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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Professor Robert Holdsworth, BSc (Hons), PhD, FGS, FGSA

Professor of Structural Geology in the Department of Earth Sciences
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 42299
Room number: Level 2 East Wing Annex, Rm 250

Contact Professor Robert Holdsworth (email at


2004 – present: Professor, Earth Sciences, University of Durham

2001 – 2004: Reader, Geological Sciences, University of Durham

1998 – 2001: Senior Lecturer, Geological Sciences, University of Durham

1989 – 1998: Lecturer, Geological Sciences, University of Durham

1987 – 1989: Lecturer, University of Reading

1985 – 1987: Lecturer, Geology, University of Liverpool

Career Research Highlights

Bob’s main research interests lie in the study of the structure, mechanics and transport properties of weak fault zones using fieldwork, microstructure and rock deformation experiments. Together with Nicola De Paola and Stefan Nielsen, he has recently established the Rock Mechanics Laboratory in the Earth Sciences Department at Durham. He has also pioneered studies of fractured basement reservoirs and the role played by pre-existing structures in controlling crustal deformation patterns at all scales. His international expertise in these areas has led to significant industry funding for his research, most notably in work related to the Clair oil field, the largest remaining asset in the UKCS. He also provides expert advice to the nuclear industry (new builds, geological disposal of waste) and is a member of the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) Expert Panel in Seismic Hazard and Climate Change, contributing expertise on reactivation and capable faulting in the UK.

Bob has published 174 peer-reviewed papers and has edited 12 books. Since 2001, he has obtained research funding in excess of £2.9 Million. He is a former Head of Department (twice) and NERC KE Fellow.

Rock Mechanics Laboratory bannerStructural Geology Research Group link button

Committee and Society Service

2013 – present: PRC Panel Chair (RATE and Oil & Gas Decommissioning Programmes) NERC

2015 - 2016: NERC Anniversary Ambassador

2011 – present: Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) Expert Panel in Seismic Hazard and Climate Change (nuclear new-builds and geological disposal of radioactive waste)

2012 – 2015: Durham University NERC Liaison Group (Chair from 2012)

2010 – 2012: Peer Review College Member NERC

2009 – 2013: NERC KE Fellow, representing the Institute for Hazards, Risk and Resilience and the Durham Energy Institute NERC

Pre-2009: Special Advisor in Structural Geology for RAE 2008; Council Member, Geological Society of London; President of the Tectonic Studies Group Geological Society of London

Conferences and Workshops

2017: Convenor of Special Session 'Dynamics in Mobile Belts' JpGU-AGU, Tokyo.

2014: Convenor of Conference: 'Geometry and Growth of Normal Faults’,Geological Society of London.

2011: Convenor: Special Session on; 'Fault zone structure, mechanics and evolution in nature and laboratory' - EGU General Assembly, Vienna.

2011: Co-organizer - Tectonic Studies Group Annual Meeting: Research in Progress, Durham.

2010: Convened Special Session on; 'Deformation Mechanisms, Microstructures, and Frictional Properties of Upper Crustal Fault Zones' - EGU General Assembly, Vienna.

2009: Convenor: Scientific session TS26: 'Tectonic Reactivation Processes and Fault Zone Weakening' - AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco.

Editorial Roles

2017- present: Editorial Board Member, Nature Scientific Reports

2017 – present: Editorial Advisory Board Member, GEOLOGY

2013 – 2016: Associate Editor, GEOLOGY

2013 – present: Editorial Advisory Board Member, Journal of Structural Geology

2004 – 2006: Editorial Advisory Board Member, Geology

2004 – 2012: Editor, Journal of Structural, Geology

1998 – 2004: Series Editor, Geological Society of London, Special Publications

Membership of Organizations and Societies

Fellow, Geological Society of America

Fellow, Higher Education Academy

Fellow, Geological Society of London

Member, American Geophysical Union

Member, European Geosciences Union

Prizes & Awards

2017: Clough Medal - Edinburgh Geological Society 

2007: Vice Chancellor's award for Excellence in Doctoral Supervision - Durham University

2006: Aberconway Medal - Geological Society of London

2004: Elected Fellow - Geological Society of America

2000: Lyell Fund - for 'excellence in published research' - Geological Society of London

Bob's PhD students have also won several major international awards, including:

Ramsay Medal (4 times: Nic De Paola 2006, Juilin Guo 2010, Steve Smith 2011, Rich Walker 2012)

GSL Young Author of the Year (Nic De Paola 2005)

GSL Presidents Award (Steve Smith 2008)

AGU Best Paper (twice: Steve Smith,2008, Rachael Bullock 2014)

EGU Tectonics and Structural Geology Division Outstanding Young Scientists Award (Steve Smith 2013).

Recent Research Grants and Consultancy

2015 - NERC capital grant (as Co-I), “HiFAST, A portable, high-frequency acquisition system to measure dynamic stress and strain in natural rocks experimentally deformed at seismic, high strain-rates”

2015 - BP: "Understanding the Clair Field Fractured Basement: Implcations for Reservoir Appraisal"

2014 - EDC Philippines, "Fracture systems in a volcanic geothermal field, Philippines"

2013 - NERC Oil & Gas Catalyst Award (as Co-I): "Commercial development & application of the Re-Os geochronometer"

2012  - Clair Joint Venture Group: "Re-Os Geochronology, Scotland"

2011 - Clair Joint Venture Group: "Fracturing in the Orcadian Basin"

2011  - NERC Standard Grant (as Co-I): "Fault lubrication during earthquake propagation in thermally unstable rocks"

2009 - Statoil/SINDRI: "Fractures in Crystalline Rocks"

2009 - Leverhulme Fellowship: "Frictional slip localisation along weak faults"

2009 - NERC KE Fellowship

Research Interests

Reactivation tectonics in continental settings.

