Research in the Structural Geology & Tectonics group in the Geological Institute at ETH Zürich, led by Professor Whitney Behr, focuses on the rapidly deforming zones that define Earth’s tectonic plate boundaries and generate many of the planet’s geohazards. We are interested in the rates and directions in which faults and shear zones move; their geometries, widths and mechanical behaviors at depth; and the processes that shape them over geologic time. This research has broad implications:
- Over human timescales, for example, quantifying fault slip rates in active tectonic environments is critical to assessing seismic risk to human life and property.
- Observations of the deep roots of faults provide clues as to how they are loaded from below and how they might interact with each other during decadal- to thousand-year seismic cycles.
- Over million-year timescales, understanding the mechanical properties and geometries of shear zones helps us to constrain the forces that govern Earth’s most prominent topography: e.g. its mountain belts, continental and oceanic rift zones, and oceanic basins and trenches.
To address these topics, we employ a range of tools and techniques that include field observations, analytical measurements, laboratory experiments, and numerical models. We frequently forge collaborations and synthesize datasets that cross disciplines, including structural geology, petrology & geochemistry, experimental rock mechanics, surface processes, seismology, and geodynamics.
For a more detailed summary of our research, check out Professor Behr’s Inaugural Lecture at ETH entitled: “Tracking deformation in Earth’s outer shell: the lithosphere”.