Analog modeling in tectonics and geomorphology

The analog modeling laboratory is responsible for carrying out experimental projects focused on three main themes: tectonics (ductile deformations, brittle/ductile coupling, sedimentation/deformation coupling, salt tectonics), subduction and geomorphology dynamics (river incisions, sedimentary transport, evolution of reliefs)

  1. Experimental devices
  2. Mode of operation
  3. Recent and on-going projects
  4. Recent publications (2013-2018)

The laboratory is very open to the outside world with numerous national and international collaborations, both academic and industrial. It is recognized as one of the main experimental laboratories for modeling tectonic and geomorphological processes in France. It also helps implement practical courses on the experimental approach in Earth Sciences. The laboratory is also part of the TECMODF network (regrouping the French laboratories dedicated to the analog modeling of geological processes) and EPOS (European Plate Observing System).

Experimental devices

  • Tectonics at the crustal to lithospheric scale : 4 stations equipped with a stepped motor. Temperature controlled room, sedimentation devices, thermo-mechanical devices
Top view of thrust wedge deformed in extension by a displacement applied at its thin end by a rotating wall - © Konstantinos Kydonakis


  • Tectonics on the mantle scale:  2 stations equipped with two stepper motors: glucose/silicone/sand syrup
Subduction of a ridge and morphology of the corresponding slab - © Benjamin Guillaume


  • Geomorphology, 2 stations: channel being incised and micro-flume.
Channel being incised - © Edwin Baynes

The laboratory is also equipped with devices for:

  •   the acquisition of high-resolution topography (mm to infra-mm) by LIDAR and photogrammetry and particle imaging velocimetry (PIV)


PIV and photogrammetric topography of a crustal deformation experiment


  • measurements of the physical properties of materials (densimeter, Couette viscometer)
  • the manufacture of custom parts (3D printer).

Mode of operation

Work requests are centralized and planned by J. Kermarrec and P. Rolland with approval from B. Guillaume. This involves determining the feasibility of the experiments and/or planning and coordinating the experiments, defining the priorities for technical developments and encouraging access by as many researchers as possible. A tariff, depending on the type of experiment (sand, sand/silicone, sand/silicone/glucose syrup, silica) is available upon request for Geoscience researchers and outside researchers. The analog modeling workshop does not to carry out make-to-order experiments but to provide, if possible, the technical resources for their implementation starting from the design phase on paper. Each experiment is then carried out by the researchers/students directly involved.

Recent and on-going projects

  • SUBITOP project  (ITN Marie Curie): The Earth's surface is sculpted by the active erosion of continents that are formed and lifted by tectonic processes. One of the major tectonic processes on Earth is subduction, a process during which an oceanic lithosphere bends to sink into the Earth's mantle. Subduction drives plate tectonics which makes it possible to recycle water, CO2 and crustal material within the Earth's interior, also fueling mantle convection and global heat transport. The goal of this project is to study the relationships between deformation of the subducting plate at depth and the topographic evolution on the Earth’s surface, especially in connection with the Cenozoic evolution of the Mediterranean.  Participants: Carlos Fernandez-Garcia, Benjamin Guillaume, Jean-Pierre Brun.
Laboratory modeling of a slab detachment and natural analog (Central Mediterranean) - © Carlos Fernandez-Garcia


  • Waterfall Model3D project (Marie-Curie Actions Individual Fellowship): Waterfalls are important elements of rivers because they transmit erosion signals through the landscape, which are themselves controlled by external climatic and tectonic disturbances. Our current understanding of the factors controlling erosion by waterfalls is limited and basic. The experiments carried out in the laboratory allow to isolate and quantify the impact of various factors such as waterfall height, bedrock resistance, sedimentary flux and river flow on the type and rate of erosion at the waterfalls. Project leader: Edwin Baynes.
  • WaterFall3D - Generation and subsequent erosion of a waterfall following a reduction in the input sediment supply. - © Edwin Baynes


  • Ridge Interactions and Subduction Zones project (funded by INSU, ECOS): This project focuses on understanding the impact of the approach of a ridge via subduction on the dynamics of subduction and the deformation of the overthrust. Participants: Méline Salze, Rodrigo Javier-Suarez, Joseph Martinod, Christian Sue, Matias Ghiglione, Benjamin Guillaume
Variations in dip associated with the subduction of an increasingly younger oceanic lithosphere - © Méline Salze

Recent publications (2013-2018)

