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Department of Earth Sciences

Modelling the Archean Subduction Environment (MASE)

MASE is an ERC-funded research project aimed at Modelling the Archaean Subduction Environment. This five-year project is led by Dr Jeroen van Hunen from Durham University, and has several team members, both at Durham (Prof. Jon Davidson and Dr. Colin Macpherson) and internationally (Jean-François Moyen at St Etienne, France and Prof. Steve Parman at Brown University, USA).

The project funds several postdocs, PhD and MSc students

Scientific Motivation

Today, subduction dominates the Earth's appearance: it drives plate tectonics, and plays a dominant role in continental crust formation. If and how subduction operated 2.5-4 billion years ago, in the Archaean, is debated, primarily on the basis of the sparse Archaean geological record. It seems likely that some form of subduction occurred at least by the late Archaean, but may well have looked different from today's. A proper understanding of this Archaean 'subduction' is essential, since so many processes are likely to depend on it.
Observations of the geological (mostly isotope-geochemical) record have provided an invaluable window to peer into the Archaean world. But inferred Archaean geodynamics from these observations are non-unique. Various models fit the same data within uncertainty, and often lack a firm physical basis. To overcome these shortcomings, the MASE ERC project uses a forward approach of predicting synthetic geochemical fingerprints from numerical, geodynamically consistent physical models, and comparing those with geochemical observations. This will provide a means to constrain and better understand the two most pressing questions in Earth sciences: How did plate tectonics evolve, and how did continents form?
This work is also directly relevant for the evolution of the Earth's surface, and to the differences with the other terrestrial planets. Also, there are potential economic benefits, since the world's largest mineral deposits (e.g. gold) occur in Archaean terrains and have been associated to subduction.

Subduction Schematic

Schematic view of subduction forces, both today and in the Archaean (from van Hunen and Moyen, 2012)


Core Team Members:

Durham University Logo

Dr Jeroen van Hunen


Pierre Bouilhol

Postdoctoral Researcher

Valentina Magni

Postdoctoral Researcher

Nicolas Riel

Postdoctoral Researcher

Ben Maunder - PhD student

Associated Team Members:

Durham University Logo

Dr. Colin Macpherson

Prof. Jon Davidson

Lars Kaislaniemi - PhD Student

Hongliang Wang - PhD Student

Jean-François Moyen

Simon Carouée - PhD Student

Adrien Vézinet - PhD Student

Simon Couzinié - PhD Student

Prof. Steve Parman

The MASE team


The ERC MASE project has enabled the following research projects and publications:

