NSFGEO-NERC: Sulfur Cycling at Subduction Zones

Lead PI: Terry Plank

Unit Affiliation: Geochemistry, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

September 2019 - August 2022
Central America ; Asia ; Pacific Ocean ; Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) ; Marianas Islands
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: Sulfur is a critical element in Earth’s environment. When volcanoes erupt, sulfur is ejected into the atmosphere with cooling effects. Sulfur is also the transport agent and host of economic metals such as lead and zinc. The cluster of factors that control how much sulfur is available to volcanoes and metal deposits is still a major question in science, one that this project seeks to answer. One possible source of sulfur includes the sediments on the seafloor, which are subducted into the Earth to the depths where magmas form. This project is testing this hypothesis by measuring for the first time the sulfur forms and fluxes that feed volcanic systems at different subduction zones. A team of scientists from the US (Columbia University), the UK (Oxford University) and Italy (University of Palermo) will partner with the Ocean Drilling Program at Texas A&M University and the NERC Ion Microprobe Facility at the University of Edinburgh to make novel measurements of sulfur and its isotopes in sediments and volcanic material. Most of the project budget will support a Columbia Ph.D. student, a Columbia undergraduate and an Oxford postdoc. The PI Team of Mather, Aiuppa and Plank will incubate special sessions at international meetings and a special journal issue focused on Deep Sulfur. This project, aimed at the very origins of sulfur in magmatic systems, may lead to novel connections between the sulfur supply to ore deposits and volcanic emissions at convergent margins.


National Science Foundation(NSF); Natural Environment Research Council (UK)




Tamsin Mather, Alessandro Aiuppa


Oxford University, University of Palermo


sulfur cycle subduction isotopes volcanic gas sulfate sulfide


Earth fundamentals