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Dr. Simon Kattenhorn

Simon Kattenhorn, Ph.D.

Professor and Director of Geological Sciences
Department of Geological Sciences


  • Ph.D., Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, 1998
  • M.S., Geology, University of Akron, 1994
  • M.Sc., University of Natal, Durban, South Africa, 1994
  • B.Sc. Hons, University of Natal, Durban, South Africa, 1991


Dr Kattenhorn is a Professor and Director in the Department of Geological Sciences. He teaches courses in structural geology, geomechanics, and geohazards. His research considers tectonic and volcanic processes in developing extensional fault systems such as continental rifts and mid-ocean spreading centers, with application to hydrocarbon systems and geohazards. His planetary geoscience research considers the tectonic evolution of solid surfaces throughout the Solar System, including Mars and its moon Phobos as well as outer solar system icy moons such as Europa, Enceladus, Titan, Dione, and Triton. Dr Kattenhorn is a former Chair of the Planetary Geology Division of the Geological Society of America and lead investigator of the CRAFTI (Continental Rifting in Africa: Fluid-Tectonic Interaction) collaborative research group that was developed with funding from the National Science Foundation and now involves researchers from UAA, University of Rochester, University of New Mexico, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Syracuse University.

Teaching Responsibilities

  • GEOL A333 Earthquakes and Seismic Hazards (Offered Soon)
  • GEOL A335 Structural Geology (Every Fall semester)
  • GEOL A448 Advanced Structural Geology and Geomechanics (Offered in Spring 2019)

Research Interests

My research program is divided into two components: field-based structural geology on Earth, and satellite-based investigations of other bodies in the Solar System.

Terrestrial Research Program

My Earth-based research is focused on the interaction between tectonics and magmatism in extensional systems and its impact on fault evolution, natural resource recovery, and seismic hazards. Of particular interest is the initiation of magma-assisted rifting within thick continental lithosphere and the evolution of early-stage rifts before proceeding to hyperextension. My work in the East African Rift Valley has explored the evolving role of magma in localizing temporally heterogeneous strain and its impact on developing fault systems. Other important factors being considered include the role of structural inheritance in the tectono-magmatic system, and fault-assisted fluid transport and the development of hydrothermal systems. These factors collectively control the manner in which rifted basins and their associated deposits evolve, placing important constraints on the development of hydrocarbon systems in rifted settings.

I am also developing a model for spatial and temporal strain partitioning in oblique, magma-assisted rift zones in Iceland. Episodic magma pulses from the underlying Iceland mantle plume result in a ratchet-like opening of the spreading ridge where it crosses Iceland from the south, causing punctuated earthquake activity on a range of fault types. This style of activity has important ramifications for seismic and volcanic hazards in the most densely populated part of Iceland.

I also work on the 4D evolution of normal fault systems through the integration of fieldwork, 3D seismic reflection interpretation, and theoretical mechanics, with application to seismic hazards and hydrocarbon systems. A world-class laboratory for such efforts is the predominantly volcanic Modoc Plateau region of NE California and southern Oregon. Faulting in this region reflects interplay between the Basin and Range and Cascades systems and plays a potentially important contributor to the partitioning of strain between the Pacific and North American plates through dextral-oblique extension. Faults in this region also provide a regional seismic hazard despite a dearth of historical events, with potential earthquake magnitudes of M~7.

Planetary Research Program

Much of my work in the field of planetary geoscience is focused on Jupiter’s moon Europa, made all the more relevant by the recent announcement of a new Europa flagship mission by NASA. Currently, I am participating in a collaborative team to develop a new plate tectonic paradigm for Europa’s surface history, drawing upon our discovery of subduction, transform, and spreading systems in Europa’s ice shell (see Kattenhorn and Prockter, 2014, Nature Geoscience 7, p.762-767).

The outer solar system icy moons present a wide range of fascinating structural and tectonic mysteries that relate to the complex developmental and orbital histories of these bodies. Past and ongoing work focuses on the structural evolution of Saturn’s moons Enceladus, Titan, and Dione, as well as Neptune’s moon Triton. Recent data from NASA’s New Horizons mission also provides numerous research opportunities for the tectonics of Pluto and its moon Charon.

My work on tectonic-magmatic interactions in extensional environments on Earth has provided an important context for investigating fault and fracture systems on Mars. My work is focused on the Cerberus Fossae fissure system near the Martian volcano Elysium Mons, with particular emphasis on the development of surface hydrothermal systems along dike-related rift zones and their potential as habitable environments.


(*indicates co-written with student)

*Lee, H., Fischer, T.P., Muirhead, J.D., Ebinger, C.J., Kattenhorn, S.A., Sharp, Z.D., Kianji, G., Takahata, N., Sano, Y., 2017. Incipient rifting accompanied by the release of subcontinental lithospheric mantle volatiles in the Magadi and Natron basin, East Africa. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, doi: 10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2017.03.017.

