Jerry X. Mitrovica Geophysics

Geophysicist who helped establish a new branch of Earth system science linking geophysical processes with orbital dynamics and the long-term evolution of the Earth’s climate

"We need models that take into account a more complex, realistic Earth."

The Story

Jerry Mitrovica is an innovative geophysicist who has been shaking up established thought in the earth sciences for more than a decade. In 1989, along with colleagues Chris Beaumont and Gary Jarvis, Mitrovica was the first to demonstrate the existence of vertical plate tectonics, whereby the Earth's plates move continents up and down as well as sideways.

Plate tectonic theory, first proposed in the 1960s, divided the Earth 's crust into large plates which move, sliding into, over and under each other with forces that create earthquakes. With the concept of vertical plate tectonics, Mitrovica was able to explain phenomena that were not previously fully understood, such as the rise and fall of oceans, caused when plates move up and down relative to each other.

Several recent papers coauthored by Mitrovica and his colleagues have caused interest worldwide:

  • In Nature, December, 1997, the authors explore the effect of changes in Earth's shape due to vertical plate tectonics on the gravitational pull on Earth by other bodies in the Solar System.
  • In Nature, February, 2001, patterns in glacial melting and global warming are explained for the first time using the "fingerprints" of melting ice sheets.
  • In Science, March, 2001, the authors describe how they use space-based satellite technology to measure Earth's "rebound", the stretching and compressing of the planet as glaciers form and melt.
  • In Nature, April, 2001, a model of the Earth's deep mantle is presented. The authors suggest the deep mantle acts like a heat pump composed of two huge, sinking cold slabs and two large, rising heat plumes.

Mitrovica presently holds the J. Tuzo Wilson Professorship at U of Toronto. This position was named after well-known geophysicist and plate tectonics pioneer John Tuzo Wilson, a former U of T professor.


Sources: U of T news release, December 17, 1997; Global Technoscan, April 3, 2001; NSERC news release, March 5, 2002; News@UofT, March 16, 2002; Royal Society of Canada. Photo: Dr Mitrovica's website.

The Person

J. Tuzo Wilson Professor in Geophysics
University of Toronto
  • BASc (Engineering Science), U of Toronto, 1983
  • MSc (Geophysics), U of Toronto, 1985
  • PhD (Geophysics), U of Toronto, 1991
  • Steacie Fellowship (NSERC), 2002
  • McLean Award (U of T), 2001
  • Steacie Prize (NSERC), 2001
  • Rutherford Medal in Physics (RSC), 2000
  • Premier’s Research Excellence Award
  • Outstanding Teaching Award (U of T Faculty of Arts and Science), 1998
Last Updated
December 6, 2011

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