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William E. Holt

Office: ESS 334
Phone: 631-632-8215    

E-mail: william.holt@

B.S., Northern Arizona University, 1983
Ph.D., University of Arizona, 1989
Postdoctoral Fellow, DSIR Geology and Geophysics, New Zealand, 1989-91
Faculty member at Stony Brook since 1991
William Holt CV

My main areas of research involve the investigation into the kinematics and dynamics of large-scale deformation of the Earth's crust and upper mantle.

Kinematics of Deforming Continental Lithosphere

Over the past 10 years I have been working on methods that relate the diffuse distribution of strain within continental interiors to the relative motion of the plates. The complete determination of the kinematics of the deformation is vital to understanding the dynamics of deforming continental lithosphere. An understanding of the kinematics is also the key to the quantification of seismic hazards within these zones of active deformation. The method we use involves the integration of strain rates on the surface of the Earth to determine relative velocities and rotations. The strain rates are obtained from Quaternary rates of slip on the major structures. Seismic moment tensors are used to place constraints on directions and styles of active deformation. GPS observations are the most important data set that we use to directly constrain the velocity gradients within deforming zones.

Dynamics of Deforming Continental Lithosphere

Our work on the kinematics provides a quantitative basis upon which to investigate the driving mechanisms (dynamics) for continental deformation. I am currently funded by NSF to examine the dynamics of crustal deformation. We use topographic data, the geoid, and seismically determined crustal thickness values to infer gravitational potential energy estimates within the lithosphere. We then solve force balance equations to determine stresses associated with these density variations within the lithosphere. Stress boundary conditions added to the stresses associated with density variations provide a final estimate of the total stress field. The magnitudes of stresses divided by strain rates inferred from our kinematic estimates provide first order estimates of the vertically averaged viscosity of the lithosphere. We also perform forward modeling of the dynamics, given initial estimates of viscosity, velocity boundary conditions (from the kinematic modeling), and gravitational potential energy estimates. These forward models enable us to refine solutions for the dynamics. I am working with PhD student Lucy Flesch and John Haines at Cambridge University, England on the dynamics of both western North America, and central and eastern Asia.

Global Strain Rate Map

I am funded through NASA with Geoffrey Blewitt at University of Nevada, Reno, to develop a self-consistent estimate of a velocity gradient tensor field. on the surface of the earth. This work is being performed by my PhD student Corné Kreemer and also in collaboration with John Haines. This research is also a contribution toward the estimation of a global strain rate map under the auspices of the IUGG and ILP (International Lithosphere Program). Results to date for the ILP Global Strain Rate Map Project are now archived at a UNAVCO web site.

Continental Deformation, Mantle Strain, and Shear Wave Splitting

We are investigating the relationship between shear wave splitting observations, mantle strain, and surface strains.  We have found within Asia that there is a strong correlation between surface strains and the directions of fast polarization of shear wave splitting observations.  I am working with Paul Silver at DTM investigating the the relationship between fast polarization directions there and the surface deformation field.  We find a strong correlation between fast directions and the directions of the local surface velocity field in a hotspot frame of reference.

Selected Publications 

Kim, J., Bahadori, A., & Holt, W.E. (2021). Crustal strain patterns associated with normal, drought, and heavy precipitation years in California. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 126, e2020JB019560. https://doi. org/10.1029/2020JB019560

Bahadori, A., Holt, W.E. Geodynamic evolution of southwestern North America since the Late Eocene. Nat Commun 10, 5213 (2019).

Ghosh, A., Holt, W. E., & Bahadori, A. (2019). Role of large-scale tectonic forces in intraplate earthquakes of central and eastern North America. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 20, 2134–2156.

X. Wang, W. E. Holt, A. Ghosh. (2019) Joint modeling of lithosphere and mantle dynamics: Sensitivity to viscosities within the lithosphere, asthenosphere, transition zone, and D" layers, Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, 293, doi:10.1016/j.pepi.2019.05.006.

Kraner, M. L. ††, Holt, W. E., & Borsa, A. A. (2018). Seasonal nontectonic loading inferred from cGPS as a potential trigger for the M6.0 South Napa earthquake. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 123.

