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Experimental Modeling Laboratory

Why is structural modeling important?

Scaled experimental models provide valuable information about structural processes, especially those not observed directly in nature. For example, we can observe and document the evolution of fault and fold patterns. Thus, experimental models provide 4D templates for interpreting geological structures.

Clockwise from upper left: Schlische et al. (2002); Granger (2005); Withjack & Schlische (2006)

What are our current research projects?

Our current research examines the following questions:

  • What factors affect the propagation and linkage of normal faults? How does the presence of pre-existing normal faults affect the nucleation, growth, and linkage of subsequent normal faults? How does normalfault development affect depositional processes in rift basins?
  • What factors control the reactivation of pre-existing, high-angle strike-slip faults during extension?
  • How can the accuracy of balancing and restoration algorithms be improved using modeling results?
  • How does mechanical stratigraphy influence the development of compressional fault-related folds?
  • How do boundary conditions and strain rate influence the properties of fault populations?
  • How do fault growth and linkage contribute to the formation of fault-surface undulations? Are these undulations always parallel to the fault-slip direction?
  • What factors promote the development of gravitational-collapse structures?

To address these questions, we use a multi-faceted approach, incorporating scaled experimental modeling, geometric modeling and restoration, 2D and 3D seismic interpretation, and field studies.


Top: Layered sand model of focused shortening. Bottom: Drawing of deformed zone. Faults & fault zones are red. Growth beds are layers added during deformation.


Faculty experience

  • Dr. Martha Oliver Withjack is a professor at Rutgers University and previously worked at Cities Service, ARCO, and Mobil. She was an AAPG Distinguished Lecturer, a recipient of the J.C. "Cam" Sproule Memorial Award, a Distinguished Lecturer or the Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia, and a recipient of the Matson Memorial Award. She has worked on experimental models since 1980.
  • Dr. Roy W. Schlische is a professor at Rutgers University. He has more than 20 years of experience in structural geology, tectonics, and basin analysis. He has authored over 60 scientific papers, and has been working on experimental models since 1996. He recently co-edited a special volume of the Journal of Structural Geology on “Fault Zones.”
Photo of thin section of dried thin section of clay model of extension.


Photo of top surface of clay model of distributed extension showing fault domains (e.g., "dark" faults dipping away from light source) and fault-domain boundaries (also known as accommodation zones) in purple.

Top: Photo of sectioned, dried, layered clay model of focused extension with 4 cm of extensional displacement.

Bottom: Photo of sectioned, dried, layered model of focused basin inversion (4 cm of extensional displacement followed by 8 cm of contractional displacement).


