Orange Alert

Skip to main content
Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

James Muirhead

Muirhead profile

Research Assistant Professor

204 Heroy Geology Laboratory

News Articles

Geologist Offers New Clues to Cause of World’s Greatest Extinction

(July 31, 2017)

James Muirhead co-authors ‘groundbreaking’ article in Nature Communications

Underground magma triggered Earth’s 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

What caused worst mass extinction in Earth’s history? Not what you think

Massive underground magma pulse caused the world’s largest mass extinction

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/revision

Muirhead, J.D., Wright, L.J., Scholz, C.A., in revision. Rift evolution in regions of low magma input in East Africa, in revision in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Oliva, S.J., Ebinger, C.J., Wauthier, C., Muirhead, J.D., Roecker, S., Rivalta, E., in revision. Insights into fault-magma interactions in an early-stage continental rift from source mechanisms and correlated volcano-tectonic earthquakes, in review in Geophysical Research Letters.

Muirhead, J.D., Wright, L.J.M., and Scholz, C.A., 2019, Rift evolution in regions of low magma input in East Africa, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 506 (2019) 332–346.


Magee, C., Muirhead, J.D., Schofield, N., McCarthy, W., Jackson, C., Holford, S., Hutton, D., Galland, O., Spacapan, J., Walker, R., in press. Structural signatures of primary magma flow in sheet intrusions, Journal of Structural Geology, doi: 10.1016/j.jsg.2018.07.010

Magee, C., Ernst, R.E., Muirhead, J.D., Phillips, T., Jackson, C. A-L., in review. Magma Plumbing Systems in Large Igneous Provinces: Lessons from Seismic Reflection Data, in revision in IDC special volume 7: Dyke Swarms of the World – A Modern Perspective.

Le Corvec, N., Muirhead, J.D., White, J.D.L., 2018. Shallow magma diversions during explosive diatreme-forming eruptions, in revision in Nature Communications 9, doi:10.1038/s41467-018-03865-x.

Muirhead, J.D., Kattenhorn, S.A., 2018. Activation of preexisting transverse structures in an evolving magmatic rift in East Africa, Journal of Structural Geology 106, 1-18, doi: 10.1016/j.jsg.2017.11.004.

Zhang C., Muirhead, J.D., Wang, H., Chen, S., Liao, Y., Lu, Z., Wei, J., 2018. Lacustrine fan delta deposition alongside intrabasinal structural highs in rift basins: an example from the Early Cretaceous Jiuquan Basin, Northwestern China, International Journal of Earth Sciences, doi: 10.1007/s00531-017-1575-5.

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 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, 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.

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

Airoldi, G., Muirhead J.D., Long, S.M., Zanella, E., 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 683, doi: 10.1016/j.tecto.2016.06.029.

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 9, doi:10.1038/ngeo2622.

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 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 12, 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 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 16, doi:10.1002/2015GC005918.

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

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 124, 162-180.

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

Airoldi, G., Muirhead, J.D., Zanella, E., White, J.D.L., 2012. Emplacement process of Ferrar Dolerite sheets at Allan Hills (South Victoria Land, Antarctica) inferred from magnetic fabric. Geophysical Journal International 188, 1046-1060.

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