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Dr Mike Widdowson

Dr Mike Widdowson

Lecturer in Volcanology and Geochemistry

Faculty and Department

  • Faculty of Science and Engineering
  • School of Environmental Sciences


  • BA (University of Oxford)
  • PhD (University of Oxford)



Mike is Lecturer in Geochemistry and Volcanology), and previously Lecturer in Volcanology at the Open University. He is an acknowledged world expert in flood basalt volcanology and its environmental effects, and an international authority on the geochemistry of tropical deep weathering processes

Mike has been included in the last 3 RAE/REF returns as part of a consistently achieved Grade 5 submission (Open University). In the REF2014 he was graded as GPA 3.5, including papers from Geology, Chemical Geology, Lithos, and Science.

Mike has received international recognition through >120 publications which have been cited >4000 times, resulting in an H index of 34 and an i10 index of 46 (Sources: Google Scholar; ResearchGate - RG score c. 39). Outputs eligible for the current REF cycle include papers in Chemical Geology, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, GCA, Geological Society of America (GSA).

Externally, Mike is currently an Officer of the Mineralogical Society; Vice Chair of Large Igneous Province Commission at IAVCEI. He was Chair of Volcanic and Magmatics Study Group, UK (2015 – 2018), executive member of VMSG committee for 20 years, and previously served on Geological Society of London and Mineralogical Society SIGs Science Committees, and the Schlumberger, Collins and Hay Medals awards Committee.

Mike was nominee (2015) for the prestigious VMSG Award. In recent years he has given numerous radio, TV, and newspaper interviews, appeared on BBC, History and Discovery TV Channels, and delivered commentaries regarding flood basalt volcanism, the KT boundary, and the dinosaur extinction.


Mike has an established and very broad research and analytical experience through collaboration with scientists within the UK and internationally. Many of his publications are multi-author works in high-profile journals. He has a reputation for reliable and thorough fieldwork and detailed field-sampling, and high-quality analytical data performed on collected materials which can be robustly placed within their geological context.

His research interests range from volcanology and geochemistry to sedimentology, weathering studies and river chemistry. He has investigated materials from throughout geological history (Proterozoic to Cenozoic). His key research themes may be summarized as the following themes:

The chemical and environmental memory of Large Igneous Provinces: evaluating linkages with climate change

Deep weathering processes: environmental chemical and isotopic fluxes


Mike teaches across a broad range of subject material primarily in the Geology/Earth Sciences discipline, as well as elements in Physical Geography and Environmental Studies.

He leads/teaches modules in all year groups (Foundation, Certificate, Diploma and Honours).

TEACHING - MODULES [Past Courses in brackets]

Foundation (Year 0)

330103: Dynamic Environments: Challenge Project (Module Lead/Lecturer)

300008 Preparing for Learning in Higher Education (Lecturer)

[(16012): Foundation in Physical Geography (Module Lead/Lecturer)]

Certificate (Year 1)

440951: Introduction to Petrology (Trip Leader)

400145: Exploring Worlds around Us (Tutor)

[400149: Sedimentary Basins and Structural Analysis (Module Lead/Lecturer)]

[400147: Rocks, Minerals and Fossils (Module Lead/Lecturer)]

Diploma (Year 2)

500187: Geohazards (Lecturer)

500191: Geoscience Field Course (Tutor)

500192: Earth Evolution (Tutor)

Honours (Year 3)

600257: Volcanoes and their Hazards (Module Lead/Lecturer)

600270: Advanced Geology Field Study (Cyprus) (Lecturer)

600273: Geological Mapping Dissertation (Supervisor)

[16302: Geography Dissertation (Supervisor)]


Foundation Level

Humber Levels Oakhill Nature Reserve, Goole – Environmental Studies for Geographers and Geologists (2016 – Present)

Certificate Level

Northern England (Ingleton, Shap and Teesdale) – Basic field Techniques/Introduction to Igneous Rocks (2019 - Present)

