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E323: Relationships between Topography, Seismic Tomography and Mantle Convection on Earth (Lead Supervisor: Nicky White, Earth Sciences)

Supervisors: Nicky White (Earth Sciences), David Al-Attar (Earth Sciences) and Mark Hoggard (Earth Sciences)

Importance of the area of research concerned (limit 150 words):

Convective circulation of Earth’s mantle generates dynamic topography at the surface which is expected to vary as a function of space and time. In recent years, considerable research effort has been targeted at predicting dynamic topographic patterns from the density structure of the mantle inferred from global seismic tomographic models. Unfortunately these predictions disagree with limited, and mostly ocean-based, observations of dynamic topography. It is now opportune to re-examine the quantitative relationship between between dynamic topography, seismic tomography and mantle viscosity.

Project summary:

New measurements of dynamic topography through space and time will form the starting point of this project. These measurements represent an important missing piece of the puzzle in attempts to understand the way in which convective circulation of the mantle generates transient vertical motions at the surface. Dynamic topographic constraints will be combined with seismic tomographic models and with simple assumptions about the variation of viscosity with radius. In this way, we will develop an improved understanding of the nature and influence of convective circulation.

What the student will do:

In the first stage of the project, spherical harmonic analysis will be used to analyze dynamic topography. The results will then be compared with predictive dynamic topographic models to assess their applicability. In the second stage, analytical predictive models of dynamic topography will be developed from seismic tomographic models and the parameter space of radial viscosity variation explored. The student will use these results to develop a fluid dynamic understanding of convectively driven vertical motions.

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Winterbourne, J., White, N. & Crosby, A. (2014). Accurate measurements of residual topography from the oceanic realm. Tectonics, vol 33, 982–1015.

Paul, J.D., Roberts, G.G. & White, N. (2014). The African Landscape through space and time. Tectonics, vol 33, 898–935.

Czarnota, K., Roberts, G.G., White, N. & Fishwick, S. (2014). Spatial and temporal patterns of Australian dynamic topography from river profile modeling. Journal of Geophysical Research, vol 119, 1384–1424.

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