcanic activity. These sites were obviously very hot, and the crustal models allows us to calculate the evolution of the temperature field with time.

Another important aspect of such temperature models is that they can provide society with information about areas that may be prospective for exploitation of geothermal energy. This can become a huge resource to Turkey.

The models further can provide information of importance for understanding the formation of mineral resources which often form in the sutures that exist where the smaller plates collided and amalgamated to form present day Anatolia.

The crustal models will have direct importance for decreasing the uncertainty in locating earthquake hypocentres and mechanisms. Turkey already has a uniquely dense coverage of its territory with seismographs, which reduces the uncertainty substantially compared to other regions, but the knowledge of the crust holds potential for further improvement. Providing new details on the earthquake generation may improve the understanding of the related hazards and, hopefully, with time reduce the danger to human beings and society. 

In terms of your field, where do you see ITU in comparison to the other universities and research activities in the world?

I find geosciences at ITU at a very high level internationally and this is also what is indicated by quantitative statistics of research quality. Of course quantitative measures do not describe the full reality, but can only provide indication of the standing, but they fully confirm my opinion. I have great colleagues here who are among the leading scientists in their subjects. Geosciences at ITU has a significant volume and addresses many important aspects of processes in the Earth. This means that I have opportunity to discuss almost any subject with colleague scientists who have profound insight into their specialties.

It is my hope that I can contribute to making ITU more international in its scope than today. My firm belief is that science at the highest level develops where committed high level established scientists join into working teams with highly motivated bright students and early career scientists. Such teams become productive and create new ideas by working closely together in a friendly and open minded atmosphere where all members discuss with each other and respect the new ideas being brought up, no matter if they originate from the senior professor or the youngest student. However, it is important that these teams are open to the world, that they try to publish their results in some of the best journals where the reviewing processes are at the highest level. This is important to improve the quality of your research. My judgment is that Eurasia Institute of Earth Sciences is a small institute with great open minded scientists who all contribute to collaboration and to bringing science up to a higher level.