North Yorkshire Coast (Cleveland Basin) – Sedimentology and Basin Evolution (2015 – 2019)

North Yorkshire Coast (Filey and Staithes) – Introduction to Field Techniques (2015 – 2019)

Diploma Level

Isle of Skye – Magmatic and Metamorphic Rocks (2016)

Honours Level

Cyprus – Ophiolite and Sedimentary Evolution and uplift of the Troodos Massif (2016 – Present)

Iceland – Volcanism and Geomorphology (2017 – 2018)


Widdowson, M., 2009. Introduction to Earth System Science (Chapter 1). In: Kelley, S.P. (Ed). Earth Science: A systems approach (S808; Earth Sciences, MSc module). The Open University (on-line; web-based teaching text and software).

Brandon, M., Clark, N. and Widdowson, M. (Eds). 2009. Environmental changes: Global challenges. The Environmental Web (U316). The Open University, 182pp.

Widdowson, M. 2007. Plate Tectonics (Chapter 4). In: Rogers, N.B.W. (Ed). Our Dynamic Earth (S279). The Open University/Cambridge University Press, 250pp. (pp. 95 - 142).

Widdowson, M. 2003. The internal structure of the terrestrial planets (Chapter 2). In: McBride, N., and Gilmour, I (Eds). The Solar System (S283). The Open University/Cambridge University Press, 199pp. (pp. 31 – 82)

Widdowson, M., 2003. Planetary volcanism – Ultima Thule? (Chapter 3). In: McBride, N., and Gilmour, I (Eds). The Solar System (S283). The Open University/Cambridge University Press, 199pp. (pp. 83 – 126).

Gilmour, I. and Widdowson, M., 1999. Geology - Maps and Landscape (S260). The Open University, 97 pp.

Recent outputs

View more outputs

Journal Article

New mammals from the Naskal intertrappean site and the age of India's earliest eutherians

Wilson Mantilla, G. P., Renne, P. R., Samant, B., Mohabey, D. M., Dhobale, A., Tholt, A. J., …Wilson Mantilla, J. A. (2022). New mammals from the Naskal intertrappean site and the age of India's earliest eutherians. Palaeogeography, palaeoclimatology, palaeoecology, 591, Article 110857.

New early oligocene zircon U-Pb dates for the 'Miocene' Wenshan Basin, Yunnan, China: Biodiversity and paleoenvironment

Tian, Y., Spicer, R. A., Huang, J., Zhou, Z., Su, T., Widdowson, M., …Zhang, S. (2021). New early oligocene zircon U-Pb dates for the ‘Miocene’ Wenshan Basin, Yunnan, China: Biodiversity and paleoenvironment. Earth and planetary science letters, 565, Article 116929.

The role of pedogenesis and natural fertiliser as vectors for essential metal content in agricultural topsoils, Central India

Suhr, N., Widdowson, M., & Kamber, B. S. (2021). The role of pedogenesis and natural fertiliser as vectors for essential metal content in agricultural topsoils, Central India. SN Applied Sciences, 3(1), Article 40.

A Middle Eocene lowland humid subtropical "Shangri-La" ecosystem in central Tibet

Su, T., Spicer, R. A., Wu, F. X., Farnsworth, A., Huang, J., Del Rio, C., …Zhou, Z. K. (2020). A Middle Eocene lowland humid subtropical "Shangri-La" ecosystem in central Tibet. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 117(52), 32989-32995.

