Baylor University
Department of Geosciences
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Dr. Peter B. James

Contact Information

Dr. Peter B. James

Department of Geosciences
Baylor University
One Bear Place #97354
Waco TX 76798

Phone (254) 710-2351
Fax (254) 710-2673

Room E438, Baylor Sciences Building



Research webpage:


Assistant Professor
  • Planetary geophysics
  • Gravimetry
  • Geodynamics



Ph.D., Planetary Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2013

Sc.B., Geology/Physics-Mathematics, Brown University, 2007



Prior to joining Baylor, Dr. James was a postdoctoral research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York from 2013 to 2016 and was the Urey Fellow at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston from 2016 to 2017. As a graduate student and postdoctoral researcher, Dr. James was involved with three active NASA robotic spacecraft missions: the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), and the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging mission (MESSENGER). Dr. James is active in the planetary science community, frequently reviewing papers, serving on grant committees, and contributing to NASA’s Venus Exploration Analysis Group (VEXAG).


Research interests:

My research focuses on the structure and deformation of planetary interiors, as illuminated by spacecraft data. I specialize in gravimetry, the study of the gravity field around a planet or moon. Gravity fields are created by uneven distributions of mass inside a planetary body, and these fields have been measured by dozens of spacecrafts across the solar system. Consequently, the study of gravity fields is one of the best techniques available for probing the internal structure of a planet or moon.

Gravity field analyses are particularly useful in conjunction with the topography of a planetary surface. I use laser altimeter data along with gravity data to measure the density of a planet’s crust. With spatiospectral localization—a mathematical technique that captures the wavelength-dependence of gravity and topography—I can infer the elastic properties of a planet’s rigid lithosphere. To infer the distribution of mass inside a planet’s mantle, I use inversion methods in tandem with geodynamic calculations. Models of internal structure may be tested by comparing the resulting stress fields to the tectonic features observed through photogeology. The results of this research help the planetary science community understand the origins and inner workings of rocky planets.


Selected publications:

James, P., J. Andrews-Hanna, and M. Zuber (2017). What GRAIL teaches us about error and bias in preliminary gravity fields. In Proc. of the 48th Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference, 2199


Susorney, H., P. James, N. Chabot, C. Ernst, E. Mazarico, and G. Neumann (2017). Measuring the thickness of Mercury’s polar water ice deposits using the Mercury Laser Altimeter. In Proc. of the 48th Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference, 2059


Frank, E., R. Potter, O. Abramov, P. James, R. Klima, S. Mojzsis, and L. Nittler (2016). Evaluating an impact origin for Mercury’s high-magnesium region. Journal of Geophysical Research–Planets, 122:614–632


James, P., R. Phillips, M. Grott, S. Hauck II, and S. Solomon (2016). The thickness of Mercury’s lithosphere inferred from MESSENGER gravity and topography. In Proc. of the 47th Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference, 1992


James, P. (2016). Geophysical constraints on Europa’s ice shell and rocky core from a flyby mission. In Proc. of the 47th Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference, 2513


James, P., Zuber, M., Phillips, R., and Solomon, S. (2015). Support of long-wavelength topography on Mercury inferred from MESSENGER measurements of gravity and topography. Journal of Geophysical Research–Planets, 120:287–310


Johnson, C., R. Phillips, M. Purucker, B. Anderson, P. Byrne, B. Denevi, J. Feinberg, S. Hauck, J. Head, H. Korth, P. James, E. Mazarico, G. Neumann, L. Philpott, M. Siegler, N. Tsyganenko, and S. Solomon (2015). Low-altitude magnetic field measurements by MESSENGER reveal Mercury’s ancient crustal field. Science, 22:892–895


Byrne, P., C. Klimczak, P. McGovern, E. Mazarico, P. James, G. Neumann, M. Zuber, S. Solomon (2015). Deep-seated reverse faults bound the Mare Crisium mascon. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 427:183–190


James, P., D. Smith, J. Kendall, M. Zuber, and S. Solomon (2015). The heterogeneous mantle under South Pole–Aitken Basin as constrained by GRAIL and LOLA observations. In Proc. of the 46th Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference, 1953


James, P., S. Solomon, M. Zuber, and R. Phillips (2014). What Mercury's topographic rises tell us about the interior. In Proc. of the 45th Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference, 1453


James, P., M. Zuber, and R. Phillips (2013). Crustal thickness and support of topography on Venus. Journal of Geophysical Research–Planets, 118:859–875