Fold mountains

Kristel Chanard: Trekking and mountain tracking

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As a child, Kristel Chanard loved to read books on mountaineering adventures. She often imagined herself going on an expedition through the Himalayas. But at home, in the Parisian suburbs, she was a handyman, like her father, who liked to take things apart to show her daughter how it worked.

Chanard spent his first 2 years at university studying math and science, with the goal of becoming an engineer and building satellites. Then she realized that students studying geology and Earth-related problems had to spend much of their studies outside. “It was the geology that brought me to the field,” she said.

Chanard turned to geoscience, and a month later she was roaming the French Alps, exhausted but loving every minute of the fieldwork. Soon she even worked on data from the Himalayas, having landed an internship at the California Institute of Technology investigating the Asian monsoon cycle with Jean-Philippe Avouac.

Chanard studied with Jean-Philippe Avouac, right, and Walter Landry at the California Institute of Technology. Credit: Kristel Chanard

When she finished her bachelor’s degree in physics at the École normale supérieure in Paris, Chanard planned to take a leave of absence. Avouac, however, needed a field engineer in Nepal. Chanard spent a year roaming the Himalayas – by plane, on horseback, and on foot – setting up GPS stations to track the movement of tectonic plates.

Then Chanard returned to Paris to pursue her masters and focused on observational work in the field at experimental work, creating earthquakes in the laboratory. She realized that in order to do the kind of research she was interested in – understanding how solid Earth and climate interact – she would need both approaches.

“To understand some of the questions we ask ourselves in earth sciences, you have to see them from different perspectives,” she said.

Today, Chanard is a researcher in geophysics and geodesy at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris and at the Institut Géographique National in Paris. She spends her free time in the mountains, hiking and climbing, drawing inspiration from the research questions she wants to ask next and thinking about how to answer them. “I have the coolest job,” she said.

Follow Chanard’s research and adventures by following his website ( and his tweets (@KristelChanard).

This profile is part of a special series in our September 2021 issue on scientific careers.

—Kate Wheeling, science writer


Wheeling, K. (2021), Kristel Chanard: Trekking and mountain tracking, Eos, 102, Posted on August 24, 2021.

Text © 2021. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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