Professor and Director of the Tectonics Department at the Institut de Physique du Globe in Paris, Paul Tapponnier has been distinguished Visiting Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech, Pasadena since 1985. Among many other honours, he received one of his Country’s highest accolades in 1991 when he was created Knight of the Legion of Honour.

In the 1970s, Paul Tapponnier was one of the first to realise the huge potential of satellite imagery for looking at active large-scale tectonics. He has exploited that technique with rare brilliance ever since. In a series of papers written with Peter Molnar between 1975 and 1979, he transformed our understanding of Asia’s tectonics. Subsequent fieldwork, only now possible in many of these countries, has confirmed the accuracy of his conclusions from satellite images. His work has set a benchmark of quality and rigour that few have been able to match.

Paul Tapponnier has trained a group of graduate students who are now major figures in their own right, and has been responsible for establishing a school of tectonic geology in France that is admired worldwide.


China and Tibet: keys to the understanding of Continental Tectonics by Paul Tapponnier

Institut de Physique du Globe, Paris France

A complete understanding of the deformation of continents has eluded earth scientists since the advent of Plate Tectonics more than 30 years ago. But recent progress in deep seismic imaging and in the measurement of surface deformations in China and Tibet is about to solve many of the problems posed by Continental Tectonics. It is now possible to link crustal deformation in the India/Asia collision zone to processes deeper in the mantle. A comparison of geological reconstructions of block motions within Asia since ˜ 50 Ma ago with 3D tomographic images of subducted lithosphere yields insight into the spatio-temporal evolution of mantle structure.


To read an article about his work in french, 1st article, 2nd, 3rd.

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