Prof. Lapôtre leads the Earth & Planetary Surface Processes group. His research focuses on the physics behind sedimentary and geomorphic processes that shape planetary surfaces (including Earth's), and aims to untangle what landforms and rocks tell us about the past hydrology, climate, and habitability of planets.

Academic Appointments

Administrative Appointments

  • Assistant Professor, Stanford University (2019 - Present)
  • John Harvard Distinguished Science Fellow, Harvard University (2017 - 2019)
  • Mars Science Laboratory Special Expert Consultant, NASA/JPL-Caltech (2017 - 2018)
  • Mars Science Laboratory Science & Operations Team Collaborator, NASA/JPL-Caltech (2013 - 2017)

Honors & Awards

  • Scialog Fellow, Heising-Simons Foundation, Research Corporation for Science Advancement (2021)
  • Kavli Fellow, U.S. National Academy of Sciences (2020)
  • John Harvard Distinguished Science Fellowship, Harvard University (2017-2019)
  • NASA Group Achievement Award, MSL Extended Mission-1 Science & Operations Team, NASA (2017)
  • John C. Crowell Best PhD Dissertation Award, 2nd place, SEPM Pacific Section (2017)
  • Dwornik Award, graduate oral presentation, honorable mention, Planetary Geology Division, Geological Society of America (2016)
  • SETI/NASA Astrobiology Institutes Travel Award, SETI/NASA (2016)
  • Best overall, best in theme, PEACH award, NASA-NIA RASC-AL Space Design (2016)
  • NASA Group Achievement Award, MSL Prime Mission Science & Operations Team, NASA (2015)
  • AGU Outstanding Student Paper Award, American Geophysical Union (2014)
  • NASA Earth & Space Science Fellowship, NASA (2012-2015)
  • Robert P. Sharp Graduate Student Fellowship, California Institute of Technology (2012-2013)

Professional Education

  • Ph.D., California Institute of Technology, Geology (2017)
  • M.S., California Institute of Technology, Planetary Science (2014)
  • M.S. (Ingenieur), Ecole & Observatoire des Sciences de la Terre, Geophysical Engineering (2011)
  • M.S., Universite de Strasbourg, Environmental Science & Engineering (2011)
  • B.S., Universite de Strasbourg, Geophysics with minor in Astrophysics (2009)

2020-21 Courses

Stanford Advisees

All Publications

  • An evolving understanding of enigmatic large ripples on Mars Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets Lapôtre, M. G., Ewing, R. C., Lamb, M. P. 2021

    View details for DOI 10.1029/2020JE006729

  • Modern Mars' geomorphological activity, driven by wind, frost, and gravity Geomorphology Diniega, S., Bramson, A. M., Buratti, B., Buhler, P., Burr, D. M., Chojnacki, M., Conway, S. J., Dundas, C. M., Hansen, C. J., McEwen, A. S., Lapôtre, M. G., Levy, J., Mc Keown, L., Piqueux, S., Portyankina, G., Swann, C., Titus, T. N., Widmer, J. M. 2021
  • Planform-asymmetry and backwater effects on river-cutoff kinematics and clustering EARTH SURFACE PROCESSES AND LANDFORMS Ielpi, A., Lapotre, M. A., Finotello, A., Ghinassi, M. 2020

    View details for DOI 10.1002/esp.5029

    View details for Web of Science ID 000593036000001

  • Channel mobility drives a diverse stratigraphic architecture in the dryland Mojave River (California, USA) EARTH SURFACE PROCESSES AND LANDFORMS Ielpi, A., Lapotre, M. A., Finotello, A., Ghinassi, M., D'Alpaos, A. 2020

    View details for DOI 10.1002/esp.4841

    View details for Web of Science ID 000518369900001

  • The pace of fluvial meanders on Mars and implications for the western delta deposits of Jezero crater AGU Advances Lapôtre, M. G., Ielpi, A. 2020; 1 (2)

    View details for DOI 10.1029/2019AV000141

  • Probing space to understand Earth Nature Reviews Earth & Environment Lapôtre, M. G., O'Rourke, J. G., Schaefer, L. K., Siebach, K. L., Spalding, C., Tikoo, S. M., Wordsworth, R. D. 2020; 1: 170-181
  • A probabilistic approach to determination of Ceres’ average surface composition from Dawn VIR and GRaND data Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets Kurokawa, H., Ehlmann, B. L., De Sanctis, M. C., Lapôtre , M. G., Usui, T., Stein, N. T., Prettyman, T. H., Raponi, A., Ciarniello, M. 2020

    View details for DOI 10.1029/2020JE006606

  • A tenfold slowdown in river meander migration driven by plant life Nature Geoscience Ielpi, A., Lapotre, M. G. 2020; 13: 82-86
  • Biotic forcing militates against river meandering in the modern Bonneville Basin of Utah SEDIMENTOLOGY Ielpi, A., Lapotre, M. A. 2019; 66 (5): 1896–1929

