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Department of Earth Sciences

Staff and Postgraduate Students

Professor Yaoling Niu, BSc, MS, PhD

Personal web page

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 42311
Room number: Rm 340

Contact Professor Yaoling Niu (email at

1. Biography

BSc in Geology, 1982 (Lanzhou University, China); MS in Economic Geology, 1988 (Alabama, USA); PhD in Geology and Geophysics, 1992 (Hawaii, USA).

See details at:

12/2004 - present : Professor of Earth Sciences, Durham University, UK
01/2003 - 12/2004 : Associate Professor, University of Houston, USA
01/2001 - 01/2003 : NERC Senior Research Fellow, Cardiff University, UK
07/1998 - 01/1999 : Visiting Professor, Lanzhou University, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China
01/1996 - 03/1996
 : Visiting Scientist, IFREMER, France
08/1993 - 01/2001 : Lecture and Senior Lecturer, The University of Queensland, Australia
05/1992 - 08/1993 : Postdoctoral Scientist, University of Hawaii, Columbia University, USA
01/1988 - 05/1992 : PhD Research Student, Northwestern University, University of Hawaii, USA
01/1986 - 12/1987 : MS Research Student, The University of Alabama, USA
08/1983 - 07/1984 : Visiting Lecturer, Nanjing University, China
01/1982 - 12/1985 : Assistant Lecturer, Lanzhou University, China

2. Career Research Highlights

Research publications, highlights & citations:
Researchers ID:
Google Scholar:
Clarivate Analytics (WoS): 2017 Highly Cited Researcher

Mid-Ocean Ridge Processes:
First-order global MORB major element compositional systematics and correlation with ridge axial depth are controlled by fertile mantle compositional variation, NOT mantle temperature variation (see above illustration); (2) MORB chemical trends differ between slow- and fast-spreading ridge segments; (3) Extent of melting increases with increasing spreading rate; (4) Mantle source fertility controls crust production, gravity anomaly, ridge morphology, and ridge segmentation at slow-spreading ridges; (5) Major element, trace element and radiogenic isotope correlations in MORB melts result from melting a compositionally heterogeneous source that is best understood as melting-induced mixing of (at least) two component mantle; (6) Abyssal peridotites are not simple melting residues, but modified by olivine addition and incompatible element refertilization from ascending/cooling mantle melts; (7) Abyssal peridotites hold the quantitative description of decompression melting in the spinel-peridotite stability field ( a Cpx + b Opx + c Spl = d Ol + 1.000 Melt with b > a).

Chemical Geodynamics and Mantle Circulation:
Basic petrology, geochemistry and mineral physics argue powerfully that mantle sources for intra-plate ocean island basalts (OIB) are NOT from ancient subducted oceanic crust (SOC); (2) SOC is compositionally too depleted (both incompatible elements and radiogenic isotopes) to be enriched component for OIB; (3) SOC, if indeed subducted into the lower mantle, is too dense to return to the upper mantle OIB source regions, but can thus accumulate in the lower mantle over Earth's history, resulting in the two large low shear wave velocity provinces (LLSVPs) at the base of the mantle beneath the Pacific and Africa; (4) Metasomatized deep portions of oceanic lithosphere are best candidates for the enrichment component for OIB (and E-type MORB); (5) The first largest trace element datasets of highest quality on seafloor basalts, gabbros and peridotites revealed numerous surprises not only in the petrogenesis of these rocks, but also on physical processes of chemical differentiation of the Earth. 

Continental Crust Accretion:
Continental collision zones, NOT active seafloor subduction zones, are primary sites for net continental crust growth; (2) Upon continental collision, seafloor subduction tends to stop, but convergence continues for some time, during which the last fragments of the underthrusting upper ocean crust will melt under amphibolite facies conditions, producing syncollisional andesites (also the syncolisional granitoids), whose major and trace element compositions are essentially identical to the model bulk continental crust, and whose mantle isotopic signature inherited from the ocean crust manifests juvenile crustal production, preservation and net accretion; (3) The standard “island arc” model for continental crust growth has major difficulties: (a) the primary arc magmas or the bulk arc crust is basaltic whereas the bulk continental crust is andesitic, which requires removal of the mafic lithologies into the asthenosphere that is not straightforward; (b) the arc crust production is mass balanced by subduction erosion and sediments recycling, thus contributing no net mass to continental crust growth; and (c) the arc crust is highly enriched in Sr, and is thus inappropriate for the continental crust that is relatively Sr deficient.

