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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research project: A 4.3 million year record of arc volcanism in the Caribbean

Currently Active: 

The composition of arc volcanoes reflects the sub arc mantle and crust, and the nature of the subducted plate. In addition, evolution of the arc crust influences the balance between basaltic and andesitic volcanism. All these processes vary in space and time during the lifetime of an individual volcanic island, but are difficult to constrain from the on land geologic record and are best preserved in marine sediment cores. IODP Exp 340  recovered a core proximal to the island of Montserrat that contains >150 tephra layers and provides a 4.3 Ma record of the evolution of volcanism in the area.

Location of IODP Exp 340 Drill sites (Source: IODP)
Location of drill sites

Summary of on-land record

  1. High precision Pb isotopes clearly distinguish between volcanic centres
  2. Gradual evolution in volcanic compositions from Silver Hills (~2 Ma) to Soufriere Hills  (currently active)
  3. South Soufriere Hills have distinct geochemical signatures that reflect regional tectonic regime



20 cm thick tephra layer from IODP 340 site U1396C (Source: IODP)
Tephra layer from IODP 340 site U1396C (Source: IODP)

Scientific Aims

  1. To obtain a record of the volcanic evolution of Montserrat since 4.3 Ma
  2. To examine the influence of regional tectonic processes on the composition of arc volcanism
  3. To determine the controls over the balance between andesitic and basaltic volcanism during the growth of arc crust
  4. To determine the changes in the sources of slab- and mantle-derived sources to an arc volcanic centre
Geochemical variations among different volcanic centres on Montserrat (Source: IODP)
Geochemical variations


This work is led by Professor Martin Palmer in collaboration with Dr Tom Gernon and Dr Rex Taylor (Southampton) and Professor Osamu Ishizuka (Japanese Geological Survey).

The study also builds on recent PhD work at Southampton by Dr Mike Cassidy

Soufriere Hills volcano, Montserrat, overlooking the former capital of Plymouth (Source: M Palmer)
Soufriere Hills volcano

Key Contacts

Prof Martin Palmer (Principal Investigator)

PhDs and Other Opportunities


Associated research themes

Volcanic Processes

Related research groups


Key Publication

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