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Lorenzo Colli 


Assistant Professor, Geophysics, Geodynamics, and Mantle Structure

Ph.D. 2017, Geophysics, University of Munich (LMU Munich), Germany
M.S. 2009, Physics, University of Milan, Italy
B.S. 2007, Physics, University of Milan, Italy

Office: 238B SR1
Office hours: W | 2:00p - 3:00p
Contact: lcolli@uh.edu

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Mantle convection is the fundamental physical process that drives the motion of lithospheric plates. Moreover, it can explain geologic activity that doesn’t fit in the paradigm of plate tectonics, such as intraplate volcanism and epeirogenic movements. The fundamental physics of convection in a planetary mantle – i.e., thermal convection of a highly viscous fluid in a spherical shell – are well understood. But silicate rocks are characterized by complex and poorly known mechanical and thermodynamic behaviors, which hinders our understanding of solid Earth dynamics and our ability to model convection of the Earth’s mantle.

The mantle is not directly accessible and its high temperatures and pressures are challenging to reproduce in the lab. As such, studies of solid Earth dynamics need to be highly interdisciplinary to combine the strengths of different fields and minimize trade-offs, with geodynamics providing the physical framework that links together seismic imaging, mineral physics, geochemistry, paleomagnetism, tectonics, physical geodesy, stratigraphy, geomorphology and more.

An explicit linkage between these diverse fields of study can be established via retrodictions of past mantle flow. I recently wrote a post for the EGU Geodynamcs blog on this subject. You can read it here.

Research interests

  • Retrodictions of past mantle flow
  • Dynamic topography
  • Geoid
  • Interpretation of tomographic images
  • Interactions between mantle dynamics and surface processes
  • Crustal structure


  • Large-scale numerical modeling
  • Analytical solutions and scaling arguments
  • Data assimilation
  • Adjoint method