Prof. Gillian R. Foulger

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Biographical sketch

Gillian R. Foulger
Professor of Geophysics
Department of Earth Sciences
Durham University
Science Laboratories
South Rd.
Durham DH1 3LE
tel: +44-(0)-191-334-2314 / +44-(0)191-386-4533
fax: +44-(0)-191-334-2301

B.A. Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge
M.Sc. Geophysics, University of Durham
M.A. University of Cambridge
Ph.D. Geophysics, University of Durham

Professional experience
2004 – present Professor, Durham University
2000 – 2001 Faculty appointee GS15, U.S. Geological Survey
1997 – 2004 Reader, University of Durham
1992 – 1993 Geophysicist, U.S. Geological Survey
1985 – 1997 Lecturer, University of Durham
Post-doctoral research assistant, University of Durham

Society memberships

Fellow, Icelandic National Academy of Sciences
Fellow, Royal Astronomical Society
American Geophysical Union
Geological Society of America

Society of Exploration Geophysicists
International Association of Geodesy

Honours and awards

Price Medal, Royal Astronomical Society, 2005
Fellowship, Icelandic National Academy of Sciences, 2005
Professorial Fellow, St. Chad’s College, Durham, 2004
Sir James Knott Research Fellow, 2001
Nuffield Foundation Fellow, 1993

Major current projects

1. Hot spots and mantle plumes

I co-ordinate the current global debate on whether deep mantle thermal plumes exist and give rise to “hot spot” volcanism. This has been described as the most important controversy in Earth Science today. A critical element of the subject is development of alternative models. Over 500 scientists worldwide have contribute to this endeavor via the website, the primary forum for the debate and the exchange of ideas.

2. The Coso producing geothermal area, California

The Coso geothermal area is utilized to generate ~250 Mw of electricity. Intense microearthquake activity is induced by the steam extraction and hydraulic stimulation fluid injection operations to enhance reservoir permeability. In collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Navy, the University of Utah and the Department of Energy I am applying 4D seismic tomography and focal mechanism analysis to the earthquakes to monitor the reservoir and contribute to optimizing production strategies.

3. The Iceland Hotspot Project

In 1996 I led a multinational, NERC-, NSF- and EC-funded consortium that deployed in Iceland the largest regional broadband seismometer network ever installed in the world at the time. Several hundred Gbytes of seismic data were collected and have enabled major discoveries. These include the shallow nature of the "hot spot"-related low-velocity mantle anomaly beneath Iceland, a submerged oceanic microplate there, and the pattern of flow in the mantle.

Publications and public speaking

I have authored over 100 published papers and 150 abstracts in conference proceedings. Since 2002 I have delivered over 50 invited lectures in the U.K., the U.S.A., Finland, Mexico and Italy.

A webcam of a recent research lecture may be accessed at: "The Plume's Progress: Current Status of the Plume Controversy", lecture delivered to the US Geological Survey, Menlo Park, California, USA, Tuesday March 2nd, 2004. Click here for lecture flyer.

Selected professional service

  • Steering Committee for the Large Igneous Provinces Commission of the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior (IAVCEI) 2004 - 2009.
  • Convener and chair, special session “Plumes or not?”, American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, San Francisco, December 2004.
  • Scientific committee member, SAL2005 Workshop on Ocean Island Volcanism, Cape Verde Republic, 1-9 April 2005.
  • Committee member, NERC Geophysical Equipment Pool
  • Member, NASA Earth Observation System (EOS) Evaluation Panel
  • Durham University representative, Universities Navstar Consortium (UNAVCO)
  • Durham University interview panels in Earth Science, Physics, Mathematics, Engineering and Archaeology
  • Member, St. Mary’s & St. Chad’s Colleges governing bodies


  • Consultant, Supervolcano, BBC TV
  • Speaker, Science Today, BBC radio
  • Appearance, How do they do that?, BBC1 TV
  • Appearance, The Earth’s Core, National Geographic film
  • Consultant for numerous newspaper articles
  • Volcano consultant, Volcanoes, an Usborne Beginners book
  • Department representative, North East Geological Society

last update 16th December, 2010