*Martin, E.M., Kattenhorn, S.A., Collins, G.C., Michaud, R.L., Pappalardo, R.T., Wyrick, D.Y., 2017. Pit chains on Enceladus signal the recent tectonic dissection of the ancient cratered terrains. Icarus 294, 209-217, doi: 10.1016/j.icarus.20174.03.014.

Hurford, T.A., Asphaug, E., Spitale, J.N., Hemingway, D., Rhoden, A.R., Henning, W.G., Bills, B.G., Kattenhorn, S.A., Walker, M., 2016. Tidal disruption of Phobos as the cause of surface fractures. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 121(6), doi:10.1002/2015JE004943. 

*Kattenhorn, S.A., Walker, E.L., Krantz, R.W., Blakeslee, M.W., 2016. Evolution of the Hat Creek fault system, Northern California. In: Krantz, B., Ormand, C., Freeman, B., Eds, Earth, Mind, and Machine: 3-D Structural Interpretation, AAPG Memoir, 111, 121-154.

*Lee, H., Muirhead, J.D., Fischer, T.P., Ebinger, C.J., Kattenhorn, S.A., Sharp, Z.D., Kianji, G., 2016. Massive and prolonged deep carbon emissions associated with continental rifting. Nature Geoscience, 9, 145-149, doi:10.1038/ngeo2622.

*Muirhead, J.D., Kattenhorn, S.A., Lee, H., Mana, S., Turrin, B.D., Fischer, T.P., Kianji, G., Dindi, E., Stamps, D.S., 2016. Evolution of faulting and magmatic volatile systems during early-stage continental rift development in the East African Rift. Geosphere, 12(6), doi: 10.1130/GES01375.1.

*Muirhead, J.D., Kattenhorn, S.A., Le Corvec, N., 2015. Varying styles of magmatic strain accommodation across the East African Rift. Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems, doi:10.1002/2015GC005918.

*Cook-Hallett, C., Barnes, J.W., Kattenhorn, S.A., Hurford, T., Radebaugh, J., Stiles, B., Beuthe, M., 2015. Global contraction/expansion and polar lithospheric thinning on Titan from patterns of tectonism. Journal of Geophysical Research (Planets) 120, 1220-1236, doi:10.1002/2014JE004645.

Nahm, A.L., Kattenhorn, S.A., 2015. A unified nomenclature for tectonic structures on the surface of Enceladus: Implications for Enceladus’s tectonics and ice shell. Icarus, 258, 67-81, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2015.06.009.

Hoyer, L., Kattenhorn, S.A., Watkeys, M.K., 2014. Multistage evolution and variable motion history of Agenor Linea, Europa. Icarus, 232, 60-80, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2013.12.010.

Kattenhorn, S.A., Prockter, L.M., 2014. Evidence for subduction in the ice shell of Europa: Nature Geoscience, 7, 762-767, doi:10.1038/ngeo2256.

Tewksbury, B.J., Hogan, J.P., Kattenhorn, S.A., Mehrtens, C.J., Tarabees, E.A., 2014. Polygonal faults in chalk: Insights from extensive exposures of the Khoman Formation, Western Desert, Egypt. Geology, 42 (6), 479-482, doi:10.1130/G35362.1.

Tewksbury, B.J., Hogan, J.P., Kattenhorn, S.A., Mehrtens, C.J., Tarabees, E.A., 2014. Forum Reply: Polygonal faults in chalk: Insights from extensive exposures of the Khoman Formation, Western Desert, Egypt. Geology, 42 (9), e345, doi:10.1130/G36059Y.1.

*Blakeslee, M.W., Kattenhorn, S.A., 2013. Revised earthquake hazard of the Hat Creek fault, Northern California: a normal fault dissecting variable-age basaltic lavas. Geosphere 9 (5), 1-13, doi:10.1130/GES00910.1.

Hammond, N.P., Phillips, C., Nimmo, F., Kattenhorn, S.A., 2013. Flexure on Dione: Investigating subsurface structure and thermal history. Icarus, 223, 418-422.

*Payne, S.J., McCaffrey, R., Kattenhorn, S.A., 2013. Extension driven right-lateral shear in the Centennial Shear Zone adjacent to the Eastern Snake River Plain, Idaho. Lithosphere, 5, 407-419, doi:10.1130/L200.1.

Barnes, J.W., Lemke, L., Foch, R., McKay, C.P., Beyer, R.A., Radebaugh, J., Atkinson, D.A., Lorenz, R.D., Le Mouélic, S., Rodriguez, S., Gundlach, J., Giannini, F., Bain, S., Flasar, F.M., Hurford, T., Anderson, C.M., Merrison, J., Ádámkovics, M., Kattenhorn, S.A., Mitchell, J., Burr, D.M., Colaprete, A., Schaller, E., Friedson, A.J., Edgett, K.S., Coradini, A., Adriani, A., Sayanagi, K.M., Malaska, M.J., Morabito, D., Reh, K., 2012. AVIATR – Aerial Vehicle for In-Situ and Airborne Titan Reconnaissance: a Titan airplane mission concept. Experimental Astronomy, 33, 55-127, doi:10.1007/s10686-011-9275-9.