Global Tectonics:
Subduction initiation is a consequence of lateral compositional buoyancy contrast within the lithosphere, which is at the edges of oceanic plateaus in ocean basins and is globally along passive continental margins, which are loci of future subduction zones; (2) It is practically unlikely that subduction initiates in the normal oceanic lithosphere because of the lack of the needed compositional (or thermal) buoyancy contract; (3) The present-day intra-oceanic arcs must have its basement of continental affinity (and to a lesser extent basemen of oceanic plateau), which is an important concept and testable hypothesis; (4) Back-arc basins result from seaward trench retreat under gravity; (5) Trench retreat leads to trench suction, explaining that the overriding continental plate drifts passively following the retreating trench; (6) Seafloor subduction is the dominant driving force for global plate motion, i.e., subduction directly causes the pacific-type seafloor spreading, and the Atlantic-type seafloor spreading and continental drift are passive response to seafloor subduction in the Pacific and part of the Indian ocean; (7) Some intra-plate processes are straightforward consequences of plate tectonics such as the lithosphere thinning, basaltic magmatism, granitoids magmatism and geological evolution of eastern China since the Mesozoic as the result of northwestward subduction of the paleo-Pacific plate and its stagnation in the mantle transition zone; (8) The young oceanic lithosphere and subjacent asthenosphere are necessarily decoupled because of ridge suction; (9) Ridge suction as a major force driving asthenospheric flow beneath oceanic lithosphere, which explains many observations including "plume-ridge interactions"; (10) Oceanic lithosphere thickness variation due to thermal contraction, referred to as the lid effect, is the primary control on the OIB geochemistry on a global scale.

Research Funding:
My research has been financially suported by US NSF, Australian ARC, UK NERC, Chinese NSF, The Royal Society, The Leverhulme Trust, Chinese Geological Survey, Chinese Academy of Sciences, University of Queensland, University of Houston, Lanzhou University and Durham University over the years with a total equivalent to > 10.5 M GBP.

More on Yaoling’s interests, experiences, research, philosophy and publications at:

3. Fellowships, Awards & Honors (since 2004)

2010Qianren Professor, Lanzhou University & Institute of Ocenology of Chinese Academy of Sciences
2010: Christopherson/Knott Fellow, Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University
2009: Honorary Professor, Lanzhou University
2009: Leverhulme Research Fellow, The Leverhulme Trust
2008: Fellow (elected), Geological Society of London
2007: Guest Research Fellow, Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences
2006: Fellow (elected), Geological Society of America
2005: Guest Professor, Peking University
2005: Lecture Professor, China University of Geosciences in Beijing
2005: Concurrent Professor, Nanjing University
2004: Guest Professor, Northwest University, Xi'an

4. Committee Services (since 2004)

2009 to date: Board of Commission on “Solid Earth Composition & Evolution”, IMA
2006-2009: Director, The Geochemical Society
2005-2008: NERC Peer Review College, UK
2005 to date: Science Committee, Guangzhou Institute or Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China
2004-2008: Chairman, IUGS Commission on “Solid Earth Composition & Evolution”
2002 to date: Chinese NSF Review Panel

5. Editorial Services (since 2004)

2015 – Executive Editor (Earth Sciences) of Science Bulletin (China Science Press & Elsevier)
2003 – Executive Editor (Earth Sciences) of Chinese Science Bulletin (China Science Press & Springer)

Guest Editor:
2016: Senior Guest Editor, "Magma Generation and Evolution: In honour and memory of Michael J. O’Hara for his life-long contributions to understanding the working of the Earth and other planets by means of petrology and geochemistry", Journal of Petrology (Oxford ), Vol. 57, Issues 11&12 
2016: Guest Editor with others, "Recent advances on the tectonic and magmatic evolution of the Greater Tibetan Plateau: A Special Issue in Honor of Prof. Guitang Pan", Lithos (Elsevier), Vol. 245
2014: Guest Editor with others, "The Subduction Factory: Geochemical Perspectives", Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta (Elsevier), Vol. 143, Issue 1
2012: Guest Editor with others, "Geochemical perspectives on mantle dynamics and plate interactions in Asia – A special issue in honor/memory of Dr. Shen-su Sun", Chemical Geology (Elsevier), Vol. 328, Issue 1-4
2011: Senior Guest Editor, "Magma generation and evolution and global tectonics – A volume in honor of the work of Peter J. Wyllie", Journal of Petrology (Oxford), Vol. 52, Issue 7-8
2009: Sole Guest Editor, "Recent developments on seafloor petrology and tectonics – A volume in honor of Roger Hékinian for his life-long contributions to marine petrology and tectonics", Lithos (Elsevier), Vol. 112, Issue 1-2
2007: Senior Guest Editor, "The origin, composition, evolution and present state of continental lithosphere", Lithos (Elsevier), Vol. 96, Issue 1-2
2004: Senior Guest Editor, "Magma generation and evolution in the Earth – A volume in honor of the work of Michael J. O’Hara", Journal of Petrology (Oxford), Vol. 45, Issue 12

