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Geodynamics and Tectonics

Read more about Geodynamics and tectonics

Geodynamics & tectonics
We study the deformation and flow in the Earth from the upper crustal scale to the whole mantle scale, and investigate the driving forces responsible for such deformation and flow. We use laboratory-based (analogue) and numerical modelling techniques as well as field studies and tectonic reconstructions to quantify the deformation, velocities, forces and stresses associated with large-scale geodynamic processes such as subduction, mountain building and continental rifting, and their superficial consequences. In this framework, our research also concerns the study of the geodynamic evolution of the shallowest crustal parts of orogenic systems, through a field-based approach that integrates structural and stratigraphic analyses at the different scales, with particular emphasis on the interaction of plastic-brittle, small-scale and basin-scale deformation, fluid flow and heat-material transfer.

The Geodynamics & Tectonics group focusses both on generic, process-oriented, research (including research on subduction, orogenesis and crustal deformation) and research applied to specific geological settings and geographical locations (e.g. Andes, Apennines, Himalaya-East Asia, Pyrenees, Southwest Pacific, Svalbard).

The group manages the Kuenen-Escher Geodynamics Laboratory (KEG Lab), which is a modelling facility in which crustal and mantle-scale geodynamic processes are simulated in analogue experiments at small spatial scales and short temporal scales.

Subduction dynamics
Subduction zones are arguably the most significant tectonic features on Earth as they are the main driver of plate motion and mantle flow, and they play a dominant role in shaping the Earth’s topography through formation of mountain belts and ocean basins, thereby affecting atmospheric and ocean circulation, causing long-term climate change. Furthermore, they are associated with many different types of mineral deposits and with sedimentary basins that host hydrocarbon reserves. Lastly, subduction zones produce the most destructive volcanoes and earthquakes on Earth, including the December 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake and March 2011 Japan earthquake. Therefore, there is both a scientific and societal need to increase understanding of subduction zone processes.

Main topics of research:
-Subduction zone evolution and subduction
-induced mantle flow.
-Cordilleran mountain building at subduction zones (e.g. Andes).
-Backarc basin formation at subduction zones (e.g. North Fiji Basin, Tyrrhenian Sea).
-Dynamic topography and (past) subduction (e.g. SW Pacific, Australia).
-Continental subduction and orogenesis (e.g. Himalaya).
-Ophiolite obduction (e.g. New Guinea, New Caledonia, New Zealand).

Contact: Wouter P. Schellart

Shallow crustal deformation
Sedimentary rocks exposed in the orogenic belts worldwide record the overall deformation history of the associated basins at the various scales during the mountain building processes, from the early phases of syn-depositional activity to the latest phases of tectonic exhumation. Such rock assemblages are thus complicated by overlapping sedimentary and tectonic processes, which control the intrinsic mechanical and petrophysical properties with important implications in terms of socio-economic impacts (e.g. hydrocarbon, geothermal and groundwater exploration and exploitation, geological storage, waste disposal, etc.). Following a conceptual continuum from the ductile/plastic behaviour of unlithified to poorly-consolidated material at superficial and shallow crustal conditions, to the brittle deformation of lithified, well-consolidated sediments in the deeper subsurface, these research lines aim to outline the complex interaction between primary (sedimentary) and secondary (tectonic) deformation processes and related products, through space and time. The natural laboratories used in these field-oriented studies are the different basin systems and associated geodynamic settings preserved in orogenic belts (e.g. Apennines, Alps, Svalbard, Utah, Dinarides, Pyrenees, Sinai, Betic, Hiberian, Cyprus, Oman).

Main topics of research:
- Analysis of the fracture systems in relation to folding and faulting in compressional, strike-slip and extensional tectonic settings;
- Structural, stratigraphic and sedimentological analysis of ancient submarine landslide products and mass transport deposits, and comparison with recent analogs;
- Analysis of deformation structures related to processes of gravitational instability and shallow tectonics and relationships with the sedimentation;
- Deformation and petrophysical properties evolution in poorly to well lithified sediments as a tool for constraining fossil fluid flow in fault zones and fractured groundwater/hydrocarbon reservoirs;
- Micro- to meso-scale evolution of exhumed subduction and supra-subduction complexes;
- Shallow orogenesis and superficial mountain-building processes;
- Structural and stratigraphic contribution to hydrogeology of ophiolitic and crystalline basement complexes.
For analyses and BSc and MSc-project we use amongst others the structural geology Move software suite, 10 licences of this package have been kindly donated by Petroleum Experts Ltd (Petex), the commercial worth of which is £1,334,160.00.”

Contact: Kei Ogata

Geodynamic modelling
We use geodynamic models to provide quantitative insight into crustal, lithospheric and mantle-scale processes. We use both scaled laboratory modelling (analogue modelling) and numerical modelling techniques to investigate a variety of upper crustal to mantle scale processes. The analogue experiments are carried out in the Kuenen-Escher Geodynamics Laboratory (KEG Lab), which houses a variety of equipment (e.g. rheometer, density meter) to assess the physical properties of the modelling materials, modelling tanks and sandboxes to run the experiments, and cameras and a Particle Image Velocimetry System (PIV) to record, visualize, quantify and post-process the experiments. For the numerical modelling we use the open source code Underworld, which has been developed at Monash University and the University of Melbourne in Australia by Louis Moresi and colleagues. This is a particle-in-cell finite element code that has been specifically designed to simulate the evolution of large-scale geodynamic processes in three-dimensional space.

Main topics of research:
-Subduction and mantle flow.
-Mountain building.
-Continental deformation.
-Rheology of analogue materials.
-Fold-and-thrust belts.
-Strike-slip deformation. 

Contact: Wouter P. Schellart