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Professor Sally Anne Gibson PhD, FGS, AGU, MinS

Professor Sally Anne Gibson, PhD, FGS, AGU, MinS

Professor of Petrology & Geochemistry

2018-2021; Chair, Volcanic & Magmatic Studies Group (Geological Society of London & Mineralogical Society)

Department of Earth Sciences
Downing St
Cambridge, UK

Office Phone: +44 (0) 1223 333401


My research is broad in scope and embraces mantle and volcanic rocks ranging from 3.5 billion to <1 year in age. The advancement of knowledge made by my research group has been accomplished by combining detailed field observations in remote parts of Africa, South and North America, Russia plus the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans with analytical studies of volcanic rocks, geophysical and numerical investigations. This rigorous approach has allowed me to address provocative and timely scientific questions related to global geodynamic processes.

 Here's a link to some images from the Cambridge-Quito expedition to Galapagos in 2017 and another to the Cambridge-Idaho expedition to Galapagos in 2008


Research Interests

Main research themes include:

* Ocean Island Basalts
* Large Igneous Provinces (flood basalts & alkaline igneous rocks)
* Mantle Petrology & Geochemistry

The figure below illustrates links between some of the contributions made by my research group to our understanding of the solid Earth.


Summary of major research findings

Publications (peer reviewed) click here

Publications (non-peer reviewed) click here

To find out more about my past & current PhD students click here



ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID) 

Laser ablation ICP-MS Leading Light Laboratory

In summer 2016 we installed a 193 ESI laser coupled to a Nexion ICP-MS. The Leading Light Laboratory stems from our collaboration with ESI and Perkin Elmer

To download my CV click here

To see some of my recent invited talks click here



Research Interests

Linking Earth's deep interior with its surface evolution

My research group is focused on both field and laboratory (petrological, experimental, geochemical and geophysical) investigations in order to understand melt generation in the Earth’s crust and mantle and how this relates to surface processes. Key questions that our current research seeks to address fall into 4 major fields:


1. Ocean Islands: How do they form and what controls volcanism?

Ocean islands are sites of some of the world’s most active volcanism.

  • Research on basaltic lavas from the islands of Tristan da Cuhna and Trindade in the South Atlantic has provided constraints on the role of recycled delaminated subcontinental lithosphere in the genesis of ocean-island basalts.
  • Mid ocean ridges are anchored to mantle plumes by deep seated melt channels. Galapagos is an archetypal example of this type of interaction: our findings suggest that tw
    Figure 8
    Variation in lithospheric thickness (depth to top of melt column) and magma type in the Galapagos archipelago (purple stars are depleted tholeiites). From Gibson &amp; Geist (2010).
    o-phase rather than solid-state flow is important (Gibson et al., 2015).
  • A recent detailed investigation of alkaline and tholeiitic lavas from Santiago in the Galápagos has revealed that their compositions are as diverse as for any other island in the archipelago or indeed any other ocean island.
  • By combining new geochemical data with published geophysical data our research has led to an understanding of the causes of widespread active volcanism throughout Galápagos: significant lithospheric thinning in the NE of the archipelago explains the generation of volcanism away from the main axis of the Galápagos plume (Gibson & Geist, 2010)


Charles Darwin: some of the earliest insights into volcanic islands

Collage galapagos


Research in Galápagos was initiated in 2007 in collaboration with D. Geist, G. Estes, T. Grant, D. Norman and S. Herbert. The main focus of this research was to establish Darwin’s route on Santiago  -- formerly known as James Island -- in 1835 (Herbert et al., 2008). This is the island where Darwin made some of his most significant observations on volcanic rocks and led to his theory of gravitational settling as a cause of magmatic diversity (Gibson, 2009). 


 The James Bay lava flow, Island of Santiago, Galapagos

Darwin's route on Santiago (James Island)


2. Large Igneous Provinces: What processes are responsible for the most voluminous outpourings of magma in our planet's history?

