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Rifts provide a unique window into the geodynamic system of our planet and the processes that shape the surface of the Earth. The CRYSTALS project aims at a thorough understanding of continental rift dynamics and rifted margin formation by means of a comprehensive multi-scale numerical modelling design.

News and Highlights

February 2021:

New article published in  Solid Earth: "101 Geodynamic modelling: How to design, carry out, and interpret numerical studies" Download here

New paper published in Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems: "Is there a Speed Limit for the Thermal Steady‐State Assumption in Continental Rifts?" Download here

October 2020:

New paper published in Tectonics: "From Caledonian Collapse to North Sea Rift: The Extended History of a Metamorphic Core Complex" Download here.

New article published in Solid Earth Discussions: "Kinematics and extent of the Piemont-Liguria Basin - implications for subduction processes in the Alps." Download here.

July 2020:

New paper published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research: "Recent volcano-tectonic activity of the Ririba rift and the evolution of rifting in South Ethiopia" Download here.

New article on subduction initiation modelling accepted in G-Cubed: "Subduction initiation by plume-plateau interaction: Insights from numerical models". Access here.

June 2020:

We have started an online seminar on "Rifts and Rifted Margins" to keep the exchange of ideas going within our community during times of social distancing. Watch the video recordings of each presentations in our youtube channel.

New paper by Thilo in the Journal if Structural Geology: "Seismic expression of shear zones: Insights from 2-D point-spread-function-based convolution modelling". Pdf available here.

Congratulations to Anne. Her first-author paper on "Victoria continental microplate dynamics controlled by the lithospheric strength distribution of the East African Rift" has just been published in Nature Communications (link).

One year after his 3-months stay with us in Potsdam, Ameha's paper on "Mechanism for deep crustal seismicity: Insight from modeling of deformation process at the Main Ethiopian Rift" is online at G-Cubed. Click here to download.

May 2020:

3D high-resolution ASPECT models published in Geophysical Research Letters: "Development of 3D rift heterogeneity through fault network evolution". Download here.

April 2020:

New paper on the symmetry of the South China Sea conjugate margins published in Marine and Petroleum Geology. Click here to access.

Selected CRYSTALS Publications

New light into the recent evolution of the African rift valley

Corti, G., Cioni, R., Franceschini, Z., Sani, F., Scaillet, S., Molin, P., Isola, I., Mazzarini, F., Brune, S., Keir, D., Erbello, A., Muluneh, A., Illsley-Kemp, F., Glerum, A. (2019): Aborted propagation of the Ethiopian rift caused by linkage with the Kenyan rift. Nature Communications 10, 1309, doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-09335-2. [Link to Paper]

Rift and plate boundary evolution of the past 1 billion years

Merdith, A. S., Williams, S. E., Brune, S., Collins, A. S., & Müller, R. D. (2019). Rift and plate boundary evolution across two supercontinent cycles. Global and Planetary Change, 173, 1-14, doi: 10.1016/j.gloplacha.2018.11.006 [Link to Paper].

A virtual microscope: Numerically modelling the formation of ductile shear zones

Döhmann, M., Brune, S., Nardini, L., Rybacki, E., Dresen, G. (2019): Strain localization and weakening processes in viscously deforming rocks: numerical modeling based on laboratory torsion experiments. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 124(1), 1120–1137, doi.org/10.1029/2018JB016917. [Link to Paper].

Understanding rift dynamics through global mantle convection modelling

Ulvrova, M. M., Brune, S., & Williams, S. (2019). Breakup without borders: how continents speed up and slow down during rifting. Geophysical Research Letters, 46(3), 1338–1347, doi: 10.1029/2018GL080387 [More Info and Downloads]

Gravity inversion reveals continental crustal structure of the South China Sea

Bai, Y., Dong, D., Brune, S., Wu, S., Wang, Z. (2019). Crustal stretching style variations in the northern margin of the South China Sea. Tectonophysics. 751, 1–12, doi.org/10.1016/j.tecto.2018.12.012 [Link to Paper].

