Mathieu Lapôtre 
Ph.D. Candidate, Caltech

Welcome to my website!

As a planetary geologist, I seek answers to some of 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? In the face of it, both the origin of life and its evolution as we understand it are tightly coupled to the interaction of water and rocks. I thus decided to focus on a subject which is at the interface of many other disciplines - the study of planetary surfaces, with a strong emphasis on fluid processes. Rock, water, the atmosphere and life interact in a complex way to sculpt and modify the landscapes we, humans, live on. Similar processes act on other planets in the Solar System, and learning to decipher the hydrological and geological records of such surfaces is of critical importance for our understanding of what makes Earth so special, as well as to make decisions that impact us at timescales ranging from a presidential term to the lifetime of a civilization.

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 new paleohydraulic technique to constrain the discharge of outburst floods on Earth and Mars based on the morphology of bedrock canyons, (3) understanding the relative roles of groundwater and surface flow in forming amphitheater-headed canyons on Earth and Mars, (4) developing a workflow for the quantitative inversion of mineral abundances, grain sizes, and associated errors and uncertainties in Martian sands from Visible/Near Infrared (VISIR) spectral images using a Bayesian, probabilistic approach, and (5) quantifying the degree of spatial sorting of minerals in dunes at Gale Crater to better characterize the modern environment as well as interpret the aeolian rock record. 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.

Color HiRISE image (ESP_042223_1890) of a barchan dune in Nili Patera, Mars