These represent the most voluminous emplacements and outpourings of ma

Etendeka flood basalts, NW Namibia
gma that have occurred on Earth’s during its 4.5 billion year evolution. They frequently coincide with the break-up of supercontinents (e.g. the Paraná-Etendeka and Deccan flood-basalt provinces) and are formed by the arrival of a large, up to 2000 km in diameter, thermal anomaly on the base of Earth’s lithosphere. These so-called mantle plumes are thought to be derived from thermal boundary layers deep within the Earth, such as the 2700 km core-mantle boundary.
  • Our detailed and systematic geochemical studies, together with high pressure and temperature experiments, on high Fe-picrites (undertaken in collaboration with E. Takahashi, Tokyo; J. Tuff, Oxford) have shown that garnet pyroxenite, probably derived from subducted lithospheric mantle, is present within upwelling mantle plumes.
  • Our research has also documented the longevity of volcanism associated with the initial impact of the Tristan mantle plume and it’s role in the opening of the South Atlantic.
    cuillin hills
    Cuillin Hills, Skye: fossilized magma chambers
  • Studies of olivine-hosted melt inclusions reveal that primitive melts in flood basalt provinces are homogenised prior to cooling and crystallisation in deep-seated magma chambers in the Earth's crust (Jennings et al., 2017).





3. How did Earth's sub-continental lithospheric mantle form and how has it evolved? How does this long-lived, rigid shell modulate the release of volatiles from our planet's deep interior ?

On-going studies of mantle xenolit

LA-ICP-MS craters in diopside from a spinel peridotite, Antarctic Peninsula. Each crater has a diameter of ~80 microns
hs are providing important insights into the formation of the Earth’s lithosphere. In particular, we have used laser ablation (LA-ICP-MS) techniques to determine concentrations of low-abundance trace-elements in mantle phases (e.g. garnet and clinopyroxene). These small-scale determinations (< 100 microns) of mineral chemistry provide important clues of the large-scale geodynamic processes that have been involved in the creation and evolution of the Earth’s lithosphere.




4. Remote sensing of rare-earth element deposits

An exciting new collaboration with Dr Teal Riley (British Antarctic Survey) and Dr Graham Ferrier (University of Hull) aims to address how remote sensing techniques can be used to locate rare-earth element deposits. For an insight into some of our findings from this innovative new project click here. Some of our results on global carbonatite deposits can be found in a recent paper by Neave et al. (2016).
Fingerprinting rare earth elements from the air
Photomicrographs of carbonatites with REE bearing mineral phases


Research Supervision




Petrology ; Geochemistry


  • Continental flood basalts
  • Volatile geochemical cycling
  • Galapagos
  • Mantle xenoliths
  • Igneous petrology
  • Mantle petrology

Collaborators outside this directory

Key Publications

Post 2005 publications can be found in the publications database by clicking here

Manuscripts sub-judice

  1. Gleeson, M.L.M., Gibson, S.A. & Stock, M.J. (2020). Upper mantle mush zones beneath low melt flux ocean island volcanoes: insights from Isla Floreana, Galápagos.

*Recently published manuscripts*

  1. Gibson, S.A.,Engwell, S.E., Kavanagh, J. (2020). The Volcanic & Magmatic Studies Group Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Report 2020.

  2. Ayalew, D., Pik, R., Gibson, S.A., Yirgu, G. & Assefa, D. (2020). Pedogenic origin of Mezezo opal hosted in Ethiopian Miocene rhyolites. Canadian Mineralogist 58, 231-246

  3. Gibson, S.A., Rooks, E.E., Day, J.A., Petrone, C.M., Leat, P.T. (2020). The role of sub-continental mantle as both “sink” and “source” in deep Earth volatile cycles. Geochimica Cosmochimica Acta 275

  4. Gleeson, M.L.M., Gibson, S.A. & Williams, H.M. (2020). Novel insights from Fe-isotopes into the lithological heterogeneity of Ocean Island Basalts and plume-influenced MORBs. Earth Planet Sci. Letts 535.

