Research course

Tectonics and mountain building

Open University · Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Entry requirements

Minimum 2:1 (or equivalent); prior research experience is preferred.

Months of entry


Course content

Our research into tectonics and mountain building covers the processes and mechanisms relating to how mountains form on the surface of our planet and how the continental crust deforms from the macroscale to the microscale. In particular, our research focuses on mountain belts that form during continent-continent collision, such as the modern Himalayas and Caucasus and the ancient Caledonides. We try to unravel how, when and how quickly the mountain belts formed, the tectonic processes and mechanisms in operation during their uplift, and how their growth fed back into the solid Earth-surface processes-climate system. We achieve this through a combination of geochronology, structural geology, geochemical studies and metamorphic/igneous petrology.

Our vibrant research group currently consists of two academic staff and two research fellows. At any one time we commonly have two or three full-time PhD students, and have regular discussion meetings about the latest data from the laboratory and results/interpretations in recently published literature.

Current/recent research projects

  • The effect of crustal melting on the structural and geodynamic evolution of mountain belts
  • The evolution of major tectonic structures in mountain building processes
  • The role of major structures in driving exhumation during mountain building
  • Determining the evolving balance between buoyancy, tectonics and surface processes during plate collisions
  • The geochemistry of magmatism during and following plate collision

Potential supervisors

  • Dr Tom Argles – the evolution and provenance of highly deformed and metamorphosed rocks in orogenic belts
  • Professor Nigel Harris – links between tectonics and magmatism, the role of mountains in the Earth system, comparative tectonics along the Tethyan orogenic belts, how mountain building impacts on global climate
  • Dr Sarah Sherlock – 40Ar/39Ar geochronology
  • Dr Clare Warren – metamorphic evolution, U-Pb and 40Ar/39Ar geochronology, geodynamic evolution

Department specialisms

We encourage enquiries from prospective students on any geochemical, petrological structural or geochronological aspect of mountain building or tectonic process.

Fees and funding

For detailed information on current fees visit our website

Qualification and course duration


distance learning
variable months
part time
72 months
full time
36 months

Course contact details

Administrative support
+44 (0)1908 659036