Peter E. Driscoll, Ph.D.

Staff Scientist in Geophysics

Carnegie Institution for Science

Department of Terrestrial Magnetism



"If there's a thing you wish people knew more about in terms of Earth's magnetic field, what would that be?"

There are many things, but perhaps the one thing I think people should keep in mind is that even though it is difficult to image and envision what is going on in Earth's deep interior, it is the major controlling factor that keeps Earth's surface habitable over long time scales. Without a magnetic field or plate tectonics, Earth might not have been able to retain a habitable surface and a water-rich atmosphere. Life as we know it might not exist. That sounds more like a threat than I intended, so let's also say that the Earth's interior is just super interesting!

About Me

I am a Staff Scientist in the Geophysics Group at the Carnegie Institution for Science, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, in Washington, D.C. studying the dynamical evolution of Earth and planetary interiors.


Much of my research is driven by a single question:

What makes Earth a habitable planet?

Earth is unique in many ways. (Of course every planet is unique in their own way but Earth is really in a category of its own.) Earth is the only planet that has maintained a strong magnetic field, plate tectonics, surface liquid water, and life over billions of years.

What is it about Earth’s interior that has allowed these complex phenomena to occur? How do they work? Are they connected in any way?

These topics are intertwined through the bulk thermal and magnetic evolution of the planet. I employ an assortment of numerical models to investigate the thermal evolution of Earth’s interior, dynamics of the core, polarity reversals of Earth’s magnetic field, magnetic-limited atmospheric escape, coupled surface-interior volatile cycling, the divergence of Earth and Venus, and the internal dynamics and detectability of terrestrial exoplanets.

I use first principles numerical magnetohydrodynamic simulations to investigate dynamo behavior over a range of parameters and timescales. In addition I develop 1D models of heat and mass transfer within the interior. The evolution of the deep interior is manifested in paleomagnetic and tectonic observations that requires an understanding of the long-term coupling of the mantle and core.

In particular, I am focused on how the evolution of the geodynamo over the last 500 million years is related to convective cycles in the mantle, the growth of the solid inner core, and changes in rotation. I investigate the process of magnetic polarity reversals by comparing numerical dynamo simulations to geomagnetic observations and to push towards more realistic Earth-like dynamo simulations. I am also investigating the dynamics of rocky exoplanets, in particular through coupling internal and orbital evolution models to make predictions for their detectability and habitability.

Research Interests:

  • Thermal Evolution of Earth (mantle and core cooling, magnetic field history, carbon cycling, 1D climate modelling, Earth-Venus dichotomy)
  • Planetary Dynamos (geomagnetic polarity reversals, core-mantle boundary influence, inner core growth history, numerical dynamo modeling)
  • Exoplanets (internal structure, thermal evolution, exo-magnetic detection, hot Jupiter dynamos)


Prior to joining DTM I was a postdoctoral fellow from 2013-2015 in the Virtual Planet Lab at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. From 2012-2013 I collaborated with the Open Earth System research group as an NSF Postdoctoral Associate in the Geology and Geophysics Department at Yale University in New Haven, CT. From 2010-2012 as a Bateman Fellow at Yale I investigated the influence of planetary magnetic fields on atmospheric escape, the effects of heat loss due to melting on the thermal history of the Earth, and how magnetic field polarity bias relates to reversal frequency in the Phanerozoic and Precambrian.

I earned my Ph.D. in Earth and Planetary Science from Johns Hopkins University in 2010. The subject of my Ph.D. thesis was numerical dynamo modeling of magnetic field reversals, core evolution, and the possibility of detecting dynamos in terrestrial exoplanets (so-called "exodynamos").

Prior to my doctoral studies at JHU I was a member of the California and Carnegie Planet Search Team at San Francisco State University, where I earned a M.S. in Physics in 2006. My research focused on developing statistical methods for estimating planetary parameters from exoplanet radial velocity observations. In 2003 I received a B.S. in Physics and Astronomy from Dickinson College, in Carlisle, PA. In 1999 I graduated from Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, PA.


5/2/19: Invited seminar at the US Naval Observatory, Washington, DC.

4/4/19: NSF grant funded in Cooperative Studies of Earth's Deep Interior (CSEDI).

1/28/19: Nature Geoscience News & Views "Geodynamo Recharge" published.

12/11/18: Panel member: "Habitability: What Earth and the inner planets can teach us about the search for life on rocky exoplanets" at Carnegie Institution for Science.

12/11/18: Presenting poster at AGU: "GP21C-0673 Paleomagnetic Biases Inferred from Numerical Dynamos and the Search for Geodynamo Evolution"

12/10/18: Convening session at AGU : "DI14A Connecting the Dynamics of the Core and Mantle to Observations and Experiments I"

11/14/18: Invited talk at The Department of Mineral Sciences, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

11/8/18: Neighborhood Lecture: "The Geodynamo: A Unique Window Into the Dynamics of Earth's Deep Interior." 6:30 pm, at DTM.

7/25/18: Paper accepted in Frontiers: "Paleomagnetic Biases Inferred from Numerical Dynamos and the Search for Geodynamo Evolution".

6/13/18: Invited speaker at JHU EPS 50th Anniversary Symposium, Baltimore, MD.

3/14/18: Invited speaker at Geological Society of Washington, Cosmos Club, Washington, DC.