  5. Rasmussen, M.B., Halldórsson, S.A., Gibson, S.A. & Gudfinnsson, G.H. (2019).Olivine chemistry reveals compositional source heterogeneities within a tilted mantle plume beneath Iceland. Earth Planet Sci. Letts 531
  6. Black, B.A. & Gibson, S.A. (2019).Deep Carbon and the Life Cycle of Large Igneous Provinces. Elements (October)319-324.
  7. Shu, Q., Brey, G.P., Pearson, D.G., Liu, J, Gibson S.A. & Becker, H. (2019). The evolution of the Kaapvaal craton: A multi-isotopic perspective from lithospheric peridotites from Finsch diamond mine. Precambrian Research, 331
  8. Jennings, E., Gibson, S.A. & Maclennan, J. (2019). Hot primary melts and mantle source for the Paraná-Etendeka flood basalt province: New constraints from Al-in-olivine thermometry. Chemical Geology
  9. Gleeson, M. & Gibson, S.A. (2019). Crustal controls on apparent mantle pyroxenite signals in ocean-island basalts. Geology 47 (4), 321-324. 
  10. Moreau, L., Ciornei, A., Gjesfeld, E., Filzmoser, P., Gibson, S.A., Day, J.A., Nigst, P.R., Noiret, P., Macleod, R.A., Nita, l. & Anghelinu, M. (2018). First geochemical fingerprinting of Balkan and Prut flint from Palaeolithic Romania: Potentials, limitations and future directions. Archaeometry
  11. Jackson, C.G. & Gibson, S.A. (2018). Preservation of systematic Ni and Cr heterogeneity in otherwise homogeneous mantle olivine: implications for timescales of post-metasomatism re-equilibration. Lithos 318-319, 448-463.
  12. Gibson, S.A. & Richards, M.A. (2018). Delivery of deep-sourced, volatile-rich plume material to the global ridge system. Earth & Planetary Science Letters 499, 205-218.
  13. Dockman, D., Pearson, D.G., Heaman, L., Gibson, S.A. & Sarkar, C. (2018). Timing and origin of magmatism in the Sverdrup Basin, Northern Canada—implications for lithospheric evolution in the High Arctic Large Igneous Province (HALIP).Tectonophysics 742:50-65.
  14. Gibson, S.A. (2017). On the nature and origin of garnet in highly-refractory Archean lithospheric mantle: constraints from garnet exsolved in Kaapvaal craton orthopyroxenes. 45th Halimond Lecture. Mineralogical Magazine 81 (4), 781-809.
  15. Weit, A., Trumbull, R.B., Keiding, J.K., X Geissler, W.H., Gibson, S.A., Veksler, I.V., (2017). The magmatic system beneath the Tristan da Cunha hotspot: insights from thermobarometry, melting models and geophysics. Tectonophysics
  16. Jennings, E., Gibson, S.A., Maclennan, J. & Heinnonen, J. (2017). Deep mixing of mantle melts beneath continental flood basalt provinces: Constraints from olivine-hosted melt inclusions in primitive magmas. Geochim Cosmochim Acta
  17. Jennings, E., Shortlle. O., Holland, T.J.B.H., Maclennan, J. & Gibson, S.A., (2016). The composition of melts from a heterogeneous mantle and the origin of ferropicrite: Application of a thermodynamic model. J. Petrology
  18. Richards, M.A., Alvarez, W., Self, S., Karlstrom, L., Renne, P.R., Manga, M., Sprain, C.J., Smit, J., Vanderkluysen, L., Gibson, S.A. (2016). Triggering of the largest Deccan eruptions by the Chicxulub impact: Reply. GSA Bulletin, 128, 11-12.