Sedimentary loading–unloading cycles control deformation in intermontane basins

Ballato, P., Brune, S., and Strecker, M.R., 2019, Sedimentary loading–unloading cycles and faulting in intermontane basins: Insights from numerical modeling and field observations in the NW Argentine Andes: Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v. 506, p. 388–396, doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2018.10.043, [Link to Paper].

A global census of rift obliquity since Pangea fragmentation

Brune, S., Williams, S.E., and Müller, R.D., 2018, Oblique rifting: the rule, not the exception: Solid Earth, v. 9, p. 1187–1206, doi:https://doi.org/10.5194/se-9-1187-2018. [More Info and Downloads]

Laboratory experiments and numerical models of strain localisation in ductile shear zones

Nardini, L., Rybacki, E., Döhmann, M.J.E.A., Morales, L.F.G., Brune, S., and Dresen, G., 2018, High-temperature shear zone formation in Carrara marble: The effect of loading conditions: Tectonophysics, [Link to Paper].

Nonlinear viscoplasticity in ASPECT

Glerum, A., Thieulot, C., Fraters, M., Blom, C., and Spakman, W. (2018), Nonlinear viscoplasticity in ASPECT: benchmarking and applications to subduction. Solid Earth, v. 9, p. 267–294 [Link to Paper].

Forces within rifts

Brune, S., (2018), Forces within continental and oceanic rifts: Numerical modeling elucidates the impact of asthenospheric flow on surface stress, Geology, v. 46, p. 191–192, doi: 10.1130/focus022018.1. [Link to Paper

A connection between rifting and climate

Brune, S., Williams, S.E., and Müller, R.D. (2017): Potential links between continental rifting, CO2 degassing and climate change through time, Nature Geoscience, doi: 10.1038/s41561-017-0003-6 [Link to Paper].

Global evolution of dynamic topography

Rubey, M., Brune, S., Heine, C., Davies, D.R., Williams, S.E., and Müller, R.D. (2017): Global patterns in Earth’s dynamic topography since the Jurassic: the role of subducted slabs: Solid Earth, 8, 899- 919, doi: doi.org/10.5194/se-8-899-2017. [Link to Paper]

Rift Linkage Modelling in East Africa

Brune, S., Corti, G., and Ranalli, G. (2017) Controls of inherited lithospheric heterogeneity on rift linkage: Numerical and analogue models of interaction between the Kenyan and Ethiopian rifts across the Turkana depression: Tectonics, p. 2017TC004739, doi: 10.1002/2017TC004739. [More Info, Animations, and Downloads]

Rifted Margin Architecture and Crustal Rheology

Brune, S., Heine, C., Clift, P.D., and Pérez-Gussinyé, M., 2017, Rifted margin architecture and crustal rheology: Reviewing Iberia-Newfoundland, central South Atlantic, and South China sea: Marine and Petroleum Geology, 79, 257–281, doi: 10.1016/j.marpetgeo.2016.10.018. [More Info, Animations, and Downloads]

Abrupt plate accelerations due to rifting

Brune, S., Williams, S.E., Butterworth, N.P., Müller, R.D. (2016): Abrupt plate accelerations shape rifted continental margins: Nature, 536 (7615), 201–204, doi:10.1038/nature18319. [More Info, Animations, and Downloads]

Numerical Models on Centimetre-Scale

Cyprych, D., Brune, S., Piazolo, S., Quinteros, J. (2016): Strain localization in polycrystalline material with second phase particles: Numerical modeling with application to ice mixtures: Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, doi:10.1002/2016GC006471. [Link to Paper]

Review Article

Brune, S. (2016): Rifts and rifted margins: A review of geodynamic processes and natural hazards. Invited Review Paper in Geophysical Monograph, 219 “Plate Boundaries and Natural Hazards”, Duarte and Schellart (Eds.), AGU/Wiley Publishing. [Link to Paper]

Project details

Project type

Helmholtz Young Investigators Group

Time frame

2016 - 2021

Funding agency

Helmholtz Association

Principal investigator

Sascha Brune


Manfred Strecker, Henry Wichura, Simon Riedl (Institut für Erd- und Umweltwissenschaften, Universität Potsdam)

Simon Williams, Dietmar Müller (EarthByte Group, University of Sydney, Australia)

Giacomo Corti (Florence University, Italy) 

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