VT Geodynamics


Images: (top left) HESS: High-performance Earth System Simulator, a 768-core cluster run by ARC for Profs. King and Zhou; (top right) isosurface of temperature from a creeping convection calculation in a spherical shell applicable to the interior of Mercury (see King, 2008); (left) schematic view of the interior of the Earth.

Geodynamics: At the pressures and temperatures of planetary interiors, silicate rocks deform by creeping viscous flow. In the Geodynamics Group at Virginia Tech we are trying to understand questions such as why does Earth have plate tectonics while other planets do not?; what is the fate of  subducting slabs?; what is the cause of intraplate volcanism?; how have the Earth and other planets changed through time?

So why do planets deform?  Ultimately the energy that drives plate motions on Earth, mountain building and volcanic activity comes from the cooling of the interior.

How do we study planets? The computer is our research laboratory and we use mathematical and numerical models to understand how motions within the planet, driven by buoyancy due to cooling, cause surface deformation, volcanism, and in the case of Earth, drive plate tectonics.  The observations we use to test these models include: gravity, seismic velocity anomalies, topography, heat flow, volcanism, plate motions, geochemical anomalies, and electromagnetic fields.

This is a challenging interdisciplinary research endeavor that requires collaboration with many other researchers in earth and planetary science.  

Welcome to VT Geodynamics

The distance from the surface of Earth to the center is 3,959 miles, which isn’t so very far. It has been calculated that if you sunk a well to the center and dropped a brick into it, it would take only forty-five minutes for it to hit the bottom… Our own attempts to penetrate toward the middle have been modest indeed. One or two South African gold mines reach to a depth of two miles, but most mines on Earth go no more than about a quarter of a mile beneath the surface. If the planet were an apple, we wouldn’t yet have broken through the skin.

-Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything