Structure, Tectonics, and Geophysics

Why Study Tectonics?

Tectonics is the broad study of how the Earth’s internal processes control its evolution and structure. Studying these processes is fundamental for understanding volcanism, faulting, mountain building, natural hazards, and the location of resources within the Earth. Further, tectonic processes have feedbacks with the biosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere that are important for life on Earth and its evolution. In studying tectonics, we develop a better understanding of the formation of the Earth, how landscapes have evolved through time, and our sense of place within the Earth and its history.

Because of this broad reach of Tectonics, it is a critical area of study for most careers in the geosciences.  It is especially relevant for jobs in the energy and mining industries, engineering geology, education, working for many government agencies, and ecotourism.

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Our research into Tectonics addresses scientific questions including:

  • How do plate boundary processes impact deformation at the margins of continents and within their interiors?  How do these systems evolve through time?
  • How do processes within the deep crust and mantle drive uplift, deformation, and volcanism observed at the Earth’s surface?
  • What processes are controlling the tectonic evolution of the American Cordillera, specifically the southwestern US and northwestern Mexico?

To address these questions, we draw on expertise in fields including basin analysis, geochronology, geochemistry, petrology, geophysics, stratigraphy, and structural geology. Our faculty, staff, and students leverage this expertise to answer cutting edge geologic problems around the world in regions such as the western Pacific, Anatolia, South America, and North America, and Africa.

Faculty and Research Staff



  • David Brumbaugh, Professor (Geophysics)
  • Ernie Duebendorfer, Professor (structural Geology; Tectonics)
  • Thomas Hoisch, Professor (Metamorphic Petrology)
  • Michael Ort, Professor (Volcanoes and the environment)
  • Ryan Porter, Assistant Professor (Geophysics)
  • Mary Reid, Professor (Igneous Petrology; Isotope Geochemistry)
  • Nancy Riggs, Professor (Volcanology; Tectonics)
  • James Sample, Professor (Tectonics; Geochemistry; Geoscience Education)
  • Lisa Skinner, Lecturer (Geoscience Education; GIS)
  • Michael Smith, Assistant Professor (Sedimentary Geology; Geochronology; Paleogeography)
  • Paul Umhoefer, Professor (Tectonics)
  • Leary - Postdoc
  • James Wittke, Professor (Geologic Material Analyst)


Degree Programs
  • Undergraduate students interested in studying tectonics typically pursue Bachelor’s of Science (BS) degrees in Geology. Emphasis areas in Applied Geology and Geophysics are also available within the major.
  • At the Master’s level students interested in tectonics pursue the thesis-based Geology Master’s of Science (MS) degree. In addition to thesis work this degree provides students with a broad geologic background ideal for a wide variety of careers in the Geosciences.
  • The Earth and Planetary Systems emphasis in the Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability PhD program is an innovative and flexible interdisciplinary program that integrates several sub disciplines to address outstanding questions in tectonics.
Opportunities for Students
Research Laboratories
Current Projects
current projects
Related Groups at NAUCollaborative Research Groups and Laboratories Outside NAURelevant Graduate-level Courses (in SESES)


  • GLG 516 Petrologic Phase Equilibria
  • GLG 542 Advanced Structural Geology
  • GLG 561 Regional Tectonics
  • GLG 565 Introduction to Solid Earth Geophysics
  • GLG 570 Geochemistry
  • GLG 612 Igneous Petrology
  • GLG 615 Metamorphic Petrology
  • GLG 617 Isotope Geology
  • GLG 625 Siliciclastic Petrology
  • GLG 627 Depositional Systems
  • GLG 629 Evolution of Sedimentary Basins
  • EES698 -  1-2 seminar classes on specific tectonics topics are typically offered each year