Leigh Royden

Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Geology and Geophysics

Contact Info:

Office Phone






Wahida Abed 617.253.5935

Known for fundamental insights into the tectonic processes shaping Earth's surface, and how Earth's crust deforms and evolves over time.

Research Interests

I combine geology and geophysics to study the Earth’s crust, how it changes when tectonic plates collide, and how that activity is connected to processes deep in the mantle. Through mathematical and physical models and geological observations, I seek to understand geologic processes like flow in the lower crust and its relevance to the growth and structure of mountain ranges and high plateaus. My recent work concentrates on subducting slab dynamics and continental mechanics, with a focus on variations in the subduction process depending upon whether oceanic, continental or intermediate-type lithosphere is being subducted, observed in regions like Tibet and the Mediterranean.

Topics I Investigate

Biographic Sketch

Leigh Royden joined the EAPS faculty in 1984. Royden earned an AB in physics from Harvard University in 1977 and completed her PhD in geology and geophysics at MIT in 1982. During her tenure, Royden has established a substantial history of service, actively promoting inclusivity and diversity in Earth sciences, mentoring junior researchers, and addressing challenges faced by female faculty. She also served as the chair for the Program in Geology, Geochemistry and Geobiology from 2003 to 2010, and is currently the Director of the MIT Experimental Study Group.

Known for fundamentally reshaping our understanding of large-scale continental processes, Royden is a senior fellow of the Geological Society of America and has earned their Donath Medal and Woollard Award. Royden was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2018 and, in 2022, she was honored with election to the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. She is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union and in 2019 earned the AGU Walter H. Bucher Medal.

I take an interdisciplinary approach, combining traditional geology with aspects of geophysics and mathematics. Learning to identify the markers of dynamic processes left behind in the rock record is a powerful tool for interpreting Earth's past.

Leigh Royden

Key Awards & Honors

  • 2019 • Walter H. Bucher Medal, American Geophysical Union
  • 2018 • Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • 2013 • Stephan Mueller Medal, European Union of Geosciences
  • 2011 • George P. Woollard Award, Geological Society of America
  • 2004 • Fellow, American Geophysical Union

Key Publications

  • Jagoutz, O., L. Royden, A. F. Holt, and T. W. Becker (2015), Anomalously fast convergence of India and Eurasia caused by double subduction, Nature Geoscience, 8(6), 475-478. DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2418

  • Royden, L.H., Burchfiel, B.C., & van der Hilst, R.D. (2008). The Geological Evolution of the Tibetan Plateau. Science, 321, 1054 – 1058. DOI: 10.1126/science.1155371

  • Royden, L.H., Burchfiel, B.C., King, R.W., Wang, E., Chen, Z., Shen, F., & Liu, Y. (1997). Surface Deformation and Lower Crustal Flow in Eastern TibetScience, 276 5313, 788-90. DOI: 10.1126/science.276.5313.788