Research Fellows Directory
Professor Philip Allen
Imperial College London
The surface of the Earth is a highly dynamic interface between the solid Earth and its outer fluid envelope. Processes of weathering and erosion, the transport of particulate sediment and dissolved solutes, and the deposition of sediment in long-term sinks all take place across this interface, thereby contributing strongly to the way the Earth cycles its raw materials. I am particularly interested in developing quantitative models, backed up by field observations and laboratory analysis, that explain and predict the release of particulate sediment from uplifting and eroding parts to the Earth, and its transport to eventual depositional sinks. But it would be incorrect to think that this takes place like a simple conveyor belt of sediment from source to sink. Instead, part of the sediment supply is selectively deposited to build ‘stratigraphy’ en route to long-term sinks. The downstream dispersal of sediment, and the downstream trend of grain size in the preserved sedimentary deposits (stratigraphy) reveals a great deal about the importance of climate and tectonics in the past. My research allows sedimentary deposits to be better used as an archive of environmental change – we are better able to ‘read’ the epic poem of Earth history preserved in sedimentary rocks. In addition, my models are potentially very valuable for prediction of the location of good quality aquifers and oil and gas reservoirs deeply buried beneath the surface of the Earth.
In the past year, we have shown that our new theory works well in explaining field observations from the Spanish Pyrenees, we have applied the theory to other settings such as the Great Plains of USA, and have started to write code that will have generic value in predicting stratigraphy resulting from sediment transfer in a range of different tectonic and climatic settings.