Sculpting the Earth's topography: insights from modelling deep-surface processes

TOPOMOD is a training project designed for a team of early-stage and experienced  researchers to investigate and model the origin and evolution of topography of the continents over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. TOPOMOD will carry out 15 cross-disciplinary research projects in well-chosen key areas from the Mediterranean, the Middle and Far East, west Africa, and South America, with new developments in structural geology, geomorphology, seismology, geochemistry, InSAR, laboratory and numerical modelling of deep mantle to surface process.

TOPOMOD involves 12 European research teams, 3 high-technology enterprises, and 1 large multinational oil and gas company. TOPOMOD will provide to 13 early-stage researchers (ESRs) and 2 experienced researchers (ERs):

• A state-of-the-art concepts and leading edge research techniques;

• A strong career management skills;

• Connections with industry;

• Socially-oriented skill on environmental risks management.

TOPOMOD involves a total of 13 ESR (Early Stage Researchers) and 2 ER (Experienced Researchers) distributed in 8 research teams. The research team of the Institute of Earth Sciences Jaume Almera (ICTJA-CSIC) hosts 2 ESR (ESR-10 and ESR-12) and collaborates in the co-direction of 2 other ESR (ESR-11 and ESR-13).

Extended information can be found in the TOPOMOD website.

ICTJA-CSIC, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Barcelona, Spain
Università “Roma Tre”, Roma, Italy
  • C.Faccenna (local P.I.)
  • F. Funiciello
  • F. Dramis
  • P. Molin
  • S. Corrado
  • M. Mattei
  • F. Rossetti
  • V. Acocella
UU-Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands
  • D. Sokoutis (local P.I.)
  • F. Beekman
  • E. Willingshofer
  • L. Matenco
  • S. Cloetingh
Helmholtz-Zentrum, Potsdam, Germany
  • Onno Oncken (local P.I.)
  • Matthias Rosenau
  • N. Hovius
  • S. Hainzl
  • T. R. Walter
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zúrich, Switzerland
  • J.P. Burg (local P.I.)
  • F. Herman
  • S. Willett
  • M.G. Fellin
Università degli Studi di Parma, Italy
  • F. Storti
University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
  • S. Castelltort
Geosciences Montpellier, France
  • F. Gueydan
University of Mainz, Germany
  • B. Kaus
University of Durham, UK
  • J. van Hunen (local P.I.)
  • N. De Paola
  • J. Davidson
  • M. Allen
University of Rennes I, France
  • J.P.Brun (local P.I.)
  • P.Yamato
  • L Husson
Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche Istituto di Geoscienze e Georisorse, Italy
  • M. Bonini
  • G. Corti
Malvern Instruments
  • Bertrand Floure
TNO Built Environment and Geosciences, Business unit Geo-information and Geo-Energy, Netherlands
  • Diederic van Wees
G.O. Logical Consulting
  • Xavier Fort
Summary of the project ESR10 ‘Seismic characterization of intracratonic orogens’

ESR: Siddique A. Ehsan

Supervisors: Ramon Carbonell Bertran (ICTJA-CSIC, Barcelona) and F. Storti (Uni. Parma)

Topography plays a fundamental role in our society. Humankind uses and interacts with the landscape often ignoring its complex and evolving character. The present state and behaviour of the topography represents the ultimate product of processes interacting on a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. Topography is the result of the interaction of surface/shallow (sedimentation, erosion, etc)  and deep processes.  The understanding of landscapes, surface geology and natural hazards requires a profound knowledge of tectonic processes that have resulted in the present-day terrains. How the crust responds to the deep rooted lithospheric processes is strongly dependent on its internal structure. Understanding the resulting topography can be accomplished by an appreciation of the deep crustal architecture that is revealed by deep seismic imaging (normal incidence, wide-angle, tomography, etc). The research proposed aims to increase our understanding of the landscape and its evolution by constraining the Earth's deep crust and lithosphere that have led to present day topographic features of the intracratonic orogens within the Iberian and Italica Peninsulas.

The research pursues the seismic characterization of prominent topographic features such as the Apennines, Atlas and Ossa Morena-Central Iberian craton using the available normal incidence and/or wide-angle seismic reflection data. The research aim is to constrain the internal fine structure of these orogens and the geometrical relationships with the structures and processes within the Upper mantle. The final objective is to achieve a local structural and physical models of the intracratonic orogens. The resulting models will be integrated with local high resolution tomographic models derived from passive seismic recordings. These integrated models should asses in providing an understanding of this specific crustal response to deep seated processes.

Summary of the project ESR12 ‘Mantle characterization and dynamic topography in Africa’

ESR: Jan Globig

Supervisors: Manel Fernández Ortiga(ICTJA-CSIC, Barcelona) and C. Faccenna (Univ. Roma TRE)

The main questions to be addressed are the separation of chemical and thermal signatures of the mantle density and to establish their separate contribution to dynamic topography in the African continent. The aims of the research project are: i) to calculate the expected dynamic topography using a new refined approach to define the thermo-chemical parameters of the mantle, and ii) to explore the dynamic stability of the lithospheric mantle. Mantle density primarily depends on its composition and the temperature and pressure confining conditions. Geochemical analyses show a secular variation of mantle composition indicating a progressive depletion with tectonothermal age relative to the primitive upper mantle. The effects of temperature and pressure on the mantle buoyancy are exerted through the thermal expansion coefficient and the isothermal bulk modulus which tend to counteract each other. A relevant process leading to mantle density changes is the occurrence of phase transitions which changes the crystalline structure but not the composition. The most important phase transitions in the upper mantle down to 400 km depth are the plagioclase-spinel (at 25-35 km depth) and the spinel-garnet (at 60-90 km depth). Although the mantle density chances induced by changes in composition, temperature and pressure are ~1%, its contribution along the whole uppermost mantle may induce variations of few hundred meters in elevation.


The African continent present interesting characteristics to go deeper in the quantification of dynamic topography since: i) covers a very wide range of tectonothermal ages; ii) is affected by well known deep geodynamic processes such as mantle plumes, continental rifting, and Alpine compression; iii) there are recent continental studies dealing with chemical composition of the mantle, mechanical properties and elastic thickness as well as with thermal and seismic structure. The methodology is based on the integration of regional observables (geoid, gravity and elevation) with heat flow data and seismic constraints, together with chemical composition of mantle rocks from outcrops or xenolith suites to calculate densities at different P-T conditions and elastic properties (Vp and Vs) by using a self-consistent thermodynamic approach. Results will be compared to seismic tomographic models. The dynamic stability of the lithospheric mantle under large lateral variations of temperature and composition will be analyzed with dynamic models.


  • Funding

    Project Financed by European Union - 7PM- RTN 264157


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