Publications involving experimental modeling

  • Withjack, M.O., Henza, A.A., and Schlische, R.W., 2017, 3D fault geometries and interactions within experimental clay models of multiphase extension: AAPG Bulletin.
  • Schreurs, G., Buiter, S.J.H., Boutelier, J., Burberry, C., Callot, J.-P., Cavozzi, C., Cerca, M., Chen, J.-H., Cristallini, E., Cruden, A.R., Cruz, L., Daniel, J.-M., Da Poian, G., Garcia, V.H., Gomes, C.J.S., Grall, C., Guillot, Y., Guzmán, C., Hidayah, T.N., Hilley, G., Klinkmüller, M., Koyi, H.A., Lu, C.-Y., Maillot, B., Meriaux, C., Nilfouroushan, F., Pan, C.-C., Pillot, D., Portillo, R., Rosenau, M., Schellart, W.P., Schlische, R.W., Take, A., Vendeville, B., Vergnaud, M., Vettori, M., Wang, S.-H., Withjack, M.O., Yagupsky, D., Yamada, Y., 2016, Benchmarking analog models of brittle wedges: Journal of Structural Geology, v 92, p. 116-139, DOI: 10.1016/j.jsg.2016.03.005.
  • Whipp, P.S., Jackson, C.A.L., Schlische, R.W., Withjack, M.O., Gawthorpe, R.L., 2016, Spatial distribution and evolution of fault-segment boundary types in rift systems; observations from experimental clay models, in Childs, C., Holdsworth, R.E., Jackson, C.A.L., Manzocchi, T., Walsh, J.J., Yielding, G., The geometry and growth of normal faults: Geological Society of London Special Publication, 439,
  • Schlische, R.W., Groshong, R.H., Withjack, M.O., and Hidayah, T.N., 2014, Quantifying the geometry, displacements, and subresolution deformation in thrust-ramp anticlines with growth and erosion: From models to seismic-reflection profile: Journal of Structural Geology, v. 69, p. 304-319. []
  • Groshong, R.H., Withjack, M.O., Schlische, R.W., Hidayah, T.N. 2012. Bed length does not remain constant during deformation:recognition and why it matters. Journal of Structural Geology 41, 86-97.
  • Henza, A.A., Withjack, M.O., Schlische, R.W. 2011. How do the properties of a pre-existing normal-fault population influence fault development during a subsequent phase of extension? Journal of Structural Geology 33, 1312-1324.
  • Henza, A.A., Withjack, M.O., Schlische, R.W. 2010. Normal-fault development during two phases of non-coaxial; an
    experimental study. Journal of Structural Geology 11, 1656-1667.
  • Schlische, R.W., Withjack, M.O. 2009. Origin of fault domains and fault-domain boundaries (transfer zones and accommodation zones) in extensional provinces–result of random nucleation and self-organized fault growth. Journal of Structural Geology 31, 910-925.
  • Withjack, M.O., Schlische, R.W., Henza, A.A. 2007. Scaled experimental models of extension: dry sand vs. wet clay: Houston Geological Society Bulletin 49, 31-49.
  • Withjack, M.O., Schlische, R.W. 2006. Geometric and experimental models of extensional fault-bend folds. In: Buiter, S.,
    Schreurs, G., eds., Analogue and Numerical Modelling of Crustal-Scale Processes, Geological Society (London) Special
    Publication 253, 285-305.
  • Schreurs, G., Buiter, S.J.H., Boutelier, D., Corti, G., Costa, E., Cruden, A.R., Daniel, J.-M., Hoth, S., Koyi, H., Kukowski, N., Lohrmann, J., Ravaglia, A., Schlische, R.W., Withjack, M.O., and Yamada, Y., Cavozzi, C., DelVentisetti, C., Elder Brady, J.A., Hoffmann-Rothe, A., Mengus, J.-M., Montanari, D., Nilfouroshan, F., 2006, Analogue benchmarking—results of shortening and extension experiments: Geological Society (London) Special Publication 253, p. 1-27.
  • Withjack, M.O., and Schlische, R.W., 2004, Geometric and experimental models of extensional fault-bend folds: Bollettino di Geofisica, Teorica ed Applicata, v. 45, no. 1, p. 287-290.
  • Clifton, A.E., and Schlische, R.W., 2003, Fracture populations on the Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland: Comparisons with experimental clay models of oblique rifting: Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 108, No. B2, 10.1029/2001JB000635.
  • Schlische, R.W., Withjack, M.O., Eisenstadt, G. 2002. An experimental study of the secondary fault patterns produced by obliqueslip normal faulting. AAPG Bulletin 86, 885-906.
  • Ackermann, R.V., Schlische, R.W., Withjack, M.O. 2001. The geometric and statistical evolution of normal fault systems: an
    experimental study of the effects of mechanical layer thickness on scaling laws. Journal of Structural Geology 23, 1803-1819.
  • Clifton, A.E., and Schlische, R.W., 2001, Nucleation, growth and linkage of faults in oblique rift zones: results from experimental clay models: Geology, v. 29, p. 455-458.
  • Clifton, A.E., Schlische, R.W., Withjack, M.O., Ackermann, R.V. 2000. Influence of rift obliquity on fault-population systematics: results of clay modeling experiments. Journal of Structural Geology 22, 1491-1509.
  • Withjack, M.O., Callaway, J.S. 2000. Active normal faulting beneath a salt layer: an experimental study of deformation in the cover sequence. AAPG Bulletin 84, 627-651.
  • Withjack, M., Islam, Q., LaPointe, P. 1995. Normal faults and their hanging-wall deformation: an experimental study. AAPG
    Bulletin 79, 1-18.
  • Eisenstadt, G., Withjack, M.O. 1995. Estimating inversion: results from clay-model studies. In: Basin Inversion, Geological
    Society (London) Special Publication 88, 119-136.
  • Withjack, M.O., Olson, J., Peterson, E. 1990. Experimental models of extensional forced folds: AAPG Bulletin 74, 1038-1054.
  • Withjack, M.O., Jamison, W.R. 1986. Deformation produced by oblique rifting. Tectonophysics 12, 99-124.
  • Withjack, M.O., Scheiner, C. 1982. Fault patterns associated with domes: an experimental and analytical study. AAPG Bulletin 66, 302-316.


