Tectonic Processes in Geology

Our research in Tectonics aims at unraveling the relationships between earthquakes and aseismic fault slip, fault properties, crustal deformation and landscape evolution. Faculty in this area use a broad range of techniques to document active deformation (seismology, GPS geodesy, remote sensing, morphotectonics), and the structure and long term deformation history of the crust (structural geology, seismic imaging, thermochonology, metamorphic petrology). They also resort to numerical modeling of both short term and longer term geodynamic processes. Tectonics at Caltech is closely linked to geophysics, seismology and geodynamic modeling in particular, and most activities are carried under the Tectonics Observatory program (http://www.tectonics.caltech.edu/).

Tectonic Processes - Core Faculty

Jean-Philippe Avouac: Tectonics and tectonic geomorphology

Active tectonics, geomorphic record of crustal deformation, measurement of crustal deformation from satellite imagery, investigation and modeling of orogenic processes and the seismic cycle, with a focus on the Himalayas.

Ken Farley: Noble gas geochemistry and cosmogenic dating

Rare gas composition of terrestrial materials, chemical evolution of the Earth's mantle and atmosphere, petrogenesis of oceanic lavas, low temperature thermochronometry, geologic record of interplanetary dust flux.


Jason Saleeby: Developing a better understanding of the tectonics of the earth's mountain belts and, in particular, ocean basin continental margin interactions and crustal-formation processes along western North America.

Tectonic and geochronological studies in orogenic terranes of western North America, emphasizing the paleogeographic development of the Pacific basin and margins.

Joann Stock: Geology and geophysics

Plate tectonics; structural geology; evolution of plate boundaries; stress and deformation in the lithosphere; physical volcanology; tectonics and regional structure of the Pacific-North America plate boundary in the Gulf of California and Salton Trough.

Brian Wernicke: Tectonic evolution of the continental lithosphere

Tectonic evolution of the continental lithosphere through judicious combination of field observation and geophysical and geochemical methods, physical processes governing the large-scale structural evolution of mountain belts, especially extension of the continental crust and processes in the deep lithosphere, GPS geodesy and neotectonics, especially earthquakes and slow episodic deformations revealed through comparison of geodetic and geologic measurements.

Tectonic Processes - Associated Faculty

Michael C. Gurnis: Geophysics

Global geodynamics: mantle convection, plate tectonics and the dynamic coupling between mantle processes and continental and sea floor geology; chemical and thermal evolution of the mantle and crust; Marine geophysics; computational geophysics: frameworks, finite element analysis, and parallel processing.

Donald V. Helmberger: Geophysics

Seismic wave propagation and fine structures of the upper earth, as determined by P and S wave inversion; particularly interested in mapping ultra-low-velocity zones of the core-mantle boundary.

Nadia Lapusta: Mechanical Engineering and Geophysics

Mechanics and physics of earthquakes; fracture and friction processes; seismology; continuum mechanics; computational modeling.

Mark Simons: Geophysics and geodynamics

Theoretical and observational geodynamics, especially crustal deformation and mantle convection, radar interferometry, gravity field analysis, modeling of materials with complex rheologies.

Victor Tsai: Mathematical geophysics and geomechanics

Solid earth geophysics, solid-fluid interactions, glacier physics, earthquake dynamics, imaging techniques, and wave propogation.