*Payne, S.J., McCaffrey, R., King, R.W., Kattenhorn, S.A., 2012. A new interpretation of deformation rates in the Snake River Plain and adjacent Basin and Range regions based on GPS measurements. Geophysical Journal International 189 (1), 101-122, 10.1111/j.1365-246X.2012.05370.x.

*Patthoff, D.A., Kattenhorn, S.A., 2011. A fracture history on Enceladus provides evidence for a global ocean. Geophysical Research Letters 38, L18201, doi:10.1029/2011GL048387.

Bray, V.J., Tornabene, L.L., Keszthelyi, L.P., McEwen, A.S., Hawke, B.R., Giguere, T.A., Kattenhorn, S.A., Garry, W.B., Rizk, B., Caudill, C.M., Gaddis, L.R., van der Bogert, C.H., 2010. New insight into lunar impact melt mobility from the LRO camera. Geophysical Research Letters 37, L21202, doi:10.1029/2010GL044666.

*Marshall, S.T., Kattenhorn, S.A., Cooke, M.L., 2010. Secondary normal faulting in the Lake Mead fault system and implications for regional fault mechanics. In: Umhoefer, P.J., Beard, L.S., Lamb, M.A., Eds, Miocene Tectonics of the Lake Mead Region, Central Basin and Range, Geological Society of America Special Paper 463, 289-310.

Schultz, R.A., Hauber, E., Kattenhorn, S.A., Okubo, C.H., Watters, T.R., 2010. Interpretation and analysis of planetary structures. Journal of Structural Geology 32, 855-875.

Kattenhorn, S.A., Hurford, T.A., 2009. Tectonics of Europa. In: Pappalardo, R.T., McKinnon, W.B., Khurana, K., Eds,  Europa, University of Arizona Press, 199-236.

*Groenleer, J.M., Kattenhorn, S.A., 2008. Cycloid crack sequences on Europa: Relationship to stress history and constraints on growth mechanics based on cusp angles. Icarus 193, 158-181.

*Kattenhorn, S.A., Schaefer, C.J., 2008. Thermal-mechanical modeling of cooling history and fracture development in inflationary basalt lava flows. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 170, 181-197.

Clifton, A.E., Kattenhorn, S.A., 2006. Structural architecture of a highly oblique divergent plate boundary segment. Tectonophysics 419, 27-40.

*Kattenhorn, S.A., Marshall, S.T., 2006. Fault-induced perturbed stress fields and associated tensile and compressive deformation at fault tips in the ice shell of Europa: Implications for fault mechanics. Journal of Structural Geology 28, 2204-2221.

*Billings, S.E., Kattenhorn, S.A., 2005. The great thickness debate: Ice shell thickness models for Europa and comparisons with estimates based on flexure at ridges. Icarus 177, 397-412.

*Marshall, S.T., Kattenhorn, S.A., 2005. A revised model for cycloid growth mechanics on Europa: Evidence from surface morphologies and geometries. Icarus 177, 341-366.

*Grant, J.V., Kattenhorn, S.A., 2004. Evolution of vertical faults at an extensional plate boundary, southwest Iceland. Journal of Structural Geology 26, 537-557.

Kattenhorn, S.A., 2004. Strike-slip fault evolution on Europa: Evidence from tailcrack geometries. Icarus 172, 582-602.

*Schaefer, C.J., Kattenhorn, S.A., 2004. Characterization and evolution of fractures in low-volume pahoehoe basalt lava flows, Eastern Snake River Plain, Idaho. GSA Bulletin 116, 322-336.

Kattenhorn, S.A., 2002. Nonsynchronous rotation evidence and fracture history in the Bright Plains region, Europa. Icarus 157, 490-506.

Kattenhorn, S.A., Pollard, D.D., 2001. Integrating 3D seismic data, field analogs and mechanical models in the analysis of segmented normal faults in the Wytch Farm oilfield, southern England. AAPG Bulletin, 85, 1183-1210.

Kattenhorn, S.A., Aydin, A., Pollard, D.D., 2000. Joints at high angles to normal fault strike: an explanation using 3-D numerical models of fault-perturbed stress fields. Journal of Structural Geology 22, 1-23.

Kattenhorn, S.A., Pollard, D.D., 1999. Is lithostatic loading important for the slip behavior and evolution of normal faults in the Earth's crust? Journal of Geophysical Research 104, 28,879-28,898.

McConnell, D.A., Kattenhorn, S.A., Benner, L.M., 1997. Distribution of fault slip in outcrop-scale fault-related folds, Appalachian Mountains. Journal of Structural Geology 19, 257-267.

Kattenhorn, S.A., Watkeys, M.K., 1995. Blunt-ended dyke segments. Journal of Structural Geology 17, 1535-1542.

Kattenhorn, S.A., McConnell, D.A., 1994. Analysis of outcrop-scale fault-related folds, Eagle Rock, Virginia. Southeastern Geology 34, 79-88.