The composition of the middle Miocene (15?Ma) Namling paleoflora, South Central Tibet, in the context of other Tibetan and Himalayan Floras

Shuang-Xing, G., Spicer, R. A., Widdowson, M., Herman, A. B., & Domogatskaya, K. V. (2019). The composition of the middle Miocene (15?Ma) Namling paleoflora, South Central Tibet, in the context of other Tibetan and Himalayan Floras. Review of palaeobotany and palynology, 271,

Research interests


Mike's focus is (i) flood basalt volcanism and its environmental effects; (ii) tropical weathering and lateritization processes. He uses a variety of analytical techniques - geochemistry (XRF, ICP and isotope studies), geochronology (Ar/Ar and Palaeomag). Fieldwork investigations are worldwide: in detail the evolution of the Deccan Traps large igneous province (LIP), and LIPs elsewhere (i.e., CRBP, BTIP, Iceland, Hawaii, Emeishan, Kalkarindji, Shatsky Rise). He is collaborating with Chinese scientists on projects documenting the development of the Himalaya and the associated floral evolution. His weathering studies have documented the fate of elements and behaviour of isotope systems during extreme alteration.

Postgraduate supervision

Mike is an established research supervisor (10 PhD students and c. 10 MSc, MRes students since 2000). These projects have resulted in >50 joint authored peer-reviewed publications. Enquiries and applications are welcomed in the following research areas:

1) All areas of volcanology, in particular those related to the study of large igneous provinces, and associate environmental and/or biotic change.

2) Geochemical and isotopic studies of deep weathering, in particular linkages between their development to environmental change

Themes for past, present and future PhD studies include:


Flood basalt volcanism

Environmental effects of volcanic eruptions

Interrogating the sedimentary record for LIP events

Chemical memory of LIP eruptions

Ancient Icelandic eruptions

Deep weathering processes:

Laterites and lateritization processes

Behaviour of isotopic systems during deep weathering

Evaluating weathering profiles as a paleoenvironmental proxy environment

PhD supervisions (Post 2000):

2019 - Current: Karen Nicholson (University of Hull)

Funded: Internal Scholarship/self-funded.

Volcanic Evolution at the Shatsky Rise LIP, NW Pacific Ocean

With: Prof. M. Elliott (University of Hull)

2013-2018: Luke Faggetter (University of Leeds)

Funded: NERC

The First Mass Extinction: interrogating the volcano sedimentary record of the Kalkarindji Flood Basalts, Australia.

With: Prof. P. Wignall and Dr R. Newton (University of Leeds).

2014-2018: Jonathan Moles (Open University)

Funded: NERC

Evolution of Tindfjallajökull volcano, Iceland.

With: Dr D. McGarvie, Dr Sarah Sherlock (Open University) and Dr J. Stephenson (University of Edinburgh/BGS).

2013-2017: Peter Nicholls (Open University)

Funded: NERC

Explosive eruptions from Iceland's largest volcanoes.

With: Dr D. McGarvie (Open University) and Dr J. Stephenson (University of Edinburgh/BGS).

2006-2016: Christopher Hibbert (Birkbeck College, University of London; Part-time)

Funded: Internal Scholarship/self-funded.

Chemical variation in riverine fluxes, Goa, Western India: monitoring continental weathering in a monsoonal climate.

With: Prof. K. Hudson-Edwards (Birkbeck College, University of London).

2011-2015: Peter Marshall (Open University)

Funded: Proto Resources and Open University.

Volcanic architecture and prospectivity of the Central Kalkarindgi flood basalt province, Australia.

With: Prof. S.P. Kelley (Open University) and Dr D. Murphy (QUT, Australia)

2005-2009: Charlotte Vye (Open University)

Funded: (Open University - Research Development Fund).

Flow-field formation and compositional variation during flood basalt forming eruptions.

With: Prof. K.W. Burton and Prof. S. Self (Open University)

2003-2006: Daniel Campanile (University of Glasgow)

Funded: NERC

Determining the post-break-up evolution of high elevation passive margins.

With: Prof. P. Bishop (Glasgow University) and Dr F. Stuart (SUERCC, Glasgow)

2002-2005: Charlotte Pearce.

Funded: (Open University - Research Development Fund).

Molecular fossils at the Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary: ‘meteorite impact’ versus ‘volcanically-driven’ environmental crises.

With: Prof. I. Gilmour and Dr M. Sephton (Open University)