    View details for DOI 10.1111/sed.12562

    View details for Web of Science ID 000477915100016

  • Model for the Formation of Single‐Thread Rivers in Barren Landscapes and Implications for Pre‐Silurian and Martian Fluvial Deposits Journal of Geophysical Research - Earth Surface Lapotre, M. G., Ielpi, A., Lamb, M. P., Williams, R. E., Knoll, A. H. 2019; 124 (12): 2757-2777

    View details for DOI 10.1029/2019JF005156

  • Curiosity's Investigation of the Bagnold Dunes, Gale Crater: Overview of the Two-Phase Scientific Campaign and Introduction to the Special Collection GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS Lapotre, M. A., Rampe, E. B. 2018; 45 (19): 10200–10210
  • Morphologic Diversity of Martian Ripples: Implications for Large-Ripple Formation GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS Lapotre, M. A., Ewing, R. C., Weitz, C. M., Lewis, K. W., Lamb, M. P., Ehlmann, B. L., Rubin, D. M. 2018; 45 (19): 10229–39
  • Sand Grain Sizes and Shapes in Eolian Bedforms at Gale Crater, Mars GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS Weitz, C. M., Sullivan, R. J., Lapotre, M. A., Rowland, S. K., Grant, J. A., Baker, M., Yingst, R. 2018; 45 (18): 9471–79
  • Sand Mineralogy Within the Bagnold Dunes, Gale Crater, as Observed In Situ and From Orbit GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS Rampe, E. B., Lapotre, M. A., Bristow, T. F., Arvidson, R. E., Morris, R. V., Achilles, C. N., Weitz, C., Blake, D. F., Ming, D. W., Morrison, S. M., Vaniman, D. T., Chipera, S. J., Downs, R. T., Grotzinger, J. P., Hazen, R. M., Peretyazhko, T. S., Sutter, B., Tu, V., Yen, A. S., Horgan, B., Castle, N., Craig, P. I., Des Marais, D. J., Farmer, J., Gellert, R., McAdam, A. C., Morookian, J. M., Sarrazin, P. C., Treiman, A. H. 2018; 45 (18): 9488–97
  • The Bagnold Dunes in Southern Summer: Active Sediment Transport on Mars Observed by the Curiosity Rover GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS Baker, M. M., Lapotre, M. A., Minitti, M. E., Newman, C. E., Sullivan, R., Weitz, C. M., Rubin, D. M., Vasavada, A. R., Bridges, N. T., Lewis, K. W. 2018; 45 (17): 8853–63
  • Ancient Martian aeolian processes and palaeomorphology reconstructed from the Stimson formation on the lower slope of Aeolis Mons, Gale crater, Mars SEDIMENTOLOGY Banham, S. G., Gupta, S., Rubin, D. M., Watkins, J. A., Sumner, D. Y., Edgett, K. S., Grotzinger, J. P., Lewis, K. W., Edgar, L. A., Stack-Morgan, K. M., Barnes, R., Bell, J. F., Day, M. D., Ewing, R. C., Lapotre, M. A., Stein, N. T., Rivera-Hernandez, F., Vasavada, A. R. 2018; 65 (4): 993–1042

    View details for DOI 10.1111/sed.12469

    View details for Web of Science ID 000434172100001

  • Substrate controls on valley formation by groundwater on Earth and Mars GEOLOGY Lapotre, M. A., Lamb, M. P. 2018; 46 (6): 531–34

    View details for DOI 10.1130/G40007.1

    View details for Web of Science ID 000433513800016

  • Coarse Sediment Transport in the Modern Martian Environment JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH-PLANETS Baker, M. M., Newman, C. E., Lapotre, M. A., Sullivan, R., Bridges, N. T., Lewis, K. W. 2018; 123 (6): 1380–94
  • Compositional variations in sands of the Bagnold Dunes, Gale crater, Mars, from visible-shortwave infrared spectroscopy and comparison with ground truth from the Curiosity rover JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH-PLANETS Lapotre, M. A., Ehlmann, B. L., Minson, S. E., Arvidson, R. E., Ayoub, F., Fraeman, A. A., Ewing, R. C., Bridges, N. T. 2017; 122 (12): 2489–2509
  • Sedimentary processes of the Bagnold Dunes: Implications for the eolian rock record of Mars JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH-PLANETS Ewing, R. C., Lapotre, M. A., Lewis, K. W., Day, M., Stein, N., Rubin, D. M., Sullivan, R., Banham, S., Lamb, M. P., Bridges, N. T., Gupta, S., Fischer, W. W. 2017; 122 (12): 2544–73