1989-2005 Publications

  1. Gibson, S.A., Thompson, R.N., Day, J., Humphris, S.E., Dickin, A.P. 2005. Melt generation processes associated with the Tristan mantle plume: constraints on the origin of EM-1.Earth and Planetary Science Letters 237, 744-767
  2. Tuff, J., Takahashi, E. & Gibson, S.A., 2005. Experimental Constraints on the Role of garnet pyroxenite in the genesis of high-Fe mantle plume derived melts. Journal of Petrology 46, 2023-2058
  3. Thompson, R.N., Ottley, C.J., Smith, P.M., Pearson, D.J., Morrison, M.A., Leat, P.T. & Gibson, S.A., 2005. The puzzle of OIB-like continental alkalic magmatism: Quaternary alkalic basalts, picrites and basanites of the Potrillo Volcanic Field, New Mexico, USA. Journal of Petrology 46, 1603-1643.
  4. Johnson, J., Gibson, S.A., Thompson, R.N. & Nowell, G.M., 2005.Volcanism in the Vitim Field, Siberia: geochemical evidence for a mantle plume beneath the Baikal Rift Zone. Journal of Petrology 46, 1309-1344
  5. Chalpathi Rao, N. V., Gibson, S. A., Pyle, D. M., Dickin, A. P., 2004. Petrogenesis of Proterozoic lamproites and kimberlites from the Cuddapah Basin and Dharwar Craton, Southern India. Journal of Petrology 45, 907-948
  6. Anand, M. , Gibson, S. A., Subbarao, K. V., Kelley, S. P., Dickin, A. P. 2003. Early Proterozoic melt generation processes beneath the intra-cratonic Cuddapah Basin, Southern India. Journal of Petrology, 44, 2139-2171
  7. Thompson, R. N., Smith, P. M., Gibson, S. A., Mattey, D. P., Dickin, A. P., 2002. Ankerite carbonatite from Swartbooisdrif, Namibia: the first evidence for magmatic ferrocarbonatite. Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology 143, 377-395
  8. Gibson, S.A., Major element heterogeneity in Archean to recent mantle plume starting-heads. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 195, 59-74.
  9. Thompson, R.N., Gibson, S.A., Dickin, A.P. & Smith, P., 2001. Early Cretaceous basalt and picrite dykes of the Southern Etendeka region, NW Namibia: windows into the role of the Tristan mantle plume in Paraná-Etendeka magmatism. Journal of Petrology 42, 2049-2081.
  10. Thompson, R.N. & Gibson, S.A., 2000. Transient high temperatures in mantle plume heads inferred from magnesian olivines in Phanerozoic picrites. Nature 407, 502-505.
  11. Mahotkin, I. L. Gibson, S.A., Thompson, R. N, Zhuravlev, D. Z. & P. U.Zherdev, 2000. Late Devonian Diamondiferous Kimberlite and Alkaline Picrite (Proto-kimberlite?) Magmatism in the Arkhangelsk Region, NW Russia. Journal of Petrology 41, 201-227.
  12. Gibson, S.A., Thompson, R.N. & Dickin, A.P., 2000. Ferropicrites: geochemical evidence for Fe-rich streaks in upwelling mantle plumes. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 174, 355-374.
  13. Rao, J. V. C., Miller, J. A., Gibson, S. A.,  Pyle, D. M., Madhavan, V., 1999.  Precise 40Ar/39Ar age determination of the Kotakonda kimberlite and Chelima lamproite, India: implication to the timing of mafic dyke swarm emplacement in the Eastern Dharwar craton. Reply. J. Geological Society of India, 54, 205-209
  14. Rao, N.V.C., Miller, J.A., Gibson, S.A., Pyle, D.M. & Madhavan, 1999. Precise 40Ar/39Ar age determinations of kimberlites and lamproites from southern India. J. Geological Society of India, 53, 25-432
  15. Greenwood, J. C., Gibson, S. A.,  Thompson, R. N., Weska, R. K.,  Dickin, A. P., 1999. Cretaceous kimberlites from the Paranatinga-Batovi region, Central Brazil: Geochemical evidence for subcratonic lithosphere mantle heterogeneity. Proceedings of the Seventh International Kimberlite Conference 1, 291-298
  16. Gibson, S.A., Thompson, R.N., Leonardos, O.H., Dickin, A.P. & Mitchell, J.G. 1999. Localised plume-lithosphere interactions during CFB genesis: geochemical evidence from Cretaceous magmatism in southern Brazil. Contrib. Mineral. Petrol. 137, 147-169.
  17. Rao, N. V. C., Gibson, S. A., Pyle, D. M., Dickin, A. P., 1998. Contrasting isotopic mantle sources for Proterozoic lamproites and kimberlites from the Cuddapah Basin and Eastern Dharwar craton:implication for Proterozoic mantle heterogeneity beneath Southern India. J. Geological Society of India 52, 683-694.
  18. Thompson, R.N., Gibson, S.A., Mitchell, J.G., Dickin, A.P., Leonardos, O.H., Brod, J.A. & Greenwood, J.C., 1998. Migrating Cretaceous-Eocene magmatism in the Serra do Mar alkaline province, SE Brazil: melts from the deflected Trindade mantle plume? Journal of Petrology 39, 1493-1526.