Bahadori, A.,  Holt, W.E., and Rasbury, E.T., (2018), Reconstruction modeling of crustal thickness and paleotopography of western North America since 36 Ma: Geosphere, v. 14, no. 3, doi:10.1130/GES01604.1.

Porter, R., Hoisch, T., and W.E. Holt, (2017), The role of lower-crustal hydration in the tectonic evolution of the Colorado Plateau, Tectonophysics, 712-713, 221-231,

Porter, R., Y. Liu, and W. E. Holt (2016), Lithospheric records of orogeny within the continental U.S., Geophys. Res. Lett., 43, 144–153, doi:10.1002/2015GL066950.

Ramsay, J, Kohler, M.D., Davis, P.M., Wang, X.Holt, W.E., and Weeraratne, D.S. (2016), Anisotropy from SKS splitting across the Pacific-North America plate boundary offshore southern California,  Geophys. J. Int.  207, 244–258, doi: 10.1093/gji/ggw271

Finzel, E. S.,   L. M. Flesch, K. D. Ridgway, W. E. Holt, and   A. Ghosh ( 2015),   Surface motions and intraplate continental deformation in Alaska driven by mantle flow.   Geophys. Res. Lett., 42, 4350– 4358. doi:10.1002/2015GL063987.

Wang, X., W. E. Holt, and A. Ghosh (2015), Joint modeling of lithosphere and mantle dynamics: Evaluation of constraints from global tomography models, J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth, 120, 8633–8655, doi:10.1002/2015JB012188.

Liu, Y., and W. E. Holt (2015), Wave gradiometry and its link with Helmholtz equation solutions applied to USArray in the eastern U.S., J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth, 120, 5717 – 5746, doi:10.1002/2015JB011982.

Holt, W. E., and G. Shcherbenko (2013), Toward a Continuous Monitoring of the Horizontal Displacement Gradient Tensor Field in Southern California Using cGPS Observations from Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO), Seism. Res. Lett., vol. 84, No. 3, doi: 10785/0220130004.

Ghosh, A., W. E. Holt, and L. M. Wen (2013), Predicting the lithospheric stress field and plate motions by joint modeling of lithosphere and mantle dynamics, J. Geophys. Res: Solid Earth, 118, doi:10.1029/2012JB009516.

Ghosh, A., W. E. Holt, Plate Motions and Stresses from Global Dynamic Models, Science 335, 838 (2012), DOI: 10.1126/science.1214209.

Bruno, V., M. Mattia, M. Aloisi, M. Palano, F. Cannavò, and W. E. Holt (2012), Ground deformations and volcanic processes as imaged by CGPS data at Mt. Etna (Italy) between 2003 and 2008, J. Geophys. Res., 117, B07208, doi:10.1029/2011JB009114.

Davis, J. L., Y. Fialko, W. E. Holt, M. M. Miller, S. E. Owen, and M. E. Pritchard (Eds.), (2012), A Foundation for Innovation: Grand Challenges in Geodesy, Report from the Long-Range Science Goals for Geodesy Community Workshop, UNAVCO, Boulder, Colorado, 79 pp., 2012

Bird P, Kreemer C,  Holt, W. E. (2010), A Long-term forecast of Shallow Seismicity Based on the Global Strain Rate Map, Seismol. Res. Lett., V. 81, p. 184-194, DOI: 10.1785/gssrl.81.2.184.

Ozeren, S., Holt, W. E., (2010) The dynamics of the Aegean Region and Turkey, Geophys. Geophys. Jour. Int., 183, 1165-1184.

Ghosh, A., W. E. Holt, and L. M. Flesch (2009), Contribution of Gravitational Potential Energy Differences to the Global Stress Field, Geophys. Jour. Int., doi: 10.1111/j.1365-246X.2009.04326.x

Klein, E. C., L. M. Flesch, W. E. Holt, and A. J. Haines (2009), Evidence of long-term weakness on seismogenic faults in western North America from dynamic modeling, J.Geophys. Res., 114, doi:10.1029/2007JB005201.

Ghosh, A., W. E. Holt, L. Wen, A. J. Haines, and L. M. Flesch (2008), Joint modeling of lithosphere and mantle dynamics elucidating lithosphere-mantle coupling, Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L16309, doi:10.1029/2008GL034365.

