Plate Tectonics

Plate TectonicsResearch in tectonics is carried out at different scales from global to local. We investigate the evolution of rifted margins, the structure and evolution of slow and ultraslow spreading ridges, subduction initiation, large-scale deformation in orogenic systems, and the link between mantle and surface processes. Also, our research focuses on more local processes such as the kinematics of faults and the migration and emplacement of magma in the crust.

We use a variety of techniques and tools to carry out research in tectonics, such as seismic imaging, palaeomagnetism, magnetic fabrics , structural geology, and experimental petrology. Research in the Plate Tectonics group has a strong international character also due to the link with International Ocean Discovery Program – IODP (Expeditions 340, 351, 380, 381), and other marine geophysics exploration programmes, such as cruise JC132 to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and the NZ3D cruise with the Marcus Langseth to the Hikurangi subduction zone. There is also a growing area of research relevant to economic geology, conducted through structural studies designed in collaboration with extractive industry partners.


Academic staff

Steve Jones

Marco Maffione

Tim Reston

Carl Stevenson

Postdoctoral Researchers

Murray Hoggett

Gaël Lymer

PhD Students and Research Assistants

Derren Cresswell

Rosemary Dartnall

Jack Robinson



Our research is funded through a diverse range of sources, including NERC, ERC, NSF, Marie Curie Actions, Leverhulme Trust, Royal Society, and the Palaeontological Association. We actively encourage external collaborations, as well as welcoming and supporting fellowship applications. In recent years we have hosted Royal Society, NERC, Leverhulme Trust and Royal Commission of 1851 Fellows. For further information please contact any relevant member of academic staff and see opportunities to get involved with the Geosystems community.

Public engagement

Public engagement represents a significant component of our work. The Dynamic Earth group has strong links to the Lapworth Museum of Geology, and contributed in the development of the new Museum exhibitions. We use the Museum’s temporary exhibition space to showcase our research by delivering public talks, events and educational sessions, in the Museum and further afield – please contact any member of academic staff if you are interested in having us come to talk to your group about our research.

Related courses

We offer BSc, MSci and MSci with an International Year programmes in Geology and Geology and Physical Geography and Palaeontology and Geology.

Research-informed teaching is a core part of our ethos, and we have an outstanding track record of helping our undergraduate and Masters students publish their research projects, present their work at conferences, and obtain funded PhD positions. 

The group includes a large, diverse and vibrant community of highly talented and motivated doctoral researchers, working on a broad range of field-, lab- and desk-based PhD projects. PhD opportunities are available annually through the CENTA doctoral training programme, and may also be advertised on an ad hoc basis as funding allows. We are always keen to talk to potential students about opportunities. We have an excellent track record of training our doctoral researchers for careers in geology, industry, university and international research environments.


There are a number of laboratory and computing facilities for use by staff and students of the Dynamic Earth group:

The PUMA lab is divided into two sections, one for palaeomagnetic analysis and the other for rock magnetics and fabric analysis. Palaeomagnetic analyses are operated by a spinner magnetometer, an AF demagnetiser, and a magnetically shielded oven. The rock magnetics and magnetic fabric section is supported by a kappabridge and CS unit to perform thermomagnetic experiments. Academic leads for the PUMA lab are Dr Carl Stevenson ( and Dr Marco Maffione (

  • VIPER – Volcanology and Igneous Petrology Experimental Research 

VIPER is a small workshop with silicate starting materials, metal alloys, chemical desk space and Lampert PUKU4 TIG welder. Workshop enables a variety of material to be sealed in metal alloy capsules to be used in high pressure-temperature piston cylinder apparatus. Academic and technical leads of VIPER are Dr Alan Hastie ( and Andy Rees (, respectively.

  • BEAM - Birmingham Electron Analytical Microscope laboratory 

The £500K integrated BEAM laboratory, part of the Scanning Electron Microscope and Rock Sectioning facility, comprises of two scanning electron microscopes and associated equipment for sample preparation. The sample preparation covers most aspects of SEM analysis including resin impregnation and polished blocks/sections. Traditional thin sections for petrological light microscopy. Academic and technical leads of BEAM are Dr Alan Hastie ( and Andy Rees (, respectively.

