Sylvain Barbot's group is researching the role of water in the movement of Earth's tectonic plates.
The goal of this research is to develop a physics-based model of the earthquake cycle to assess the full range of seismic behavior that can be expected across a plate boundary.
This team uses remote sensing (synthetic aperture radar, GPS, optical photographs, gravity) and seismological data to investigate the mechanics the lithosphere and fault slip. These measurements can be used to constrain models of rupture and lithosphere dynamics, which include faulting, but also more distributed deformation, such as poroelastic rebound and viscoelastic flow. An important goal is to reconcile long-term (regional tectonics) and short-term (earthquake dynamics) observations and improve our capacity to predict some aspect of the earthquake cycle.
Example of a dynamic model consisting of a fault obeying rate-and-state friction with characteristics tuned to the wealth of seismological and geodetic data available on the Parkfield segment of the San Andreas Fault:
Credits: Barbot S., N. Lapusta and J.-P. Avouac, "Under the Hood of the Earthquake Machine: Toward Predictive Modeling of the Seismic Cycle", Science, 2012.