David Bercovici

Yale University


Election Year: 2018
Primary Section: 16, Geophysics
Secondary Section: 15, Geology
Membership Type: Member

Biosketch

David Bercovici is a geophysicist with expertise in geological fluid dynamics, primarily working on mantle and lithosphere dynamics in Earth and other terrestrial planets.  He is especially recognized for his theoretical work on the physics governing why Earth (unlike other known terrestrial planets) has plate tectonics, as well as for models of water cycling and storage in the mantle and its role in Earth’s geochemical evolution.  Bercovici was born in Rome, Italy (no, he is not Italian) and grew up in southern California.  He received his BS in Physics from Harvey Mudd College in 1982, and his PhD in Geophysics & Space Physics from UCLA in 1989.  He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (1989-1990) and a faculty member at the University of Hawaii from 1990-2000; he moved to Yale in 2001 where he has been ever since.  Bercovici is one of the senior editors for the Treatise on Geophysics, for two editions, and is the author of The Origins of Everything in 100 Pages More or Less (Yale University Press).  He is the recipient of the James B. Macelwane Medal, and also Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and is a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. 

Research Interests

One of David Bercovici’s primary interests is the origin of plate tectonics on Earth, and whether we can expect it to occur on other planets.  Plate tectonics governs geological activity, is the cause for most earthquakes, volcanoes and mountain building, and acts to stabilize Earth’s climate over hundreds of millions of years.  Bercovici’s work, with various collaborators, concerns how the intricate mechanisms of deformation in rocks allows mantle convection – the process by which heat is released from the planet’s interior – to express itself as plate tectonics at the surface. This research reaches down to the micron scale to provide theories for how mineral grains in deforming rocks evolve and how their behavior causes weakening of the cold, strong part of the mantle near the surface, i.e., the lithosphere.  Such weakening likely causes plate tectonics, which involves large, strong plates separated by weak, rapidly deforming, narrow plate boundaries, where most seismic and volcanic activity occurs.  In addition, Bercovici has worked on the paradox of how the Earth’s mantle can be geochemically well stirred but appear unmixed, for which he and colleagues proposed the highly cited mantle transition-zone water filter model.   He and his collaborators have also developed models to address various enigmas in volcanology, such as why hotspot volcanoes form discrete and sometimes parallel island chains, and why volcanoes oscillate, with periods from seconds to days, prior to eruptions. 

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