Project Overview

A Geochemical Investigation of the Galapagos Mantle Plume

Faculty Sponsor

Karen Harpp (




Far from the influence of continents, ocean islands such as the Galapagos host flora and fauna that followed unique evolutionary pathways and their volcanoes create extraordinary marine ecosystems. Their volcanoes are generated from long-lived rising plumes of hot mantle. The lavas that erupt to form these islands contain geochemical clues about long-term movements of the mantle. Each volcano eventually becomes extinct as it is transported away from its source plume by tectonic plate motion, eventually subsiding below the sea surface. In this study, lavas previously recovered from the now drowned part of the Galapagos island chain that formed between 5 and 10 million years ago will be analyzed for age and geochemical composition. Our research will test models of how mantle plume composition and melting can change over space and time. The work will also investigate mechanisms of volcanism that occur away from the mantle plume. We will focus on samples from the northeastern quadrant of the Galapagos Archipelago, which have already been collected from previous expeditions.

Students will determine major and trace element contents of lavas from the Northeast Seamounts in the Galapagos Archipelago, prepare of samples for radiogenic isotope analysis, and interpret age and geochemical data that we generate or has already been collected in the past year. We will be testing the recently proposed model that the Galapagos plume is compositionally zoned; students will put the new data in the context of the entire archipelago. Our goal is to prepare our research results for presentation at AGU in the coming year and for inclusion in a future publication. This project is in collaboration with a colleague at Ithaca College and is supported by an NSF grant.


Student Qualifications

1. Significant progress in the geology major.
2. Willingness and interest in working in a geochemical lab throughout the summer.
3. Facility with spreadsheet use and other appropriate research tools.
4. It would be a bonus if they took Geology 420 in the fall of 2021 (mantle plume seminar), but that is not required.


Number of Student Researchers

2 students

Project Length

10 weeks

Applications open on 01/03/2022 and close on 02/04/2022

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (