Chair in Tectonics
My passion is the investigation of earth processes as recorded in rocks, landscapes and images of the subsurface. I focus on the structure of rock formations and what this tells us of tectonics - earth movements. These can in turn inform understanding of how major earth features such as mountain ranges are formed. But it also has societal importance - in understanding the structure of the near subsurface - sites for the geo-storage of CO2 and nuclear waste.
I joined the University of Aberdeen as a "Sixth Century" professor of tectonics in 2008. Prior to this I have held research positions at Durham University (1984-87) and the Open University (1987-88), and a lectureship (OU, 1989-90; before moving to the University of Leeds in 1991, where I spent most of my career. During this time I have served as secretary (1988-90) and chair (1995-6) of the UK's Tectonic Studies Group. More recently I have served on committees on the Geological Society of London, as an elected member of Council (2010-2014), on the External Relations Committee (UK National Committee for Geology; 2010-2015) and as chair of the Geoconservation Committee (2013-2015). I am currently a trustee of the Scottish Geology Trust leading the bid to bring the International Geological Congress to Scotland in 2028!
As a tectonic geologist, I think it is important to draw on the full diversity of earth science. My best-known research is on the structural geology of thrust systems, mountain belts and their associated sedimentary basins. However, I have also worked extensively on the geological record and tectono-stratigraphy of the Messinian "Salinity Crisis" in the central Mediterranean and on the structural geology of deep-water sediments and slopes, together with the tectonic controls on their routing.
My publication list is available via ResearchGate.
I run an open-access resource sharing teaching materials in geology - along with films of stunning field locations - on this YouTube channel:
Fellow of Geological Society of London, CGeol.
Member of the Italian Geological Society
Prizes and Awards
President's Award, Geological Society, 1986.
Wollaston Fund, Geological Society, 1995
Inaugrual Dewey medallist, Geological Society, 2018.
My research broadly falls into the study of structural geology and tectonics, generally integrating with other subdisciplines in the Earth Sciences. My chief drive is to understand localization of deformation - on various scales: within poorly consolidatetd sediments to establish how gravity flows couple with their substrates, through to establishing the patterns of large-scale deformation within continental lithosphere. Much of this research focusses on the structure and tectonics of sedimentary basins and continental margins. I have geographic interests, chiefly in quantifying the tectonic evolution of the central Mediterranean region through the Neogene - especially using the stratigraphic record to establish structural continuity, the rates and timing of deformation.
My key current research falls under the Fold-Thrust Research Group - an industry partnership that reinvigorates understanding of structural evolution in the outer parts of mountain belts to aid exploration and production of their oil and gas resources.
A secondary theme is concerned with using early syn-orogenic successions to unravel pre-orogenic structural geometry and early tectonic evolution of mountain belts.
Much of my early research has been concerned with the kinematic evolution of thrust belts and thrust-type mountain ranges, the role of inherited structures/stratigraphy in influencing structural evolution. I have worked extensively on exhumation processes in mountain belts, from various parts of the Tethyan-Mediterranean-Alpine system and Himalayas. I have also worked in rift and transform settings, at all crustal levels.
For the past 20 years I have focussed on integrating the stratigraphic record with structural geology, increasingly using the exceptional seismic imagery coming from deepwater continental margins. Increasingly it will be from appropriately calibrated geophysical data - detecting deformation patterns in situ - that advances will come in tectonics and structural geology.
I am a passionate advocate for intelligent geoconservation and the promotion of geological heritage, especially in Scotland. The region contains world class examples, not only of compressional structures formed at various crustal depths (including the Moine thrust Belt) but also stunning arrays of basin-forming fault systems and tectono-magmatic structures. I was heavily involved in the Geological Society's projects on 100 Great Geosites and Plate Tectonic Stories .
Structural evolution of foreland thrust belts (Fold-Thrust Research Group)
Structural inheritrance in orogenic belts
The structural geology of submarine slopes, especially the development of gravitationally driven deformation structures.
Messinian basins - interactions between stratigraphic and deformation processes.
Uncertainty and interpretation in structural geology, especially of geophysical datasets.
Turbidite depositional systems as tectonic tracers.
Instructor on L3 courses: Structural Geology & Tectonics (GL3027) and "Map interpretation and Cross section construction" (part of GL3206); Interpretation of seismic reflection data (GP 3501)
MSc Sustainable Energy Geoscience- structural geology and basin tectonics.
Non-course Teaching Responsibilities
Rob delivers training courses for PhD students in the GeoNetZero centre of doctoral training
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Mapping faults in 3D seismic data: why the method mattersJournal of Structural Geology, 104976Contributions to Journals: Articles
Continent-Ocean Transition or Boundary?: Crowd-sourced seismic interpretations of the East-India Passive MarginTectonics, vol. 42, no. 8, e2022TC007624Contributions to Journals: Articles
Training the creation, visualisation and interpretation of fault maps for the subsurface – using tectonic geomorphologyGeological Society, London, Special Publications, vol. 541, no. 1, pp. SP541-2022-353Contributions to Journals: Articles
The first mapping of the Moine Thrust Belt, NW Scotland: the progress of Peach, Horne and colleagues (1883–1936)Geological Society, London, Special Publications, vol. 541, no. 1, pp. SP541-2022-299Contributions to Journals: Articles
Editorial: Source or sink? Erosional and depositional signatures of tectonic activity in deep-sea sedimentary systemsFrontiers in Earth Science, vol. 10, 1042473Contributions to Journals: Editorials
Untangling the Annot sand fairway: structure and stratigraphy of the Eastern Champsaur Basin (Eocene-Oligocene), French AlpsJournal of the Geological Society , vol. 177, no. 6, pp. 1197-1209Contributions to Journals: Articles
Deep-water sand-fairway mapping as a tool for tectonic restoration: decoding Miocene central Mediterranean palaeogeography using the Numidian turbidites of southern ItalyJournal of the Geological Society , vol. 177, no. 4, pp. 766-783Contributions to Journals: Articles
Hutton’s Arse: 3 billion years of extraordinary geology in Scotland’s Northern Highlands (second edition) by Malcolm Rider and Peter Harrison, Dunedin Academic Press, Edinburgh (2019), x+226 pp., Pbk., ISBN: 9781780460406. £19.99Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, vol. 131, no. 2, pp. 227-228Contributions to Journals: Reviews of Books, Films and Articles
Henry Cadell’s Experimental Researches in Mountain Building: their lessons for interpreting thrust systems and fold-thrust structuresGeological Society Special Publications , vol. 490, pp. 9-31Contributions to Journals: Articles
From hot to cold - The temperature dependence on rock deformation processes: An introductionJournal of Structural Geology, vol. 132, 103977Contributions to Journals: Articles