Professor Robert Butler

Professor Robert Butler
Professor Robert Butler
Professor Robert Butler

Chair in Tectonics



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.

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 a member of the Management Committee of the UK's Oil and Gas Collaborative Centre for Doctoral Training and founding director of the Virtual Seismic Atlas.

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.



Research Overview

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 .

Current Research

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.


Teaching Responsibilities

Level 5 (MGeol) Programme Manager.

Convenor of L5 course: Integrated Sedimentary Basin Systems; instructor on "Basin Fill" and  Research Skills courses.

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 Integrated Petroleum Geology - structural geology and basin tectonics.

Rob has a host of open educational videos on a wide range of geology on THE SHEAR ZONE - his YouTube channel with images and exercises on his eponymous website


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