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Department of Earth Sciences


ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID) 

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*New Announcements*

Interested in studying for a PhD? Here are details of some new projects that can be applied for NERC funding via the Cambridge DTP site.

Closing date for PhD applications is noon 5th January 2024. To apply follow this link.

We are also advertising for 2 Post-Doctoral Researchers to join our exciting new NERC funded project REE-LITH. The overarching goal of the project is to reach a fundamental new understanding as to how lithospheric structure and mantle dynamics control the Archean to Recent origins of CO2-rich intraplate magmatism and associated rare-earth element (REE) deposits.The REE-LITH project involves a multi-disciplinary international team of Earth Scientists -- from the Universities of Cambridge (Gibson & Lebedev), Exeter (Broom-Fendley), St Andrews (Hutchison), Madrid (Fullea) and Bergen (Rondenay). We have the following vacancies:

  • Post-doctoral researcher in Petrology/Geochemistry. Information re applying for this post is available here.
  • Post-doctoral researcher in Seismology & Thermodynamic Inversion. Information re applying for this post is available here.

Closing date for Post-doc applications is 19th November 2023.


I am fascinated by the workings of our planet and how processes operating in its deep interior influence those at its surface. 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. A large recent campaign of my research group has been focused on the cycling of volatiles. This is now being expanded to look at the origins of critical metals in our new REE-LITH project.



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. How does Earth's rigid outer shell modulate the release of volatiles from our planet's deep interior ?

On-going studies of fragments of deep-sourced mantle material (xenoliths) are providing important insights into the formation of the Earth’s lithosphere and how this large reservoir acts as a major sink and also a source for volatiles (CO2, H2O, S, F) released during volcanism. We have recently quantified the mass of the lithosphere beneath major tectonic settings and this has allowed us to calculate internally consistent estimates of multiple volatiles. Our studies reveal that the ancient cores of Earth's continents are a major sink in global volatile cycles. More work is now required to reduce the uncertainties in these estimates.

2. 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 twVariation in lithospheric thickness (depth to top of melt column) and magma type in the Galapagos archipelago (purple stars are depleted tholeiites). From Gibson & 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). 

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


3. 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 maEtendeka flood basalts, NW Namibiagma 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. 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).


4. Remote sensing of rare-earth element deposits

An exciting collaboration with Dr Teal Riley (British Antarctic Survey) and Dr Graham Ferrier (University of Hull) examined how novel 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).
Photomicrographs of carbonatites with REE bearing mineral phases




Key publications: 

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

*Recently published manuscripts*

  1. Heckel, C., Woodland, A., J. Linkens, Gibson, S.A. & H-M. Seitz (2023).  Sheared Peridotites from northern Lesotho: Metasomatism-induced Deformation and Craton Destabilization. Journal of Petrology egad076

  2. Jackson, C.J. & Gibson, S.A. (2023). ‘Build-up of multiple volatiles in Earth’s mantle: Implications for craton stability’. Earth & Planetary Science Letters

  3. Gibson, S.A. & McKenzie, D.P. (2023). On the role of Earth’s lithospheric mantle in global volatile cycles. Earth & Planetary Science Letters

  4. Hole, M.J., Gibson, S.A. & Morris, M.C. (2023). Slab window related magmatism as a probe for pyroxenite heterogeneities in the upper mantle. Geology 51, 268-272

  5. The Mineralogical Society of the UK & Ireland Equality, Diversity & Inclusivity Report (2022).

  6. Heckel, C., Woodland, A., J. Linkens  Gibson, S.A. & H-M. Seitz (2022). Sheared peridotites from Kimberley (Kaapvaal craton, SA): record of multiple metasomatic events accompanied with deformation. Journal of Petrology Editors Choice.

  7. Halldórson, S.A., Hilton, D.R., Marshall. E.W., Ranta, E., Ingavason, A., Chakraborty, S., Gunnarsson Robin, J., Rasmussen, M.B., Gibson, S.A., Ono, S., Scarsi, P., Abebe, T., Hopp, J., Barry, P.H. & Castillo, P.R. (2022). Evidence from gas-rich ultramafic xenoliths for Superplume-derived recycled volatiles in the East African sub-continental mantle. Chemical Geology

  8. Hernandez Nava, A., Black, B.A., Gibson, S.A., Bodnar, R.J., Renne, P.R. & Vanderkluysen, L. (2021). Reconciling early Deccan Traps CO2 outgassing and pre-KPB global climate. PNAS 118,

  9. Leat, P.T., Ross, A., Gibson, S.A., Ultramafic mantle xenoliths in the Late Cenozoic Volcanic rocks of the Antarctic Peninsula and Jones Mountains, West Antarctica. In: The Antarctic Mantle. Geological Society of London Memoir 56,

  10. Moreau, L., Draily, C., Cordy, J., Boyle, K., Buckley, M., Gjesfjeld, E., Filzmoser, P.,  Borgia, V., Gibson, S.A.,  Day, J., Beyer, R., Manica, A., Linden, M.V., de Grooth, M. & Pirson, S. (2021). Adaptive trade-offs towards the Last Glacial Maximum in North-Western Europe: a multidisciplinary view from Walou Cave. Journal of Paleolithic Archaeology, 4,

  11. Gleeson M.L.M., Soderman, C., Matthews, S., Cottaar, S. & Gibson, S.A. (2021). Geochemical constraints on the structure of the Earth's deep mantle and the origin of the LLSVPs. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems. doi/10.1029/2021GC009932.

  12. Gleeson. M.L.M. & Gibson, S.A. (2021). Insights into the nature of plume-ridge interaction and outflux of H2O from the Galápagos Spreading Center. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems,

  13. 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.Journal of Petrology 60, egaa094.

  14. Gibson, S.A. & Kavanagh, J. (2020). Volcanic and Magmatic Studies Group Members Survey 2020.

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

  16. 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

  17. 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

  18. 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.

  19. 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
  20. Black, B.A. & Gibson, S.A. (2019).Deep Carbon and the Life Cycle of Large Igneous Provinces. Elements (October)319-324.
  21. 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
  22. 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
  23. Gleeson, M. & Gibson, S.A. (2019). Crustal controls on apparent mantle pyroxenite signals in ocean-island basalts. Geology 47 (4), 321-324. 
  24. 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
  25. 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.
  26. 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.
  27. 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.
  28. 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.
  29. 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
  30. 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
  31. 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
  32. 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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Teaching and Supervisions

Research supervision: 



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Professor of Petrology & Geochemistry
President of the Mineralogical Society of the UK & Ireland

Contact Details

Email address: 
Department of Earth Sciences
Downing St
Cambridge, UK
+44 (0) 1223 333401
Takes PhD students


Person keywords: