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Julia K. Morgan

Julia K. Morgan

Associate Professor of Earth Science


Marine Geology, Neotectonics, and Structural Geology

Tel (713) 348-6330
Fax (713) 348-5214


A.B., 1987 (Vassar College)
Ph.D., 1993 (Cornell University)

For more information about how I got here, take a look at my Curriculum Vita (Note: updated 6/10/2004).

My research interests are focused on deformation processes near the surface of the Earth. In this regime, friction and fracture are the dominant deformation mechanisms, and the origin and evolution of shallow deformation structures are dominated by these processes. Additionally, the fractured nature, and the abundance of sediments and soils near the Earth's surface, means that the shallow crust can be approximated as a granular system (although sometimes cohesive), in which particles interact in relatively simple ways to create complex emergent structures. This allows us to apply the principles of soil and sediment mechanics to understand their behaviors.

A wide range of geologic structures capture my attention, and provide entertaining research targets. These include active submarine accretionary prisms, for example, the Nankai prism southeast of Japan and Cascadia prism offshore of Oregon. I have also worked in areas of continental rifting and extension, in particular, along the Iberian continental margin. and on low-angle detachment faults in the Basin and Range Province. A more recent interest of mine is the complex deformation histories and structures of volcanoes, which are subject to large-scale submarine landsliding and avalanching, as well as to more gradual creeping deformation. This deformation results from gravitational settling augmented by intrusive and explosive eruptive processes.

While my research is often driven by field observations (on-land and at sea), interpretations can be effectively tested through numerical simulations. One of the more interesting techniques that I use is the distinct element method (DEM) which simulates the discrete mechanics of particulate materials; the material is treated as an assemblage of discrete particles which interact with each other to produce the bulk behavior of the system. Such simulations are capable of capturing the complicated behavior of particulate materials, like sediments, which can deform as brittle solids or ductile materials depending on their physical properties, state of stress, and stress histories. Moreover, by following the movement of individual particles, DEM models can track the evolution of structures and deformation fabrics, and the distribution of material properties within the deforming system. This type of discrete simulation complements observation and experiment extremely well.

Highlights of Current and Recent Research Activities (updated Dec. 2006)

  • 3D Seismic Velocity Structure of Hawaii from Onshore-Offshore Tomography

  • Gravitational Spreading, Structure and Evolution of Martian and Terrestrial Volcanoes

  • Seismic Reflection Survey of Giant Hawaiian Landslides

  • Structure and Composition of the South Kona Landslide, Mauna Loa Volcano, HI

  • Accretionary Prism Deformation and the Seismogenic Zone

  • Particle Dynamics Simulations of Fault and Gouge Evolution and Mechanics

  • Particle Dynamics Simulations of Gravitationally Driven Deep-Water Fold and Thrust Belts

  • A Numerical Sandbox using DEM simulations



    ESCI 101: The Earth (w/ R. Gordon)

    ESCI 323/333: Earth Structure and Deformation (w/ R. Gordon)

    ESCI 334: Geological and Geophysical Techniques

    ESCI 463: Advanced Structural Geology

    ESCI 467: Geomechanics (w/ B. Dugan)

    ESCI 524: Advanced Topics in Earth Structure & Deformation

    ESCI 525: Volcanotectonics

    ESCI 526: Seminar: Developments in Structural Geology

    ESCI 536: Geology of N. America & Field Trip to Canadian Rockies (w/ A. Bally)


    When I am not busy in my office, or traveling out of town, I enjoy hiking and bicycling, even in Houston!


    I also enjoy my digital camera, and I will occasionally put links here to recent photo sets of personal and department activities and events. Feel free to show them to your friends, etc., but if you put them to any higher purpose, please give appropriate credit.

    DEATH VALLEY FIELD TRIP , December 12-14, 2003

    Rice University,
    Department of Earth Science, MS-126,
    6100 Main St,
    TX 77005-1892.

    Main Tel. (713) 348-4880, Main Fax (713) 348-5214.

    Page last modified on 29-Dec-2006