Section 2.5: Geodynamic Modeling

Our aim is to improve the understanding of geodynamic processes operating inside the solid Earth and their surface manifestation at a broad range of spatial and temporal scales through advanced numerical modeling. Our research focii are located at both plate boundaries and within the plate interiors, inside the deep mantle and at the surface. We constrain our models by multidisciplinary surface observations acquired by the GFZ and the international scientific community and look for practical applications of fundamental research, like tsunami early warning and hazard assessment. To approach our aims, we develop our own numerical methods and tools, but also extensively employ and co-develop numerical techniques provided by the international community.

Latest News

June 2022: Welcome Dr. Zoltán Erdös

We are happy to welcome our new section member, Dr. Zoltán Erdös, to join us. Zoltán is joining from RWTH Aachen, bringing along his project that he has started with Prof. Dr. Susanne Buiter on numerical modelling of the Wilson cycle. His project goal is to further our understanding of how inherited lithospheric structures influence the development of continental rifts by modelling subduction, terrain accretion and thermal relaxation before subjecting the resulting terrain assembly to lithospheric scale extension. After studying geophysics at Eötvös Loránd University (Hungary), Zoltán did his doctoral studies at the University of Bergen (Norway) in collaboration with the Université Grenoble Alpes (France) on numerical modelling of the interactions of surface processes and tectonics in an orogenic setting. He subsequently returned to Budapest, to head a project on numerical modelling of back-arc rifting before moving to RWTH Aachen to start his current project.

March 2022: Welcome Dr. Frank Zwaan

We are happy to welcome our new section member, Dr. Frank Zwaan,  to join us. Frank Zwaan, who is coming to Potsdam from the Institute of Geology at the University of Bern, has received a three years grant of this year's GFZ Discovery Fund. Frank's project goal as part of the GFZ Discovery Fund Fellowship is two-fold: First, to apply lithospheric-scale numerical models to unravel how plate tectonic processes can exhume mantle material, and secondly assessing the potential for hydrogen generation from such exhumed mantle material, which represents a promising but so far largely overlooked source of green energy. Frank Zwaan will conduct research in GFZ Section 2.5 - Geodynamic Modelling and will closely collaborate with GFZ Sections 4.1 - Lithosphere Dynamics and 4.8 - Geoenergy, among others. After studying geology and tectonics, Frank  did his doctoral thesis at the University of Bern on analogue modelling of continental rift tectonics. He subsequently launched a multidisciplinary research project on continental rifting in Ethiopia at the University of Florence, before returning to Bern for a project on analogue modelling of lithosheric-scale rifting processes.


 December 2021: Welcome Prof. Dr. Ameha Muluneh

We are happy to welcome our new section member, Prof. Dr. Ameha Muluneh, to join us within the framework of a one and a half years Georg Forster Research Fellowship. Ameha teaches tectonophysics, structural geology and palaeomagnetism at Addis Ababa University. Last year, he was awarded the “AGU Africa Award for Research Excellence in Earth Science”. Ameha Muluneh specializes in geological and geophysical methods for studying rift dynamics. He will focus on the dynamics of deformation in the northernmost part of the East African Rift Valley in his research project and investigate how the three major rift arms of the Ethiopian Rift, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden connect in the Afar region. To this end, Prof. Muluneh will combine GNSS data and geodynamic modelling.



November 2021: EGU General Assembly OSPP Award for Pauline Gayrin

Our former section member Pauline Gayrin (December 2019 – July 2020) has been awarded with the “2021 Virtual Outstanding Student and PhD candidate Presentation” (vOSPP) of EGU. Pauline Gayrin is now a master student in the Geodynamics master in Université Grenoble-Alpes. The project presented at the EGU 2021 is the continuation of her bachelor thesis led under the supervision of Dr. Thilo Wrona and Dr. Sascha Brune. At the vEGU 2021, Pauline Gayrin presented her python-based workflow to extract fault lineaments from high-resolution TanDEM-X topographic data of the Magadi-Natron Basin within the East African Rift System. The structural analysis automatically deduces key fault parameters such as fault azimuth, throw, and heave of hundreds of rift faults and thereby quantifies the patterns of neotectonic activity in that region.


