Rock and Ice Mechanics Lab

“Now more than ever, we are growing our lab and building our program for exciting new experiments on both rock and ice.”

Ben Holtzman, Christine McCarthy, and Rob Skarbek, Rock & Ice Mechanics Lab Principal Investigators

Research in the Rock and Ice Mechanics Lab encompasses many aspects of ice and rock deformation, with applications on Earth and throughout the solar system. We work on a variety of funded projects, collaborating with researchers around the University, including Peter Kelemen, Jonny Kingslake, Meredith Nettles, Alissa Park, and Marc Spiegelman. Using lab experiments, we work to understand the physics of faulting, exploring the properties of rocks and ice from the micro scale of defects and asperities up to the macro scale of fault heating and rupture. This research informs our understanding of earthquake dynamics, and sheds light on anomalous heat production found in icy faults on earth and in the outer solar system. Follow us on Twitter.

Tools of the Trade: Machines that Squeeze and Tickle Rock and Ice

In the Rock & Ice Mechanics Lab, we use various laboratory instruments to study the physical properties of materials that are important to Earth and planetary science. We study natural rocks and ice, with facilities for coring, sawing, and grinding of experimental samples. We have an adjacent machine shop, a central facility for more detailed jobs, and a cold room for ice sample preparation and storage. Learn more about the custom machines that we use for our research.

Rock & Ice Mechanics Lab Principal Investigators

Ben Holtzman
Ben Holtzman, Research Professor

Ben offers his expertise on all things melt and microstructure-related. His research resides at the intersection of rock physics, seismology, and geodynamics.


Christine McCarthy
Christine McCarthy, Associate Research Professor

Christine studies how material behavior (flow, fracture, friction) at various spatial and temporal scales influence microstructure, and vice versa. She is currently measuring effects of tidal forcing on both glacier flow rates and frictional heating of icy satellites.

Rob Skarbek
Rob Skarbek, Associate Research Scientist

Rob has a broad interest in geomechanical problems, including accretionary wedge behavior, fluid-flow and frictional controls on aseismic slip, and tidal modulation of glacier flow. He is currently the PI on an NSF project to study densification of firn.


Folarin (Fola) Kolawole
Folarin (Fola) Kolawole, Assistant Professor

Folarin integrates field observations, geophysics, and geomechanics to study the brittle deformation of the Earth's crust. He is currently investigating how strain is localized during the early stages of continental extension as well as basement structures that influence anthropogenically induced earthquakes and natural intraplate earthquakes.

Rock & Ice Mechanics Lab Research Staff

Jacob Tielke
Jacob Tielke, Lab Manager, Associate Research Scientist

Jacob studies the feedbacks between deformation processes and the transport/reaction kinetics in Earth and planetary bodies. He is currently gearing up the lab for carbon mineralization experiments as a form of CO2 mitigation, including installation of a wide array of AE sensors.


Ted Koczynsk
Ted Koczynski, Research Engineer

As a longtime lab technician, Ted keeps everything running smoothly and is spearheading the rehabilitation of old machinery and the design and fabrication of new capabilities, like gas mixing, L-block friction experiments and many more.


Catalina Sanchez-Roa
Catalina Sanchez-Roa, Associate Research Scientist

Catalina is interested in crustal rheology, fluid flow, geochemical reactions, and microstructure. She is heading up our Sloan-funded experiments on carbonization of mantle peridotite as a way of removing and safely storing CO2.


Seth Saltiel
Seth Saltiel, Postdoctoral Fellow

Seth is performing laboratory experiments to measure the dependence of ice-on-till friction as a function of temperature, till composition, basal pore pressure, and time-dependent forcing. The results should elucidate certain aspects of glacial sliding.


Vishaal Singh
Vishaal Singh, Postdoctoral Scientist

Vishaal studies ices in our solar system, including ice shell composition, surface age, and evolution. Under two NASA COLDTech grants, he is currently evaluating communication tethers at cryogenic and seismically hostile conditions for ocean world exploration.


Hatsuki Yamauchi
Hatsuki Yamauchi, Postdoctoral Scientist

Hatsuki is an expert on the properties that control seismic attenuation, including grain size, temperature, and partial melt (including pre-melt). Her work at Lamont is to additionally look at the effect of strain-induced dislocation structure and density on attenuation, using ice as an analog to upper mantle rock.


Rasheed Ajala
Rasheed Ajala, Postdoctoral Fellow

Rasheed’s primary research area is Computational Seismology. He is interested in utilizing and developing seismic imaging techniques to understand the Earth’s crustal structure and evolution and improve seismic hazard assessment. His current study areas include Southern California, Indo-Burma, East and South Africa, and Madagascar.

Maheenuz Zaman
Maheenuz Zaman, Graduate Student

Mahi is studying the influence of partial melt (ice + ammonia) on friction and stability of faults on icy satellites like Enceladus. In particular, he is exploring frictional heating as a potential pathway for surface oxidants, which may shed light on habitability of these worlds.


Kristin Houdyshell
Kristin Houdyshell, Research Assistant

Kristin (Kris) is studying the physics of firn compaction and its rheology through experiments and numerical models to answer how firn compaction depends on physical parameters (density, temperature, stress). They are broadly interested in geophysical behavior and how material properties/microstructure, and vice versa, influence large scale processes.


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Clare McGillis, Research Assistant 

Clare is a CU Engineering student helping us with design and fabrication of instruments for ice research. In particular she is working on a study of ice friction at enhanced with colleagues in Carleton Labs.


Cameron Grant
Cameron Grant, Undergraduate

Cameron is pursuing an undergraduate degree in Earth Sciences. He is currently researching fault scaling relationships in regions of incipient continental rifting.

Research Alumni

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