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Geodynamics Program


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Geodynamics Program is an integrated program that fosters interdisciplinary research in the earth and life sciences among faculty, students and postdoctoral fellows. It is centered around an annual spring semester seminar series that focus on a common theme from the perspective of a wide variety of different disciplines. Traditionally these have ranged from geophysical fluid dynamics, solid earth geochemistry to geobiology.  Past topics have included such themes as "The Geological and Biological Evolution of the Ocean Lithosphere", "The Early Earth", "Tectonics and Global Change", "Ice", "Plumes versus Plates", and "Fluid Flow in the Earth".  A wide variety of students and scientists from all the Institution's research departments attend the seminar series, with the heaviest participation traditionally coming from Geology & Geophysics, Physical Oceanography, and Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry.

Connected to the seminar series is an annual study tour to visit critical geological locations related to the Program's theme that year. The first purpose of the field trip is to provide marine scientists, particularly students a broad geological background from which to interpret observations made in the oceans where data are largely acquired by remote sensing.  Students, postdocs and faculty who regularly attend these trips over the last 6 years, have visited fossil ocean crust in the Oregon coast ranges and Cyprus, active volcanoes in Hawaii, continental rifting in the western United States, and present day plate spreading and glaciation in Iceland.  The second and equally important purpose of these trips is to foster extended interactions between students, students and faculty, and between faculty away from the distractions of the Institution.

Student Participation

Students can take the course for credit every year that they are in residence at the Institution, with the requirement that they present an original talk based on their research after years 1 and 2. For the first two years the students are required to prepare an original research paper, generally related to the seminar theme, in a discipline with a faculty advisor completely outside their own. Experience has shown that these projects are highly successful in promoting interdisciplinary research and that in over half the cases they become an integral part of the students' doctoral dissertation.

Seminar Format

A Geodynamics seminar is an extended affair, with the visiting scientist (or policy maker) meeting with the graduate students for a half hour before the Institution wide seminar presentation. This affords an opportunity for interactions between the students and the speaker that might not otherwise occur during the main lecture where they are greatly outnumbered by faculty and postdocs.  The main lecture then follows, where the speaker presents for a hour, followed by an extended question and answer period that may last up to an additional hour.  Generally, attendance averages close to 50 scientists, postdocs and students, representing a significant fraction of the entire scientific staff of the Institution.  The formal seminar is followed by individual visits with faculty and students for the remainder of the afternoon.  Finally, the speaker attends a dinner at a faculty member or a student’s home, generally attended by 10 to 20 seminar attendees.  Care is given to insure that at least equal numbers of students and postdocs attend with the faculty. These dinners provide a congenial atmosphere for extended discussions with the speaker that could not occur in another setting.


The Geodynamics Program is sponsored by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Academic Programs Office, and the Office of the Deputy Director & Vice President for Science and Engineering.

For more information please contact Sarah Das - or Meg Gresh -

In June 2004, MIT/WHOI Joint Program students and staff hiked Mount Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii to study the island’s origin and active volcanism. They are standing near an opening in a lava tube, about eight miles from the eruption source. Leading the field trip was Postdoctoral Scholar Adam Soule (sixth from left, hat backwards). Escorting the students were seismologist Jeff McGuire (far left), geophysicist Hans Schouten (right, with gloves) and physical oceanographer Jack Whitehead (right, with backpack). (Photo by Jack Whitehead, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)