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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Lead Supervisor: Alex Copley, Earth Sciences

Co-Supervisors: Tim Wright, University of Leeds

Importance of the area of research concerned: 
An important and rapidly-evolving subject area concerns understanding what controls the characteristics of earthquake cycles (e.g. the locations, magnitudes, and frequencies of earthquakes), and determining how these cycles control the evolution and deformation of the continents. Important open questions include understanding the evolution of material properties (e.g. fault strength and the viscosity of ductile rocks) in space and time, and how these properties control earthquake occurrence and characteristics. Research in this topic is essential for assessing the earthquake hazard faced by communities in tectonically-active regions, and also for understanding what controls the long-term growth and decay of mountain ranges and depressions. This project will focus on mountain ranges, where plentiful earthquakes, and large population densities in the surrounding lowlands, provide both a scientific opportunity and also societal relevance. We will combine modelling of the temperature and composition in mountain ranges with geodetic observations and dynamic models of earthquake cycles, in order to gain new insights into the controls on earthquake behaviour and mountain building.
Project summary : 
This project will combine recently-developed modelling and observational techniques. Conceptual, observational, and computational advances mean that we are able to model the thermal and compositional evolution of mountain ranges in new detail. Simultaneous advances in satellite technology and data analysis methods mean that we are able to measure ground motion with unprecedented accuracy across large regions (e.g. using InSAR on data from the ‘Sentinel’ satellite constellation from the European Space Agency). Dynamic models of earthquake cycles allow us to link these advances, by investigating which models of mountain ranges are consistent with the observed ground motions before, during, and after earthquakes. Methods of earthquake hazard assessment will then be used to establish the dynamic controls on the hazard faced by populations in the study regions (in the Alpine-Himalayan belt).
What will the student do?: 
The student will begin by modelling the evolution of temperature and composition in mountain ranges, using a range of tools that have been developed by the supervisory team (all necessary training will be given, and no prior modelling experience is assumed). The resulting distributions of temperature and composition will be used to calculate the material strength of the crust and upper mantle, for input into dynamic earthquake cycle models. The results of these models will then be compared with estimates of ground motion before, during, and after earthquakes that the student will produce using our InSAR expertise. This comparison will allow us to address questions that include: (1) what controls whether earthquakes are concentrated onto a small number of rapidly-slipping faults, or distributed over wide areas; (2) what limits the down-dip width of earthquake ruptures (and so their magnitude); (3) what is the interplay between individual earthquake cycles and the long-term evolution of mountain ranges. Once these questions have been addressed, the results will be applied to establish the dynamic controls on the level of earthquake hazard posed by mountain ranges in general.
References - references should provide further reading about the project: 
Copley, A., Avouac, J-P., and Wernicke, B.P., 2011, Evidence for mechanical coupling and strong Indian lower crust beneath southern Tibet, Nature, vol 472, p.79-81, doi:10.1038/nature09926
Hussain, E., Wright, T.J., Walters, R.J., Bekaert, D.P.S., Lloyd, R., and Hooper, A., 2018, Constant strain accumulation rate between major earthquakes on the North Anatolian Fault, Nature Communications, volume 9, Article number: 1392, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-03739-2
Wimpenny, S., Copley, A., Benavente, C., and Aguirre, E., 2018, Extension and dynamics of the Andes inferred from the 2016 Parina (Huarichancara) earthquake, Journal of Geophysical Research, vol 123, doi:10.1029/2018JB015588
You can find out about applying for this project on the Department of Earth Sciences page.
Department of Earth Sciences Graduate Administrator
Dr Alex Copley