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Durham University

Email and Telephone Directory

Staff Profile

Prof Stefan Nielsen, PhD, HDR

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 44308
Room number: Rm 340a

Contact Prof Stefan Nielsen (email at


2003 – 2013 — Senior Researcher, Istituto Nazionale di Geofsica e Vulcanologia (INGV), Dpt. of Seismology and Tectonophysics.

2009 — Invited professor, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris (Laboratoire de Géologie du Département géosciences

2000 – 2002 — Researcher, Istituto Nazionale di Geofsica e Vulcanologia (INGV), Dpt. of Seismology and Tectonophysics. Detached to the University of Napoli Federico II, Dpt. Scienze Fisiche.

1997 – 1999 — Research Associate at University of California, Santa Barbara (Physics Dpt. and Institute for Crustal Studies).

1996 – 1997 — Marie Curie postdoctoral grant of the European Community, Dpt. of Geophysics and Volcanology, University of Napoli Federico II, Italy.

1994 – 1996 — Post-doctoral fellow of the SCEC (Southern California Earthquake Center, U.S.C.), at Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, University of California, Los Angeles.

1990 – 1993 — PhD, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris

Career Research Highlights

My central interest is in dynamics of earthquake rupture. I am exploring the rupture process using tools like laboratory experiments, numerical modeling and field geology. One of the main questions I am trying to answer is what is the frictional behavior of faults during the fast and short earthquake slip episodes? How can it affect the rupture propagation and hazardous seismic radiation? I order to shed light on these questions I started to work several years ago with scientists from different backgrounds. We created an international group with specialties ranging from field structural geology and microstructures of faults, laboratory methods to deform rocks at high speed and analytical/numerical methods to help upscale the results from the small scale of the lab (rock samples of a few cm) to the large scale (natural seismic fault dimensions can reach tens of kilometers).

Committee and Society Service

2011 — Member of the International Earth Science Olympiad comitate 5th edition (IESO 2011)

2010 — Reviewer for ANR (Agence Nationale de la Recherche)

2010 — JSPS (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science) - Review College

2012 — Czech Science Foundation (GACR) Review College


1996 — Marie Curie European Fellowship

1994 — SCEC (Southern California Earthquake Center) Fellowship , postdoctoral grant

Invited Talks

2011 — Experimental and field constraints on seismic source models – Invited talk. S. Nielsen, The second QUEST Workshop, Hveragerdi, Iceland 

2010 — Reconstructing features of earthquake dynamics from field and experimental observations – Invited talk. Nielsen, Stefan; Griffith, W Ashley; Di Toro, Giulio; Niemeijer, Andre; Smith, Steven A F. Annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (2010)

2010 — Photo-acoustic study of supershear ruptures in the laboratory – Invited talk. Nielsen, S, Schubnel, A , Taddeucci, J, Vinciguerra, S and Rao, S. 7th ACES International Workshop, OTARU, Japan

2010 — Creating earthquake avatars in the laboratory – Invited talk. Nielsen, S. Albert Tarantola Homage Workshop, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris

Recent and Current Grants

2011 – 2012 — Program GALILEO: Experimental study on propagation of earthquake rupture – INGV Co-ordinator for project, with collaborators at Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris

2008 – 2013 — USEMS project: Uncovering the Secrets of an Earthquake, a Multidisciplinary Study – INGV Research Co-ordinator

2003 – 2005 — Towards a unified vision of geophysical phenomena – Research Co-ordinator, P.I.: A. Piersanti, INGV

2005 — Progetto di studio della sorgente sismica a partire da affioramenti di faglie fossili (Study of seismic sources from exhumed fault zones) – Co-PI

