Dr. Alexis Cartwright-Taylor

Research Interests

My research interests include the micro-mechanics of damage localisation and faulting, fluid-rock interactions relevant to the energy transition, the statistical physics of fracture phenomena, and the controls on and predictability of material failure. My research vision for this new role in the Lyell Centre is to facilitate the energy transition by pursuing a research agenda focussed on understanding and quantifying the micro-physical subsurface processes relevant for achieving our Net Zero commitments (geothermal, long-term storage of CO2, seasonal storage of H2), and the associated risks of damage and induced seismicity. I aim to observe directly local changes in micro-structure, strain and fluid transport at reservoir conditions, and monitor these changes indirectly with acoustic and electric methods to benchmark, and reduce uncertainties in, meso-scale laboratory experiments and macro-scale models.

My research integrates approaches from rock physics, seismology and structural geology to better understand micro-physical damage processes in rocks under stress. Specifically, I combine high-resolution, time-resolved (4D) x-ray micro-tomographic imaging of in-situ rock deformation with seismology and statistical physics approaches to better understand the processes behind catastrophic material failure. I specialise in equipment development and instrumentation, with my main achievement being the development of a unique x-ray transparent deformation cell with integrated acoustic monitoring, aiming to relate inferences made about the subsurface from acoustic monitoring with local changes in micro-structure and strain. I also use acoustic and electric monitoring of deformation and fluid flow experiments at the meso-scale to understand bulk damage and mass transport properties.

As a postdoc at the University of Edinburgh, I have been investigating the influence of stress on rock physical properties in space and time, in particular the grain-scale processes involved in strain localisation and material failure. Research highlights include demonstrating that (i) seismic events miss important kinematically-governed grain-scale mechanisms during shear failure of porous rocks, (ii) material starting heterogeneity influences the crack network evolution and the predictability of failure, (iii) coda wave interferometry (CWI) characterises changes in bulk properties of scattering media more effectively than first-arrivals, and (iv) microcrack aspect ratio in deforming rocks is porosity-dependent, validating a recent rock physics model. I was also involved in a mine-water geothermal study demonstrating potential for resilient and sustainable, low-cost and low-carbon heating via a circular heat network and, most recently, I have been investigating material controls on seasonal storage of hydrogen in porous reservoirs.


I have a BSc in geophysics from the University of Southampton) and an MSc in geophysical hazards from UCL. Prior to my MSc, I worked for a geophysical survey company conducting offshore marine geophysical surveys, and for the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission in Fiji in a science communication role. After my MSc, I did a PhD in experimental rock deformation at UCL investigating the electrical properties of deforming rocks with application to earthquake precursors.

I live in Edinburgh with my partner and am an outdoor enthusiast and keen swing dancer. I am also a yoga instructor and remedial massage therapist with a passion for cultivating mindfulness and self-compassion and helping others to do the same.

Areas of expertise: experimental rock deformation, equipment development, fluid-rock interactions, rock physics, earthquakes, seismology, statistical physics, in-situ synchrotron x-ray microtomography, geohazards, geophysics.


Cartwright-Taylor, A., Mangriotis, M.-D., Main, I. G., Butler, I. B., Fusseis, F., Ling, M., Andò, E., Curtis, A., Bell, A. F., Crippen, A., Rizzo, R. E., Marti, S., Leung, D. and Magdysyuk, O. V. (2022) ‘Seismic events miss important kinematically governed grain scale mechanisms during shear failure of porous rock’. Nature Communications 13, 6169. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-33855-z

Cartwright-Taylor, A., Butler, I. B., Fusseis, F., Ling, M., Andò, E., Mangriotis, M.-D., Main, I. G., Rizzo, R. E., Marti, S., Leung, D. D., Magdysyuk, O. V. (2022). Micromechanics of shear failure in a porous rock: a combined dataset of high-resolution time-resolved 3D x-ray micro-tomography volumes and local 3D strain fields with contemporaneous acoustic emissions and ultrasonic velocity survey waveforms. NERC EDS National Geoscience Data Centre. (Dataset). https://doi.org/10.5285/56c7802c-93db-4f0f-8b89-e18e10215633

Fraser-Harris, A.P., McDermott, C. I., Receveur, M., Mouli-Castillo, J., Todd, F., Cartwright-Taylor, A., Gunning, A. and Parsons, M. (2022) ‘The Geobattery Concept: A geothermal circular heat network for the sustainable development of near surface low enthalpy geothermal energy to decarbonise heating’. Earth Science, Systems and Society 2, 10047, https://doi.org/10.3389/esss.2022.10047

Fraser-Harris, A.P., McDermott, C. I., Couples, G. D.,  Edlmann, K., Lightbody, A., Cartwright-Taylor, A., Kendrick, J. E., Brondolo, F., Fazio, M. and Sauter, M. (2020), ‘Experimental investigation of hydraulic fracturing and stress sensitivity of fracture permeability under changing polyaxial stress conditions’, Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 125, e2020JB020044, https://doi.org/10.1029/2020JB020044

