Numerical Modeling of Tectonic Processes

Fabio A. Capitanio, Christopher Gonzalez

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperEntry for encyclopedia/dictionarypeer-review


The relative motions of the lithospheric plates and their resulting deformation are central concepts of plate tectonics. The evolution of these tectonic provinces spans a wide range of spatial scales and characteristic times ranging from seconds to million years, which cannot be directly observed. Numerical modeling techniques allow us to overcome these limitations, providing a quantitative model of tectonic processes, offering relevant insights into the coupled evolution of the planet's surface to deep interiors over millions of years. Central to this technique is the definition of an equivalent physical problem, concisely described by a set of equations of mass, momentum and energy conservation. The solution to these equations is a quantitative description of fundamental quantities, such as temperature, pressure and velocity in time in a continuous spatial domain. Once scaled to realistic Earth conditions, the numerical models offer relevant insights into the processes of plate tectonics, ranging from subduction to rifting, from mountain building to oceanic basin spreading. Numerical models are a powerful tool to elucidate a very broad range of processes. These models are of paramount importance to a variety of neighboring disciplines, and have become central to modern plate tectonic research.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication Encyclopedia of Geology
Subtitle of host publicationVolume 1-6, Second Edition
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9780081029091
ISBN (Print)978-0-08-102909-1
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


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