School of Earth and Environment

Katherine Willis Katherine Willis

Postgraduate Researcher

Email address:
Room: 8.153

Affiliation: Institute of Geophysics and Tectonics


I worked in the oil and gas industry before reading for an undergraduate Masters in geology at Cardiff University. I graduated in 2015. Currently I am a PhD student at the University of Leeds working with Prof. Greg Houseman in modelling strain localisation mechanisms in the crust.

In 2014 I completed a 3 month internship at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). Here I worked alongside Dave Clauge to devise and implement a project using high-resolution bathymetric data to look at the contribution of faulting to extension at mid-ocean ridges.

I am a member of NERC’s Centre for the Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes and Tectonics, COMET, a collaboration between scientists in Leeds, Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, UCL, Glasgow, and Reading, and a member of the Institute for Geophysics and Tectonics in the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds.

I am involved in Diversity in Geosciences, UK, a chapter of the International Association for Geoscience Diversity. This organisation has a remit to create access and inclusion for persons with disabilities in the Geosciences.

Outside academia I train in Japanese martial arts, (Aikido and Kenjutsu) and spend my weekends hill-walking. I am a field volunteer at Whixal Moss, the UK's third largest lowland peatbog, which is managed by Natural England.

My linked in profile can be viewed at:


MESci, Geology. Cardiff University.

HND Marine Engineering. South Tyneside College.

Research Interests

I am interested in the mechanisms of fault development and propagation.

Previous research projects have looked at fault development at mid-ocean ridges, and the the distribution of fracture networks in fault damage zones.

Teaching Interests

I demonstrate for the following modules.

SOEE1580: Structural Geology

SOEE2050: Deformation Porcesses (including residential fieldwork on Anglesey)

Project details

Project title

Mechanisms of strain localization in the crust.


Professor Greg Houseman, Professor Tim Wright, and Professor Andy Hooper

Start date

1 October 2015

Project outline

Deformation of the continents involves multiple processes whose effects are summarised by constitutive relations that describe how strain rate varies with stress. For most of these mechanisms we can talk about an effective viscosity, proportional to the local ratio of deviatoric stress to strain rate. The simplest idealisation of continuum deformation is the constant viscosity fluid, a model that has been important in various geological contexts from post-glacial uplift to channel flow in the lower crust. The viscous flow model arises directly from microscopic models for the diffusion of atomic species and dislocations, and thus the coefficient of viscosity may vary with temperature, pressure, grain size, and stress. Deformation, however, induces various feedback mechanisms which often can cause a local decrease in the viscosity coefficient. The work done in deformation can cause a reduction in grain size, an increase in dislocation density, and an increase in temperature. All of these feedback mechanisms can in principle lead to a localisation of deformation, typically manifested by the formation of viscous shear zones and faults.

I use numerical solutions to viscous deformation problems and incorporating these feedback systems in order to develop understanding of when and how shear zones are likely to develop in the lithosphere. I also aim to explore the depth to which localised strain can develop. Model results can be compared to specific fault zones, such as the San Andreas, or to wider regions of deformation, such as the Tibetan Plateau.