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The beauty of rocks

A journey through the Pyrenees with Emiliano Mutti, episode by episode.

43 min read
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43 min read

Geologist who tells the Earth’s story

Emiliano Mutti has spent his life among rocks, studying landscapes and trying to understand the past in order to decipher the present. A man of countless talents, he started researching the Pyrenees many years ago and has worked for roughly half a century in the area between Tremp and Pamplona in the south-central Pyrenees. His main interest is geology, in particular the stratigraphy and sedimentology of deepwater turbidite basins in different locations around the world. In 2016, Professor Mutti was a winner of the Eni Award – Eni’s ‘Nobel Prize for energy’, dedicated to the best research projects involving energy, sustainability and the environment. His research into deep water sedimentation won him the New Frontiers of Hydrocarbons prize in the Upstream category.

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Through the south-central Pyrenees

In each episode on the "Rock Hunters" playlist, filmed in spring 2017, we explore the path taken by Emiliano Mutti. We begin in Tremp, a small town in western Catalonia, and end on the border between Aragon and Navarre, not far from Pamplona. After being introduced to the geology of the south-central Pyrenees we will start analysing the tidal deposits of the Ager Basin; then we will move westwards, into the Tremp-Graus Basin, going through continental, coastal and shallow marine sediments. Our trip will take us to rocks deposited in ever deeper waters and end with basin plain sediments, formed thousands of meters under water.

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Rock hunters

Professor Emiliano Mutti takes us to discover the geology of the Pyrenees to which he has dedicated an entire life, with the humility and the curiosity of an explorer.

Go to the playlist

Rocks' hunters, the playlist

Along the way we will stop at a number of different places – most little known to the wider world and some without so much as a proper place name – that have become internationally renowned in the sphere of Earth sciences due to the geological value of the rocky outcrops there. At each stop Prof Mutti will explain some of the history of this important sedimentary basin, now a key destination for researchers. Before ending our exploration of sedimentary geology, we will head over to the northern Apennines in Italy, which are far more complex geologically but have more vegetation and therefore fewer outcrops, allowing us to draw on what we've learnt in the Pyrenees.

Photo credit: Emiliano Mutti

Gratitude for an unforgettable experience

The geologist Emiliano Mutti wrote a special letter to thank all those who accompanied him on this long journey. A rich, intense and meaningful life and work experience.

Read the letter

Why modelling the Earth is important

Geology is primarily a form of culture. It is the science that teaches us how our planet has changed over time in terms of tectonics, environment and climate. The geological heritage of the south-central Pyrenees is of enormous value for all geologists investigating the earth’s subsurface, whatever the aim of their studies: not just hydrocarbon exploration and production, but carbon capture and storage, paleoclimate reconstructions, groundwater research and monitoring. Pyrenean outcrops allow for creating geological models known as outcrop models, which provide crucial support for the everyday work of geologists who need to predict how rocks are distributed in the subsurface and helping them to interpret the seismic and well data commonly acquired from the subsurface itself.

Why the Pyrenees?

The south-central Spanish Pyrenees provide an excellent training ground for sedimentary geologists and anyone else interested in the subject. Outcrops of rock in the Tremp-Graus Basin from the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods allow us to recognise fossil patterns of the main depositional environments found on the Earth’s surface today (alluvial fans, lakes, rivers, deltas and coastlines dominated by swell or tides), as well as those we cannot see directly because they are located hundreds or thousands of metres below the sea. Every depositional environment is defined and governed by a combination of physical and chemical processes (geological agents) active in a certain place at a certain time. As one can see by examining the Earth’s surface today, variations in geological agents between different places create transitions between sedimentary environments (for example from a river to a delta or from a lagoon to the open sea), defining the geological landscape of the Earth at any particular moment.

Tracing the past to understand the present

In addition, studying sedimentary successions in the south-central Spanish Pyrenees has spawned the theory that extreme natural phenomena occurred in the past, the likes of which are never experienced today. Each process, or combination of processes, left its own distinctive mark in the resulting sediments (sedimentary structures) and the ability to recognise these signatures in fossil deposits, i.e. rocks, allows geologists to reconstruct the landscape of the past and provides the tools to understand how the landscape has changed in space and over time. The sedimentary rocks of the south-central Spanish Pyrenees offer a rare opportunity to trace a morphological and palaeological profile, moving from continental environments to deep seas, from fluvial deposits to sediments originally deposited at depths of more than 2000m over a distance of just under 200km (125 miles). This helps us to understand how the various types of depositional environment succeeded one another both laterally and vertically.

Down to Earth: storytelling and science

Emiliano Mutti looks back on his life in conversation with Luca Bertelli, Eni’s Chief Exploration Officer, and Marco Bardazzi, Eni’s Director of External Communication. A man with unique skills in the field of geology, Mutti shares his experiences with enthusiasm in a series of charming anecdotes and stories charged with the wonder of science. Two interviews reflecting the career of a great professional.  

Geology is all about time – deep time. Geologists are storytellers who take a period of time and try to reconstruct landscapes and how they have evolved.

by Emiliano Mutti
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Combining geology, creativity and technology

Alongside Luca Bertelli, chief exploration officer at Eni, Emiliano Mutti investigates the relationship between technology, digitalisation and geology. He discusses the enormous wealth of information waiting to be discovered and understood – all hidden within the rocks.

 

Geology is a branch of history. You always need to tell a story, and it’s difficult to explain history with an equation.

by Emiliano Mutti
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A geologist’s life

Emiliano Mutti looks back over his career and life with Marco Bardazzi, Eni’s director of external communication. Eni’s archive contains the geologist’s vast collection of papers concerning the Pyrenees and his private library, incorporating his passion, research and interests.

A master’s degree for professional explorers

Transversal skills, analytical ability and a cutting-edge approach to the energy sector: at the Eni Geoscience for Energy Master School – or GEMS – we’re shaping the professional explorers of the future. The course is open to graduates in geological science and technology, geophysical sciences and environmental science and technology (among others).