MODEL (Mechanics Of Deformation of the Earth's Lithosphere) is a research project funded by a Starting Grant of the European Research Council (ERC), which started in december 2010. We develop and use numerical models to better understand how the Earth deforms on geological timescales.

The deformation of lithospheric plates results in a wide variety of geodynamical processes such as mountain belts, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes. Since most lithospheric processes occur on a million-year timescale and involve rocks which have a nonlinear rheology, they are difficult to reproduce with laboratory experiments. Moreover, the geological record yields an incomplete picture of such processes and geophysical techniques mainly give a snapshot of how the Earth looks like today. As a result, most geological reconstructions are based on interpretations that are not always mechanically consistent.

Here, we will employ computer models that are capable of simulating lithospheric deformation under geological conditions, while employing realistic laboratory-derived rock creep laws. We propose to:

  1. Constrain the present-day rheology and structure of the lithosphere in active mountain belts (European Alps and the Himalayas) by combining forward models with inverse techniques constrained with available geophysical datasets.
  2. Develop mechanically consistent reconstructions of mountain belts by using the best-fit rheologies as an input for 3D models that are performed on geological timescales, and which are constrained with geological datasets.
  3. Obtain insights into the physical processes related to the deformation of (i) fold and thrust-belts and (ii) salt-related structures in sedimentary basins.

Only through numerical models can we realistically gain insights into the initial conditions and intermediate steps of geological processes in the appropriate timescales, reproduce present-day stages and make predictions about the future evolution. In this context, this project will significantly advance our understanding of the dynamics of the lithosphere and deliver models that satisfy both geophysical and geological constraints. Therefore, the outcome of the proposed work will provide a solid framework for understanding most geological processes that are related to the deformation of the lithosphere and, in particular, the continental crust.