3/1/18: Featured in Sky & Telescope: "Earth’s Changing Magnetic Field", March 2018.

2/28/18: Invited talk at Rutgers University, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, New Brunswick, NJ.

1/2/18: Invited paper accepted in Handbook of Exoplanets "Planetary Interiors, Magnetic Fields, and Habitability", Springer.

12/13/17: Session Convener & Poster, AGU Fall Meeting, New Orleans, LA

11/10/17: Paper accepted in Geophysical Research Letters

7/17-19/17: Attended Z-Machine Workshop, Sandia Labs, Alburquerque, NM

3/21/17: Invited Talk, NASA Goddard Exoplanet Group, Greenbelt, MD

12/12/16: Invited Talk, AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA

10/21/16: Colloquium talk at University of Maryland, Department of Geology.

8/8/16: Cecilia Emmaline Driscoll born.

6/24/16: Press release

6/20/16: Keynote lecture, Planetary Perspectives on Geodynamics, CIG Meeting, UC Davis.

6/6/16: Paper published in GRL "Simulating Two Billion Years of Geodynamo History".

5/10/16: Paper accepted in GRL: "Simulating Two Billion Years of Geodynamo History".

4/14/16: Department seminar, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA.

3/30/16: Department seminar, University of Pennsylvania, PA.

2/17/16: Talk, Melt in the mantle Workshop, Isaac Newton Institute, University of Cambridge, UK.

2/3/16: Press release: "Consistency of Earth's Magnetic Field History Surprises Scientists"

12/24/15: Paper accepted in Earth & Planetary Science Letters: "Frequency of Proterozoic Geomagnetic Superchrons".

12/17/15: Conference talk, "Towards a resolution of the new core paradox", AGU, San Francisco, CA.

11/12/15: Bromery Seminar, Earth & Planetary Science, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore MD.

10/21/15: Talk at Carnegie Origins Workshop, Washington DC.

9/28/15: Press release on paper published in Astrobiology.

9/25/15: Paper published in Astrobiology: "Tidal Heating of Earth-like Exoplanets around M Stars: Thermal, Magnetic, and Orbital Evolutions."

9/19/15: Quoted in Science News article about Earth's Magnetic Paradox.

8/01/15: Joined the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution for Science as a Staff Scientist in the Geophysics Group.

6/17/15: Research talk at the Astrobiology Science Conference, Chicago, IL.

5/25/15: Paper accepted in the Journal of Geophysical Research - Solid Earth: "Testing the dynamic coupling of the core-mantle and inner core boundaries".

2/14/15: Accepted new position as a staff scientist in the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., starting in August.

1/21-22/15: Cooperative Studies of Earth's Deep Interior (CSEDI) Science Plan Workshop, Scripps Institution, La Jolla, CA.

1/7/15: Conference Poster: American Astronomical Society (AAS) Conference, Seattle, WA.

12/19/14: Conference Poster: American Geophysical Union (AGU) Conference, San Francisco, CA.

12/2/14: Invited Seminar: Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institute of Washington, DC.

11/12/14: Research Talk: Division for Planetary Sciences Conference, Tucson, AZ.

10/21/14: Invited talk: Astrobiology Magazine, University of Washington.

10/13/14: Paper submitted: "Testing the dynamic coupling of the core-mantle and inner core boundaries", JGR Solid Earth.

8/29/14: Paper published: "On the thermal and magnetic histories of Earth and Venus: Influences of melting, radioactivity, and conductivity." Physics of Earth and Planetary Interiors, 236, 2014.

6/6/14: Invited Talk: "Coupled Water-Carbon Cycle Modeling", Carnegie Institute, Deep Carbon Modeling Workshop, Washington, D.C.

6/5/14: Invited Talk: "High core heat flow solution to Earth thermal and magnetic paradoxes", Carnegie Institute, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Washington, D.C.

4/22/14: Olivia Ellyanne Driscoll born.

3/18/14: Conference Poster: "Influence of internal heating on exoplanet dynamos", Exoplanets, Biosignatures, and Instruments Conference, Tucson, AZ.

2/18/14: Invited Talk: "How to maintain (or supress) dynamo action in an exoplanet", Planetary Magnetic Fields Workshop II, Keck Institute for Space Science, Caltech, Pasadena, CA.

12/11/13: 9:45 AM - 10:00 AM: AGU Invited Talk: "Divergent evolution of Earth and Venus: Influence of degassing, tectonics, and magnetic fields" (V31E-08). Session: V31E "The Early Earth II", 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM; 306 (Moscone South).

10/30/13: Paper submitted to PEPI, "Influence of melting and radioactivity on the thermal and magnetic evolution of Earth and Venus".

10/17/13: Invited talk (University of Washington, Astronomy Department Colloquium).

10/8/13: Invited talk (University of Washington, Astrobiology Seminar).

8/25/13: Invited talk (International Association of Geomagnetism and Aeronomy, Merida, Mexico).

8/1/13: Joined The Virtual Planet Laboratory, Astronomy Department, University of Washington.

7/25/13: Invited talk (Open Earth Systems, Earth & Planetary Sciences, Johns Hopkins University).

7/25/13: Paper accepted in ICARUS, "Divergent evolution of Earth and Venus: Influence of degassing, tectonics, and magnetic fields".

6/18/13: Paper submitted to EPSL, "Nonrandom geomagnetic reversal times and geodynamo evolution".