    The Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity visited two active wind-blown sand dunes within Gale crater, Mars, which provided the first ground-based opportunity to compare Martian and terrestrial eolian dune sedimentary processes and study a modern analog for the Martian eolian rock record. Orbital and rover images of these dunes reveal terrestrial-like and uniquely Martian processes. The presence of grainfall, grainflow, and impact ripples resembled terrestrial dunes. Impact ripples were present on all dune slopes and had a size and shape similar to their terrestrial counterpart. Grainfall and grainflow occurred on dune and large-ripple lee slopes. Lee slopes were ~29° where grainflows were present and ~33° where grainfall was present. These slopes are interpreted as the dynamic and static angles of repose, respectively. Grain size measured on an undisturbed impact ripple ranges between 50 μm and 350 μm with an intermediate axis mean size of 113 μm (median: 103 μm). Dissimilar to dune eolian processes on Earth, large, meter-scale ripples were present on all dune slopes. Large ripples had nearly symmetric to strongly asymmetric topographic profiles and heights ranging between 12 cm and 28 cm. The composite observations of the modern sedimentary processes highlight that the Martian eolian rock record is likely different from its terrestrial counterpart because of the large ripples, which are expected to engender a unique scale of cross stratification. More broadly, however, in the Bagnold Dune Field as on Earth, dune-field pattern dynamics and basin-scale boundary conditions will dictate the style and distribution of sedimentary processes.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/2017JE005324

    View details for Web of Science ID 000419993400008

    View details for PubMedID 29497590

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5815379

  • Chemistry, mineralogy, and grain properties at Namib and High dunes, Bagnold dune field, Gale crater, Mars: A synthesis of Curiosity rover observations JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH-PLANETS Ehlmann, B. L., Edgett, K. S., Sutter, B., Achilles, C. N., Litvak, M. L., Lapotre, M. A., Sullivan, R., Fraeman, A. A., Arvidson, R. E., Blake, D. F., Bridges, N. T., Conrad, P. G., Cousin, A., Downs, R. T., Gabriel, T. J., Gellert, R., Hamilton, V. E., Hardgrove, C., Johnson, J. R., Kuhn, S., Mahaffy, P. R., Maurice, S., McHenry, M., Meslin, P., Ming, D. W., Minitti, M. E., Morookian, J. M., Morris, R. V., O'Connell-Cooper, C. D., Pinet, P. C., Rowland, S. K., Schroeder, S., Siebach, K. L., Stein, N. T., Thompson, L. M., Vaniman, D. T., Vasavada, A. R., Wellington, D. F., Wiens, R. C., Yen, A. S. 2017; 122 (12): 2510–43


    The Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover performed coordinated measurements to examine the textures and compositions of aeolian sands in the active Bagnold dune field. The Bagnold sands are rounded to subrounded, very fine to medium sized (~45-500 μm) with ≥6 distinct grain colors. In contrast to sands examined by Curiosity in a dust-covered, inactive bedform called Rocknest and soils at other landing sites, Bagnold sands are darker, less red, better sorted, have fewer silt-sized or smaller grains, and show no evidence for cohesion. Nevertheless, Bagnold mineralogy and Rocknest mineralogy are similar with plagioclase, olivine, and pyroxenes in similar proportions comprising >90% of crystalline phases, along with a substantial amorphous component (35% ± 15%). Yet Bagnold and Rocknest bulk chemistry differ. Bagnold sands are Si enriched relative to other soils at Gale crater, and H2O, S, and Cl are lower relative to all previously measured Martian soils and most Gale crater rocks. Mg, Ni, Fe, and Mn are enriched in the coarse-sieved fraction of Bagnold sands, corroborated by visible/near-infrared spectra that suggest enrichment of olivine. Collectively, patterns in major element chemistry and volatile release data indicate two distinctive volatile reservoirs in Martian soils: (1) amorphous components in the sand-sized fraction (represented by Bagnold) that are Si-enriched, hydroxylated alteration products and/or H2O- or OH-bearing impact or volcanic glasses and (2) amorphous components in the fine fraction (<40 μm; represented by Rocknest and other bright soils) that are Fe, S, and Cl enriched with low Si and adsorbed and structural H2O.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/2017JE005267

    View details for Web of Science ID 000419993400007

    View details for PubMedID 29497589

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5815393

  • Martian aeolian activity at the Bagnold Dunes, Gale Crater: The view from the surface and orbit JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH-PLANETS Bridges, N. T., Sullivan, R., Newman, C. E., Navarro, S., van Beek, J., Ewing, R. C., Ayoub, F., Silvestro, S., Gasnault, O., Le Mouelic, S., Lapotre, M. A., Rapin, W. 2017; 122 (10): 2077–2110
  • Advanced concept for a crewed mission to the martian moons ACTA ASTRONAUTICA Conte, D., Di Carlo, M., Budzyn, D., Burgoyne, H., Fries, D., Grulich, M., Heizmann, S., Jethani, H., Lapotre, M., Roos, T., Castillo, E., Schermann, M., Vieceli, R., Wilson, L., Wynard, C. 2017; 139: 545–63
  • A probabilistic approach to remote compositional analysis of planetary surfaces JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH-PLANETS Lapotre, M. A., Ehlmann, B. L., Minson, S. E. 2017; 122 (5): 983–1009
  • What sets the size of current ripples? GEOLOGY Lapotre, M. A., Lamb, M. P., McElroy, B. 2017; 45 (3): 243–46

