Sea levels are rising. But how much is due to changes in ocean volume and circulation, and how much is influenced by changes in the shape and gravity of the earth? Those questions are still open, also because available observations of crustal deformation and sea level are sparse in both space and time. Hence, physical models are needed in order to produce accurate predictions along world’s coastlines and support the realization of timely adaptation strategies.
This project focuses on the role of solid earth deformation, which causes vertical land motion and modifies the gravity field, both largely affecting coastal sea level. The main solid earth processes involved at decadal to millennial time scales are 1) the viscoelastic response of the mantle to glacial changes, known as glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA), 2) vertical crustal motion of tectonic origin, including the seismic cycle. An accurate quantification of their contribution to ongoing sea level change is still lacking: only a few GIA models are available, and they show large differences in predictions of regional sea levels, while most tectonic models cannot reliably estimate ranges of vertical deformation. Notably, both classes of models are largely constrained by paleo sea-level observations, which cannot distinguish between signals of glacial or tectonic origin.
This project aims to disentangle GIA from tectonic signals, by developing a numerical model of solid earth deformation that bridges spatial and temporal scales, in order to interpret both space-geodetic and (paleo) sea level observations. It will represent a major step forward in understanding the earth’s glacial history, and in unravelling the effect of climate change and tectonics on sea level. As a case study, it will focus on the Pacific coast of North America, where extensive datasets of (paleo) sea level and widespread geodetic observations of crustal deformation are available, and where both GIA and tectonics play a major role in controlling regional sea level changes. Methodological advances will have a general value and provide new tools to constrain GIA and tectonic signals worldwide.
Your PhD project will be supervised by Dr. Riccardo Riva (TU Delft) and Dr. Rob Govers (Utrecht University). In addition to an exciting research project and a friendly and stimulating work environment, we can offer you generous funds for scientific travel.
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