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Geophysics, Geodynamics and Tectonics

Alpine Fault
A snow storm blankets the South Island of New Zealand, clearly demarcating the Alpine Fault. (Credit: Image courtesy NASA, #TMOA2003192. July 11, 2003)

The distinctive feature of this grouping is the investigation of a very broad spectrum of structural, tectonic and geodynamical processes using quantitative physical models based on land-, marine- and space-based observations. Theoretical and geophysical analyses interface with advances in petrology, geochemistry and mineral sciences. Work at the BP institute and the Institute of Theoretical Geophysics is an integral part of this research and connects the Department closely with the Departments of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, and Chemical Engineering. The COMET project on modelling and observation of earthquakes and tectonics has developed further our strong national and international collaboration in aspects of space-based observation combined with fieldwork. We have expanded our activities in marine seismology through collaboration with Schlumberger. We are developing research in normal-mode and body-wave earthquake seismology. An extensive array of seismometers and new computational facilities has strategically enhanced our research in all areas of seismology and geodynamic modelling.

This is a vibrant training environment, for a career either in industry or academia, backed up by excellent research facilities.

Research is ongoing in:

  • Melt generation, and especially the relationship between composition, isotopic ratios and mantle stirring. The distribution of alkali basalts and kimberlites, and their relationship to lithospheric thickness.
  • The relationship between shear-wave velocity and temperature, and hence to lithospheric thickness of the continents. Control of continental tectonics, especially the geometry of fold-mountain belts and variations in elastic thickness, by the structure of the lithosphere.
  • Short-wavelength variations of the gravity field of the Earth, Moon and Mars using Doppler frequency shifts, principally to map variations in elastic thickness. The rheology of planetary interiors.
  • Investigations of active faulting in earthquakes, through combined use of seismology, GPS, InSAR, geomorphology and Quaternary geology, from details of individual earthquakes to regional investigations of large continental areas. This effort is coordinated within the COMET group (
  • The extent to which vertical motions of the continents are controlled by lithospheric stretching and/or by mantle circulation. This interest is pursued in close collaboration with the hydrocarbon industry who often fund projects and provide datasets.
  • Field deployments of networks of seismometers to study tectonics and lithosphere structure, as well as magma chambers in active volcanic regions. Areas of current work include Iceland, Iran, India, New Zealand, Chile, Indonesia and the Himalaya-Tibet region.
  • State-of-the-art marine seabed and conventional controlled-source seismic acquisition, data modelling and inversion to study large-scale crustal processes that occur when continents break apart, where plates collide, and in sedimentary basins.
  • Use of innovative controlled-source seismic techniques to map and monitor fluid flow and cracking in the subsurface, including application to water movement, CO2 sequestration and hydrocarbon reservoirs
  • The use of earthquake seismology, in association with mineral physics, to investigate the structure and composition of the Earth's deep interior.
  • The development of innovative theoretical and computational methods for solid Earth geophysics, including work on geophysical inverse problems and seismic tomography.
  • Understanding the relationship between mantle upwelling, lithospheric structure and plate motion, with a particular focus on plume melting, edge-driven convection and shear driven upwelling, and their implications for intra-plate volcanism.
  • Continental growth and evolution, and the relationship between the crust and lithospheric mantle over time. The use of multiple geophysical datasets, which can jointly constrain crust and upper mantle structure, forms a crucial part of this work.
  • The BP Institute is focusing on multiphase fluid flow through porous media and is located at the Bullard Laboratories.

We welcome applications from students with backgrounds in geology, geophysics, physics or mathematics.

Recent publications in this area.

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