Flesch, L., W. E. Holt, A.J. Haines, L. Wen, B. Shen-Tu, The Dynamics of Western North America: Stress Magnitudes and the Relative Role of Gravitational Potential Energy, Plate Interaction at the Boundary, and Basal Tractions, Geophys. Jour. Int., 169, 866-896, 2007.

Kreemer, C., Lavallee, D.A., Blewitt, G., Holt, W.E., On the stability of a geodetic no-net-rotation frame and its implication for the International Terrestrial Reference Frame, Geophys. Res. Lett., 33 (17): Art. No. L17306, SEP 7 2006.

Dimitrova, L., W. E. Holt, A John Haines, R. A. Schultz, Toward understanding the history and mechanisms of Martian faulting: The contribution of gravitational potential energy, Geophys. Res. Lett, 33 (8): DOI: 10.1029/2005GL025307, 2006.

Ghosh, A., W. E. Holt, A. J. Haines, and L.M. Flesch, Gravitational potential energy of the Tibetan Plateau and the forces driving the Indian Plate, Geology, 34, 321-324, 2006.

Holt, W. E., C. Kreemer, A. John Haines,  L  Estey and C. Meertens, D. Lavalee, Project helps constrain continental dynamics and seismic hazards, Eos, Vol. 86, No. 41, pgs. 383, 387, 2005.

Flesch, L.M., W.E. Holt, P.G. Silver, M. Stephenson, C.-Y. Wang, W.W. Chan, Constraining the extent of crust-mantle coupling in central Asia using GPS, geologic, and shear wave splitting data, Earth and Planetary Science letters, 238, 248-268, 2005.

Kreemer, C., W.E. Holt, and A. J. Haines, An integrated global model of present-day plate motions and plate boundary zones, Geophys, J. Int., 154(1), 8-34, 2003.

Silver, P.G., W. E. Holt, The mantle flow field beneath western North America, Science, 295, 1054-1057, 2002.

Geoffrey B., M. Coolbaugh, W. Holt, C. Kreemer, J. Davis and R. A. Bennett, (2002), Targeting of Potential Geothermal Resources in the Great Basin from Regional Relationships Between Geodetic Strain and Geological Structures, Geothermal Resources Council Transactions, Vol. 26, September 22-25, 2002.

Kreemer, C., W.E. Holt, and A. J. Haines, The global moment rate distribution within plate boundary zones, in 'Plate Boundary Zones', Geodynamics Series 30, eds. S. Stein and J. Freymueller, 2002.

Flesch, L.M., Haines, A. J., and W. E. Holt, The dynamics of the India-Eurasia Collision Zone, J. Geophys. Res., 106, 16,435-16,460, 2001.

Altamimi, Zuheir, Angermann, Detlef, Argus, Don, Blewitt, Geoff, Boucher, Claude, Chao, Ben, Drewes, Hermann, Eans, Richards, Feissel, Martine, Ferland, Remi, Herring, Tom, Holt, Bill, Johannson, Jan, Larson, Kristine, Ma, Chopo, Manning, John, Meertens, Chuck, Nothnagel, Axel, Pavlis, Erricos, Petit, Gerard, Ray, Jim, Ries, John, Scherneck, Hans-Georg, Sillard, Patrick, Watkins, Mike, The terrestrial reference frame and the dynamic Earth, Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union, 82 (25), p. 273, 278-279, 5 refs, 2001.

Kreemer, C., W. E. Holt, A no-net-rotation model of present-day surface motions, Geophys. Res. Lett., 28, 4407-4410, 2001.

Kreemer, C., J. Haines, W.E. Holt, G. Blewitt, and D. Lavallee, On the determination of a global strain rate model, Earth, Planets and Space, 52, 765-770, 2000.

Kreemer, C., and W.E. Holt, What caused the March 25, 1998 Antarctic plate earthquake?;  inferences from regional stress and strain rate fields, Geophys. Res. Lett., 27, 2297-2300, 2000.

Flesch, L. M., W. E. Holt, A. J. Haines, and B. Shen-Tu, The dynamics of the Pacific-North America plate boundary zone in the Western U. S., Science, 287, 834-836, 2000.

