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Prof Hilary Downes
  • Honorary Senior Lecturer
  • Dept of Earth Sciences
  • Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences
Research Summary

My research concerns the origin and evolution of the Earth’s continental lower crust and the lithospheric upper mantle. The lithospheric mantle can act either as a source of magma or as a "sink" for magma rising from the deeper convecting asthenospheric mantle. I have studied suites of mantle xenoliths from France, Hungary, Romania, Italy, Montana (USA) and Serbia. I have shown that interaction between asthenospheric magmas and the lithospheric mantle can have many different forms, ranging from the formation of widespread veins in the mantle to more pervasive metasomatism. Neogene magmatism of western and central Europe consists largely of alkali basalts derived from the asthenosphere, but which have interacted to some extent with the lithosphere.

 The continental lower crust is a poorly understood region of the Earth, which can be best investigated by the study of xenoliths brought to the surface by volcanic eruptions. I have investigated in detail the composition, mineralogy and geochemistry of granulite xenoliths from the lower crust of both ancient cratonic continental crust in the Baltic Shield (Russia) and young thin crust in regions such as the Pannonian Basin (Hungary). I have used a variety of modern geochemical and isotopic techniques, including ion-probe and laser-fluorination for oxygen isotopes. Some regions of the lower crust are formed by direct underplating of magma but others (such as in Hungary) appear to be accreted portions of oceanic crust.

I am also interested in the geodynamics of magma-genesis, and I have investigated intra-plate and subduction-related magmatism in France, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine and Serbia. I recently started a series of projects in the Cape Verdes Islands in collaboration with Dr Simon Day. I have research students studying carbonatite magmatism in Kola and the Cape Verdes, and mantle xenoliths from Cape Verdes and the western USA. Other students are working on cumulate xenoliths and pyroclastic volcanism from the Cape Verdes, and the Gardar alkaline province in Greenland.

Teaching Summary
Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology 2nd year, Chemical Evolution of the Earth 3rd/4th year' Magmatic Processes/ Volcanism in the Solar System 3rd/4th year, Selected lectures for MRes
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