Mathieu Lapôtre

Ph.D. Candidate

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Science Collaborator

Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences

California Institute of Technology


Just as many (if not all) other scientists, I've always wanted to find answers to the most fundamental questions. What is so special about Earth? Where does life come from and what is its future? Are we alone in the universe?... I decided to focus on a subject which is at the interface of many other disciplines - the study of planetary surfaces. We, humans, live at an interface where the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere and the biosphere interact through a complex system of feedback loops to sculpt and modify our environment. Therefore, it is of particular importance to understand and quantify these different processes, especially in the current context of climate change. Moreover, similar processes act on other planetary surfaces in the Solar System (except maybe for biological processes), and learning to decipher the geological features present on such surfaces is of crucial importance for our understanding of what makes Earth so special.

During my PhD at Caltech, I aim at  understanding how physical processes shape such diverse and complex landforms as those observed within the Solar System.  I use multiple approaches such as field and laboratory studies, remote sensing data analysis, analogous experiments and numerical modeling to unravel the physics of geological processes that shape planetary surfaces, and in particular, those involving fluids.

Current projects include (1) formulating a hydraulic theory for the flow upstream of waterfall escarpments, (2) developing a paleohydraulic tool to infer the discharge of outburst floods on Earth and Mars based on the morphology of bedrock canyons, (3) developing a workflow for the quantitative inversion of the mineral abundances and grain sizes of sands from Visible/Near Infrared (VISIR) spectral images using a Bayesian, probabilistic approach, and (4) comparing orbital and rover-based observations to characterize spatial sorting of wind-blown sand at the Bagnold dune field of Gale Crater, Mars. I am also involved in the MSL mission as a science team collaborator. See my Research page for more details on some of these projects.

Welcome to my website!