November 2021: Welcome ZhiChen Wang

We are happy to welcome our new section member - ZhiChen Wang. ZhiChen is pursuing a doctoral degree at Peking University and will stay with us for one year as a CSC fellow. His research interests are in simulating the long-term deformation on the continental lithosphere with high-performance computing. In the last two years ZhiChen investigated tectonics at rifted margins, especially the South Atlantic, and focused in particular on salt deformation mechanisms. In our section he will use numerical models to reproduce and understand rifted margins salt structures by accounting for tectonic and gravitational deformation, surface processes and complex rheology.




August 2021: Prof. Dr. Stephan Sobolev elected to the prestigious Academia Europaea

The Academia Europaea promotes outstanding scientific achievements worldwide in the humanities, law, economics, social and political sciences, as well as in the natural and technical sciences. Through its work, scientific findings are to be disseminated, understood and made known to a wider public. Admission to the Academia Europaea is by invitation only and is subject to a rigorous selection process by the respective section. Prof. Stephan V. Sobolev is currently Principal Investigator of the ERC Synergy Grant for the MEET project (Monitoring Earth Evolution through Time, 2020-2026).


July 2021: Paper on plume-induced plate rotation triggering subduction initiation

Around 105 Million years ago, the Indian Plate split away from the African Plate over a length of 7,500 kilometers. In a paper published in Nature Geoscience, a mantle plume is identified as the trigger. According to the findings, the Indian Plate did not simply move away from Africa, but rotated in the process. The reason for this is the subcontinent, whose land mass acts on the much larger continental plate like an axis around which the entire plate rotates. In the south, the scissors opened, in the north they closed – there, mountain-building processes and the subduction of crustal plates were induced. Dr. Bernhard Steinberger has calculated the movement and pressure that the super volcano near present-day Madagascar could cause further north on the Arabian Peninsula and in what is now the Mediterranean.

Working Groups

Continental Rifts and Rifted Margins

Continental rifting occurs where Earth’s plates are stretched like in the East African Rift System. During break-up two passive rifted margins are formed straddling a new ocean basin. We investigate the dynamics of continental rifts and passive margins by combining numerical simulations with geophysical and geological observations. To this aim we model processes that range from mantle convection and plumes over lithosphere deformation at plate boundaries to strain localization on the cm-scale.

Webpage of working group CRYSTALS

Dynamics of Early Earth and Evolution of Plate Tectonics

Plate tectonics is the most important geological process on Earth, shaping its surface, and making it unique among the planets in the Solar System. Yet, how plate tectonics emerged on Earth, which tectonic regime was before and which factors controlled evolution of plate tectonics in the Earth history remain controversial. We address these questions in the framework of the ERC Synergy Grant Project MEET (Monitoring of Earth Evolution through Time) using numerical modeling to test various geodynamic hypotheses with new geochemical data.

Webpage of working group Dynamics of Early Earth and Evolution of Plate Tectonics

Global Geodynamic Modeling

The Earth's mantle behaves like a very viscous liquid over extended geological periods. Cold earth plates sink from the surface to the core-mantle boundary, and hot material rises from there in the form of mantle plumes and as large-scale upwellings. By numerical modeling with different observation data, in particular from seismology, geodesy and mineral physics as boundary conditions, we try to better understand processes in the Earth's interior. In particular, we investigate the following topics:

Webpage of working group  Global Geodynamic Modeling

Subduction across the Scales

Subduction is a key process of Plate Tectonics. We develop thermomechanical models of subduction in a large range of temporal scales, from minutes (earthquake) to seismic cycle of great earthquake (centuries) and multiple seismic cycles (millennia), to long term evolution over the millions of years. We study initiation of subduction in early Earth and in present day settings including passive margins and oceanic basins. We also model effect of subduction on deformation of the overriding plate with a type example of South American Andes.

Webpage of working group Subduction across the Scales

Tsunami Hazard Assessment and Early Warning

Since the Great Sumatra 2004 Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami GFZ provides research and methodologic development in the fields of tsunami hazard assessment and early warning. Section 2.5 Geodynamic Modeling supports these activities with numerical modeling of tsunami generation, propagation and coastal impact within both deterministic and probabilistic frameworks. Our Section also participates in the development of the innovative GNSS-based technology for tsunami early warning.

Webpage of Tsunami Hazard Assessment and Early Warning

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