Tectonics and Geophysics
We investigate the physical processes of the solid Earth.
Tectonics is expressed at the surface of the Earth through rapid events such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and slower processes such as creep, while Earth’s crust is shaped by deep crustal and mantle deformation.
We address all these topics, focusing on three main areas:
- ocean magmatism and tectonics
The work feeds into research priorities in geohazards, deformation of Earth materials and computational Earth sciences.
Our researchers in geodynamics study the solid Earth’s dynamical processes which is formed of three sub-groups:
Mantle dynamics group
Led by Huw Davies, we are interested in understanding how mantle dynamics drive plate tectonics and control planetary evolution using global and regional numerical simulations constrained by observations.
Led by David Thompson, we use earthquake seismology as a tool for investigating a broad range of topics within Earth sciences, including:
- structure and evolution of the continental lithosphere
- mantle thermochemical structure
- fault zone processes.
Led by Wim Degruyter, we study the dynamics of volcanic plumes, eruptions, magma transport and magma storage by developing theoretical and numerical models, and combining them with laboratory experiments and field observations.
Oceanic magmatism and tectonics
Our research focuses on the formation and evolution of the lithosphere in a variety of oceanic settings. These are split into three areas:
- mid-ocean ridges (Macleod and Lissenberg)
- subduction zones (Buchs, Kerr and Lissenberg)
- intraplate regions (Kerr and Buchs).
We adopt a multidisciplinary approach, mostly based on fieldwork on land and at sea (including ocean drilling), using a combination of geochemical/petrological modelling, structural geology and geophysics.
Processes of particular interest to us include:
- magma generation in the sub-oceanic mantle
- crustal accretion at mid-ocean ridges
- deformation of the oceanic lithosphere
- formation of seamounts and oceanic islands
- formation of oceanic plateaus and their environmental impacts
- hydrothermal processes
- subduction initiation and the formation of ophiolites.
Tom Blenkinsop, David Buchs and Ake Fagereng lead this area, investigating the physical processes of the solid Earth using field observations, laboratory analyses, geophysical observations and numerical modelling.
Our research ranges from crustal fault behaviour and fluid flow to the deformation of the mantle, from microscopic to global scales.
Our three focus areas are:
- volcanic, sedimentary and tectonic processes at convergent margins
- fault mechanics and microstructures
- early Earth tectonics.
We examine how faults accommodate slip, seismically and aseismically, and how the range in geophysically observed fault behaviours may be recorded in exhumed rocks, using examples from contractional, extension and strike-slip tectonic regimes.
Fagereng, A. (PI) Mechanics of slow earthquake phenomena: an Integrated perspective from the Composition, geometry, and rheology of plate boundary faults. ERC Starter Grant, €1,500,000 to Cardiff
Fagereng, A. (Co-I) PREPARE: Enhancing PREParedness for East African Countries through Seismic Resilience Engineering. EPSRC Global Challenges Research Fund, £1,360,000 (£206,000 to Cardiff)
Buchs, D. International Collaboration Seedcorn Fund to collaborate with the Panama Canal Authority, Cardiff University. 2016, £6,710
Buchs, D. and Fagereng, A. Precambrian geological evolution of the Isle of Anglesey (Newborough area) and valorisation of Anglesey UNESCO Global Geopark. Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarship 2 (KESS2). 2017-2020, £52,020
Buchs, D. Early tectonic evolution of the Panama arc and the inter-American seaway. National Geographic Society's Global Exploration. 2016-2017, €19,000
Fagereng, A. (Co-I) The geological record of the earthquake cycle in the lower crust. NERC Standard Grant
Fagereng, A. (Co-I) Unlocking the secrets of slow slip with IODP drilling and next-generation seismic experiments. NERC-UKIODP Site Survey Grant
MacLeod, C. (PI) Role and extent of detachment faults at slow-spreading mid-ocean ridges. NERC Standard Grant
MacLeod, C. (PI) Nature of the lower crust and Moho at slower-spreading ridges: SloMo Leg 1 (IODP Expedition 360). NERC UKIODP Moratorium Grant
