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Interests

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We study the basic geodynamic processes involved in deformation of the lithosphere. Our research focuses on quantifying the kinematics and dynamics of tectonic, geomorphic and geodynamic processes using numerical numerical models in combination with field, laboratory and geophysical observations. Specific areas of interest include

  • 3D dynamics of active convergent orogens including the Himalaya and Andes
  • Crustal thermal processes in active orogens
  • The influence of climate and erosion on orogen tectonics
  • Viscous flow of the crust is modern and ancient orogens

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Tools

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We have a strong emphasis on the development and use of cutting-edge predictive and interpretative numerical tools that are linked with observations from the field and geochronological, geophysical and remotely sensing data. In particular we use

  • 3D thermomechanical geodynamic numerical models (DOUAR)
  • Forward and inverse modeling of thermochronometer data using 3D thermokinematic numerical models (Pecube)
  • Landform evolution modeling
  • Bedrock and detrital thermochronology
  • GIS and digital topographic analysis

Research projects in brief

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titleWhat controls strain partitioning at obliquely convergent ocean-continent margins? 3D dynamics of crustal deformation along the western Andean margin
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Status: Funded

Synopsis: Strain partitioning is a fundamental tectonic process that occurs at obliquely convergent plate margins and thrust fronts. The project will use fully 3D thermomechanical numerical experiments of oceanic subduction and continental deformation to determine how the presence of a volcanic arc, the convergence obliquity angle and the angle of subduction influence deformation in the overriding plate. Results from geometrically simple 3D numerical experiments will be compared to observed fault geometries and displacements, seismic activity and available geochronologic data from the western margin of the South American Andes.

Tools: 3D (thermo)mechanical numerical models (DOUAR)

Collaborators: C. Beaumont (Dalhousie Univ., Canada)

Opportunities: 1 part-time undergraduate research assistant in 2016

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titleWhat controls deformation in a 'bent' 3D orogen? The effects of spatially variable rock strength, erosion and mass transport on the tectonics of the Bolivian Andes
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Status: Pending

Project summary: The topography and geometry of active convergent orogens is the result of the interactions between tectonics and climate-modulated erosion. This project focuses on understanding the interactions between climate and the basic geodynamic processes that control the geometry of the eastern margin of the Bolivian orocline in the Andes, where the orientation of the mountain front and major tectonic structures rotates ~50° from northern Bolivia to southern Bolivia and the width of the orogen east of the plateau doubles. Fully 3D numerical geodynamic models of generic oroclines will be used to study the influence of climate-modulated erosion, variable rock strength and 3D deformation on the along-strike width of an orogen and results will be compared with available field observations, remote sensing data and 3D tectonic reconstructions to interpret the recent history of the Bolivian orocline region.

Tools: 3D (thermo)mechanical numerical models (DOUAR), 3D structural reconstructions

Collaborators: R. Huismans (Univ. of Bergen, Norway), N. McQuarrie (Univ. of Pittsburgh, USA)

Opportunities: 1 postdoctoral researcher

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titleStrain partitioning and mass transport into the western Himalayan syntaxis
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Status: Ongoing

Synopsis: The Nanga Parbat-Haramosh massif in the western Himalayan syntaxis region has experienced rapid Plio-Quaternary exhumation at rates up to 13 mm/a, but maintains mountain peak elevations that are among the highest in the Himalaya. This suggests an additional source of mass flux, over and above that supplied by normal convergence, is required to sustain localized, very rapid exhumation of the NPHM. Orogen-parallel (OP) mass transport as a result of strain partitioning along the Himalayan thrust front is a potential source, and this project uses geometrically simple 3D mechanical numerical experiments of an obliquely convergent orogen to demonstrate that the OP mass transport flux resulting from strain partitioning is capable of sustaining syntaxis topography and rapid exhumation rates.

Tools: 3D mechanical numerical models (DOUAR)

Collaborators: C. Beaumont (Dalhousie Univ., Canada)

Opportunities: Contact Prof. Whipp

Related publication(s): Murphy et al., Nature Geoscience, 2014; Whipp et al., Journal of Geophysical Research - Solid Earth, in review.

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titleQuantifying the effect of landslide-derived sediments on detrital thermochronology
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Status: Ongoing

Synopsis: Detrital thermochronology on modern river sediments has the potential to quantify long-term rates of tectonic and erosional processes, as well as short-term sediment transport processes in the entire drainage basin area upstream of sample sites. It is often assumed that the sampled sediment records the exhumation history of the entire upstream basin area, but in mountainous settings, where landslides provide a significant fraction of the sediment entering the fluvial network, it is possible basin erosion is not spatially uniform, but reflects sediment sourced from individual landslides. This project aims to quantify the production of sediment by landslides in mountainous catchments, its impact on detrital thermochronometers and the potential bias in the dataset as a function of basin size and sediment residence time in the catchment.

Tools: 3D thermokinematic models (Pecube), Landslide simulation code, low-temperature thermochronology

Collaborators: T. Ehlers (Univ. of Tübingen)

Opportunities: Contact Prof. Whipp

Related publication(s): Whipp et al., Geology, in prep.

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titleLate Miocene-present climate, erosion and tectonics in the Bhutan Himalaya

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Status: Ongoing

Synopsis: Both climatic and tectonic processes affect bedrock erosion and exhumation in convergent orogens, and quantifying long-term (~106 yr) erosion rates is a necessary first step to determining their respective influence. In the Himalaya, past studies suggest long-term erosion rates varied in space and time along the range front, resulting in numerous tectonic models to explain the observed erosion rate distribution. Here, we combine 101 new thermochronological ages with existing data to determine both long-term exhumation rates and the kinematics of Neogene tectonic activity in the eastern Himalaya in Bhutan.

Tools: 3D thermokinematic models (Pecube), low-temperature thermochronology, Himalayan geophysical/structural data

Collaborators: I. Coutand (Project leader; Dalhousie Univ., Canada)

Opportunities: Contact Prof. Whipp

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Projects

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Information about research projects can be found on the Projects page.