Editorial Board Member (partial):
 to date: National Science Review (China Science Press & Oxford University Press)
2013 to date: Geoscience Frontiers (China University of Geosciences, Elsevier) (Council)
2012 to date: Northwest China Geology (Chinese Geological Survey)
2010 to date: Geology & Exploration (Geological Society of China)
2009 to date: Central European Journal of Geosciences (Versita, Springer)
2009 to date: Journal of Earth Sciences (China University of Geosciences, Springer)
2008 to date: Advances in Earth Sciences (Chinese Academy of Sciences)
2008-2013: Lithos (Elsevier) 
2006-2016: Journal of Asian Earth Sciences (Elsevier)
2005-2013: Earth Science Frontiers (China University of Geosciences, Elsevier)
2005 to date: Geological Journal of China Universities (Nanjing University, China)

6. Conference Keynote Speeches (since 2004)

2015: Paleo-Pacific subduction and North China Craton Destruction, Beijing (March 26-27)
2015: Tectonic Evolution of Western Pacific, Qingdao (March 20-21)
2013: Petrology and Geodynamics Conference of China, Guangzhou
2013: Mineralogy, Petrology and Geochemistry Conference of China, Nanjing
2012: Deep Sea and Earth Systems Research Conference of China, Shanghai
2012: Structural Geology and Geodynamics Conference of China, Wuhan
2012: The 34th International Geological Congress (IGC), Brisbane
2011: International Conference on Craton Formation and Destruction, Beijing
2011: Petrology and Geodynamics Conference of China, Xi'an
2010Goldschmidt Conferences, Knoxville
Goldschmidt Conferences, Davos
: American Geophysical Union Fall Meetings, San Francisco
Goldschmidt Conferences, Melbourne
: American Geophysical Union Fall Meetings, San Francisco

7. Invited Institutional Speeches (since 2004)

2017: University of Leeds (UK), Australian National University, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, Nanjing University, China University of Geosciences (Beijing) 
2016: Shanghai Ocean University, University of Queensland, University of Tasmania, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, China University of Geosciences (Beijing), Zhejiang University
2015: Chinese Academy of Sciences University (Beijing), China University of Geosciences (Beijing), Ryukyu University (Japan)
2014: China University of Petroleum (Qingdao), First Institute of Oceanology of Chinese Marine Bureau (Qingdao), China University of Geosciences (Beijing)
2013: Xi'an Institute of Geology and Mineral Resources, China University of Geosciences (Beijing), Peking University (Beijing), Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences (Guiyang), China University of Geosciences (Wuhan), Nanjing University (Nanjing), Qingdao Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
2012: China University of Geosciences (Beijing), China Bureau of Earthquakes Administration, China University of Geosciences (Wuhan), Xi'an Institute of Geology and Mineral Resources, Chang'an University, Lanzhou University, Peking University, Qingdao Institute of Oceanology, Institute of South China Sea Oceanology
2011: Lanzhou University, China
2010: University of Cambridge, Chinese Academy of Sciences (Beijing), Chinese Academy of Sciences (Guangzhou), Tongji University (Shanghai), Lanzhou University, Nothwest University (Xi'an), Xi'an Institute of Geology and Mineral Resources
2009: Peking (Beijing) University, Lanzhou University
2008: China University of Ocean Sciences (Qingdao), Lanzhou University, University College of London
2007: China University of Geosciences (Beijing), Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences
2006: Peking University, China University of Geosciences (Beijing), Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, University of Hong Kong, University of Cambridge, University of Leicester, University of Edinburgh
2005: Nanjing University, China University of Geosciences (Beijing), Chinese Academy of Sciences, Northeast Geological Society
2004: Rice University, Durham University, Qingdao Ocean University, Peking University, Northwest University, China University of Science & Technology, China University of Geosciences (Beijing)

