Evgueni Burov
Recent advances in numerical modelling in Earth Sciences

Evgenii Burov, UPMC, Paris, France, Section Earth & Cosmic Sciences


Earth Sciences belong to rare disciplines where thermo-mechanical numerical modelling plays a specifically important role due to the practical impossibility to study geodynamic processes directly. Geological-geodynamic processes occur at time scales that span over millions years, often at very slow rates, huge spatial scales, and mainly at great depth; this all makes the capacities of direct human-scale observations and experiments quite limited. Numerical models provide the necessary link between fragmented multiple multi-physical and structural observations. They serve both to test hypothesis and even to validate geological and geophysical data because the latter are extrapolated from human observational scales to geological time and spatial scales. At geological time scales, Earth materials have extremely complicated rheological behaviours that refer to non-linear viscous-elasticplastic deformation that is also thermally, compositionally and strain rate dependent. These properties result in complex behaviours leading to organization of unique feedback systems such as plate tectonics and mantle convection patterns; they pre-condition plate geometries and the relations between deep geodynamic forces and surface processes such as climate- and tectonically controlled erosion, sedimentation and fluvial networks. Numerical (generally finite element) modelling of such systems provides a specific challenge to the modelers and code developers due to the necessity of handling high 2D and 3D numerical resolutions, wildly non-linear behaviors, large strains, multiple inter-dependent processes such as thermo-dynamic changes in properties of the material due to varying pressure-temperature conditions. However, when successful, numerical models allow us to understand some key problems such as driving mechanisms of Wegener's dynamic Earth. In the past few years, an important breakthrough has been done in modeling of coupled phenomena such as mantle lithosphere interactions, thermo-mechanically and thermo-dynamically coupled processes and complex multi-physical systems.
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