GFZ German research centre for geo sciences

Dr. Frank Zwaan

Dr. Frank Zwaan
Building A 46, Room 211 (Büro)
Albert-Einstein-Straße 42-46
14473 Potsdam

Research Interests:

I am a structural geologist and tectonic modeller with a PhD in Earth Sciences (since 2017) and experience working throughout Europe. My research interests include tectonics (rifting and continental break-up processes, basin inversion) and the modelling of such processes, but I am also interested in other fields such as geomorphology and sedimentology. Of special interest to me are resources and renewable energy, and the role geoscientists can play in shaping the energy transition. My skills include (well) logging, geological mapping, GIS, sequence stratigraphy, 3D seismic interpretation, paleostress and earthquake analysis. I am a dedicated researcher involved in various research projects, and I am actively taking on responsibilities within the geosciences community, aiming to promote research and scientific collaboration.

At GFZ I am working on a research project entitled Modelling mantle exhumation during rifting and basin inversion: Implications for natural hydrogen exploration, which is funded through the GFZ Discovery Fellowship programme. A first manuscript on this topic is currently in review with Nature Geoscience:

  • Zwaan, F., Brune, S., Glerum, A., Vasey, D.A., Naliboff, J.B., Manatschal, G., Gaucher, E.C. (in review). Rift-inversion orogens are potential hotspots for natural H2 generation. (Link to preprint)

More detailed research topics and a selection of related publications are listed below (for my full publication list, click here).

Basin inversion tectonics

  • Zwaan, F., Schreurs, G., Buiter, S.J.H., Ferrer, O., Riccardo, R., Rudolf, M., Willingshofer, E. (2022). Analogue modelling of basin inversion: a review and future perspectives. Solid Earth 13, 1859-1905. (Link to paper)
  • Richetti, P., Zwaan, F., Schreurs, G., Schmitt, R.S., Schmid, T.C. (2023). Analogue modelling of basin inversion: implications for the Araripe Basin (Brazil), Solid Earth 14, 1245-1266. (Link to paper)

Interactions between structural inheritance and rift kinematics

  • Zwaan, F., Chenin, P., Erratt, D., Manatschal, G., Schreurs, G. (2022). Competition between 3D structural inheritance and kinematics during rifting: insights from analogue models. Basin Research 34, 824-854. (Link to paper
  • Zwaan, F., Chenin, P., Erratt, D., Manatschal, G., Schreurs, G. (2021). Complex rift patterns, a result of interacting crustal and mantle weaknesses, or multiphase rifting? Insights from analogue models. Solid Earth 12, 1473-1495. (Link to paper)

The development of the Western Afar Margin (East Africa)

  • Zwaan, F., Corti, G., Keir, D., Sani, F., Muluneh, A., Illsley-Kemp, F., Papini, M. (2020). Structural analysis of the Western Afar Margin, East Africa: evidence for multiphase rotational rifting. Tectonics 39, e2019TC006043. (Link to paper)  
  • Zwaan, F., Corti, G., Keir, D., Sani, F. (2020). An analogue modeling study of marginal flexure in Afar, East Africa: Implications for passive margin formation. Tectonophysics 796, 228595. (Link to paper)

Rotational rifting and rift propagation

  • Zwaan, F., Schreurs, G. (2023). The impact of rotational rifting on the evolution of the East African Rift System: an analogue modelling study. Solid Earth 14, 823–845(Link to paper)
    Zwaan, F., Schreurs, G., Rosenau, M. (2020). Rift propagation in rotational versus orthogonal extension: insights from 4D analogue models. Journal of Structural Geology 135, 103946. (Link to paper)
  • Zwaan, F., Schreurs, G. (2020). Rift segment interaction in orthogonal and rotational extension experiments: Implications for the development of large-scale rift systems. Journal of Structural Geology 140, 104119. (Link to paper)

Rift segment interaction and oblique extension

  • Zwaan, F., Schreurs, G. (2017). How oblique extension and structural inheritance influence rift interaction: Insights from 4D analogue models. SEG/AAPG's Interpretation 5, SD119–SD138. (Link to paper)
  • Zwaan, F., Schreurs, G., Naliboff, J., Buiter S.J.H. (2016). Insights into the effects of oblique extension on continental rift interaction from 3D analogue and numerical models. Tectonophysics 693, Part B, 239-260. (Link to paper)

Interactions between sedimentation and rift development

  • Zwaan, F., Schreurs, G., Adam, J. (2018). Effects of sedimentation on rift segment and transfer zone evolution in orthogonal and oblique extension settings: insights from analogue models analysed with 4D X-ray computed tomography and digital volume correlation techniques. Global and Planetary Change 171, 110-133. (Link to paper)

Techniques used for analogue modelling of rifting tectonics

  • Zwaan, F., Schreurs, G. (2023). Analogue models of lithospheric-scale rifting monitored in an X-ray CT scanner. Tectonics, 42, e2022TC007291. (Link to paper)
  • Zwaan, F., Schreurs, G., Buiter, S.J.H. (2019). A systematic comparison of experimental set-ups for modelling extensional tectonics. Solid Earth 10, 1063-1097. (Link to paper)

