Dr. Unworth in Tibet

Martyn Unsworth


Department of Physics & Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Dr. Martyn Unsworth is a professor of geophysics with a joint appointment in both the Department of Physics and Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. He has a doctorate in marine geophysics from Cambridge University.

Dr. Unsworth’s area of research is in the use of geophysical imaging to study a range of Earth processes. This uses low frequency radio waves to image the structure of the Earth over the depth range from a few hundred metres to thousands of kilometres. This has included studies of plate tectonics, earthquakes and volcanoes, as well as applied studies in mineral exploration, geothermal exploration and environmental investigations.

The plate tectonic studies undertaken by Dr. Unsworth’s research group use the magnetotelluric method to study how the continents deform at part of the plate tectonic cycle. Recent studies have investigated mountain belts worldwide including field research in the Canadian Cordillera, the Himalaya, Tibetan Plateau, Taiwan, Eastern Turkey and the Andes. These studies have detected fluid rich regions of the Earth`s crust that can flow over geological timescales as tectonic plates collide. Other studies have examined the factors that control earthquake occurrence on major fault zones in California and Turkey.

The same exploration methods are used in applied studies to develop improved exploration methods for mineral exploration and environmental monitoring. Geothermal studies are currently being used as part of the Helmholtz Alberta Initiative to investigate if geothermal energy could be used as a heat source for the oilsands industry. This would have the potential to greatly reduce the volume of greenhouse gases emitted by this industry. Dr. Unsworth is currently the leader of one of the six themes in the Helmholtz Alberta Initiative.

Many of Dr. Unsworths' studies are a part of multi-disciplinary studies that combine multiple geophysical and geological datasets to answer major questions in the Earth sciences. One of his recent papers "Crustal melting and the flow of mountains" illustrates this approach with a summary of how mountain belts form when plate tectonics causes two continents to collide (see Elements, 7, 253-260, 2011). The Tibetan Plateau is the classic example of this process and since 1995 Dr. Unsworth has visited China more than 15 times, including 8 months of field research in Tibet. Geophysical data he has collected reveal a layer of molten rock at a depth of 10-20 km that flows at few centimetres per year. This flow accounts for many features of the Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau, as well as ancient mountain belts formed earlier in the history of the Earth. More about this research can be found at Dr. Unsworth's website.