Dept of Earth and Planetary Sciences | Our staff | Hilary Downes | Research projects and research roles
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Research projects and research roles

Research projects

Mantle xenoliths

  • 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

  • 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.

Geodynamics of magma-genesis

  • I am 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.
  • Document: Pictures of the Cape Verdes research trip
  • Report: Evolution of Explosive Magmatic Systems on Oceanic Islands: Example of Brava (Cape Verdes)


  • I have now extended my research to the mantle of other planets. During a sabbatical in Houston, Texas, working at the Lunar and Planetary Institute and collaborating with colleagues at the Johnson Space Centre I studied a suite of meteorites called 'ureilites' which are fragments of the mantle of an unknown asteroid. I continued this work with colleagues from UCL, the Natural History Museum (London), and a full-time PhD student.
  • I was recently awarded a grant from the Leverhulme Trust to undertake a study of ureilites as analogues of early small planetary bodies in the Solar System. My post-doctoral fellow for this project is Dr Nachiketa Rai, and we are working together on understanding how the 'ureilite parent body' formed and started to differentiate into a core, mantle and crust long before the Earth was formed.

Research roles

Hilary Downes on location