Welcome to the Hawai‘i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology.
School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology  .  University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
stripes Global Tectonics and Marine Geology/Geophysics

The HIGP program in global tectonics falls into three broad categories: understanding the structure of spreading centers, crustal motion via GPS, and the analysis of marine tectonics via numerous ship-borne experiments (e.g., deep sea drilling, mapping with imaging sonars, submersible dives and the resultant petrologic analysis of returned samples).

map of continental drift Plate Tectonics.

Plate tectonics is the guiding paradigm of the Earth Sciences and thus involves numerous researchers in marine geology and geophysics and the HMRG group described elsewhere. HIGP research includes studies of plate motions, plate boundaries, and hotspots. Our mid-ocean ridge research includes investigations of seafloor spreading centers ranging from the fastest to slowest, using remote sensing techniques on scales ranging from meters to hundreds of kilometers. Our continental rifting research includes studies of the Red Sea and Gulf of California, as well as the breakup of Papua New Guinea in the Woodlark Basin. Our hotspot research includes new Pacific plate motion models as well as the influence of plate motions on the initiation of subduction zones.
cartoon of rift hypothesis Mid-Ocean Ridge Studies.

Together with many students and colleagues, Richard Hey has developed the propagating rift hypothesis into an accepted part of plate tectonic theory and showed that along-ridge oceanic microplates develop by a combination of rift propagation and independent plate rotation. Our current research includes hydrothermal and structural investigations along Earth's fastest seafloor spreading center, the 28o-32oS East Pacific Rise. This work near Easter Island suggests that the surrounding Easter and Juan Fernandez microplates may have originated as overlap zones of very large-scale duelling propagators. This fastest spreading center is also the shallowest and most inflated part of the Pacific-Nazca boundary and is one of the most hydrothermally active parts of the global mid-ocean ridge system known. Thus it is the focus of a great deal of current geological, geochemical and biological research including ALVIN submersible investigations.
map of plate motions Hotspots and Plate Motions.

For more than 20 years, Loren Kroenke has been studying the tectonic development of the western and southwestern Pacific (including the formation of oceanic plateaus such as the Ontong Java), and has undertaken reconstruction of the configuration of lithospheric plates in the Southwest Pacific as far back as Early Cretaceous time. Currently, he is investigating the tectonic initiation of Pacific Rim subduction zones, in the context of the absolute motions of oceanic plates measured in the hotspot frame of reference. He also is working with Pål Wessel of the Department of Geology and Geophysics to refine new Pacific plate motion models, using the hotspotting method, and to examine the potential effects of these models on the emergence of Pacific Basin tectonism. To view an animated version of the Southwest Pacific reconstruction go to: http://imina.soest.hawaii.edu/GG/MGG/HotPlateRec.html.
marine geophysical survey map Marine Geophysical Surveys and Tectonics.

Geophysical techniques including multibeam and sidescan sonar mapping, gravity, magnetic, seismic, and heat flow observations are employed to investigate the tectonic evolution of specific features ranging from individual spreading segments to small oceanic basins. These specialized surveys are aimed at understanding the processes by which global tectonics operates, and therefore are primarily focused on active features. The questions that these surveys address include: How do continents rift and oceanic basins form? How does oceanic crust form and evolve under different seafloor spreading conditions? How is tectonic deformation and volcanism distributed under varying conditions? Current research areas include backarc basins (Lau, Manus, Mariana), mid-ocean ridges (East Pacific Rise, Chile Ridge) and areas undergoing rift-to-spreading transitions (Woodlark Basin, Red Sea, Gulf of Aden).

For more information on global tectonics and marine geology/geophysics at HIGP contact: Patty Fryer, Richard Hey, Fernando Martinez.

Text and images courtesy Richard Hey, Loren Kronke, Fernando Martinez and HIGP.

  Updated January, 2007.

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