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 tothe 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. We, humans, live at an interface where the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere and the biosphere interact through a complex feedback system to sculpt and modify our environment. Moreover, similar processes act on other planetary surfaces 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.

Welcome to my website!