The SEM systems we have in place are:

  • Philips XL 30 SEM fitted with LaB6 filament with an Oxford Instruments INCA EDS (for element analysis) system, with secondary electron and back scatter detectors (for imaging). This is a high vacuum system, which operates between 1kv-30kv with a maximum resolution of 5nm in optimal conditions.
  • Phenom Pro X Desktop SEM with EDS and back scatter detector. This system is a benchtop system optimised for rapid turn-around of samples and ease of use. Operating range of 5kv-15kv with a maximum resolution of 10nm.
  • Subsurface imaging lab 
The subsurface imaging lab is a state of the art, industrial capability 3D seismic processing facility based around Schlumberger’s Omega2 and GNS New Zealand’s Claritas software packages. The lab has full 3D interpretation capability (Kingdom Suite), and 3D structural restoration and modelling (MVE’s 3DMove software).  These run on dedicated fast workstations with a central processing server.


Current projects

Subduction Initiation in the Neotethys Ocean - Dr Marco Maffione

There are approximately 40,000 km of subduction zones on Earth, half of which formed in the Cenozoic. This indicates that subduction initiation is a recurrent process in the Earth’s history. However, how new subduction zones form is still poorly unknown. This project has a global character as it investigates how new subduction zones formed in the past by studying relics of Jurassic and Cretaceous oceanic lithosphere (ophiolites) today exposed in Turkey, Cyprus, Albania, Greece, Oman, and Tibet.

Corinth Rifting Evolution - Greece  - Dr Marco Maffione 

The Corinth Rift is a region of recent (< 5 Ma) rapid, localised extension and one of Europe’s most seismically active areas. Corinth’s high rates of tectonic activity, high sediment fluxes, closed drainage system and preservation of the syn-rift record make it a unique laboratory for the study of extension, sedimentation and paleoenvironment in a young rift. We use anisotropy of magnetic susceptibility (AMS) analysis to reconstruct the nature and orientation of the stress field that driven the evolution of this continental rifting. This project is linked to research carried out during IODP Exp. 381 “Corinth Active Rift Development”.

Galicia 3D - Tim Reston, Carl Stevenson, PDRA Gael Lymer

This project, funded by NERC, NSF and the DFG, is a collaboration between the US (Rice led), UK, (Birmingham-led), and Germany investigating the three-dimensional structure of the magma-poor rifted margin west of Spain.  The project collected, processed a 3D seismic reflection volume (65kmx20kmX14s – the largest academic dataset), and 3D wide-angle data; data analysis continues.

Role of detachment faulting in slow seafloor spreading (13N and JC132 cruise) - Tim Reston

Oceanic core complexes (OCCs) are mantle and plutonic rocks exhumed in the footwall of a large-offset normal fault at a slow-spreading ridge.  We investigate the structure and evolution of OCCs and the controlling detachments at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at 13N, using seismic reflection imaging, wide-angle seismic, microseismicity, magnetics (shipborne and near seafloor), and high resolution imagery of the seafloor.  Funding by NERC (Birmingham led, plus Durham and Cardiff) with partners in the USA (Woods Hole) and France (Paris).  PI: Tim Reston, PDRAs Murray Hoggett and Gael Lymer

Structure and evolution of the Porcupine Basin and Rockall Trough - Tim Reston

These failed rifts west of Ireland record critical stages in the process of continental breakup, the extreme thinning and separation of the crust.  We study these basins in conjunction with scientists in Dublin and Southampton (funding via the Irish Petroleum Infrastructure Programme, PIP) using wide-angle data collected by Reston (Porcupine) and industry 2D reflection profiles (Porcupine and Rockall).  Birmingham leads: Tim Reston and Steve Jones

Connections between deep earth, oceanic & atmospheric processes - Stephen Jones

This project investigates how the North Atlantic Igneous Province links with the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum and Northern Hemisphere Glaciation climate change events.

Influence of mantle and plate motions on hydrocarbon systems development - Stephen Jones

This project is aimed at unravelling the role of mantle and plate motion on the formation of sedimentary basins that are suitable to become oil reservoirs.

