The strength of the lithosphere: from the lab to the lithosphere

The overarching goal of our studies is to characterise the strength of the lithosphere from geodetic to geologic time-scales and explore its implications for landscape evolution and mantle dynamics. The strength of the lithosphere allows for the support of high topography in the Tibetan Plateau, controls the formation of rift basin stratigraphic architecture, and modulates the effect of dynamic topography in South East Asia. We work towards developing a model for lithospheric strength that is consistent with experimental rock mechanics, gravity observations, and elastic layer thickness estimates, and apply it to the Earth and the other planets. 

In 2018, we have made a number of significant contributions to our understanding of the strength of the lithosphere. In this time, we have published 2 papers and submitted 5 others.

Regarding the physics of lithospheric deformation, and the strength of the upper lithosphere, we currently have two in review papers (Moore et. al., Nature, in review, and Lamb, Moore, et. al., Nature, in review) examining the underlying relationship between distributed and localised lithospheric deformation, from the laboratory to the lithosphere.

We have also continued our geodetic studies of the strength of the whole lithosphere, with two more papers building our understanding of the viscoelastic properties and thermal structure of the lithosphere, examining the interplay between distributed and localised deformation. The first paper focusses on Taiwanese lithosphere using the 1999 Chi-Chi earthquake as an imaging source (Teng et. all, Science Advances), and the second paper looks at the role of the volcanic arc in Japan as a localised region of lithospheric deformation using the 2011 Tohoku earthquake as an imaging source (Muto, Moore, et al., Science Advances, in review).

Finally, we concluded two other studies last year: the first, examining the role of elastic strain accumulation in the lithosphere due to locking on the Hikurangi megathrust, and the consequences for the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake (Lamb et. al., Nature Geoscience, 2018) and the second, identifying a 120-million-year-old fossilised mantle superplume, frozen in the mantle lithosphere beneath the Ontong-Java-Manihiki-Hikurangi Plateau.

Funding Sources: 

  • Earth Observatory of Singapore

Project Years: 


EOS Team: 

Principal Investigator
Co-Principal Investigator



Justin Dauwels, SEEE, NTU

Nick Drake, Kings College London

Charlie Bristow, Birkbeck College London

Simon Lamb and Tim Stern, Victoria University of Wellington

Michelle Parks, Nordic Volcanological Center, Iceland

Frederik Simons, Princeton

Lars Hansen, University of Oxford

Stefan Nielsen and Jon Wade, University of Oxford

Richard Palin, Colorado School of Mines.