8. Symposium/Conferences Organized/Convened (since 2004)

2015: Goldschmidt Conference, Symposium on Magma Generation and Evolution – A Symposium in Honor and Memory of Michael J. O’Hara for his Life-Long Contributions to Understanding the Working of the Earth and Other Planets by Means of Petrology and Geochemistry, August 16-21, Prague, CZ
2014: Goldschmidt Conference, Symposium on Magma Generation/Evolution and Oceanic Crust Formation at Mid-Ocean Ridges and Interoceanic Arcs, June 8-13, Sacramento, USA
2012: President, National Conference on Petrology and Geodynamics, September 21-24, Lanzhou, China
2012: 34th IGC, Brusbane, Australia, Symposium on Magmatism in extensional environments (continental rifts and MORs), August 5-9, Brisbane, Australia
2011: AGU Fall Meeting, Symposiam on Recent developments on the origin and evolution of the Tibetan Plateau, December 5-9, San Francisco, USA
2010: AGU Fall Meeting, Symposium on New Advances in Studies of the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas, December 13-17, San Francisco, USA
2009: Goldschmidt Conference, Symposium on Magma generation and evolution and global tectonics - A symposium in honor of Peter J. Wyllie for his life-long contributions to understanding how the Earth works and in celebration of the 50th Golden Anniversary of Journal of Petrology, June 21-27, Davos, Switserland
2007: AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco
2006: Western Pacific AGU Meeting, Beijing
2005: SECE-IUGS Symposium on The origin, evolution and present state of subcontinental lithosphere, June 25-July 1, Beijing, China
2004: Kevin Burke Symposium Plate Tectonics, Plumes and Planetary Lithospheres", November 12-15, Houston, USA

9. Departmental Duties

2014- Coordinator of Natural Science
2010- International Coordinator of Sciece Faculty
2007-2008: Director of Postgraduate Research
2007-2008: Member of management Committee
2005-2008: Member of Research Committee
2005-2008: Organizer of Research Seminars


  • Thermodynamics for Geologists (Year 2; since 2005)
  • Metamorphic Petrology (Year 2: since 2005)
  • Magmatism and Global Tectonics) (Year 3: since 2005)
  • Southeast Spain Field trips (2005, 2006)
  • Cyprus Field trips (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)
  • Tutorials (Year 1 and Year 2 since 2006)

Research Groups

Department of Earth Sciences

Research Interests

  • Petrology and geochemistry of mantle peridotites
  • Petrology and geochemistry of basalts and basaltic rocks
  • Petrology and geochemistry of granite and granitoid rocks
  • Petrology and geochemistry of HP and UHP metamorphic rocks
  • Mid-ocean ridge magmatism
  • Intra-plate magmatism
  • Subduction-zone processes
  • Magmatism associated with continental collision and continental crust accretion
  • Causes and effects of seafloor subduction and global tectonics
  • Chemical geodynamics and mantle circulation
  • Origin and evolution of mantle lithosphere (continental and oceanic)
  • Petrogenesis of Moon rocks
  • Behaviour of chemical elements in various Earth processes
  • Geochronology, isotope geochemistry and geological applications
  • Ore-forming processes

Selected Publications

Chapter in book

Edited Journal

Journal Article

Show all publications

Departmental Contacts

RoleNameExtemail address
Head of Department Professor Andy Aplin 42332
Undergraduate Admissions Tutor Prof. Fred Worrall 42295
Chairman of the Board of Examiners Professor Ken McCaffrey 42299
Postgraduate Admissions Tutor Dr. Stuart Jones 42319
Operations & Administration Director Mrs Jill Hoult 42326
Learning & Teaching Administrator Mrs Janice Oakes 42310
Senior Finance Assistant Mrs Paula Elliott 43490
Finance Administrator Mrs Karen Atkinson 42318
Science Faculty Outreach Co-ordinator Dr Paula Martin 42338
Student Placement and Alumni Officer Mrs Linda Campbell 42331
Director of Postgraduate Studies Dr. Jeroen van Hunen 42293
Research Subcommittee Chair Dr Ed Llewellin 42336
Teaching and Learning Committee Chairman Dr Simon Mathias 43491
Director of Undergraduate Studies Dr Claire Horwell 42253
Director of Postgraduate Studies Dr Jeroen van Hunen 42293
Staff-Student Liaison Committee Chairman Dr Claire Horwell 42253
Safety Officer Dr Chris Ottley 42325
Safety Adviser Fieldwork Dr Nic de Paola 42333
Departmental Research Administrator Mrs Dianne Whatcott 42305

Departmental Superintendent Mr James Dyson 42281