James Muirhead

Research Associate Earth Sciences

News Articles

Underground magma triggered Earth’s worst mass extinction with greenhouse gases https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/aug/01/underground-magma-triggered-earths-worst-mass-extinction-with-greenhouse-gases.

Biggest mass extinction the world has ever seen was caused by extreme heat released during the formation of volcanic rock in Siberia 252 million years ago http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4739912/Global-climate-change-led-end-Permian-extinction.html.

What caused worst mass extinction in Earth’s history? Not what you think http://www.ibtimes.com/what-caused-worst-mass-extinction-earths-history-not-what-you-think-2572585.

Massive underground magma pulse caused the world’s largest mass extinction http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4739912/Global-climate-change-led-end-Permian-extinction.html.

Scientists discover a new source of atmospheric carbon dioxide


East African Rift carbon emissions are significant


Research and Teaching Interests

I am interested in interactions between tectonic and volcanic processes. Current work combines classical field geology, remote sensing, and seismic reflection methods to understand local and regional-scale deformation processes in volcano-tectonic systems. Mainly, I enjoy working at any geological setting that contains a fault, dike, fracture or volcano. Recent and ongoing studies focus on:

Development of fault systems during rift basin evolution in East Africa

The role of magma and magmatic volatiles in driving faulting, strain localization, and continental breakup

Magma emplacement in large igneous provinces

3-D architecture and magma flow within feeder systems to volcanoes

Selected Recent Publications

In review

Muirhead, J.D., Kattenhorn, S.A., Activation of preexisting transverse structures in an evolvling magmatic rift in East Africa: under review in Journal of Structural Geology.

Zhang, C., Muirhead, J.D., Wang, H., Chen, S., Liao, Y., Lu, Z., Wei­, J., Lacustrine fan delta deposition alongside intrabasinal structural highs in rift basins: an example from the Early Cretaceous Jiuquan Basin, Northwestern China: in revision in International Journal of Earth Sciences. 

Le Corvec, N., Muirhead, J.D., White, J.D.L., Shallow magma diversions during explosive diatreme-forming eruptions: submitted to Nature Geoscience.


Burgess, S.D., Muirhead, J.D., Bowring, S.A., 2017, Initial pulse of Siberian Traps sills as the trigger of the end-Permian mass extinction: Nature Communications, v. 8, doi:10.1038/s41467-017-00083-9.

Lee, H., Fischer, T.P., Muirhead, J.D., Ebinger, C.J., Kattenhorn, S.A., Sharpe, Z.D., Kianji, G., Sano, Y., Takahata. N., 2017, Incipient rifting accompanied by release of lithospheric mantle volatiles in the Magadi and Natron basins: Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, v. 469, p. 4-18, doi: 10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2017.03.017.

Weinstein, A., Oliva, S.J., Ebinger, C.J., Roecker, S.,  Tiberi, C., Aman, M., Lambert, C., Witkin, E., Albaric, J., Gautier, S., Peyrat, S., Muirhead, J.D., Muzuka, A.N.N., Mulibo, G., Kianji, G., Ferdinand-Wambura, R., Msabi, M., Rodzianko, A., Hadfield, R., Illsley-Kemp, F., Fischer, T.P., 2017, Fault-magma interactions during early continental rifting: seismicity of the Magadi-Natron-Manyara basins, Africa: Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems, doi: 10.1002/2017GC007027.

Lee, H., Muirhead, J.D., Fischer, T.P., Ebinger, C.J., Kattenhorn, S.A., Sharpe, Z.D., Kianji, G., 2016, Massive and prolonged deep carbon emissions associated with continental rifting: Nature Geoscience, v. 9, p. 145-149, doi: 10.1038/NGEO2622.

Muirhead, J.D., Kattenhorn, S.A., Lee, H., Fischer, T.P., Mana, S., Turrin, B., Kianji, G., Dindi, E., Stamps, D.S., 2016, Evolution of upper crustal faulting assisted by magmatic volatile release during early-stage continental rift development in the East Africa Rift: Geosphere, v. 12, p. 1670-1700, doi: 10.1130/GES01375.1.

Airoldi, G.M., Muirhead, J.D., Long, S.M., Zanella, E., C. Ohneiser, White J.D.L., 2016, Flow dynamics in mid-Jurassic dikes and sills of the Ferrar large igneous province and implications for long-distance magma transport: Tectonophysics, v. 683, p. 182-199, doi: 10.1016/j.tecto.2016.06.029.

Muirhead, J.D., Van Eaton, A.R., Re, G., White, J.D.L., Ort, M.H., 2016, Monogenetic volcanoes fed by interconnected dikes and sills in the Hopi Buttes volcanic field, Navajo Nation, USA: Bulletin of Volcanology, v. 78, doi: 10.1007/s00445-016-1005-8.

Magee, C., Muirhead, J.D., Karvelas, A., Holford, S.P., Jackson, C. A-L., Bastow, I., Schofield, N., Stevenson, C.T.E., McLean, C., McCarthy, W., Shtukert, O., 2016, Lateral magma flow in mafic sill-complexes: Geosphere, v. 12, p. 809-841, doi: 10.1130/GES01256.1.

Re, G., White, J.D.L., Muirhead, J.D., Ort, M.H., 2016, Subterranean fragmentation of magma during conduit initiation and evolution in the shallow plumbing system of the small-volume Jagged Rocks volcanoes (Hopi Buttes Volcanic Field, AZ, USA): Bulletin of Volcanology, v. 78,  doi: 10.1007/s00445-016-1050-3.

Muirhead, J.D., Kattenhorn, S.A., Le Corvec, N., 2015, Varying styles of magmatic strain accommodation across the East African Rift: Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems, p. 2775-2795, v. 16, doi:10.1002/2015GC005918.

Muirhead, J.D., Airoldi, G., Rowland, J.V., White, J.D.L., 2014, Cracking the lid: Sill-fed dikes are the likely feeders of flood basalt eruptions: Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v. 406, p. 187-197, doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2014.08.036.

Muirhead, J.D., Airoldi, G., Rowland, J.V., White, J.D.L., 2012, Interconnected sills and inclined sheet intrusions control shallow magma transport in the Ferrar large igneous province, Antarctica: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 124, p. 162-180, doi: 10.1130/B30455.1.

Airoldi, G., Muirhead J.D., Zanella, E., White, J.D.L., 2012, Emplacement processes of Ferrar Dolerite sheets at Allan Hills (South Victoria Land, Antarctica) inferred from magnetic fabric: Geophysical Journal International, v. 188, p. 1046-1060, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-246X.2011.05334.x.

Van Eaton, A.R., Muirhead, J.D., Wilson, C.J.N., and Cimarelli, C., 2012, Growth of volcanic ash aggregates in the presence of liquid water and ice: an experimental approach: Bulletin of Volcanology, v. 74, p. 1963-1984, doi: 10.1007/s00445-012-0634-9.

Airoldi, G., Muirhead, J.D., White, J.D.L., Rowland, J.V., 2011, Emplacement of magma at shallow depth: insights from field relationships at Allan Hills, south Victoria Land, East Antarctica: Antarctic Science, v. 23, p. 281-296, doi:10.1017/S0954102011000095.