Plank was born in Wilmington, Delaware. As a child, she grew up in a schist quarry and was the youngest member of the Delaware Mineralogical Society in third grade. She graduated from Tatnall High School in 1981 and then graduated summa cum laude in Earth Sciences from Dartmouth College in 1985 with her thesis Magmatic Garnets from the Cardigan Pluton, NH under the supervision of John B. Lyons. She received her Ph.D. in Geosciences with distinction in 1993 from Columbia University, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory with her thesis Mantle Melting and Crustal Recycling at Subduction Zones under the advising of Charles H. Langmuir.
Beginning a postdoctoral career at Cornell University, Plank worked under the supervision of W.M. White from 1993 to 1995. From there, Plank became an assistant Professor at the University of Kansas from 1995-1999. There, she collaborated with her PhD advisor from Columbia (Langmuir) to work on her most cited publication, The chemical composition of subducting sediment and its consequences for the crust and mantle (see below). From 1999-2007, Plank was a professor of Earth Sciences at Boston University (Associate Professor from 1999-2005 and Professor from 2005-2007). Since 2008, Plank has been at Columbia University in New York, New York, appointed as an Arthur D. Storke Memorial Professor in their Earth and Environmental Science Department. Throughout the years, Plank held two (2) visiting Professor titles over summers in France: 1998 at the University of Rennes in Rennes and 2002 at the Universite Joseph Fourier in Grenoble.
She has spent her career researching magma and volcanoes. One specific area of her research is how the chemical composition of magma and crystals that form during eruption can provide information about the amount of water present during the eruption and explain how explosive it was. She undergoes this research by using microanalysis and modeling of volatile diffusion along small melt tubes and embayments, found in olivine crystals. She has done field work around the ring of fire, Philippines, Nicaragua, Iceland, and across the southwest United States as well as the Aleutian Islands. Plank serves on the Executive Committee of the Deep Carbon Observatory.
Two of her other main research contributions have been to the understanding of magma generation and crustal recycling at subduction zones. This is accomplished by geochemical observation of olivine minerals present in lavas. Her research focuses on magmas that evolve due to the plate tectonic cycle, namely subduction zones. More specifically, Plank has published notable papers tracing sediments from sea floors to their ultimate end as lava from arc volcanoes. This ‘creation’ of magma from sediments, how sediments decompress and at what temperature and water content, has remained the research in which she is most invested and interested.
One of Dr. Planks most notable works came from a collaboration with Langmuir in 1998. Not only did The chemical composition and its consequences for the crust and mantle provided a linkage in chemical composition between subducting ocean sediment and the composition of lava from arc volcanoes, but also it called for a development of a global subducting sediment (GLOSS) composition and flux similar to upper continental crust (UCC). Plank has since updated GLOSS to GLOSS-II in her 2014 publication, Chemical composition of subducting sediments.
In one of her most recent papers, Thermal structure and melting conditions in the mantle beneath the Basin and Range province from seismology and petrology, a collaboration with D.W. Forsyth, Plank revised a mantle-melt thermobarometer. They did this revision to show more precise pressure and temperature equilibrium estimates of mantle melt in the Basin and Range region of the United States.
Plank was presented with the John Ebers Geology Award while at Dartmouth College. In 1998, Plank received the Houtermans Medal from the European Association for Geochemistry as well as the Donath Medal from the Geological Society of America. In 2012, Plank was awarded the MacArthur Genius Grant. She received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Dartmouth in 2015.
Fellow of the Geochemical Society, 2011
Fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America, 2009
Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, 2008
Fellow of the Geological Society of America, 1998
National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, 1993-1994
National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship, 1985-1988
JOI/USSAC Ocean Drilling Program Fellowship, 1988-1990
Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow, GSO University Rhode Island, 1984
Thermal Structure and Melting Conditions in the Mantle beneath the Basin and Range Province from Seismology and Petrology. Plank, T.; D. W. Forsyth. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, vol. 17, no. 4, 2016, pp. 1312–1338. (2016)
The Chemical Composition of Subducting Sediments. Plank, T. in: H.D. Holland, K.K. Turekian (Eds.), The Crust, Treatise on Geochemistry (second ed.)4, , Elsevier, Oxford (2014), pp. 607–629.
NanoSIMS results from olivine-hosted melt embayments: Magma ascent rate during explosive basaltic eruptions. Lloyd, A.S; Plank, T; Ruprecht, P; Hauri, E.H., Rose, W; Gonnermann, H.M. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research Volume: 283 p.: 1-18 (2014).
Melting during late-stage rifting in Afar is hot and deep Ferguson, D. J.; Maclennan, J.; Bastow, I. D.; Pyle, D. M.; Jones, S. M., Keir; D., Blundy, J. D.; Plank, T.; Yirgu, G. Nature 07/2013 Volume: 499 p.: 70-73 (2013) 0.1038/nature12292
Why do mafic arc magmas contain ~4 wt% water on average? Plank, T., Kelley, K.A., †Zimmer, M.M., Hauri, E.H. and Wallace, P.J. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Frontiers Article Volume: 364 p.: 168-179 (2013)
Feeding andesitic eruptions with a high-speed connection from the mantle. Ruprecht, P. and Plank, T. Nature Volume: 50 p.: 68-72 (2013) doi:10.1038/nature12342
The Hf-Nd isotopic composition of marine sediments Vervoort, Jeff D.; Plank, Terry; Prytulak, Julie Geochimica Et Cosmochimica Acta 10/2011 Volume: 75 p.: 5903-5926 (2011)
New geothermometers for estimating slab surface temperatures Plank, T.; Cooper, L.; Manning; C.E. Nature Geoscience Volume: 2 p.: 611-615 (2009)