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Leigh Royden

Leigh Royden
Leigh Royden

The 2013 Stephan Mueller Medal is awarded to Leigh Royden for her seminal contributions to the understanding of the development of sedimentary basins, the thermal evolution of mountain belts, and the dynamics of flow in the lower crust and its relevance to the growth and structure of mountain ranges and high plateaux.

Leigh Royden has developed an original scientific signature in tectonics that elegantly combines geological and geophysical observations with original analytical and semi-analytical models. Through this method, she has played an outstanding role in fundamental topics of continental lithosphere deformation such as passive margin subsidence, retreating subduction and slab pull effects, and lower-continental-crust flow in various tectonic settings or dynamics.

Royden entered geophysics in the 1970s when early quantitative studies of sedimentary basins were underway. She showed that previous simple models, proposing that subsidence of basins was caused by cooling of the lithosphere after it had been stretched and thinned, could not explain some observations. Royden showed that in many situations the amount of thinning required by the thermal subsidence did not match that implied by the initial stretching of the basin. Her results exposed a richness in the evolution of sedimentary basins relevant to other disciplines, not the least of which to oil exploration. Her work on lower crustal flow has become an inspiring model in several tectonic settings, and has been used both by geologists and geophysicists.

Royden’s research has been at the ground floor of understanding the role played by a weak lower crust in both mountain building and widespread crustal extension. She initially proposed this model in the Basin and Range province in regional extensional settings, and subsequently for convergent tectonic systems such as Tibet. Virtually all geophysical data collected during the past decade support most of her original and further developed work in Tibet. Her recent work on oceanic slab dynamics and continental mechanics has linked her earlier research on extensional basins above subduction zones to fundamental concepts of continental deformation. She has consequently concentrated on the geometry, kinematics and dynamics of subducted slabs and the variations of the subduction process depending upon whether oceanic, continental or intermediate-type lithosphere is subducting.

Her fundamental contributions are further recognised by her publications and citations record. She has published more than 90 papers, which have been cited over 7000 times.