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UCL Earth Sciences

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Crust Dynamics & Evolution

Studying the physical and transport properties of Earth’s crust determine its response to tectonic forces and the transfer of matter and energy from and to other elements of the Earth system.

Crust Dynamics & Evolution
We study how the mechanical, physical and transport properties of Earth’s crust determine its response to tectonic forces and the transfer of matter and energy from and to other elements of the Earth system – atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and mantle. This work is pursued through experimental rock physics, thermo-chronometry measurements, field observation and measurement, ship-based geophysical measurements and analytical and numerical modelling.  We use these techniques to address pivotal issues in crustal evolution and dynamics where time and rates of deformation are key parameters in addition to pressure, stress and temperature. 

 

 

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Research highlights include:

  • Development of in-situ U-Th-He geochronology by UV laser ablation, resulting in a two orders of magnitude of sample throughput compared to conventional U-Th-He geochronology. (Vermeesch)
  • Use of a quantitative fracture mechanics approach to modelling the large-scale fracture of ice shelves, the volcanic plains of Venus and terrestrial volcanoes (esp. Mt. St. Helens)(Sammonds);
  • Unique experiments to fracture magmas at high temperatures and pressures equivalent to 5km depth (Sammonds, Kilburn);
  • A study of the dynamics of lava flows and the dynamics of giant, catastrophic landslides from both volcanoes and mountains (Kilburn); 
  • Unique experiments that reproduce both the high-frequency seismicity and low-frequency harmonic tremor that accompanies fracture and flow of magma during volcanic eruptions (Meredith);
  • The first integrated use of neutron diffraction and microseismicity measurements during deformation to study the microscopic origin of thermal cracking in rocks (Meredith and Wood);
  • The first experimental measurements of the spatial and temporal nucleation and propagation of a shear fault in 3D without the need for artificially slowing the failure process (Meredith);
  • Modelling showing the effects of decompression melting beneath large impact craters, now established as a key planetary process capable of triggering volcanism and producing ~million km3 magma (A. Jones);