Bradford J. Foley
Postdoctoral Fellow

Brad Foley

Research Interests

Mantle dynamics, tectonics, and thermal evolution of terrestrial; dynamical causes of plate tectonics on Earth and predictions for exoplanets; planetary habitability and coupling between climate and tectonics; early Earth mantle dynamics and evolution.


B.S., Geological Sciences, University of Southern California, LA, 2008
M., Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, 2011
Ph. D., Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, 2014

Contact & Links

  • (202) 478-8841
  • bfoley at
  • Earth and Planets Laboratory
    Carnegie Institution for Science
    5241 Broad Branch Road, NW
    Washington, DC 20015-1305
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Publications


Bradford J. Foley Research Figure
A “planetary-plate-tectonic phase” diagram, showing the boundary between stagnant lid and plate-tectonic style mantle convection in planet size-surface temperature space. Increased planet size favors plate tectonics, due to more vigorous mantle convection, while increased surface temperature acts against damage in the lithosphere and promotes stagnant lid convection.

Brad Foley's research is focused on mantle dynamics and the evolution of terrestrial planets, with a particular interest in the dynamical origin of plate tectonics on Earth, whether exoplanets would be expected to have plate tectonics, and how tectonics influences climate and planetary habitability. Brad primarily uses theoretical models, both numerical and analytical, to explore the underlying physics of mantle convection and plate tectonics. His Ph.D. research at Yale University covered how factors such as surface temperature, planet size, and mantle temperature, influence the likelihood of plate tectonics, and how plate tectonics initiates.

At DTM as the Origins Fellow, Brad will work on understanding the coupling between plate tectonics and climate, and planetary habitability. Plate tectonics is long thought to be crucial for maintaining a stable, habitable climate, through feedbacks involving the carbon cycle, orogeny, and volcanism. However, a temperate climate may be equally vital to the operation of plate tectonics because cool temperatures enhance damage in the lithosphere, promoting subduction. Brad uses simple analytical models of the carbon cycle, climate, and mantle convection, to assess the stability of a temperate climate-plate tectonic mode, and explore the implications for planetary habitability. He is also interested in whether plate tectonics is required for a stable, habitable climate, and studying this topic using similar theoretical models.

Finally, Brad is interested in the dynamics and evolution of the early Earth, particularly in regards to the initiation of subduction and development of modern day plate tectonics. He works on combining geodynamical models with geochemical and petrological observations to constrain and characterize early Earth tectonics.