We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences

Staff Profile

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

  • dos Santos, Iara Maria, L. Pinheiro, Roberto Vizeu, Holdsworth, Robert E., Nogueira, Afonso Cesar R., Santos, Hudson Pereira & Domingos, Fabio Henrique G. (2019). Basement-cover relationships and deformation in The Northern Paraguai Belt, central Brazil: Implications for the Neoproterozoic-early palaeozoic history of western Gondwana. Journal of the Geological Society jgs2018-184.
  • Pozzi, Giacomo, De Paola, Nicola, Holdsworth, Robert E., Bowen, Leon, Nielsen, Stefan B. & Dempsey, Edward D. (2019). Coseismic ultramylonites: An investigation of nanoscale viscous flow and fault weakening during seismic slip. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 516: 164-175.
  • Trice, Robert, Hiorth, Cecile & Holdsworth, Robert (2019). Fractured basement play development on the UK and Norwegian rifted margins. Geological Society, London, Special Publications SP495-2018-174.
  • Holdsworth, R.E., McCaffrey, K.J.W., Dempsey, E., Roberts, N.M.W., Hardman, K. , Morton, A. Feely, M. Hunt, J. Conway, A. & Robertson, A. (2019). Natural fracture propping and earthquake-induced oil migration in fractured basement reservoirs. Geology 47(8): 700-704.
  • Holdsworth, R.E., Trice, R., Hardman, K., McCaffrey, K.J.W., Morton, A., Frei, D., Dempsey, E., Bird, A. & Rogers, S. (2019). The nature and age of basement host rocks and fissure fills in the Lancaster field fractured reservoir, West of Shetland. Journal of the Geological Society
  • Holdsworth, R.E., Morton, A., Frei, D., Gerdes, A., Strachan, R.A., Dempsey, E., Warren, C. & Whitham, A. (2019). The nature and significance of the Faroe-Shetland Terrane: linking Archaean basement blocks across the North Atlantic. Precambrian Research 321: 154-171.
  • Kinny, P.D., Strachan, R.A., Fowler, M., Clark, C., Davis, S., Jahn, I., Taylor, R.J.M., Holdsworth, R.E. & Dempsey, E. (2019). The Neoarchaean Uyea Gneiss Complex, Shetland: an onshore fragment of the Rae Craton on the European Plate. Journal of the Geological Society 176(5): 847-862.
  • 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.
  • Pastoriza, Loraine, Holdsworth, Robert E., McCaffrey, Ken & Dempsey, Edward (2018). Tectonic evolution of the Southern Negros Geothermal Field and implications for the development of fractured geothermal systems. Geofluids 2018: 6025038.
  • Harbord, Christopher W. A., Nielsen, Stefan B., De Paola, Nicola & Holdsworth, Robert E. (2017). Earthquake nucleation on rough faults. Geology 45(10): 931-934.
  • Bubeck, A., Walker, R.J., Imber, J., Holdsworth, R.E., MacLeod, C.J. & Holwell, D.A. (2017). Extension parallel to the rift zone during segmented fault growth: application to the evolution of the NE Atlantic. Solid Earth 8(6): 1161-1180.
  • Wilkinson, M.W., McCaffrey, K., Jones, R.R., Roberts, G.P., Holdsworth, R.E., Gregory, L., Walters, R.J., Wedmore, L., Goodall, H. & Iezzi, F. (2017). Near-field fault slip of the 2016 Vettore Mw 6.6 earthquake (Central Italy) measured using low-cost GNSS. Scientific Reports 7: 4612.
  • Wilson, P.I.R., McCaffrey, K.J.W., Wilson, R.W.W., Jarvis, I. & Holdsworth, R.E. (2016). Deformation structures associated with the Trachyte Mesa intrusion, Henry Mountains, Utah: Implications for sill and laccolith emplacement mechanisms. Journal of Structural Geology 87: 30-46.
  • Dichiarante, A.M., Holdsworth, R.E., Dempsey, E.D., Selby, D., McCaffrey, K.J.W., Michie, U., Morgan, G. & Bonniface, J. (2016). New structural and Re–Os geochronological evidence constraining the age of faulting and associated mineralization in the Devonian Orcadian Basin, Scotland. Journal of the Geological Society 173(3): 457-473.
  • Bullock, R.J., De Paola, N. & Holdsworth, R.E. (2015). An experimental investigation into the role of phyllosilicate content on earthquake propagation during seismic slip in carbonate faults. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 120(5): 3187-3207.
  • De Paola, N., Holdsworth, R. E., Viti, C., Collettini, C. & Bullock, R. (2015). Can grain size sensitive flow lubricate faults during the initial stages of earthquake propagation? Earth and Planetary Science Letters 43: 48-58.
  • Holdsworth, R.E., Dempsey, E., Selby, D., Darling, J.R., Feely, M., Costanzo, A., Strachan, R.A., Waters, P., Finlay, A.J. & Porter, S.J. (2015). Silurian–Devonian magmatism, mineralization, regional exhumation and brittle strike-slip deformation along the Loch Shin Line, NW Scotland. Journal of the Geological Society, London 172(6): 748-762.
  • Dempsey, E.D., Holdsworth, R.E., Imber, J., Bistacchi, A. & Di Toro, G. (2014). A geological explanation for intraplate earthquake clustering complexity: the zeolite-bearing fault/fracture networks in the Adamello Massif (Southern Italian Alps). Journal of Structural Geology 66: 58-74.
