Professor Robert White FRS

Professor Robert White FRS

Professor Robert White

Emeritus Professor of Geophysics, Cambridge University with a particular interest in volcanism and rifting in Iceland, and Chair of Trustees & co-founder of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge.

Research Interests

Rifting and Volcanism: The North Iceland rift

Magmatism associated with rifting is one of the most important factors in shaping the crust: two-thirds of the earth's crust forms at mid-ocean spreading centres, and many of earth's most spectacular features, including flood basalts and volcanoes, result from interaction between rifting and mantle melting. Relatively small changes in mantle temperature have a profound effect on the volume and composition of melts produced from that mantle. Understanding these processes is important not only academically, but also for wider social reasons because of the hazards of volcanic eruptions, their impact on global climate change, and their importance in the development of sedimentary basins and continental margins. Much of our understanding of these processes comes from probing the subsurface using seismic methods. We acquire state-of-the-art seismic data from earthquakes, on land and at sea, and at all scales from metre-size observations in boreholes to hundred-kilometre scale transects of rifted continental margins.

Current Research Projects

  • Imaging of melt bodies under active volcanoes in Iceland large arrays of seismometers. We have mapped melt moving beneath and subsequently erupting from several Icelandic volcanoes, including Eyjafjallajökull (2010), Bardarbunga-Holuhraun (2018 – 19), Reykjanes Peninsula (2020 - present) and Askja (ongoing in 2023).
  • Active tectonics of the Icelandic rift zones.
  • Development of a broader view of climate change and sustainable use of the environment using scientific, social, and ethical insights.
  • Research into the responses of people caught up in disasters (including the 2010 Haiti earthquake; Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans; flooding in Somerset, UK; earthquake in Yogyakarta, Indonesia) using quantitative surveys and ethnographic research methods with the aim of increasing resilience to future events and post-disaster recovery.
  • Emeritus Professor of Geophysics, Earth Sciences Department, University of Cambridge
  • From 2010 Adjunct Professor at University of Iceland
  • Chair of Trustees and Emeritus Director of The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion
University of Cambridge
Emmanuel 1971-1983; St Edmund’s 1988-present