Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Newton Horace Winchell School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

David Kohlstedt


375-06 Tate Hall


CSE Distinguished Professor 

PhD, 1970, University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign

Research Interests

  • My research focuses on physical and chemical behavior of minerals and rocks at high pressures and temperatures, with particular emphasis on kinetic properties. Motivation for our experiments derives from the importance of quantifying the behavior of geological materials under extreme conditions as the basis for understanding and modeling the dynamical behavior and chemical evolution of deep interiors of terrestrial planets. Two central themes in my current research involve fluids. First, we study physical mechanisms by which a small amount of water in the form of hydrogen dissolved in nominally anhydrous silicate minerals produces a dramatic reduction in viscosity. Water weakening has important consequences for convection in Earth’s mantle by enabling plate tectonics, a phenomenon that is absent on Venus, a relatively dry planet often considered Earth’s twin. A small amount of melt also profoundly affects the mechanical response of otherwise crystalline rocks. Not only is the strength of a partially molten rock sensitive to melt distribution, but also melt distribution is profoundly influenced by deformation. This coupling between deformation and melt distribution results in self-organization of melt into melt-enriched shear zones that not only localize deformation but also provide high permeability paths for rapid transport of melt from depth to Earth’s surface. These melt channels also dramatically increase the attenuation and decrease the velocity of seismic waves in active spreading centers.

Courses Taught

  • Solid-Earth Geophysics I
  • Geodynamics II: The Fluid Earth
  • Mineral and Rock Physics
  • Seminars: Diffusion in Minerals, Grain Boundaries in Rocks, Melt Migration in the Mantle

Selected Publications

  • Hiraga T., Kohlstedt D.L. (2009) Systematic distribution of incompatible elements in mantle peridotite: Importance of intra- and inter-granular melt-like components,Contrib. Mineral. Petrol. 158:149-167, doi:10.1007/s00410-009-0375-8.
  • Kohlstedt D.L., Holtzman B.K. (2009) Shearing melt out of the Earth: An experimentalist’s perspective on the influence of deformation on melt extraction, Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 37:561-593, doi:10.1146/
  • Demouchy S., Schneider S.E., Mackwell S.J., Zimmerman M.E., Kohlstedt D.L.(2009) Experimental deformation of olivine single crystals at lithospheric temperatures,Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L04304, doi:10.1029/2008GL036611.
  • Wentzcovitch, R.M., Justo, J.F., Wu, Z., da Silva, C.R.S., Yuen, D.A., Kohlstedt, D.L. (2009) Anomalous compressibility of ferropericlase throughout the iron spin crossover, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 106:8447-8452.
  • Zhao, Y.-H., Zimmerman, M.E., Kohlstedt, D.L. (2009) Effect of iron content on the creep behavior of olivine: 1. Anhydrous conditions, Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 287:229-240 doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2009.08.006.
  • Kohlstedt, D.L., Zimmerman, M.E., Mackwell, S.J. (2010) Stress-driven melt segregation in partially molten feldspathic rocks, J. Petrol. 52:9-19, doi:10.1093/petrology/egp043.
  • King, D.S., Kohlstedt, D.L., Zimmerman, M.E. (2010) “Stress-driven melt segregation in partially molten rocks deformed in torsion, J. Petrol. 52:21-42, doi:10.1093/petrology/egp062.
  • Kohlstedt, D.L., Mackwell, S.J. (2010) Strength and deformation of planetary lithospheres, in Planetary Tectonics, eds. T.R. Watters and R.A. Schultz, Cambridge University, pp. 397-456.
  • Mei, S., Suzuki, A.M., Kohlstedt, D.L., Dixon, N.A., Durham, W.B. (2010) Experimental constraints on the strength of the lithospheric mantle, J. Geophys. Res.115, B08204, doi:10.1029/2009JB006873.
  • Wang, Z., Zhao, Y.-H., Kohlstedt , D.L. (2010) Dislocation creep accommodated by grain boundary sliding in dunite, J. Earth Sci. 21:541-554.


Recent Research Support


  • 2009 - 2012, DOE, Rheological properties of Earth’s upper mantle at high pressures: Roles of melt, water, and pressure
  • 2010 - 2013, NASA, Rheological behavior of the lithospheres of terrestrial planets
  • 2007 - 2011, NSF, Melt segregation and strain localization in response to shear deformation of partially molten rocks, a transition from porous to channelized flow
  • 2008 - 2011, NSF, CSEDI: Integrated study of water in the mantle: Processes and signatures
  • 2009 - 2012, NSF, Effect of a small amount of melt on diffusion and deformation in Earth’s mantle


Recent Honors and Awards

  • 2000, Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Science
  • 2003, Hess Medal, American Geophysical Union
  • 2004, Alumni Achievement Award, Valparaiso University
  • 2005, Moore Distinguished Scholar, Geological and Planetary Sciences, Caltech
  • 2005, Néel Medal, European Geosciences Union
  • 2009, Murchison Medal, Geological Society of London
  • 2009, Member, National Academy of Sciences