Industry based projects - Paul Anderson

One of Paul's current focuses is the development of connections with industry partners.  This has involved a number of co-supervised undergraduate projects with a view to expanding to larger scale investigations.  Recent projects have tested the relationship between faulting and limestone geochemistry within quarries, the environmental feasibility of quarry extension and the utility of 3D visualisation software in geosciences education.

Emplacement of igneous intrusions - Paul Anderson

This project uses a number of techniques (magnetic, structural, geochemical, geophysical) to understand the emplacement of igneous intrusions and its tectonic implications, showing that the geometry and composition of intrusions are controlled by processes operating at varying crustal scales. 


In this section you can find a selection of the most relevant publications by the Tectonics group in the last five years:


Davy R, Morgan JV, Minshull TA, Bayrakci G, Bull JM, Klaeschen D, Reston TJ, Sawyer DS, Lymer G, Cresswell D (2018).  Resolving the fine-scale velocity structure of continental hyperextension at the Deep Galicia Margin using full-waveform inversion.  Geophysical Journal International, 212, 244-263.

Lymer, G., J. Lofi, V. Gaullier, A. Maillard, I. Thinon, F. Sage, F. Chanier, B.C. Vendeville (2018). The Western Tyrrhenian Sea revisited: a new status for the Eastern Sardinian Margin during the Messinian Salinity Crisis. Marine Geology 398 (2018) 1–21.

Maffione, M., and van Hinsbergen, D.J.J. (2018). Reconstructing plate boundaries in the Jurassic Neo-Tethys from the East and West Vardar Ophiolites (Greece and Serbia). Tectonics, 37, doi: 10.1002/2017TC004790

Nur Schuba, C. G.Gray, J Morgan, D Sawyer, D Shillington, T. Reston, J Bull, B. Jordan (2018).  A low-angle detachment fault revealed: Three-dimensional images of the S-reflector fault zone along the Galicia passive margin. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 492, 232–238.


Davy, R.G, J.V. Morgan, T.A. Minshull, G. Bayrakci, J.M. Bull, D. Klaeschen, T.J. Reston, D.S. Sawyer, G. Lymer, D. Cresswell (2017). Resolving the fine-scale velocity structure of continental hyperextension at the Deep Galicia Margin using full-waveform inversion. Geophysical Journal International, 212(1), 244-263.

DJ Lunt, …SM Jones…et al. (2017). The DeepMIP contribution to PMIP4: experimental design for model simulations of the EECO, PETM, and pre-PETM.  Geoscientific Model Development 10, 889–901.

Maffione, M., van Hinsbergen, D.J.J., de Gelder, G.I.N.O., van der Goes, F., and Morris, A. (2017). Kinematics of Late Cretaceous subduction initiation in the Neo-Tethys Ocean reconstructed from ophiolites of Turkey, Cyprus, and Syria. Journal of Geophysical Research Solid Earth, 122, doi:10.1002/2016JB013821.

Magee, C., Bastow, I. D., van Wyk de Vries, B., Jackson, C. A. L., Hetherington, R., Hagos, M., & Hoggett, M. (2017). Structure and dynamics of surface uplift induced by incremental sill emplacement. Geology45(5), 431-434

Parnell-Turner R, Sohn R, Peirce C, Reston TJ, MacLeod C, Searle R, Simao N. (2017).  Oceanic Detachment Faults Generate Compression in Extension.  Geology, 45, 923-926.

Parnell-Turner RE, White NJ, Henstock TJ, Jones SM, Maclennan J, Murton BJ. (2017). Causes and Consequences of Diachronous V-Shaped Ridges in the North Atlantic Ocean.  Journal of Geophysical Research 122, 8675–8708.

Prada M, Watremez L, O’Reilly B, Minshull TA, Chen C, Reston TJ, Shannon P, Klaeschen D, Wagner G, Gaw V, 2017. Crustal strain-dependent serpentinisation in the Porcupine Basin, offshore Ireland. Earth and Planetary Science Letters,  474, 148-159.

Schofield, N., Holford, S., Millett, J., Brown, D., Jolley, D., Passey, S.R., Muirhead, D., Grove, C., Magee, C., Murray, J., Hole, M., Jackson, C.A.L., Stevenson, C.T. (2017). Regional magma plumbing and emplacement mechanisms of the Faroe‐Shetland Sill Complex: implications for magma transport and petroleum systems within sedimentary basins. Basin Research29, 41-63.