Kreemer, C., W. E. Holt, S. Goes, and R. Govers, Active deformation in eastern Indonesia and the Philippines from GPS and seismicity data, J. Geophys. Res., 105, 663-680, 2000.

Holt, W. E., Correlated crust and mantle strain fields in Tibet, Geology,28, 67-70, 2000.

Bernard, M., B. Shen-Tu, W. E. Holt, and D. Davis, Kinematics of active deformation in the Sulaiman Lobe and Range, Pakistan, J. Geophys. Res., 105, 13,253-13,279, 2000.

Holt, W. E., B. Shen-Tu, A. J. Haines, J. Jackson, On the determination of self-consistent strain rate fields within zones of distributed continental deformation, in History and Dynamics of Global Plate Motions, Geophys. Monogr. Ser., edited by M. Richards, R. Gordon, and R. Van der Hilst, p. 113 - 141, 2000.

Holt, W. E., N. Chamot-Rooke, X. Le Pichon, J. Haines, B. Shent-Tu, and J. Ren, The velocity field in Asia inferred from Quaternary fault slip rates and GPS observations, J. Geophys. Res., 105, 19,185-19,209, 2000.

Shen-Tu, B., W. E. Holt and A. J. Haines, Deformation kinematics in the western United States determined from Quaternary fault slip rates and recent geodetic data, J. Geophys. Res, 104, 28927-28955, 1999.

Clement, B., R. McCaffrey, and W. Holt, Neotectonics: Watching the earth move, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, 96, 14,205-14,205, 1999.

Shen-Tu, B., W. E. Holt and A. J. Haines, The contemporary kinematics of the Western United States determined from earthquake moment tensors, VLBI and GPS data, J. Geophys. Res., 103, 18,087-18,117, 1998.

Rasbury, E. T., G. N. Hanson, W. J. Meyers, W. E. Holt, R. H. Goldstein, and A. H. Saller, U-Pb Dates of Paleosols: Constraints on Late Paleozoic Cycle Durations and Boundary Ages, Geology, 26, 403-406, 1998.

Kreemer, C., K. P. Furlong, R. Govers, and W. E. Holt, Plate boundary deformation between the Pacific and North America in the Explorer region, Tectononophysics,  293, 225-238, 1998.

Haines, A. J., Jackson, J. A., Holt, W. E., Agnew, D. C., Representing distributed deformation by continuous velocity fields, Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences Science Report, 98/5, p. (variously paginated), illus. incl. tables, 1998. ISBN: 0-478-09615-1.

Nothard, S., J. Haines, J. Jackson, and W. E. Holt, Distributed deformation in the subducting lithosphere at Tonga, Geophys. J. Int., 127, 328-338, 1996.

Shen-Tu, B., and W. E. Holt, Interseismic intraplate deformation in northern Honshu and its relationship with the subduction of the Pacific Plate in the Japan trench, Geophys. Res. Lett., 23, 3103-3106, 1996.

Tinnon, M.††, W. E. Holt, and A. J. Haines, Velocity gradients in the northern Indian Ocean inferred from earthquake moment tensors and relative plate velocities, J. Geophys. Res., 100, 24,315-24,329, 1995.

Shen-Tu, B., W. E. Holt, and A. J. Haines, Intraplate deformation in the Japanese Islands: A Kinematic study of intraplate deformation at a convergent plate margin, J. Geophys. Res., 100, 24,275-24,293, 1995.

Jackson, J. A., A. J. Haines, and W. E. Holt, The Accommodation of Arabia-Eurasia plate convergence in Iran, J. Geophys. Res., 100, 15,205-15,219, 1995.

Holt, W. E., and A. J. Haines, The kinematics of northern South Island New Zealand determined from geologic strain rates, J. Geophys. Res., 100, 17,991-18,010, 1995.

Holt, W.E., M. Li, and A. J. Haines, Earthquake strain rates and instantaneous relative motions within central and east Asia, Geophys. Jour. Int., 122, 569-593, 1995.

Holt, W. E., Flow fields in the Tonga slab determined from the moment tensors of deep earthquakes, Geophys. Res. Lett., 22, 989-992, 1995.