  1. Maunder, B., van Hunen, J., Magni, M. & Bouilhol, P. (2016). Relamination of mafic subducting crust throughout Earth’s history. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 449: 206-216.
  2. Mohammadi, A, Burg, J-P, Bouilhol, P & Ruh, J (2016). U-Pb geochronology and geochemistry of Zahedan and Shah Kuh plutons, southeast Iran: Implication for closure of the South Sistan Suture Zone. Lithos 248-251: 293-308.
  3. Condie, K.C., Aster, R.C. & van Hunen, J. (2016). A great thermal divergence in the mantle beginning 2.5 Ga: Geochemical constraints from greenstone basalts and komatiites. Geoscience Frontiers 7(4): 543-553.
  4. Bouilhol, P., Magni, V., van Hunen, J. & Kaislaniemi, L. (2015). A numerical approach to melting in warm subduction zones. Earth and Planetary Science Letters411: 37-44.
  5. Wang, H., Agrusta, R. & van Hunen, J. (2015). Advantages of a conservative velocity interpolation (CVI) scheme for particle-in-cell methods with application in geodynamic modeling. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems16(6): 2015-2023.
  6. van Hunen, J & Miller, M.S. (2015). Collisional Processes and Links to Episodic Changes in Subduction Zones. Elements 11(2): 119-124.
  7. Hunziker, D., Burg, J-P., Bouilhol, P. & von Quadt, A. (2015). Jurassic rifting at the Eurasian Tethys margin: Geochemical and geochronological constraints from granitoids of North Makran, southeastern Iran. Tectonics 34(3): 571-593.
  8. Bouilhol, P., Schmidt M.W. & Burg J.-P. (2015). Magma Transfer and Evolution in Channels within the Arc Crust: the Pyroxenitic Feeder Pipes of Sapat (Kohistan, Pakistan). Journal of Petrology 56(7): 1309-1342.
  9. Magni, V., Bouilhol, P. & van Hunen, J. (2014). Deep water recycling through time. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 15(11): 4203-4216.
  10. Wang, H.L., van Hunen, J., Pearson, D.G. & Allen, M.B. (2014). Craton stability and longevity: The roles of composition-dependent rheology and buoyancy. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 391: 224-233.
  11. Laurent, O., Martin, H., Moyen, J. F., & Doucelance, R. (2014). The diversity and evolution of late-Archean granitoids: Evidence for the onset of “modern-style” plate tectonics between 3.0 and 2.5 Ga. Lithos, 205, 208-235.
  12. Kaislaniemi, L., & van Hunen, J. (2014). Dynamics of lithospheric thinning and mantle melting by edge‚Äźdriven convection: Application to Moroccan Atlas mountains. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 15(8), 3175-3189.
  13. Magni, V., Faccenna, C., van Hunen, J., & Funiciello, F. (2014). How collision triggers backarc extension: Insight into Mediterranean style of extension from 3-D numerical models. Geology, 42(6), 511-514.
  14. Kaislaniemi, L., van Hunen, J., Allen, M. B., & Neill, I. (2014). Sublithospheric small-scale convection—A mechanism for collision zone magmatism. Geology, 42(4), 291-294.
  15. Wang, H., van Hunen, J., Pearson, D. G., & Allen, M. B. (2014). Craton stability and longevity: The roles of composition-dependent rheology and buoyancy. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 391, 224-233.
  16. Bottrill, A. D., van Hunen, J., Cuthbert, S. J., Brueckner, H. K., & Allen, M. B. (2014). Plate rotation during continental collision and its relationship with the exhumation of UHP metamorphic terranes: Application to the Norwegian Caledonides. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems. 7(5), 1766-1782
  17. Bottrill, A.D., van Hunen, J. & Allen, M.B. (2012). Insight into collision zone dynamics from topography: numerical modelling results and observations Solid Earth 3(2): 387.
  18. Moyen, J-F., & van Hunen, J.,(2012). Short-term episodicity of Archaean plate tectonics. Geology 40(5), 451-454.
  19. Laurie, L., Stevens, G. & van Hunen, J. (2012). The end of continental growth by TTG magmatism. Terra Nova 25(2): 130.
  20. van Hunen, J. & Moyen, J.-F. (2012). Archean Subduction: Fact or Fiction?. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 40(1): 195.


Scientific results have been disseminated at a number of international conferences:

  • American Geophysical Union Fall meetings (San Francisco, USA, 2012, 2013, 2014)
  • European Geoscience Union Annual meetings (Vienna, Austria, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)
  • CIDER workshop (Santa Barbara, USA, August, 2012)
  • XIII International Workshop on Modelling of Mantle and Lithosphere Dynamics (Oslo, Norway, September, 2013)
  • ‘Building Strong Continents’ conference in Porthmouth, September, 2013
  • 'State of the Arc' conference at Montserrat, April, 2015
  • Jeroen van Hunen gave departmental seminars and keynote lectures on the ‘Archaean Subduction Environment’ at the De la Beche society at Imperial College London (February, 2013), the ‘Building Strong Continents’ conference in Porthmouth, September 2013, at ETH, Zurich, Switzerland(October, 2013); NAC12 conference, Veldhoven, The Netherlands (April, 2014).
  • Pierre Bouilhol gave a departmental seminar at ETH, Zurich, Switzerland in November, 2013, and the 'State of the Arc' conference at Montserrat, April, 2015.


ERC Logo


Archean Subduction

Possible episodic behaviour of subduction in a hotter mantle (from van Hunen and van den Berg, 2008)