  19. Thompson, R.N., Velde, D., Leat, P.T., Morrison, M.A., Mitchell, J.G., Dickin, A.P. & Gibson, S.A., 1997. Oligocene lamproite containing an Al-poor Ti-rich biotite, Middle Park, north west Colorado, USA. Min. Mag. 61, 557-572.
  20. Gibson, S.A., Thompson, R.N., Weska, R., Dickin, A.P., Leonardos, O.H. 1997. Late Cretaceous rift-related upwelling and melting of the Trindade starting mantle plume head beneath western Brazil. Contrib. Mineral. Petrol. 126, 303-314.
  21. Leonardos, O.H., Fleischer, R., Thompson, R.N., Gibson, S.A., Svisero, D.P. & Weska, R.K., 1996. Comments on the paper of G.M. Gonzaga et al.,’The origin of diamonds in western Minas Gerais, Brazil’ Mineral Deposita 31, 343-344
  22. Gibson, S.A., Thompson, R.N., Leonardos, O.H. & Dickin, A.P. 1995. High-Ti and Low-Ti mafic potassic magmas: Key to plume-lithosphere interactions and continental flood-basalt genesis. Earth Planet. Sci. Letts. 136, 149-165.
  23. Gibson, S.A., Thompson, R.N., Leonardos, O.H., Dickin, A.P. & Mitchell, J.G., 1995. The Late Cretaceous impact of the Trindade mantle plume: evidence from large-volume, mafic, potassic magmatism in SE Brazil. Journal of Petrology, 36, 189-229.
  24. Leonardos, O.H., Gibson, S.A., Thompson, R.N., 1997. First evidence of thick sub-cratonic lithospheric mantle forming a Cretaceous diamond source beneath SE Brazil. In ‘The Dynamic Geosphere, ed. A.K. Gupta & R. Kerrich. Proc. Acad. Sci. India (volume in honour of W.S. Fyfe), 56-67.
  25. Thompson, R.N. & Gibson, S.A., 1994. Magmatic expression of lithospheric thinning across continental rifts. Tectonophys., 233, 41-68.
  26. Gibson, S.A., Thompson, R.N., Leonardos, O.H., Turner, S., Mitchell, J.G. & Dickin, A.P., 1994. The Serra do Bueno potassic diatreme: a possible hypabyssal equivalent of the ultramafic potassic volcanics in the Late Cretaceous Alto Paranaíba Igneous Province, SE Brazil. Mineral. Mag. 58, 357-372.
  27. Gibson, S.A., 1994. Review of 'Magmatism in Extensional Structural Settings' by A.B. Kampunzu & R.T. Lubala (eds). J.  Petrology, 35, 289.
  28. Thompson, R.N., Gibson, S.A., Leat, P.T., Morrison, M.A., Hendry, G.L, Dickin, A.P. & Mitchell, J.G., 1993. Early-Miocene continental extension-related mafic magmatism at Walton Peak, Northwest Colorado: further evidence on continental basalts genesis. J. Geol. Soc. Lond.150, 277-292.
  29. Gibson, S.A., Thompson, R.N., Leat, P.T., Morrison, M.A., Hendry, G.L., Dickin, A.P. & Mitchell, J.G., 1993. Ultrapotassic magmas along the flanks of the Oligo-Miocene Rio Grande rift, USA: monitors of the zone of lithospheric extension and thinning beneath a continental rift. J. Petrology 34, 187-228.
  30. Gibson, S.A., Thompson, R.N., Leat, P.T., Dickin, A.P., Morrison, M.A., Hendry, G.L. & Mitchell, J.G., 1992. Asthenosphere-derived magmatism in the Rio Grande rift, western USA: implications for continental break-up. In Storey, B.C., Alabaster, T. & Pankhurst, R.J. (eds.) Magmatism and the Causes of Continental Breakup. Geol. Soc. Lond. Spec. Publ. 68, 61-89.
  31. Thompson, R.N. & Gibson, S.A., 1991. Subcontinental mantle plumes, hot spots and pre-existing thinspots. J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 148, 973-977.
  32. Gibson, S.A., Thompson, R.N., Leat, P.T., Morrison, M.A., Hendry, G.L. & Dickin, A.P., 1991. The Flat Tops volcanic field NW Colorado 1: Lower Miocene open-system multi-source magmatism at Flander, Trappers Lake. J. Geophys. Res. 96, 13609-13627.
  33. Gibson, S.A. & Jones, A.P., 1991. Igneous stratigraphy and internal structure of the Little Minch Sill Complex on the Trotternish Peninsula, N. Skye, Scotland. Geol. Mag. 128, 51-66.
  34. Thompson, R.N., Leat, P.T., Morrison, M.A., Hendry, G.L. & Gibson, S.A., 1990. Strongly potassic mafic magmas from lithospheric mantle sources during continental extension and heating: evidence from Miocene minettes of northwest Colorado, U.S.A. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 98, 139-53.
  35. Gibson, S.A., 1990. The geochemistry of the Trotternish Sills, Isle of Skye: crustal contamination in the British Tertiary Volcanic Province. J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 147, 1071-1081.
  36. Gibb, F.G.F. & Gibson, S.A., 1989. The Little Minch Sill Complex. Scott. J. Geol. 25, 367-370.




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