Butler, I. B., Fusseis, F., Cartwright-Taylor, A. and Flynn, M. (2020), ‘Mjölnir: a miniature triaxial rock deformation apparatus for 4D synchrotron x-ray micro-tomography’, Journal of Synchrotron Radiation 27, 1681-1687, https://doi.org/10.1107/S160057752001173X

Cartwright-Taylor, A., Main, I. G., Butler, I. B., Fusseis, F., Flynn, M. and King, A. (2020), ‘Catastrophic failure: how and when? Insights from 4D in-situ x-ray micro-tomography’, Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 125, e2020JB019642, https://doi.org/10.1029/2020JB019642

Cartwright-Taylor, A., Main, I. G., Butler, I. B., Fusseis, F., Flynn M. and King, A. (2020). ‘In-situ rock deformation and micron-scale crack network evolution: an x-ray computed microtomography dataset’. British Geological Survey. (Dataset). https://doi.org/10.5285/0dc00069-8da8-474a-8993-b63ef5c25fb8

Singh, J., Curtis, A., Zhao, Y., Cartwright-Taylor, A., and Main, I. (2019), ‘Coda wave interferometry for accurate simultaneous monitoring of velocity and acoustic source locations in experimental rock physics’, Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 124, 5629–5655, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019JB017577

Cartwright-Taylor, A. (2015), ‘Deformation-induced electric currents in marble under simulated crustal conditions: non-extensivity, superstatistical dynamics and implications for earthquake hazard‘, PhD thesis, University College London, https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1471386/1/AlexisCartwright-Taylor_PhDThesis_Full.pdf

Cartwright-Taylor, A., Vallianatos, F. and Sammonds, P. (2014), ‘Superstatistical view of stress-induced electric current fluctuations in rocks’, Physica A 414, 368-377, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physa.2014.07.064

Research projects

Previous projects (University of Edinburgh)

Postdoctoral Researcher on an EU-funded project HyUsPRe: ‘hydrogen underground storage in porous reservoirs’ conducting experiments to understand fluid-rock interactions and fluid flow behaviour during multiple cycles of hydrogen injection and withdrawal in porous rocks and caprocks. Affordable and efficient grid-scale energy storage is essential to decarbonise energy and meet our Net-Zero commitments. Hydrogen generated from renewable energy is a promising technology that can provide sustainable and secure grid-scale energy storage while reducing environmental emissions. Hydrogen offers the capacity to decouple renewable energy generation from demand, enabling the decarbonisation of difficult to abate sectors such as heating and heavy-duty transport while balancing inter-seasonal energy supply and demand; all major challenges in societal decarbonisation. Geological energy storage in subsurface porous rocks, such as saline aquifers, is a proven technology and capable of delivering the necessary capacity for storing the TWh of hydrogen needed for a zero-carbon future. However, the behaviour of hydrogen over multiple cycles of subsurface injection and withdrawal, and our ability to monitor that behaviour, remains uncertain. Key unknowns are the long-term integrity of a storage site and the efficiency of recovery.

Researcher Co-I on the NERC-funded project CATFAIL: ‘catastrophic failure: what controls precursory damage localisation in rocks?’ (https://gtr.ukri.org/projects?ref=NE%2FR001693%2F1), conducting laboratory experiments focusing particularly on high-resolution, time-resolved (4D) in-situ imaging of rock deformation and failure using synchrotron x-ray micro-tomography. Catastrophic failure of rocks in the brittle Earth is a critically-important driving mechanism for phenomena such as landslides, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, including induced seismicity. Failure of engineering materials can lead to large-scale infrastructure collapse and destabilisation of the subsurface. So system-sized material failure is vitally important to understand and forecast, particularly for the management of risk associated with it. During this project, I developed a unique x-ray transparent triaxial deformation cell with integrated acoustic monitoring and combined tomographic imaging with seismology and statistical physics approaches to better understand the process of catastrophic material failure. Key questions include: (i) how do cracks, pores and grain boundaries interact locally with the applied stress field to cause catastrophic failure to occur at a specific place, orientation and time?, (ii) what dictates the relative importance of quasi-static and dynamic processes?, and (iii) why can we detect precursors to catastrophic failure only in some cases?

Postdoctoral Researcher on an EPSRC-funded Impact Acceleration Accounts (IAA) project, organising a series of workshops to develop academic-industry collaborations around Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS).

Postdoctoral Researcher on a GCRF pilot project ‘Research for Emergency Aftershock Response’ (REAR) aiming to improve understanding and operational forecasting of aftershock sequences in order to assist emergency response by determining the potential of mobile phone accelerometers to augment seismometer networks.

Postdoctoral Researcher on an industry-funded ICCR (https://iccr.org.uk/) project ‘4D Carbonate Rock Physics’ (4DRP) investigating the properties and behaviour of carbonate rocks under stress using rock deformation experiments and x-ray micro-tomography.