Department of Earth SciencesWestern Science

Tectonic Processes and Natural Hazards

Research in Tectonic Processes and Natural Hazards focuses on integrating field investigations, laboratory analysis, and computational modeling to tackle the problem of deformation and change in the continental lithosphere on time scales ranging from short-term earthquake events to long-term tectonic deformation processes, and for spatial scales ranging from microstructures, visible under electronic microscopes, to the tectonic, continental scales.

Primary faculty: Atkinson, Jiang, Shcherbakov, and Tiampo

Earthquake Hazards and Ground Motions

Dr. Gail Atkinson (Research Webpage)

Gail Atkinson faults

Dr. Atkinson’s research group examines earthquake hazards and ground motions, with special emphasis on seismicity and ground motions in Eastern North America, and in the Cascadia subduction zone of British Columbia. Her Engineering Seismology Toolbox Laboratory, funded by the Canadian Foundation of Innovation, contains six SUN workstations hosting seismic data analysis software and the laboratory website, The group interacts with earthquake engineers through the NSERC-funded Canadian Seismic Risk Network. This strategic network includes dozens of researchers in earth sciences and civil engineering at universities across Canada, working towards the common goal of assessing and mitigating earthquake hazards and risk.

Dr. Atkinson also leads the POLARIS (Portable Observatories for Lithospheric Analysis and Research Investigating Seismicity) consortium, which hosts remote seismological and MT observatories throughout Canada ( Dr. Atkinson’s current research projects include: the assessment of seismic hazards and site response for Canadian cities; comparative studies of ground motions in different tectonic environments; development of ground-motion prediction equations for various regions; methods of developing earthquake time histories for use in engineering analyses; scenario ShakeMaps for emergency planning and response purposes; and investigation of induced seismicity, using a new regional monitoring network in Alberta.


Laboratory for Deformation Structures

Dr. Dazhi Jiang (Research Webpage)

We use deformation structures and fabrics preserved in rocks to unravel the tectonic evolution of orogenic belts and to constrain the long-term rheology of the continental crust. Field mapping of critical areas are combined with laboratory microstructural analysis and numerical modeling to understand the kinematics and mechanics of natural rock deformation. The Laboratory is equipped with the latest, top-end equipment for this integrated research endeavour including:

picture Microstructural Analysis Facility: This facility includes an EBSD detector attached to the SEM for Lattice-Preferred Orientation analysis and phase identification, four state-of-the-art (Leica and Nikon) microscopes with digital cameras and image analysis software for thin-section scale microstructural analysis, one precision-cut diamond saw and a Vibratory Polisher for sample preparation. picture

Dr. Jiang's current field research areas include the Canadian Shield, Canadian Cordillera, and East China.


Nonlinear Geophysics Modeling Lab

Dr. Robert Shcherbakov (Research Webpage)

The main focus of our research is to understand the physics of various complex nonlinear phenomena observed in nature. Such behavior can be found at different temporal and spatial levels of organization of natural systems and is characterized by highly nonlinear interactions among their constituent parts and behavior far from equilibrium. The undertaken research involves extensive computer modeling, data analysis, and visualization. The following topics are of particular interest and addressed in our studies:


Computational Laboratory for Fault System Modeling, Analysis, and Data Assimilation

Dr. Kristy Tiampo (Research Webpage)

We integrate field investigation, laboratory analysis, and computational modeling to tackle the problem of fault systems, earthquake dynamics, seismic ground motion, and longer term deformation of the continental lithosphere.


The computational modeling and data assimilation lab contains twelve state-of-the-art computer workstations designed for visualization and data analysis of large quantities of geodetic and seismic data, attached to a multi-disk storage array with more than one terabyte of capacity. These workstations are equipped with the latest in commercial and academic research software designed for the analysis of geodetic data and remote sensing images, modeling of the earthquake system using finite element analysis and integrated computational fault models, and includes the capability to perform parallel computing, all for the express purpose of performing near real-time data assimilation and inversion analysis in order to better understand the earthquake fault system. Here we perform integrated data assimilation and analysis for the purpose of understanding fault systems dynamics using seismicity and geodetic and remote sensing techniques, including GPS and InSAR data analysis. From this facility, we also operate a network of eight continuous GPS stations located throughout southern Ontario and along the east side of Hudson Bay. On a broader level, we study the physics of earthquakes using numerical and computation modeling, advanced time series analysis, and nonlinear inversion techniques.