    View details for DOI 10.1130/G38598.1

    View details for Web of Science ID 000396125100012

  • Regularization of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter CRISM along-track oversampled hyperspectral imaging observations of Mars ICARUS Kreisch, C. D., O'Sullivan, J. A., Arvidson, R. E., Politte, D. V., He, L., Stein, N. T., Finkel, J., Guinness, E. A., Wolff, M. J., Lapotre, M. A. 2017; 282: 136–51
  • Canyon formation constraints on the discharge of catastrophic outburst floods of Earth and Mars JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH-PLANETS Lapotre, M. A., Lamb, M. P., Williams, R. E. 2016; 121 (7): 1232–63
  • Large wind ripples on Mars: A record of atmospheric evolution SCIENCE Lapotre, M. A., Ewing, R. C., Lamb, M. P., Fischer, W. W., Grotzinger, J. P., Rubin, D. M., Lewis, K. W., Ballard, M. J., Day, M., Gupta, S., Banham, S. G., Bridges, N. T., Des Marais, D. J., Fraeman, A. A., Grant, J. A., Herkenhoff, K. E., Ming, D. W., Mischna, M. A., Rice, M. S., Sumner, D. A., Vasavada, A. R., Yingst, R. A. 2016; 353 (6294): 55–58


    Wind blowing over sand on Earth produces decimeter-wavelength ripples and hundred-meter- to kilometer-wavelength dunes: bedforms of two distinct size modes. Observations from the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveal that Mars hosts a third stable wind-driven bedform, with meter-scale wavelengths. These bedforms are spatially uniform in size and typically have asymmetric profiles with angle-of-repose lee slopes and sinuous crest lines, making them unlike terrestrial wind ripples. Rather, these structures resemble fluid-drag ripples, which on Earth include water-worked current ripples, but on Mars instead form by wind because of the higher kinematic viscosity of the low-density atmosphere. A reevaluation of the wind-deposited strata in the Burns formation (about 3.7 billion years old or younger) identifies potential wind-drag ripple stratification formed under a thin atmosphere.

    View details for DOI 10.1126/science.aaf3206

    View details for Web of Science ID 000378816200033

    View details for PubMedID 27365444

  • Hydraulics of floods upstream of horseshoe canyons and waterfalls JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH-EARTH SURFACE Lapotre, M. A., Lamb, M. P. 2015; 120 (7): 1227–50
  • Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Opportunity observations of the Burns formation: Crater hopping at Meridiani Planum JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH-PLANETS Arvidson, R. E., Bell, J. F., Catalano, J. G., Clark, B. C., Fox, V. K., Gellert, R., Grotzinger, J. P., Guinness, E. A., Herkenhoff, K. E., Knoll, A. H., Lapotre, M. A., McLennan, S. M., Ming, D. W., Morris, R. V., Murchie, S. L., Powell, K. E., Smith, M. D., Squyres, S. W., Wolff, M. J., Wray, J. J. 2015; 120 (3): 429–51
  • The root of branching river networks NATURE Perron, J., Richardson, P. W., Ferrier, K. L., Lapotre, M. 2012; 492 (7427): 100-+


    Branching river networks are one of the most widespread and recognizable features of Earth's landscapes and have also been discovered elsewhere in the Solar System. But the mechanisms that create these patterns and control their spatial scales are poorly understood. Theories based on probability or optimality have proven useful, but do not explain how river networks develop over time through erosion and sediment transport. Here we show that branching at the uppermost reaches of river networks is rooted in two coupled instabilities: first, valleys widen at the expense of their smaller neighbours, and second, side slopes of the widening valleys become susceptible to channel incision. Each instability occurs at a critical ratio of the characteristic timescales for soil transport and channel incision. Measurements from two field sites demonstrate that our theory correctly predicts the size of the smallest valleys with tributaries. We also show that the dominant control on the scale of landscape dissection in these sites is the strength of channel incision, which correlates with aridity and rock weakness, rather than the strength of soil transport. These results imply that the fine-scale structure of branching river networks is an organized signature of erosional mechanics, not a consequence of random topology.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/nature11672

    View details for Web of Science ID 000311893400053

    View details for PubMedID 23222614