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Volume 26 Issue 12 (December 2016)

GSA Today

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Article, pp. 36–37 | Full Text | PDF (692KB)

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Physical Experiments of Tectonic Deformation and Processes: Building a Strong Community

Michele L. Cooke1, Jacqueline E. Reber2, Saad Haq3

1 University of Massachusetts–Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts 01003-9297, USA
2 Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011-3212, USA
3 Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, 47907, USA


The recent revolution in the analysis of physical experiments of tectonic processes has provided new quantitative tools to analyze their outcomes. Physical experiments using scaled analog models are unique in providing information on complex three-dimensional deformation where processes can be directly observed. These observations critically complement insights gained from field and analytical/numerical investigations. Recent innovations in rheologic testing, digital image processing, and data collection are revolutionizing how we use experiments to provide insight into crustal deformation. At the same time, we are seeing the benefits of physical experiments in classroom teaching by engaging students in hypothesis testing and hands-on laboratory experience. Strengthening of the community of physical experimentalists and instructors using analog materials to simulate tectonic processes will enhance our understanding of these processes, lend more power both to interpretations of field observations and to validation of numerical models, and deepen student understanding of tectonic mechanisms. A step toward a stronger community has been made with a recent workshop on physical modeling of tectonic processes, and this report is one outcome of that workshop.

Manuscript received 27 May 2016; Revised manuscript received 26 Aug. 2016; Accepted 10 Sept. 2016

doi: 10.1130/GSATG303GW.1