Scientific profile

Quantifying sedimentary fluxes

Tectonic, surface and external forcing processes are responsible for the growth and decay of continental topography and sedimentary basins. These processes result in the interplay between sediment supply and mass (re)distribution within the full range of deep Earth to surface scales. Understanding the processes is important to assess the impact of tectonics and sediment distribution in highly populated areas, affected by flooding events, regional landslides and active seismicity. We explore processes that link exhumation, formation of topography, evolution of sediment fluxes and deposition associated with fluid flow in sedimentary basins by a multi-scale approach from field observations to analogue and numerical (computer-) modelling. Studying these cross-scale processes is critical for understanding sustainable geo-resources and natural or induced geo-hazards.

The interaction between mountain chains and sedimentary basins

Current research of the Tectonics group by combining field observations in a selected number of European natural laboratories with analogue and numerical modelling has demonstrated a large variability of the mechanics driving mountain build-up and sedimentary basins formation. Such studies have quantified the rapid migration of deformation, topography and associated sediment fluxes observed in a number of European orogens that are coupled with the formation and evolution of sedimentary basins. Furthermore, the existence of large-scale zones of interaction between individual mountain chains show a number of outstanding questions of orogenic mechanics related to factors that control the localization of intense deformation and the reactivation of structures in continental lithosphere. For example, see this scientific paper by Krstekanić et al. (2021).

Geological crustal-scale cross-section of part of the Capathians mountain range, modified after Krstekanić et al. (2020). Such cross-sections are common in geological studies.

The multi-scale (spatial and temporal) coupling of processes driving natural or induced seismicity and associated cascading events

The fundamental study of multi-scale lithospheric deformation processes is translated in applications to understanding natural and induced geo-hazards. This is being done by the means of process-oriented numerical modelling, such as successful seismo-thermo-mechanical approaches. By integrating observations and modelling, we aim at expanding this new research direction focused at understanding and quantifying the tectonic and rheological controls on the spatio-temporal evolution of deformation, slow slip and aseismic creep. This approach will be optimized by coupling numerical with analogue modelling and by exploiting ensemble data assimilation and machine learning techniques for both tectonic and seismicity processes. In parallel, we aim to quantify the stress and strength of governing faults and relate these controls to earthquake physics. The implementation of these novel physics-based methodologies will improve our understanding of why, where and when differently sized natural or induced earthquakes occur and their association with cascading events, such as tsunamis, landslides or flooding. 

Novel coupled analogue-numerical experiments, bridging the spatial and temporal scales of the coupling between deep and shallow Earth processes

Novel tectonic modelling concepts and their implementation in numerical and analogue modelling have opened new approaches to study the thermo-mechanical behaviour of the Earth’s lithosphere. Furthermore, it allows to assess the role and interaction of parameters such as intraplate stress, rock rheology and lithosphere structure. Analogue modelling deciphers quantitative mechanisms for the evolution of crust and lithosphere with complex 3D geometries and poly-phase deformation histories. In particular improved geodynamic, sedimentary and seismo-thermo-mechanical modelling is developed to better account for multi-scale processes, such as fluid, rock and fault interactions, and to increase its temporal and spatial resolution. The multi-scale integration is facilitated by improved monitoring and 3D analysis of multi-layered rheologies in analogue modelling by cat- and laser- scanning, digital image correlation and deployment of micro-geophysical methods to monitor deformation and distribution of stresses. These improvements are essential for advancing the understanding in faulting mechanics and its scaling relationships across different spatio-temporal scales.


Cross section of an analogue sand model, depicting both shortening and extension of layers (image is approximately 20 cm in height). This image was obtained with a medical-type CT scanner.

Integrative study of sedimentary basins, geo-resources and geo-hazards

By fostering the collaboration with the partners in geo-resources institutes and industry, the Tectonics Group is involved in a significant number of projects aimed at understanding processes relevant for geo-resources, with particular focus on geothermal energy and induced geo-hazards. This understanding is facilitated by our in-depth multi-scale understanding of tectonic and sedimentary processes, and allowings us to address relevant key issues. Examples of such key issues are thermal models linking lithosphere and sedimentary basin processes to high resolution datasets, induced seismicity in geo-resources exploitation in complex tectonic, structural and sedimentological settings and novel modelling linking multi-scale geological and reservoir processes. A key step is the integration of observations in natural laboratories in terms of structure, fluid-rock interaction and seismicity with modelling of orogenic- and basin- scale deformation.


Collaborations & partners

The members of the Tectonics group will achieve these objectives by the means of international and national collaborative projects and programmes coupled with the unique array of facilities available (e.g., EPOS and EPOS-NL) and strengthening the collaboration with a number of international partners, affiliated to major universities (e.g., ETH Zurich), research institutes (e.g., IFPEN, TNO or GFZ Potsdam) or industry. The targets will be partnerships in EU or NL- funded projects, individual research grants and key geo-resources and geo-hazards projects at international and national scale (e.g., DeepNL and LEAP-RE), some with major implications for sustainability in the Utrecht area (e.g, WarmingUP).