Long-term and dynamic weakening mechanisms along faults.

Fractured crystalline reservoirs.

Strain partitioning in deformation zones.

Flow kinematics in crustal and mantle shear zones.

Study areas: NW Scotland, Greenland, Newfoundland, Brazil, SW Cyprus, California, Central Norway, Shetland, Faroes, Northern England, SW England, SE Scotland, Italy, Japan, Vietnam, Middle East, Philippines.

Selected Invited Keynotes

2017: AAPG ICE, London:"Cracked and full of sand: insights into how fractures enable ingress of oil into crystalline basement"

2017: EGU Annual General Meeting, Vienna: "Tectonic Inheritance, Reactivation and Long Term Fault Weakening Processes"

2016: JpGU Dynamics of Mobile Belts Conference, Takayama, Japan: "Going Beyond Brittle Deformation: Insights into Seismogenic Slip Processes from Natural and Experimental Faults".

2015: AGU Annual General Meeting, San Francisco:"Beyond Brittle Deformation: Insights into Seismogenic Slip Processes from Natural and Experimental Faults"

2013: Tectonic Studies Group: “Geological constraints on fault dynamic weakening mechanisms from natural slip surfaces in carbonate faults.”

2010: Padova University International Workshop on Faults and Seismicity: "When seismic faults go bad: some geological insights into the causes of weakening & creep"

2009: AGU Annual General Meeting, San Francisco: "The microstructural character and evolution of fault rocks from the SAFOD core and potential weakening mechanisms along the San Andreas Fault"

2009: AGU Annual General Meeting, San Francisco: Continental basement inheritance and multiscale rifted ocean margin architectures: case studies from the N Atlantic-Greenland region.”

Indicators of Esteem

  • 2018: Coke Medal:

    Awarded by the Geological Society of London for outstanding research and contributions to the geosciences community.

  • 2018: Durham University Impact & Engagement Award:

    Overall winner for Impact Case Study on ‘Fractured Basement Reservoirs’

  • 2018: NERC Impact Award (Runner-up):

    Runner-up in the 2018 NERC Impact Awards (Economic Category) for project: “Opening-up a New Type of Petroleum Reservoir to Supply Energy to the UK”

Research Groups

Department of Earth Sciences

Department of Geography

Teaching Areas

  • Geological Evolution of the British Isles (Year 2)

    (9 hours/year.)
  • Fieldwork (Geological): Assynt (Year 2) (72 hours/year.)
  • Principles of Earth Sciences (Year 1) (4 hours/year.)
  • Structural Geology (Year 2) (35 hours/year.)
  • Tectonics and Deformation Processes (Year 3) (27 hours/year.)


Selected Publications

Journal Article


  • ONR (Forthcoming). TAG 013 ANNEX 1 – EARTHQUAKE HAZARDS. ONR document.
  • ONR Expert Panel on Seismic Hazard and Climate Change. (2017). Seismic Hazard Assessment for Nuclear Sites. ONR Expert Panel Report No: 1/15-EP-SH-GEN.
  • ONR Expert Panel on Seismic Hazard and Climate Change. (2016). Evaluation of the Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Analysis and Capable Faulting Hazard for the Hinkley Point C Nuclear Site. ONR Expert Panel Report No: 1/16-EP-SH-HPC.
  • Daniels, S.,, Holdsworth R.E., , Tucker, M., Oxlade, D., Vsemirnova, E., Roberts, A., Wilkinson, M., Woods, C. & Jarvis, Z. (2016). Integrated Zechstein Study: Observations of Breccia and Breccia Pipes at Marsden Bay, Tyne and Wear. Confidential multi-client report, Geospatial Research Ltd, 90pp.
  • Long, J., Daniels, S., Holdsworth R.E., , Oxlade, D., Woods, C., Gilment, S., Roberts, A., Jarvis, Z., & Jones, R.R. (2016). Integrated Zechstein Study: Fracture Analysis Report. Confidential multi-client report, Geospatial Research Ltd, 187pp.
  • Daniels, S.,, Long, J., Tucker, M., Mawson, M., Holdsworth R.E., , Wilkinson, M., & Gluyas, J. (2016). The Integrated Zechstein Study: An Overview. Confidential multi-client report, Geospatial Research Ltd, 16pp.
  • Holdsworth, R.E. & McCaffrey, K.J.W. (2016). Understanding the Clair field basement and its associated fracture systems: implications for reservoir appraisal. Confidential Final report for the Clair JVG.
  • Jones, R. Imber, J., Holdsworth, R.E. & McCaffrey, K. (2007). Outcrop Data as an Analogue to HEX Lewisian Basement Acreage: Analysis of Fracturing on Lewis & Harris, Outer Hebrides. Consultancy Report commissioned by Hurricane Exploration plc. Consultancy Report commissioned by Hurricane Exploration.
  • Holdsworth, R.E., McCaffrey, K., Jones, R. & Imber, J. (2007). Outcrop Data as an Analogue to HEX Lewisian Basement Acreage: Characterisation of Lewisian Fracturing in Scotland & the Møre-Trøndelag Fault Zone in Norway. Consultancy Report commissioned by Hurricane Exploration plc. Consultancy Report commissioned by Hurricane Exploration plc.

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