Research Groups

Department of Earth Sciences

Selected Publications

Journal Article

  • Guérin‐Marthe, Simon, Nielsen, Stefan, Bird, Robert, Giani, Stefano & Di Toro, Giulio (2019). Earthquake Nucleation Size: Evidence of Loading Rate Dependence in Laboratory Faults. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 124(1): 698-708.
  • Cornelio, Chiara Spagnuolo, Elena Di Toro, Giulio Nielsen,Stefan & Violay, Marie (2019). Mechanical behaviour of fluid-lubricated faults. Nature Communications 10: 1274
  • Pozzi, G., De Paola, N., Nielsen, S.B., Holdsworth, R.E. & Bowen, L. (2018). A new interpretation for the nature and significance of mirror-like surfaces in experimental carbonate-hosted seismic faults. Geology 46(7): 583-586.
  • Murphy, S., Di Toro, G., Romano, F., Scala, A., Lorito, S., Spagnuolo, E., Aretusini, S., Festa, G., Piatanesi, A. & Nielsen, S. (2018). Tsunamigenic earthquake simulations using experimentally derived friction laws. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 486: 155-165.
  • Nielsen, S. (2017). From slow to fast faulting: recent challenges in earthquake fault mechanics. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 375(2103): 20160016.
  • Kaneko, Y., Carpenter, B. & Nielsen, S. (2017). Nucleation process of magnitude 2 repeating earthquakes on the San Andreas Fault predicted by rate-and-state fault models with SAFOD drill core data. Geophysical Research Letters 44(1): 162-173.
  • Vannucchi, Paola, Spagnuolo, Elena, Aretusini, Stefano, Di Toro, Giulio, Ujiie, Kohtaro, Tsutsumi, Akito & Nielsen, Stefan (2017). Past seismic slip-to-the-trench recorded in Central America megathrust. Nature Geoscience 10(12): 935-940.
  • Malone, David H., Craddock, John P., Schmitz, Mark D., Kenderes, Stuart, Kraushaar, Ben, Murphey, Caelan J., Nielsen, Stefan & Mitchell, Thomas M. (2017). Volcanic Initiation of the Eocene Heart Mountain Slide, Wyoming, USA. The Journal of Geology 125(4): 439-457.
  • Spagnuolo, E., Nielsen, S., Violay, M. & Di Toro, G. (2016). An empirically based steady state friction law and implications for fault stability. Geophysical Research Letters 43(7): 3263-3271.
  • Passelègue, François. X., Schubnel, Alexandre, Nielsen, Stefan, Bhat, Harsha S., Deldicque, Damien & Madariaga, Raùl (2016). Dynamic rupture processes inferred from laboratory microearthquakes. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 121(6): 4343-4365.
  • Beeler, N.M., Di Toro, G. & Nielsen, S. (2016). Earthquake Source Properties from Pseudotachylite. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 106(6): 2764-2776.
  • Nielsen, S., Spagnuolo, E., Violay, M., Smith, S., Toro, G. & Bistacchi, A. (2016). G: Fracture energy, friction and dissipation in earthquakes. Journal of Seismology 20(4): 1187-1205.
  • Nielsen, S., Spagnuolo, E., Smith, S., Violay, M., Di Toro, G. & Bistacchi, A. (2016). Scaling in natural and laboratory earthquakes. Geophysical Research Letters 43(4): 1504-1510.
  • Kaneko, Y., Nielsen, S.B. & Carpenter, B.M. (2016). The onset of laboratory earthquakes explained by nucleating rupture on a rate-and-state fault. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 121(8): 6071-6091.
  • Mitchell, Thomas M., Smith, S.A.F., Anders, M.H., Di Toro, G., Nielsen, S., Cavallo, A. & Beard, A. D. (2015). Catastrophic emplacement of giant landslides aided by thermal decomposition: Heart Mountain, Wyoming. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 411: 199-207.
  • Smith, S.A.F., Nielsen, S. & Di Toro, G. (2015). Strain localization and the onset of dynamic weakening in calcite fault gouge. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 413: 25-36.
  • Violay, M., Di Toro, G., Nielsen, S., Spagnuolo, E. & Burg, J.P. (2015). Thermo-mechanical pressurization of experimental faults in cohesive rocks during seismic slip. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 429: 1-10.
  • Violay, M., Di Toro, G., Gibert, B., Nielsen, S., Spagnuolo, E., Del Gaudio, P., Azais, P. & Scarlato, P. G. (2014). Effect of glass on the frictional behavior of basalts at seismic slip rates. Geophysical Research Letters 41(2): 348-355.
  • Smith, S., Di Toro, G., Kim, S., Ree, J.-H., Nielsen, S., Billi, A. & Spiess, R. (2013). Coseismic recrystallization during shallow earthquake slip. Geology 41(1): 63-66.
  • M. Bestmann, G. Pennacchioni, S. Nielsen, M. Göken & H. de Wall (2012). Deformation and ultrafine dynamic recrystallization of quartz in pseudotachylyte-bearing brittle faults: A matter of a few seconds. Journal of Structural Geology 38(0): 21 - 38.
  • Niemeijer, A., Di Toro, G., Griffith, W.A., Bistacchi, A./, Smith, S. & Nielsen, S. (2012). Inferring earthquake physics and chemistry using an integrated field and laboratory approach. Journal of Structural Geology 39: 2-36.
  • Di Toro, G., Han, R., Hirose, T., De Paola, N., Nielsen, N., Mizoguchi, K., Ferri, F., Cocco, M. & Shimamoto, T. (2011). Fault lubrication during earthquakes. Nature 471(7339): 494-498.
  • Bistacchi, A., Griffith, W., Smith, Steven, Di Toro, Giulio, Jones, Richard & Nielsen, Stefan (2011). Fault Roughness at Seismogenic Depths from LIDAR and Photogrammetric Analysis. Pure and Applied Geophysics 168: 2345-2363.