Anderson, P. E., Cooper, M. R., Stevenson, C. T., Hastie, A. R., Hoggett, M., Inman, J., ... & Ellam, R. M. (2016). Zonation of the Newry Igneous Complex, Northern Ireland, based on geochemical and geophysical data. Lithos260, 95-106.

Bayrakci, …T. Reston, …et al. (2016). Fault controlled hydration of the upper mantle during continental rifting. Nature Geoscience, 9, 384-387.

Cooper, M.R, Anderson, P., Condon, D.J., Stevenson, C.T.E, Ellam, R.M., Meighan, I.G., Crowley, Q.G. (2016). Shape and intrusion history of the Late Caledonian Newry Igneous Complex, Northern Ireland in Young, M.E. (ed.), Unearthed: impacts of the Tellus surveys of the north of Ireland. Dublin. Royal Irish Academy.

Magee, C., Muirhead, J.D., Karvelas, A., Holford, S.P., Jackson, C.A., Bastow, I.D., Schofield, N., Stevenson, C.T., McLean, C., McCarthy, W. and Shtukert, O. (2016). Lateral magma flow in mafic sill complexes. Geosphere12, 809-841.

Morris, A., Maffione, M. (2016). Is the Troodos ophiolite (Cyprus) a complete, transform fault-bounded Neotethyan ridge segment? Geology, 44, 199-202.


Arculus, R., Ishizuka, O., Bogus, K.A., Gurnis, M., Hickey-Vargas, R., Aljahdali, M.H., Bandini, A.N., Barth, A.P., Brandl, P.A., Drab, L., do Monte Guerra, R., Hamada, N., Jiang, F., Kanayama, K., Kender, S., Kusano, Y., Li, H., Loudin, L.C., Maffione, M., Marsaglia, K.M., McCarthy, A., Meffre, S., Morris, A., Savov, I.P., Sena Da Silva, C.E., Tepley III, F.J., van der Land, C., Yogodzinski, G.M., Zhang, Z. (2015). A record of spontaneous subduction initiation in the Izu-Bonin-Mariana arc. Nature Geoscience, 8, 728–733.

Benn, D.I., Le Hir, G., Bao, H., Donnadieu, Y., Dumas, C., Fleming, E.J., Hambrey, M.J., McMillan, E.A., Petronis, M.S., Ramstein, G. and Stevenson, C.T. (2015). Orbitally forced ice sheet fluctuations during the Marinoan Snowball Earth glaciation. Nature Geoscience8, 704-707.

Maffione, M., van Hinsbergen, D.J.J., Koornneef, L. M.T., Guilmette, C., Hodges, K., Borneman, N., Huang, W., Ding, L., and Kapp, P. (2015). Forearc hyperextension dismembered the South Tibetan ophiolites. Geology, 43, 475–478.

McDermott, K, Reston TJ (2015). To see, or not to see? Rifted margin extension. Geology, 43, 967–970.

Parnell-Turner RE, White NJ, Henstock TJ, Murton BJ, Maclennan J, Jones SM. (2015). Architecture of North Atlantic contourite drifts controlled by the Iceland mantle plume. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 16, 3414–3435.


Maffione, M., Morris, A., Plümper, O., van Hinsbergen, D.J.J. (2014). Magnetic properties of variably serpentinized peridotites and their implication for the evolution of oceanic core complexes. Geochemystry Geophysics Geosystems, 15, 923-944.

Jones SM, Murton BJ, Fitton JG, White NJ, Maclennan J, Walters RL. (2014). A joint geochemical-geophysical record of time-dependent mantle convection south of Iceland.  Earth and Planetary Science Letters 386, 86–97.

Parnell-Turner RE, White NJ, Henstock TJ, Murton BJ, Maclennan J, Jones SM. (2014). A continuous 55 million year record of transient mantle plume activity beneath Iceland.  Nature Geoscience 7, 914–919.

Reston TJ and McDermott K (2014). An assessment of the cause of the “Extension Discrepancy” with reference to the west Galicia margin. Basin Research, 26, 135–153.