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

Karen Kleinspehn


Tate Hall, 323


Associate Professor

PhD, 1982, Princeton University

Research Group Web Page: Structure and Tectonics Group

Current Research in Tectonics and Basin Analysis


Research Interests


    My research activities in the field of tectonics focus on geodynamics of continental lithosphere and the interactions between the lithosphere and atmosphere/hydrosphere. Consequently, I use surface processes in conjunction with structural geology, thermochronology (fission-track and Ar/Ar dating, vitrinite reflectance), trace-element geochemistry, and magnetostratigraphy to address problems of plate interactions in both neotectonic and ancient settings. Sedimentary basins are sensitive recorders of coupled lithospheric tectonics and atmospheric processes, and I use basins as a proxy to interpret plate kinematics.

    One current projects deals with curved subduction zones and the effects of changing curvature on the geometry of the downgoing slab and 3-D internal deformation of fore-arc regions. We are evaluating syn-depositional deformation as a function of the plate-convergence vector with field areas in the Hellenic arc (Crete, Karpathos, Rhodos), Greece. By focusing on the vertical tectonic component recorded by sedimentary basins and by documenting the rates of exhumation, deformational style and kinematics, we will model the Pliocene-Recent mechanisms driving fore-arc deformation within an obliquely convergent plate margin. 
Another project addresses the 80-million year evolution of the northwest corner of the Eurasian plate with a field area in Arctic Norway on the islands of Svalbard (Spitsbergen). Through a combined study of thermochronology, structural geology, sediment provenance and uplift rates, we assess the relative roles of continental rifting versus oblique convergence (transpression) in uplifting and exposing the outermost continental shelf anomalously above sea level.

    An on-going topic that emerged from this earlier Arctic study is syn-glacial uplift as an isostatic response to glacial erosion and transfer of large sediment loads beyond the flexural wavelength of continental lithosphere. Related aspects of this project include the origin of intraplate mountain belts, the origin of fjords and the degree of coupling across the boundary between continental and oceanic lithosphere.


Professional Society Memberships

  • American Geophysical Union
  • European Union of Geosciences
  • International Association of Sedimentologists
  • Geological Society of America


Courses Taught


  • Neotectonics
  • Advanced Sedimentology
  • Introduction to Geology: The Dynamic Earth


Current Graduate Students and Research Staff


  • Robert Ruffner, M.S. student, "Origin and measurement of gravel imbrication: Field and experimental study"

Supervised Graduate Theses

  • Kari Bassett, PhD, 1995, A basin analysis of the Lower to mid-Cretaceous Skeena Group, west-central British Columbia: Implications for regional tectonics and terrane accretion.
  • Julie Maxson, PhD, 1996, A sedimentary record of Late Cretaceous tectonic restructuring of the North American Cordillera: The Tyaughton-Methow basin, southwest British Columbia.
  • Ben Holtzman, M.S., 1999, Two examples of a rigid inclusion deforming in a ductile matrix: Fractured pebbles and chromite pods. (co-advised with Dr. Christian Teyssier)



Selected Publications


  • Ten Veen, J.H. and Kleinspehn, K.L., 2003.  Incipient continental collision and plate boundary curvature:  Late Pliocene-Holocene transtensional Hellenic forearc, Crete, Greece.� Journal of the Geological Society, v. 160, 161-181.
  • Ten Veen, J.H. and Kleinspehn, K.L. 2002. Geodynamics along an increasingly curved convergent plate margin: Late Miocene-Pleistocene Rhodes (Greece). Tectonics 21, 10.1029/2001TC001287. 
  • Ten Veen, J.H. and Kleinspehn, K.L. (2000) Quantifying the timing and sense of fault dip slip: New application of biostratigraphy and geohistory analysis. Geology 28: 471-474.
  • Blythe, A.E. and Kleinspehn, K.L. (1998) Tectonically versus climatically driven Cenozoic exhumation of the Eurasian plate margin, Svalbard: Fission-track analyses. Tectonics. 17:621-639.
  • *Bassett, K.N. and Kleinspehn, K.L. (1997) Early to mid-Cretaceous paleogeography of north-central British Columbia: Stratigraphy and basin analysis of the Skeena Group. Canadian Journal Earth Sciences 34: 1644-1669.
  • *Bassett, K.N. and Kleinspehn, K.L. (1996) Mid-Cretaceous transtension in the Canadian Cordillera: Evidence from the Rocky Ridge volcanics of the Skeena Group. Tectonics 15: 727-746.
  • Wynne, P.J., Thorkelson, D.J., Kleinspehn, K.L., *Maxson, J.A. and Irving, E. (1996) Paleomagnetism of Upper Cretaceous strata of Mount Tatlow: Evidence for 3000 km of northward displacement of the eastern Coast Belt, British Columbia-Paleomagnetism of the Spences Bridge Group and northward displacement of the Intermontane Belt, British Columbia: A second look - Reply. Journal Geophysical Research 101(B6):13801-13803. 

    *designates student author


Recent Research Support


  • NSF-EAR: Geodynamic and Neotectonic Forearc Deformation: Late Pliocene-Recent Basins, Hellenic Arc (Greece)