  1. Baynes E.R.C., Lague, D., Kermarrec, J.-J., 2018. Supercritical river terraces generated by hydraulic and geomorphic interactions. Geology, doi :  10.1130/G40071.1 
  2. Salze, M., Martinod, J., Guillaume, B., Kermarrec, J.-J., Ghiglione, M.C., Sue, C., 2018. Trench-parallel spreading ridge subduction and its consequences for the geological evolution of the overriding plate: Insights from analogue models and comparison with the Neogene subduction beneath Patagonia. Tectonophysics, doi : 10.1016/j.tecto.2018.04.018
  3. Baynes E.R.C, Lague D., Attal M., Gangloff A, Kirstein L.A., Dugmore A.J., 2018. River self-organisation inhibits discharge control on waterfall migration. Scientific Reports 8, 2444, doi : 10.1038/s41598-018-20767-6.
  4. Guillaume, B., Hertgen, S., Martinod, J., and Cerpa, N.G., 2018. Slab dip, surface tectonics : How and when do they change following an acceleration/slow down of the overriding plate ?, Tectonophysics 726, 110-120,  doi : 10.1016/j.tecto.2018.01.030.
  5. Brun, J.-P., Sokoutis, D., Tirel, C., Gueydan, F., Van Den Driessche J. , and Beslier M.-O., in press. Crustal versus mantle core complexes, Tectonophysics, doi : 10.1016/j.tecto.2017.09.017.   
  6. Bajolet F., Chardon D., Martinod J., Gapais D., Kermarrec J.J., 2015. Syn-convergence flow inside and at the margin of orogenic plateaux : Lithospheric-scale experimental approach. J.G.R. Solid Earth, 120, 6634-6657, doi : 10.1002/2015JB012110.
  7. Kydonakis, K., J.-P. Brun, and D. Sokoutis, 2015. North Aegean core complexes, the gravity spreading of a thrust wedge, J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth, 120, doi : 10.1002/2014JB011601
  8. Driehaus, L., T. Nalpas, J.-F. Ballard, 2014. Interaction between deformation and sedimentation in a multidecollement thrust zone : Analogue modelling and application to the Sub-Andean thrust belt of Bolivia. Journal of Structural Geology, 65, 59-68, doi : 10.1016/j.jsg.2014.04.003
  9. Gapais D., Jaguin J., Cagnard F., Boulvais P., 2014. Pop-down tectonics, fluid channelling and ore deposits within ancient hot orogens. Tectonophysics, 618, 102-106.12, doi : 10.1016/j.tecto.2014.01.027
  10. Philippon M., Brun J-P., Gueydan F. and Sokoutis D., 2014. The interaction between Aegean back-arc extension and Anatolia escape since Middle Miocene. Tectonophysics, doi : 10.1016/j.tecto.2014.04.039
  11. Srivastava, H., Cobbold, P.R., 2014. What makes India such a good indenter ? Current Science, 104 (2), 288-292.
  12. Zanella, A., Cobbold, P.R., Le Carlier de Veslud, C., 2014. Physical modelling of chemical compaction, overpressure development, hydraulic fracturing and thrust detachments in organic-rich source rock. Marine and Petroleum Geology 55, 262-274, doi : 10.1016/j.marpetgeo.2013.12.017.
  13. Barrier, L., T. Nalpas, D. Gapais, J.-N. Proust, 2013. Impact of synkinematic sedimentation on the geometry and dynamics of compressive growth structures : Insights from analogue modelling. Tectonophysics, 608, 737-752.5, doi : 10.1016/j.tecto.2013.08.005
  14. Driehaus, L., Nalpas, T., Cobbold, P.R., Gelabert, B., Sàbat, F. 2013. Effects of margin-parallel shortening and density contrasts on back-arc extension during subduction : Experimental insights and possible application to Anatolia. Tectonophysics, 608, 288-302, doi : 10.1016/j.tecto.2013.09.028 .
  15. Midtkandal I., Brun J.P., Gabrielsen R.H., Huismans R.S., 2013. Control of lithosphere rheology on subduction polarity at initiation : Insights from 3D analogue modelling. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 361, 219–228, doi : 10.1016/j.epsl.2012.10.026
  16. Reber, J.E., Galland, O., Cobbold, P.R., Le Carlier de Veslud, C. 2013. Experimental study of sheath fold development around a weak inclusion in a mechanically layered matrix. Tectonophysics, 586, 130-144, doi:10.1016/j.tecto.2012.11.013.
  17. Soleimany, B., T. Nalpas, F. Sàbat, 2013. Role of the compression angle on the reactivation of an inverse fault. Geologica Acta, 11, 265-276.