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Christopher J. Spiers

Christopher J. Spiers
Christopher J. Spiers

The 2017 Louis Néel Medal is awarded to Christopher J. Spiers for outstanding contributions to the quantitative understanding of long-term creep and frictional properties of rocks undergoing solution-precipitation processes.

Christopher Spiers is Professor of Earth Materials and Experimental Rock Deformation at the University of Utrecht, and is an internationally- leading expert in both of these fields. During his career he has made significant contributions to knowledge in a wide variety of problems in geosciences in general, and rock physics in particular. Spiers has brought a high degree of meticulous rigour and dedication to the scientific problems he has tackled, combining careful experiments, often with ingeniously designed measuring techniques, with a solid theoretical approach, and detailed microstructural observations of the deformation mechanisms involved. Specifically, he has made outstanding contributions to our understanding of the long-term creep behaviour of rocks, the effect of fluid rock interactions on the frictional properties of long-lived faults, the potential effect of CO2-rock interactions on reservoir and cap rock integrity, and the deformation behaviour of olivine and calcite. Spiers graduated in geology from Imperial College London, where he remained to complete a PhD. After a spell as a Miller Research Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, he moved to Utrecht, initially as a postdoctoral researcher. Three years after his PhD he was appointed as an assistant professor at Utrecht, and progressed to a full professor in 1994. He has published over 130 peerreviewed scientific papers in international journals, and made over 100 invited presentations at scientific meetings and seminars, testament both to the importance of his work and his skills as a communicator. Spiers is best known for his seminal contribution to understanding deformation and frictional slip associated with solution-precipitation (or pressure solution) processes, based on comprehensive experimental and theoretical work. Spiers and his group are unrivaled in conducting systematic experiments to elucidate this process since the 1980s. There is abundant evidence of these processes in naturally deformed rocks in most tectonic environments. His group has also elucidated the mechanical properties of rocks and faults undergoing such processes, and as a result have had a significant impact on problems such as the mechanisms of subduction-zone earthquakes and the integrity of reservoirs for carbon capture and storage projects to mitigate climate change. Spiers has also found time to serve the wider community in a number of senior roles at Utrecht University, including acting as co-director for the strategic alliance with TNO (the National Applied Geosciences Centre and Geological Survey of the Netherlands). He has also shown significant leadership and active participation in European science, for example leading the current collaborative effort for experimental rock physics group within the wider European Plate Observing System programme. In addition to being an international leader in Earth materials and experimental rock deformation, Spiers is and has been an excellent adviser to some 38 PhD to date, educating and encouraging many first-class scientists in these fields. He is a worthy recipient of the Louis Néel Medal.