23 February 2018

NWO Vici grant for research on ‘plate tectonic chain reaction collision’

Earth scientist Douwe van Hinsbergen has been awarded a €1.5 million NWO Vici grant for his research on the plate tectonic chain reaction collision that occurred some 50 million years ago. Van Hinsbergen will reconstruct the process that caused this chain reaction collision and how it spread across the world.

Douwe van Hinsbergen
Dr Douwe van Hinsbergen

The outermost layer of the Earth consists of the Earth’s crust, which together with fixed pieces of lithosphere is made up of different, slowly moving tectonic plates. Since they move away from each other, grate against each other at transform faults and dive beneath each other, oceans and mountain ranges are formed; however, this is also what causes volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Some 50 million years ago, nearly all of the tectonic plates shifted course, creating thousands of kilometres of new subduction zone, and the Andes and the Himalayas began to grow.

“These regional events occurred throughout the entire world within a couple of million years, which suggests that a tectonic chain reaction took place,” Van Hinsbergen said. “My Vici grant allows me to investigate how and where the chain reaction started and how it spread across the rest of the world.”

Understanding how the Earth’s surface, the Earth’s crust and underlying mantle and the different tectonic plates interact with each other is key to understanding not only major natural disasters but also how plate tectonics can bring about long-term climate change. Van Hinsbergen hopes to achieve breakthroughs regarding this through his research.


Dr Douwe van Hinsbergen obtained his doctorate at Utrecht University in 2004. He received an NWO Veni grant in 2006, and in 2012 he received both an NWO Vidi and an ERC Starting Grant for his research on how tectonic plates moved and created mountain ranges in the past. Van Hinsbergen has published numerous scientific articles in high-impact journals including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature Geoscience, Nature Communications and Science Advances.