Davies, H. (Lead PI of Cardiff element) Volatile legacy of the Early Earth. NERC Grant – NE/M000400/1. September 2014-September 2019, £123,512
Davies, H. (Lead PI of Cardiff element) Mantle volatiles : processes, reservoirs and fluxes. NERC Grant - NE/M000397/1. September 2014-October 2019, £221,000
Davies, H. (Lead PI) and Wookey, J. (Co-I, University of Bristol) Superplumes, superpiles or superpuddings? Understanding the thermochemical dynamics of the mantle with waveform seismology. NERC Standard Grant - NE/K004824/1. 30 September 2013-October 2017, £428,490 (£240,763 Cardiff FEC)
Davies, H. (Lead PI) Improving hydrocarbon exploration by assimilating seismic data. HPC Wales Studentship. 29 February 2012-September 2016, £72,340
Davies, H. (Lead PI) Understanding how the mantle transition-zone 'valve' controls slab fate. NERC Standard Grant. NE/I024429/1. 01 June 2012-March 2016, £428,490 (£204,669 from NERC to CU)
Davies, H. Testing mantle dynamics: constraining high resolution mantle convection models using geochemistry and geophysics. NERC Standard Grant - NE/H006559/1. 01 February 2011-January 2014, £389,228 (£311,383 from NERC)
Buchs, D. Stratigraphy of the Panama Canal. Panama Canal Authority. 2016-2017, USD $98,085
Davies, H. NERC-ARCHER (National Supercomputer of UK Research Councils) allocation
Davies, H. ARCHER National Supercomputer resource. NERC grant NE/M000400/1. April 2017-March 2018, £22,400
Davies, H. ARCHER National Supercomputer resource. NERC grant NE/M000400/1. April 2015-March 2016, £6,720
Davies, H. ARCHER National Supercomputer resource. NERC grant NE/M000397/1. April 2015-March 2016, £2,240
Davies, H. ARCHER National Supercomputer resource. NERC grant NE/M000397/1 Studentship. April 2015-March 2016, £,1120
Davies, H. ARCHER National Supercomputer resource. NERC grant NE/I024429/1. April 2015-March 2016, £2,240
Davies, H. ARCHER National Supercomputer resource. NERC grant NE/I024429/1. April 2015-March 2016, £6,720
Davies, H. HECTOR National Supercomputer resource. NERC grant NE/K004824/1. April 2014-March 2015, £158,950
Davies, H. HECTOR National Supercomputer resource. NERC grant NE/I024429/1. April 2014-March 2015, £28,900
Blenkinsop, T. (PI) Geological approaches to generating fracture models for intrusive igneous rocks. Midland Valley Exploration Ltd. 2016-2019, £40,326
Blenkinsop, T. (PI) Tommy Creek Structural geology. Glencore. 2016, 2017, £11,045, £12,056
Blenkinsop, T. (PI) Earth Science Roadshow. EPSRC. 2015, £1,634
Lissenberg, J.C. (PI) Towards accurate determinations of magma chamber depths: insights from both olivine- and plagioclase-hosted melt inclusions. NERC Ion Microprobe Facility Grant-in-kind, 2017, £18,750
Ser Cymru II COFUND fellowship to support Postdoctoral Fellow Sarah Lambart. Mantle2MORB: Tracking mid-ocean ridge basalt from source to seafloor. 2017, £254,810
Lissenberg, J.C. (PI) Crystallisation depths and lithospheric thickness at ultraslow-spreading mid-ocean ridges. NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory Grant-in-kind. 2016, £62,208
Lissenberg, J.C. (PI) Reaction between MORB and lower oceanic crust: experimental constraints. NERC Ion Microprobe Facility Grant-in-kind. 2015, £10,000
- Guice, G. et al. 2018. Re-evaluating ambiguous age relationships in Archean cratons: implications for the origin of ultramafic-mafic complexes in the Lewisian Gneiss Complex. Precambrian Research 311 , pp.136-156. (10.1016/j.precamres.2018.04.020)
- Sanislav, I. V. , Blenkinsop, T. G. and Dirks, P. H. G. M. 2018. Archaean crustal growth through successive partial melting events in an oceanic plateau-like setting in the Tanzania Craton. Terra Nova 30 (3), pp.169-178. (10.1111/ter.12323)
- Fagereng, A. et al. 2018. Quartz vein formation by local dehydration embrittlement along the deep, tremorgenic subduction thrust interface. Geology 46 (1), pp.67-70. (10.1130/G39649.1)
- Parnell-Turner, R. et al., 2017. Oceanic detachment faults generate compression in extension. Geology 45 (10), pp.923-926. (10.1130/G39232.1)
- Barry, T. L. et al., 2017. Whole-mantle convection with tectonic plates preserves long-term global patterns of upper mantle geochemistry. Scientific Reports 7 1870. (10.1038/s41598-017-01816-y)
- Fagereng, A. and den Hartog, S. A. M. 2017. Subduction megathrust creep governed by pressure solution and frictional-viscous flow. Nature Geoscience 10 (1), pp.51-57. (10.1038/ngeo2857)
- Lissenberg, C. J. and MacLeod, C. J. 2016. A reactive porous flow control on mid-ocean ridge magmatic evolution. Journal of Petrology 57 (11-12), pp.2195-2220. (10.1093/petrology/egw074)
- Buchs, D. M. et al. 2016. Evidence from accreted seamounts for a depleted component in the early Galapagos plume. Geology 44 (5), pp.383-386. (10.1130/G37618.1)
- Degruyter, W. et al. 2016. Magma reservoir response to transient recharge events: the case of Santorini volcano (Greece). Geology 44 (1), pp.23-26. (10.1130/G37333.1)
- Thompson, D. A. et al. 2015. Hydrous upwelling across the mantle transition zone beneath the Afar Triple Junction. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 16 (3), pp.834-846. (10.1002/2014GC005648)
- Buchs, D. M. et al. 2015. Sediment flow routing during formation of forearc basins: constraints from integrated analysis of detrital pyroxenes and stratigraphy in the Kumano Basin, Japan. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 414 , pp.164-175. (10.1016/j.epsl.2014.12.046)
- Degruyter, W. and Huber, C. 2014. A model for eruption frequency of upper crustal silicic magma chambers. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 403 , pp.117-130. (10.1016/j.epsl.2014.06.047)
Professor in Earth Science
- +44 (0)29 2087 0232
Director of Research
- Welsh speaking
- daviesjh2 @ cardiff.ac.uk
- +44 (0)29 2087 5182
Director, Sustainable Places Research Institute and Reader
- +44 (0)29 2087 4329
High performance computing
We have access to high-performance computing centres and dedicated support within Cardiff University. The facilities allow us to undertake sophisticated simulations of the dynamics, including simulations in 3D spherical geometry. These models include mantle circulation models (MCM) which incorporate plate motion history. The models can be directly compared, including by 3D visualisation, to actual observations for improved understanding.
The facilities help us to better understand Earth's evolution including influences on surface topography, magmatism and seismic structure.
We have extensive facilities for rock and thin section preparation, including large and small jaw crushers for reducing large rock samples to pea-sized grains.
Large quantities can be ground to a fine powder in tema mills, or the planetary ball mills can be used for large quantities of rock samples in small amounts.
The facilities include:
- rock sawing laboratory
- rock crushing and grinding laboratory
- fusion laboratory
- sectioning laboratory
- polishing laboratory.
Our microscope can be used to image objects such as minerals and microfossils at a magnification far exceeding the capabilities of an optical microscope.
The electron microbeam facility in the Earth and Environmental Sciences houses two scanning electron microscopes and an X-ray diffractometer. The scanning electron microscope (SEM) is used for characterization, imaging and analysis of sub-micron features in materials. The X-ray diffractometer is used for identifying and characterizing minerals, either alone or in complex mixtures.
Our facilities include a state-of-the-art Zeiss Sigma HD Field Emission Gun Analytical SEM which is used for high-resolution imaging and X-ray element mapping as well as quantitative analysis of major, minor and trace elements. In addition our FEI XL30 Field Emission Gun Environmental SEM is used for high-resolution imaging and semi-quantitative X-ray element analysis of samples. Carbon- and gold-coating facilities are available for non-conducting samples. The Philips PW1710 Automated Powder Diffractometer is used for identifying and characterizing minerals, either alone or in complex mixtures.
The department has 3 Güralp Radian Posthole seismometers (fully broadband with frequency responses between 200Hz to 120s). These state-of-the-art instruments can be deployed at any angle with an internal magnetometer and accelerometer providing accurate, geographically-aligned waveforms. They can record seismic signals from strong local earthquakes where typical seismometer scales would clip (up to ~M7.5) and small teleseismic events due to the improved noise performance of posthole deployment.
The instruments are ideal for ongoing research within the department into continental lithosphere and deeper Earth structure, earthquake monitoring and coastal processes.