Line drawing of cross section of experimental model of forced folding above a basement-involved normal fault. The silicone putty decouples the cover deformation from the basement deformation. Pre-growth beds are layers that were present prior to deformation. Growth beds are layers that were added during deformation.


Theses involving experimental modeling

  • Hanafi, B., Deformation of salt layers and interbedded impurities: insights from scaled experimental models
  • Flite, M., Multiphase models of extension followed by strike-slip. In progress.
  • Needle, M., 2016, Effect of varying the geometry of pre-existing zones of weakness in clay-putty layered models on structural development, with comparisons to the Jeanne d’Arc basin. M.S. thesis
  • Kinney, S., 2014, Influence of mechanical stratigraphy on the development of thrust faults and associated secondary structures: A scaled experimental approach. Henry Rutgers Honors Research Project.
  • Putra, C. 2013. Influence of pre-existing strike-slip faults on fault development during a subsequent phase of extension. M.S. thesis.
  • Lovich, M., Geometry of faults and folds in an experimental model of detached shortening; Results of serial sectioning and 3D visualization. Independent study project.
  • Poorvin, E. 2010. Experimental modeling of gravitational collapse structures. M.S. thesis.
  • Hidayah, T.N. 2010. Experimental modeling of focused shortening: Understanding the structural development of reverse fault zones. M.S. thesis.
  • Henza, A.A. 2009. Normal-fault development during multiple phases of rifting. Ph.D. thesis.
  • Durcanin, M. 2009. Influence of synrift salt on rift-basin development; Application to the Orpheus basin, offshore eastern Canada. M.S. thesis.
  • Baum, M.S. 2006. Controls on the deformation produced by oblique inversion of rift basins: Which structures reflect the paleostrain state? Ph.D. thesis.
  • Granger, A. 2005. Influence of basal boundary conditions on normal-fault geometries in scaled physical models of extension. M.S. thesis.
  • Granger, A., 2002, 3D geometry of normal fault populations in experimental clay models. George H. Cook Honors Thesis.
  • Clifton, A.E. 2000. Laboratory and field studies of oblique rifting. Ph.D. thesis.
  • Ackermann, R.V. 1997. Spatial distribution of rift-related fractures: Field observations, experimental modeling, and influence on drainage networks. Ph.D. thesis.



Photo of top surface of clay model with two different extension directions. Note that faults have two distinct trends.


What facilities are available?

Our group has a state-of-the-art laboratory designed specifically for scaled experimental modeling. With our versatile equipment, we can simulate most structural styles, including basement-involved extension and contraction, detached extension and contraction, oblique extension and contraction, salt tectonics, and inversion. Rutgers University also has a seismic-interpretation laboratory, equipped with workstations and software for 2D and 3D seismic projects.

The modeling lab is also available to researchers from outside the University; fees are based on time of use, the need for assistance, and the degree of collaboration between the outside group and the Rutgers group. In addition to experimental modeling, the lab provides services such as field trips & short courses that apply the results of experimental modeling.


Contact information:

Prof. Martha Oliver Withjack || Prof. Roy W. Schlische
Rutgers University, Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences
Wright Laboratories, 610 Taylor Road
Piscataway, NJ 08854 U.S.A.
+1-848-445-6977 || +1-848-445-6974
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Contact Us

wright laboratoryWright-Rieman Laboratories
Busch Campus, 610 Taylor Rd.
Piscataway, NJ 08854-8066

P  732-445-2044
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