  • Walker, R.J., Holdsworth, R.E., Imber, J., Faulkner, D.R. & Armitage, P.J. (2013). Fault zone architecture and fluid flow in interlayered basaltic volcaniclastic crystalline sequences. Journal of Structural Geology 51: 92-104.
  • Walker, R.J., Holdsworth, R.E., Armitage, P.J. & Faulkner, D.R. (2013). Fault zone permeability structure evolution in basalts. Geology 41(1): 59-62.
  • Walker, R.J., Holdsworth, R.E., Imber, J. & Ellis, D. (2012). Fault zone evolution in layered basalt sequences: a case study from the Faroe Islands, NE Atlantic Margin. Geological Society of America Bulletin 124(7-8): 1382-1393
  • Alsop, G.I. & Holdsworth, R.E. (2012). The three dimensional shape and localisation of deformation within multilayer sheath folds. Journal of Structural Geology 44: 110-128.
  • Holdsworth, R.E., van Diggelen, E.W.E., Spiers, C.J., de Bresser, J.H.P., Walker, R.J. & Bowen, L. (2011). Fault rocks from the SAFOD core samples: Implications for weakening at shallow depths along the San Andreas Fault, California. Journal of Structural Geology 33(2): 132-144.
  • Walker, R.J., Holdsworth, R.E., Imber, J. & Ellis, D. (2011). Onshore evidence for progressive changes in rifting directions during continental break-up in the NE Atlantic. Journal of the Geological Society 168(1): 27-48.
  • Walker, R.J., Holdsworth, R.E., Imber, J. & Ellis, D. (2011). The development of cavities and clastic infills along fault-related fractures in Tertiary basalts on the NE Atlantic margin. Journal of Structural Geology 33(2): 92-106.
  • Smith, S.A.F. , Holdsworth, R.E., Collettini, C. & Pearce, M.A. (2011). The microstructural character, evolution and mechanical significance of fault rocks associated with a continental low-angle normal fault: The Zuccale fault, Elba Island, Italy. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 359(1): 97-113.
  • Wilson, R.W., Holdsworth, R.E., Wild, L.E., McCaffrey, K.J.W., England, R.W., Imber, J. & Strachan, R.A. (2010). Basement-influenced rifting and basin development: a reappraisal of post-Caledonian faulting patterns in the North Coast Transfer Zone, Scotland. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 335(1): 795-826.
  • Jones, R.R., McCaffrey, K.J.W., Clegg, P., Wilson, R.W., Holliman, N.S., Holdsworth, R.E., Imber, J. & Waggott, S. (2009). Integration of regional to outcrop digital data: 3D visualisation of multi-scale geological models. Computers & Geosciences 35(1): 4-18
  • Collettini, C., Viti, C., Smith, S.A.F. & Holdsworth, R.E. (2009). The development of interconnected talc networks and weakening of continental low-angle normal faults. Geology 37(6): 567-570.
  • Smith, S.A.F., Collettini, C. & Holdsworth, R.E. (2008). Recognizing the seismic cycle along ancient faults: CO2-induced fluidization of breccias in the footwall of sealing low-angle normal fault. Journal of Structural Geology 30(8): 1034-1046.
  • Jefferies, S.P.,, Holdsworth, R.E.,, Shimamoto, T.,, Takagi, H.,, Lloyd, G.E., & Spiers, C.J. (2006). Origin and mechanical significance of foliated cataclastic rocks in the cores of crustal-scale faults: Examples from the Median Tectonic Line, Japan. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 111: B12303.
  • Collettini, C., De Paola N. , Holdsworth, R.E. & Barchi, M.R. (2006). The development and behaviour of low angle normal faults during Cenozoic asymmetric extension in the Northern Apennines, Italy. Journal of Structural Geology 28: 333-352.
  • Jefferies, S.P, Holdsworth, R.E, Wibberley, C.A.J, Shimamoto, T, Spiers, C.J, Niemeijer, A.R & Lloyd, G.E (2006). The nature and importance of phyllonite development in crustal-scale fault cores: an example from the Median Tectonic Line, Japan. Journal of Structural Geology 28(2): 220-235.
  • De Paola, N, Holdsworth, R.E, McCaffrey,K.J.W & Barchi, M.R. (2005). Partitioned transtension: an alternative to basin inversion models. Journal of Structural Geology 27(4): 607-625.
  • Healy, D, Jones, R.R & Holdsworth, R.E (2005). Three-Dimensional Brittle Shear Fracturing by Tensile Crack Interaction. Nature
  • Collettini, C. & Holdsworth, R.E. (2004). Fault zone weakening and character of slip along low-angle normal faults: insights from the Zuccale fault, Elba, Italy. Journal of the Geological Society 161(6): 1039-1051.
  • Holdsworth, R.E, Tavarnelli, E Clegg, P, Pinheiro, R.V.L, Jones, R.R & McCaffrey, K.J.W (2002). Domainal deformation patterns and strain partitioning during transpression: an example from the Southern Uplands terrane, Scotland. Journal of the Geological Society 159(4): 401-415.


  • 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.

Show all publications