Volcanic and Magmatic Processes

volcanic-and-magmatic-processes-home-pageIn the Volcanic and Magmatic Processes group we investigate magmatism across a range of tectonic settings and geological timescales. We study topics ranging from controls on explosive volcanic hazards to the formation of the early continental crust. This research involves a range of international collaborations, and we work on marine and terrestrial igneous rocks and active volcanic systems around the world.

We use a variety of techniques and tools to carry out research in magmatic and volcanic processes. This includes an experimental petrology facility, scanning electron microscopes, and up-to-date sample preparation and rock-sectioning equipment. Much of our research draws on field sampling and observations, as well as geophysical data, often collected as part of international projects.


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 (c.t.stevenson@bham.ac.uk) and Dr Marco Maffione (m.maffione@bham.ac.uk).

  • 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 (a.r.hastie@bham.ac.uk) and Andy Rees (A.R.Rees@bham.ac.uk), 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 (a.r.hastie@bham.ac.uk) and Andy Rees (A.R.Rees@bham.ac.uk), 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

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.

Eruption Records in the Mexico City region - Sebastian Watt, Alastair Hodgetts

This project draws on an International Continental Scientific Drilling Program sediment core, collected on the south side of Mexico City in 2016. The core spans 350,000 years, and as well as recording regional climatic changes, preserves a large number of explosive eruption deposits, thus providing important insights into the long-term behaviour of local volcanoes. A recently funded NSF/NERC project will investigate the palaeoenvironmental records in the core, with the volcanic record providing key chronological information for this study.

Volcano collapse processes and associated hazards - Sebastian Watt

Volcanoes are inherently unstable structures, and prone to catastrophic landslides that can destroy a large proportion of the volcanic edifice. Ongoing research is investigating the mechanism of landslide emplacement, the impact of collapse on subsequent activity at the volcano, and the capacity of collapses to generate tsunamis in island settings. Current work is focusing on the collapse of Ritter Island, Papua New Guinea, in 1888, as well as a number of older collapses.

Explosive volcanic eruptions and tsunami generation - Sebastian Watt

A recently funded NSF/NERC project will investigate the mechanisms of tsunami generation in large-scale explosive eruptions, using the Krakatau 1883 eruption as a key case study. The vast majority of fatalities from the 1883 eruption resulted from the tsunami produced in the final stages of the event. We will build on new geophysical data and field observations, as well as advanced tsunami modelling, to better understand how large explosive eruptions generate tsunamis.

Mantle volatiles: processes, reservoirs and fluxes - Sebastian Watt, Daniel Cox

This 5-year project aims to provide a new process-based understanding of volatile element fluxes into the deep mantle at subduction zones and out of the mantle at mid ocean ridges and ocean island settings. At Birmingham we are working on the subduction-zone component of the project, with a focus on understanding spatial patterns in volatile, and particularly chalcophile element, cycling in the southern Chilean arc.

Mantle plumes and the deep Earth Alan Hastie

Determining the composition and geochemical diversity of Earth’s deep mantle and subsequent ascending mantle plumes is vital so that we can better understand how the Earth’s primitive mantle reservoirs initially formed and how they have evolved over the last 4.6 billion years. Further data on the composition of mantle plumes, which generate voluminous eruptions on the planet’s surface, are also essential to fully understand the evolution of the Earth’s hydrosphere and atmosphere with links to surface environmental changes that may have led to mass extinction events. We use petrological data to determine the composition of the Earth’s mantle plumes and the lowermost mantle.

The birth of the first continents - Alan Hastie

WE investigate the mechanism for generating the Earth’s first stable continental landmasses. The importance of understanding how the continents initially formed cannot be overstated because the geological processes that initiated continental growth are ultimately responsible for the composition of Earth’s early geochemical reservoirs, which subsequently evolved into the present-day mantle, hydrosphere and atmosphere. We perform high pressure-temperature petrological experiments alongside field studies to investigate the formation of the Earth’s first continents.

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 Volcanic and Magmatic Processes group in the last five years:


Cox, D., Kerr, A., Hastie, A.R., Kakarc, I. (2018). Petrogenesis of plagiogranites in the Muslim Bagh Ophiolite, Pakistan: implications for the generation of Archean continental crust. Geological Magazine, 1-15.


Coussens, MF, M Cassidy, SFL Watt, M Jutzeler, PJ Talling, D Barfod, T Gernon, R Taylor, SJ Hatter, MR Palmer (2017). Long-term changes in explosive and effusive behaviour at andesitic arc volcanoes: Chronostratigraphy of the Centre Hills Volcano, Montserrat. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 333-334, 15-35.

Jutzeler, M, M Manga, JDL White, PJ Talling, AA Proussevitch, SFL Watt, M Cassidy, RN Taylor, A Le Friant, O Ishizuka (2017). Submarine deposits from pumiceous pyroclastic density currents traveling over water: An outstanding example from offshore Montserrat (IODP 340). GSA Bulletin 129, 392-414.


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.

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.

Coussens, MF, D Wall-Palmer, PJ Talling, SFL Watt et al. (2016). The relationship between eruptive activity, flank collapse, and sea level at volcanic islands: a long-term (>1 Ma) record offshore Montserrat, Lesser Antilles. Geophysics, Geochemistry, Geosystems 17, 2591-2611.

Hastie, A.R., Fitton, J.G., Bromiley, G.D., Butler, I.B., Odling, N.W.A. (2016). The origin of Earth’s first continents and the onset of plate tectonics. Geology 44, 855-858.

Hastie, A.R., Fitton, J.G., Kerr, A.C., McDonald, I., Schwindrofska, A., Hoernle, K. (2016). The composition of mantle plumes and the deep Earth. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 444, 13-25.

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.


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.

Cassidy, M, SFL Watt, PJ Talling, MR Edmonds, M Jutzeler et al. (2015). Rapid onset of mafic magmatism facilitated by volcanic edifice collapse. Geophysical Research Letters 42, 4778-4785.

Hastie, A.R., Fitton, J.G., Mitchell, S.F., Neill, I, Nowell, G.M., Millar, I.L. (2015). Can fractional crystallization, mixing and assimilation processes be responsible for Jamaican-type adakites? Implications for generating Eoarchaean continental crust. Journal of Petrology, 56, 1251-1284.

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.

Watt SFL, JS Gilbert, A Folch, JC Phillips, X-M Cai (2015). An example of enhanced tephra fallout driven by topographically-induced atmospheric turbulence. Bulletin of Volcanology 77, 35.


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.

Watt, SFL, PJ Talling, JE Hunt (2014). New insights into the emplacement dynamics of volcanic island landslides. Oceanography 27, 46–57.