  • Niemeijer, A., Di Toro, G., Nielsen, S. & Di Felice, F. (2011). Frictional melting of gabbro under extreme experimental conditions of normal stress, acceleration and sliding velocity. Journal of Geophysical Research 116: B07404.
  • Malagnini, L., Nielsen, S., Mayeda, K. & Boschi, E. (2010). Energy radiation from intermediate- to large-magnitude earthquakes: Implications for dynamic fault weakening. Journal of Geophysical Research 115: B06319.
  • S. Nielsen, J. Taddeucci & S. Vinciguerra (2010). Experimental observation of stick-slip instability fronts. Geophys. J. Int 180: 697-702.
  • S. Nielsen, G. Di Toro & W. A. Griffith (2010). Friction and Roughness of a Melting Rock Surface. Geophys. J. Int 182: 299-310.
  • Di Toro, G., A. Niemeijer, A. Tripoli, S. Nielsen, Di Felice, F., P. Scarlato, G. Spada, R. Alessandroni, G. Romeo, Di Stefano, G., S. Smith, E. Spagnuolo & S. Mariano (2010). From field geology to earthquake simulation: a new state-of-the-art tool to investigate rock friction during the seismic cycle (SHIVA). Rendiconti Lincei 21: 95-114.
  • S. Nielsen, P. Mosca, G. Giberti, Di Toro, G., T. Hirose & T. Shimamoto (2010). On the transient behavior of frictional melt during seismic slip. Journal of Geophysical Research 115: B10301.
  • Griffith, W. A., Nielsen, S., Di Toro, G. & Smith, F. A. S. (2010). Rough Faults, Distributed Weakening, and Off-Fault Deformation. Journal of Geophysical Research 115: B08409.
  • Murphy, S. & Nielsen, S. (2009). Estimating Earthquake Magnitude with Early Arrivals: A Test Using Dynamic and Kinematic Models. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am 99(1): 1-23.
  • Del Gaudio, P., Di Toro, G., R. Han, T. Hirose, S. Nielsen, T. Shimamoto & A. Cavallo (2009). Frictional melting of peridotite and seismic slip. J. Geophys. Res 114: B06306.
  • Griffith, W. A., Di Toro, G., Pennacchioni, G., Pollard, D. & Nielsen, S. (2009). Static stress drop associated with brittle slip events on exhumed faults. J. Geophys. Res 114: B02402.
  • V. Nisii, G. Saccorotti & S. Nielsen (2007). Detailed analysis of wave propagation beneath the Campi Flegrei Caldera, Italy. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am 97: 440-456.
  • A. Zollo, M. Lancieri & S. Nielsen (2007). Reply to comment by P. Rydelek et al. on ``Earthquake magnitude estimation from peak amplitudes of very early seismic signals on strong motion records''. Geophys. Res. Lett 34: L20303.
  • A. Zollo, M. Lancieri & S. Nielsen (2006). Earthquake magnitude estimation from peak amplitudes of very early seismic signals on strong motion records. Geophys. Res. Lett 33: L23312.
  • Di Toro, G., T. Hirose, S. Nielsen, G. Pennacchioni & T. Shimamoto (2006). Natural and Experimental Evidence of Melt Lubrication of Faults During Earthquakes. Science 311: 647-649.
  • Di Toro, G., S. Nielsen & G. Pennacchioni (2005). Earthquake rupture dynamics frozen in exhumed ancient faults. Nature 436: 1009-1012.
  • Nielsen, S. & Madariaga, R. (2003). On the self-healing fracture mode. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am 93(6): 2375-2388.
  • G. Festa & S. Nielsen (2003). PML absorbing boundaries. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am 93: 891-903.
  • Nielsen, S. & Olsen, K. (2000). Constraints on stress and friction from dynamic rupture models of the 1994 Northridge, California, earthquake. Pure Appl. Geophys 157: 2029-2046.
  • D. Oglesby, R. Archuleta & S. Nielsen (2000). Dynamics of dip-slip faulting; explorations in two dimensions. J. Geophys. Res 105: 13,643-13,653.
  • S. Nielsen, J. Carlson & K. Olsen (2000). Influence of friction and fault geometry on earthquake rupture. J. Geophys. Res 105: 6069-6088.
  • S. B. Nielsen & J. M. Carlson (2000). Rupture Pulse Characterization: Self-Healing, Self-Similar, Expanding Solutions in a Continuum Model of Fault Dynamics. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am 90(6): 1480-1497.
  • D. Oglesby, R. Archuleta & S. Nielsen (2000). The Three-dimensional Dynamics of Dipping Faults. Bull Seismol. Soc. Am 90: 616-628.
  • B. Maillot, S. Nielsen & I. Main (1999). Numerical simulation of seismicity due to fluid injection in a brittle poroelastic medium. Geophys. J. Int 139: 263-272.
  • D. Oglesby, R. Archuleta & S. Nielsen (1998). Earthquakes on dipping faults: the effects of broken symmetry. Science 280: 1055-1059.
  • S.B. Nielsen (1998). Free surface effects on the propagation of dynamic rupture. Geophysical Research Letters 25(1): 125-128.
  • Nielsen, S.B. & Knopoff, L. (1998). The equivalent strength of geometrical barriers to earthquakes. Journal of Geophysical Research-solid Earth 103(B5): 9953-9965.
  • S. B. Nielsen, L. Knopoff & A. Tarantola (1995). Model of Earthquake Recurrence: Role of Elastic Wave Radiation, Relaxation of Friction and Inhomogeneity. J. Geophys. Res 100(7): 12,423-12,430.
  • S. B. Nielsen & A. Tarantola (1992). Numerical Model of Seismic Rupture. J. Geophys. Res 97: 15291-15295.

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