Analogue modelling of tectonic processes: case studies

  • Zwaan, F., Schreurs, G., Madritsch, H., Herwegh, M. (2022). Influence of rheologically weak layers on fault architecture: insights from analogue models in the context of the Northern Alpine Foreland Basin. Swiss Journal of Geosciences 115, 26. (Link to paper)
  • Schori, M., Zwaan, F., Schreurs, G., Mosar, J. (2021). ­Pre-existing basement faults controlling deformation in the Jura Mountains fold-and-thrust belt: insights from analogue models. Tectonophysics 814, 228980. (Link to paper)
  • Fedorik, J., Zwaan, F., Schreurs, G., Toscani, G., Bonini, L., Seno, S. (2019). The interaction between strike-slip dominated fault zones and thrust belt structures: insights from 4D analogue models. Journal of Structural Geology 122, 89-105. (Link to paper)

Reservoir development in the North Sea

  • Zwaan, F. (2018). Lower Cretaceous reservoir development in the Norwegian Central Graben and potential analogues in the Southern Permian Basin and South Viking Graben. In: Kilhams, B., Kukla, P., Mazur, S. McKie, T., Mijnlieff, H., Van Oijk, K. (eds) Mesozoic resource potential in the Southern Permian Basin. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 469, 479-504. (Link to paper)

Salt tectonics along passive margins

  • Zwaan, F., Rosenau, M., Maestrelli, D. (2021). How initial basin geometry influences gravity-driven salt tectonics: insights from laboratory experiments. Marine and Petroleum Geology 133, 105195. (Link to paper)


Since 03/2022: GFZ Discovery fellow (GFZ Potsdam, Germany)

12/2021-01/2022: NAGRA-funded postdoc researcher (IfG, University of Bern, Switzerland)

10/2019-09/2021: SNF-funded Postdoc researcher (IfG, University of Bern, Switzerland)

05/2018-06/2018: Visiting scientist (NOCS, University of Southampton, UK)

03/2018-08/2019: SNSF Early Postdoc Mobility fellow (DST, University of Florence, Italy)

09/2014:  Visiting scientist (HelTec, GFZ Potsdam, Germany)                     

11/2013-11/2017: SNSF-funded PhD candidate (IfG, University of Bern, Switzerland)

09/2011-06/2012: Visiting MSc student of Earth Sciences (Géosciences Rennes, University of Rennes 1, France)

09/2006-08/2013: BSc and MSc student of Earth Sciences (FALW, VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands)


Since 2022:  Modelling mantle exhumation during rifting and basin inversion: links to natural hydrogen as an eco-friendly fuel. (with various GFZ partners) Funding institution: GFZ Potsdam (4th Postdoc project, GFZ Potsdam, Germany)

2021-2022: Transfer of fault-induced deformation through a detachment layer (with various partners) Funding institution: NAGRA (3rd Postdoc project, University of Bern, Switzerland)

Since 2022: Development of the Santos Basin, Brasil (with Pricilla Souza et al.)

Since 2021: Evolution of the Dead Sea Transfer (with Jakub Fedorik et al.)

Since 2021: Inversion tectonics in the Araripe Basin, Brazil (with Pamela Richetti et al.). Funding: Petrobras

Since 2020: Early normal fault evolution (with Bailey Lathrop et al.) Funding: AAPG & Geologist's Association

2019-2021:  Lithospheric-scale rifting (with various partners) Funding: SNSF (2nd Postdoc project, University of Bern, Switzerland)

2018-2021: The influence of basement relief on thin-skinned tectonics in the Jura Mountains. (with Marc Schori et al.)

Since 2018: Analogue modelling of interacting pop-ups (with Jakub Fedorik et al.)

2018-2019: Structural evolution of the Western Afar Margin, East Africa. (with various partners) Funding institution: SNSF (1st Postdoc project, University of Florence, Italy)

2016-2019: Evolution of the Sciacca Fault in Sicily (with Jakub Fedorik et al.)

2013-2017: Analogue modelling of oblique rifting, rift interaction and rotational rifting (with various partners) Funding institution: SNSF (PhD project, University of Bern, Switzerland)

2013: Reservoir development in the Norwegian Central Graben, North Sea (MSc Thesis project, Royal Dutch Shell, Assen, Netherlands)

2012: Analogue modelling of salt tectonics along passive margins (M1 research project, University of Rennes 1, France)

2011: Lateral extrusion in the Eastern Alps (Msc research project, VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands)


2022: GFZ Innovative Research Expedition funding

2021: GFZ Discovery fellowship (3 year research funding)

2021: NAGRA project funding (co-written)

2020: SEIS-UK geophysical equipment loan for 2-year seismic survey in Afar (co-written)

2019: AAPG Grant-in Aid for PhD candidate B. Lathrop (co-written)

2019: Geologist's Association New Researchers' Scheme grant for PhD candicate B. Lathrop (co-written)

2019: EGU General Assembly Early Career Researcher Travel Support

2018: EGU General Assembly Early Career Researcher Travel Support

2017: SNSF Early Postdoc Mobility fellowship (1.5 year research funding)

2017: Institute of Geological Sciences (University of Bern) funding for structured light scanner

2017: SCNAT Swiss Geoscience Meeting (SGM) conference support

2016: ILP TopoEurope student support

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