Formation and deformation of Earth and planetary materials

Formation and evolution of the ocean crust

The formation of ocean crust at mid-ocean ridges is a fundamental component of the plate tectonic cycle and exhibits strong influences on the broader earth system. Our researchers combine regular participation in IODP expeditions with field and drill core observations from ophiolites (e.g Semail ophiolite, Oman), to address scientific questions regarding the formation and evolution of ocean crust. Researchers in this field have a diverse range of expertise and use a variety of methods that include palaeomagnetism, petrology and geochemistry. Palaeomagnetic analyses are integrated with structural studies to form a powerful combination to develop insights into the role of tectonic rotations in the evolution of plate tectonic systems. The influence of hydrothermal circulation on the formation of the ocean crust and ocean chemistry is investigated by combining petrological observations with whole rock and mineral geochemistry.

Deformation and fluids in shear zones and faults 

Shear zones and faults are sites of localized motion within the earth’s dynamic interior. Deformation along faults and shear zones controls the long-term dynamics of the lithosphere during plate tectonics, but is also a manifestation of short-term dynamics associated with the earthquake cycle. A number of projects at CRES currently investigate the structure and rheology of faults and shear zones and the role of fluids and melt on the strength evolution of deforming rocks in the crust and in the mantle. We combine field studies with detailed microstructural and geochemical analysis of exhumed shear zones and faults to understand how grain-scale deformation mechanisms and fluid-rock interactions control lithosphere dynamics and the earthquake cycle.

Applied mineralogy and geochemistry research

Earth Scientists at Plymouth University are applying fieldwork in combination with modern mineralogical and geochemical methods such as advanced electron microscopy techniques to key challenges in mineral resource exploration and mineral processing. Plymouth Earth Scientists are researching for instance gold deposits, but also resources of so-called ‘critical raw materials’. These are materials on which our modern day-to-day technology and future clean energy solutions critically depend, and for which the supply is at risk, as recognized for instance by the British Geological Survey and the EU. These critical materials include the Rare Earth Elements, Tungsten, Niobium and Platinum Group Elements.

Planetary geology

The origin and evolution of our solar system is one of the most fundamental aspects of geological research; how the Earth formed, evolved and the subsequent origin of life are some of the biggest questions within Earth sciences today. However, we can go much further than this; space missions to other planets, moons, asteroids and comets within the Solar System provide a wealth of data that can aid us in unravelling the geological histories of our extra-terrestrial neighbours, alongside providing us with inter-planetary samples to study here on Earth. Interdisciplinary studies include the use of meteorites alongside spacecraft data to explore alien worlds (e.g. Mars, the Moon, Vesta, Ceres), using a variety of analytical techniques.