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E327: New insights into the earthquake cycle and the geological evolution of the continents (Lead Supervisor: Alex Copley, Earth Sciences)

Supervisors: Alex Copley (Earth Sciences) and James Jackson (Earth Sciences)

Importance of the area of research:

One of the major unsolved problems in the Earth Sciences concerns understanding the factors that control the deformation of the lithosphere, from the scale of individual earthquake cycles to the geological evolution of the continents. Rapid technological and conceptual advances in the fields of seismology, satellite data, and numerical modelling, mean that we are now in a position to make significant new advances in this field. One important implication of this work lies in the understanding and assessment of earthquake hazard. Additionally, the presence of many of the world’s natural resources in fault-bounded mountain ranges and basins provides an economic relevance to this topic.

Project summary:

This project will gain new insights into the properties and behaviour of active faults by making new geodetic, seismological, remote sensing, and geological observations of earthquakes, the associated post- and inter-seismic motion, and the longer-term deformation preserved in geomorphology and geological structures. When combined with modelling work, these new observations will be used to probe the controls on the properties and behaviour of the brittle and ductile parts of the lithosphere. This multidisciplinary approach provides greater insights than the use of one method alone. Of particular importance are recently developed seismological tools to estimate earthquake slip distributions, the large amounts of geodetic data being gathered by recently launched satellites, and the ability to produce high-resolution elevation models from the new generation of optical satellite images. All of these techniques and data sources will be used in this project.

What the student will do:

The student will use seismology and geodesy to make new observations of earthquakes of interest, and the associated post- and inter-seismic deformation. Coupled with modelling work, these observations will be used to estimate earthquake slip distributions, and place constraints on the mechanical properties of the faults and the underlying ductile lithosphere. Remote sensing and fieldwork will be used to examine the longer-term behaviour of fault systems by studying tectonic geomorphology and geological structures. The student will combine these multiple lines of observation and modelling into a coherent overall view of the properties and behaviour of the faults studied and the underlying ductile lithosphere, and so provide new insights into the factors controlling the deformation and geological evolution of the continents. The work will focus on the Alpine-Himalayan belt, which contains a number of exciting target areas, which can be discussed in detail on enquiry or at interview.

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.


Copley, A. and Jolivet, R., 2016, Fault rheology in an aseismic fold-thrust belt (Shahdad, eastern Iran), Journal of Geophysical Research, 121, doi:10.1002/2015JB012431

Copley, A., Mitra, S., Sloan, R.A., Gaonkar, S., & Reynolds, K., 2014, Active faulting in apparently stable peninsular India: rift inversion and a Holocene-age great earthquake on the Tapti Fault, Journal of Geophysical Research, doi:10.1002/2014JB011294

Copley, A.,  Avouac, J-P, & Wernicke, B.P., 2011, Evidence for mechanical coupling and strong Indian lower crust beneath southern Tibet, Nature, 472, p.79-81, doi:10.1038/nature09926

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