Oliver White

Oliver White

Research Scientist

Disciplines: Planetary Sciences

Degree/Major: Doctorate in Planetary Science

Curriculum vitae: White_SETI_CV.pdf


Dr Oliver White’s research has focused on a range of topics relating to the topographic characterization and geologic evolution of planetary landscapes. His PhD research at University College London (2006-2010) encompassed a number of topics that were related to the goal of gauging the influence of environmental conditions on volcanic processes on Mars and Venus. This research included compiling global catalogues of 20-100 km diameter volcanoes on these two planets; organizing two expeditions to Iceland to perform ground penetrating radar surveys across Mars-analogue rootless cones; and analysis of data from the MARSIS radar sounder aboard the European spacecraft Mars Express.

His postdoctoral position at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston (2010-2013) involved employing stereo and shape-from-shading techniques to produce topographic maps of Io and the Saturnian mid-sized icy moons. On Io, this allowed characterization of volcano and mountain morphologies as well as regional and global scale shape deviations. On the Saturnian icy moons, he measured crater morphologies using the topographic maps in order to assess the extent of crater relaxation, allowing determination of past heat flow conditions across their surfaces.

As a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow at NASA Ames (2014-2017), he used the MARSSIM landform evolution model to investigate the formation and evolution of the ice pinnacle terrain on the Galilean moon Callisto, which has required advancing the model’s treatment of relevant physical processes. He is an affiliate on the Geological and Geophysical Investigation Team of NASA’s New Horizons mission and participated in mission planning and flyby operations for the spacecraft’s flyby of the Pluto system in July 2015.  He has used his experience of mapping of planetary surfaces during his undergraduate and graduate degrees to produce a geological map of the vast expanse of nitrogen ice plains on Pluto named Sputnik Planitia.

As a SETI research scientist (since 2017), he has investigated the glacial origins of the distinctive and enigmatic “washboard” and “fluted” terrain types on Pluto and participated in mission planning for the January 2019 New Horizons flyby of the Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69, as well as flyby operations and post-flyby data analysis.  Current research projects include leading a project to produce a global Science Investigations Map of Pluto for the US Geological Survey; mapping global tectonism on Pluto and Charon, which will inform numerical modeling to determine the structural evolution of these bodies; mapping large impact features on the Galilean moons Ganymede and Callisto, which will inform hydrocode modelling to determine how these features have evolved; and enhancing the usability and capacity of the MARSSIM landform evolution model for the benefit of the wider planetary geomorphology community by developing a GUI interface and documentation in the widely used Python cross-platform environment.



White, O.L., et al. (2019) Washboard and fluted terrains on Pluto as evidence for ancient glaciation. Nature Astronomy, 3, pp. 62-68.

White, O.L., et al. (2017) Impact crater relaxation on Dione and Tethys and relation to past heat flow. Icarus, 288, pp. 37-52.

White, O.L., et al. (2017) Geological mapping of Sputnik Planitia on Pluto. Icarus, 287, pp. 261-286.

White, O.L., et al. (2016) Modeling of ice pinnacle formation on Callisto. J. Geophys. Res. Planets, 121, pp. 21-45.

White, O.L., P.M. Schenk (2015) Topographic mapping of paterae and layered plains on Io using photoclinometry. J. Geophys. Res. Planets, 120, pp. 51-61.  

White, O.L., et al. (2014) A new stereo topographic map of Io: Implications for geology from global to local scales. J. Geophys. Res. Planets, 119, pp. 1276-1301.

White, O.L., et al. (2013) Impact basin relaxation on Rhea and Iapetus and relation to past heat flow. Icarus, 223, pp. 699-709.

White, O.L., et al. (2009) MARSIS radar sounder observations in the vicinity of Ma’adim Vallis, Mars. Icarus, 201, pp. 460-473.


Cruikshank, D.P., et al. (2019) Recent Cryovolcanism in Virgil Fossae on Pluto. Icarus, 330, pp. 155-168.

Stern, S.A., et al. (2019) Initial results from the New Horizons exploration of 2014 MU69, a small Kuiper Belt Object. Science, 364, eaaw9771.

Robbins, S.J., et al. (2019) Geologic Landforms and Chronostratigraphic History of Charon as Revealed by a Hemispheric Geologic Map.  J. Geophys. Res. Planets124, 155-174.

Birch, S.P.D., et al. (2018) Raised Rims around Titan’s Sharp-Edged Depressions. Geophys. Res. Lett., doi:10.1029/2018GL078099.

Schenk, P.M., et al. (2018) Saturn’s other icy moons: Geologically complex worlds in their own right.  In Enceladus and the Icy Moons of Saturn (P.M. Schenk et al., eds.), pp. 237-265. Univ. of Arizona, Tucson.

Schenk, P.M., et al. (2018) Breaking up is hard to do: Global cartography and topography of Pluto’s mid-sized icy Moon Charon from New Horizons. Icarus, 315, pp. 124-145.

Schenk, P.M., et al. (2018) Basins, fractures and volcanoes: Global cartography and topography of Pluto from New Horizons. Icarus, 314, pp. 400-433.

Moore, J.M., et al. (2018) Great Expectations: Plans and Predictions for New Horizons Encounter with Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 (“Ultima Thule”). Geophys. Res. Lett., 45.

Bertrand, T., et al. (2018) The nitrogen cycles on Pluto over seasonal and astronomical timescales. Icarus, 309, pp. 277-296.

Moore, J.M., et al. (2018) Bladed terrain on Pluto: Possible origins and evolution. Icarus, 300, pp. 129-144.

Robbins, S.J., et al. (2017) Investigation of Charon's Craters with Abrupt Terminus Ejecta, Comparisons with Other Icy Bodies, and Formation Implications. J. Geophys. Res. Planets122, 20-36.

Howard, A.D., et al. (2017) Pluto: Pits and mantles on uplands north and east of Sputnik Planitia. Icarus, 293, pp. 218-230.

Howard, A.D., et al. (2017) Present and past glaciation on Pluto. Icarus, 287, pp. 287-300.

Moore, J.M., et al. (2017) Sublimation as a landform-shaping process on Pluto. Icarus, 287, pp. 320-333.

Robbins, S.J., et al. (2017) Craters of the Pluto-Charon system. Icarus, 287, pp. 187-206.

Umurhan, O.M., et al. (2017) Modeling glacial flow on and onto Pluto’s Sputnik Planitia. Icarus, 287, pp. 301-319.

Birch, S.P.D., et al. (2017) Geomorphologic mapping of Titan’s polar terrains: Constraining surface processes and landscape evolution. Icarus, 282, pp. 214-236.

McKinnon, W.B., et al. (2016) Convection in a massive volatile ice layer drives Pluto’s geological and atmospheric vigor. Nature, 534, pp. 82-85.

McGovern, P.J., et al. (2016) Magma ascent pathways associated with large mountains on Io. Icarus, 272, pp. 246-257.

Moore, J.M., et al. (2016) The geology of Pluto and Charon through the eyes of New Horizons. Science, 351, aad7055.

Weaver, H.A., et al. (2016) The small satellites of Pluto as observed by New Horizons. Science, 351, aae0030.

Stern, S.A., et al. (2015) The Pluto system: Initial results from its exploration by New Horizons. Science, 350, aad1815-1-7.

Dalle Ore, C.M., et al. (2015) Impact craters: an ice study on Rhea. Icarus, 261, pp. 80-90.

Howard, A.D., et al. (2012) Sublimation-driven erosion on Hyperion: Topographic analysis and landform simulation model tests. Icarus, 220, pp. 268-276.