Jackson, J., A.J. Haines, and W. E. Holt, A comparison of satellite laser ranging and seismicity data in the Aegean region, Geophys. Res. Lett., 21, 2849-2852, 1994.

Holt, W.E., and T.A. Stern, Subduction and foreland thrust loading: The late Tertiary development of Taranaki Basin, New Zealand, Tectonics, 13, 1068-1092, 1994.

Stern, T.A., and W. E. Holt, Platform Subsidence behind an active subduction zone, Nature, 368, 233-236, 1994.

Holt, W. E., and A. J. Haines, Reply to comment by R. Westaway on "Velocity fields in deforming Asia from the inversion of earthquake-released strains", Tectonics, 12, 1489-1491, 1993.

Haines, A.J. and W.E. Holt, A procedure to obtain the complete horizontal motions within zones of distributed deformation from the inversion of strain rate data, J.  Geophys. Res., 98, 12,057-12,082, 1993.

Holt, W.E., and A.J. Haines, Velocity fields in deforming Asia from the inversion of earthquake-released strains, Tectonics, 12, 1-20, 1993.

Stern, T.A., G.M. Quinlan, and W.E. Holt, Crustal dynamics associated with the formation of Wanganui Basin, New Zealand, South Pacific Sedimentary Basins. Sedimentary Basins of the World, 2, edited by P. F. Ballance (Series Editor: K.J. Hsu), 213-223, 1993.

Stern, T.A., G.M. Quinlan, and W.E. Holt, Basin formation behind an active subduction zone: three-dimensional flexural modelling of Wanganui Basin, New Zealand, Basin Research, 4, 197-214, 1992.

Stern, T. A., Quinlan, G. M., and Holt, W. E., 1992, Crustal shortening and basin formation behind an active subduction zone: Wanganui Basin, New Zealand: Basin Research, v. 4, p. 197–214.

Jackson, J., A.J. Haines, and W.E. Holt, Determination of the complete horizontal velocity field in the deforming Aegean Sea region from the moment tensors of earthquakes, J. Geophys. Res., 97, 17,657-17,684, 1992.

Holt W.E. and T.A. Stern, Sediment loading on the western margin of New Zealand: Implications for the strength of a continental margin, Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 107, 523-538, 1991.

A.J. Haines and Holt, W. E., and, Kinematics of coastal deformation, EOS, 72, p148, 1991.

Holt, W.E., J.F. Ni, T.C. Wallace, and A.J. Haines, The active tectonics of the Eastern Himalayan Syntaxis and Surrounding Regions, J. Geophys. Res., 96, 14,595-14,632, 1991.

Holt, W.E., and T.C. Wallace, Crustal thickness and upper mantle velocities in the Tibetan Plateau region from the inversion of regional Pnl waveforms: Evidence for a thick upper mantle lid beneath southern Tibet, J. Geophys. Res., 95, 12,499-12,525, 1990.

Ni, J.F., M. Guzman-Speziale, M. Bevis, W.E. Holt, T.C. Wallace and W.R. Seager, Accretionary tectonics of Burma and the three-dimensional geometry of the Burma subduction zone, Geology, 17, 68-71, 1989.

Holt, W.E., and T.C. Wallace, A procedure for the joint inversion of regional and teleseismic long-period body waves, Geophys. Res. Lett., 14, 903-906, 1987.

Holt, W.E., C. Chase and T. Wallace, Reply to comment by C. L. V. Aiken on " Crustal structure from three-dimensional modeling of a metamorphic core complex: A model for uplift, Santa Catalina - Rincon mountains, Arizona", Geology, 15, 979-980, 1987.

Holt, W.E., C. Chase and T. Wallace, Crustal structure from three-dimensional gravity modeling of a metamorphic core complex: A model of uplift, Santa Catalina-Rincon mountains, Arizona, Geology, 14, 927-930, 1986.

Wallace, T.  C., C.  G.  Chase, W.  E.  Holt, and J.W. Hiller,  A geophysical study of the crustal structure near a metamorphic core  complex, Frontiers in Geology and Ore Deposits of Arizona and the Southwest, Ariz. Geol. Soc. Dig., 16, 153-158, 1986.


Ph.D. student or post-doc supervised by William Holt

††Undergraduate Student supervised by William Holt