Chris Spencer

Chris completed his Ph.D. in 2013 at the University of St Andrews under the tutelage of professors Peter Cawood and Chris Hawkesworth. He is currently a Early Career Research Fellow at Curtin University. While utilizing geochronology and isotope geology, his research is focused on the evolution of orogenic systems. Given that there orogenic events are found everywhere on the planet, literally the world is his laboratory. Through his travels Chris finds great joy in  experiencing local cuisine. Chris and his muse Camille have two male offspring.

Research GateGoogle Scholar : Mormon.org

TG Posts by Chris Spencer

Life on a subduction zone and Earth’s youngest granite

TravelingGeologist is expanding our reach to the world of short films about our adventures in the field. Our first instalment of TGTV is from a recent trip that Chris Spencer and Carl Hoiland took to the Japanese Alps. Enjoy! This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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Terra cotta Army of Xi’an with Chris Spencer

Chris is a regular contributor for the TravelingGeologist and you can see his other posts here. Of all the things quintessentially China, the terra cotta warriors and horses of Qin Shi Huang are definitely at the near the top of the list. The first broken fragments of the sculptures were discovered in 1974 by a farmer in the Shaanxi […]


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Anthropocene part 2: on differing perspectives with Chris Spencer

The last bit I wrote about the Anthropocene was one of skepticism and incredulity. The idea that the past 200 (or even 2 million) years of our genus would amount to anything more than a few plastiglomerate horizons in the geologic record seems to me exaggerative and inflammatory. There are others in the Earth science community […]


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Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland with Chris Spencer

In an act to establish dominance among the island giants, Benandonner challenged Fionn mac Cumhaill to battle. So determined was Benandonner to beat Fionn he built a massive stone causeway from Staffa to Ulster. Fionn knew that Benandonner was mightier than he so he conspired with his wife Oonagh to trick Benandonner. Oonagh dressed Fionn as a […]


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Albany-Fraser Orogeny in SW Australia with Chris Spencer | Western Australia

Having recently accepted a research fellowship at Curtin University, my family and are in the process of immigrating to sunny Western Australia. In preparation for this transition, I traveled to Perth to get the lay of the land. My perusing took me to the southwest corner of Australia near the town of Albany. This corner of Australia […]


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Pilgrimage to the Semail Ophiolite with Chris Spencer | Oman

For the geologist, there are some places on planet Earth that are sacred. Not sacred in supernatural or mystical, but sacred in the impact they have had for our understanding of the Earth system. Of course, each geologist will regard various site with differing amounts of reverence depending on interests and specialty. From my initial formal […]


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San Andreas Fault, Santa Cruz, California with Chris Spencer | San Andreas Fault

Chris has recently taken a position as a research fellow at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. You can see more of his current research here. The San Andreas Fault is likely the most well-known fault in North America. Its notoriety likely comes from the massive 1906 San Francisco earthquake that devastated the city. Following a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, fire broke […]


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To the Anthropocene … and back

Today at the British Geological Survey, a group of Earth scientists have gathered to discuss the evidence for irreversible anthropogenic change in the Earth system with specific focus on the nitrogen cycle. The idea that humans have the power to permanently change the planet on a geologic timescale is one that has a wide array of […]


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Balmuccia Peridotite, Italy with Chris Spencer

Geologists working very hard as we do. One of the many reasons I love the Alps is because one can transect the entire crust from fiamme-bearing ignimbrites at Crevacuore to … … the mantle as seen here near Balmuccia where fresh peridotite is intruded by peroxenite dikes. The Balmuccia Peridotite is located up the Val […]


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Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Pompeii and Vesuvius as part of a tour of the volcanoes of the Tyrrhenian Sea (here). Looking back through these photos, I am still amazed at the level of destruction of the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and yet the immense force of destruction also provided […]


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The Eastern French and Spanish Pyrenees

A few weeks ago, I took a pseudo-holiday with the family to the eastern Pyrenees. The Pyrenees offers many (if not most) of the features seen in large collisional orogenies (e.g. Alps and Himalaya) but on a much smaller scale. Because of this, much of our understanding of orogenic basins and reactivated orogenic basement come […]


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Flying over Scotland

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join a friend in a single prop plane to some key geologic localities that can be observed from the air better than they can be seen from the ground. While most of us use Google Earth for that, seeing an oblique view from 2-3 thousand […]


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More of Hutton on Arran + video

In addition to the famous angular unconformity seen near Lochranza on the Isle of Arran, Hutton also made an important discovery concerning the emplacement of plutonic systems. The Isle of Arran is cored by a large circular granitic pluton. This Tertiary-age pluton is rimmed by the steeply dipping Dalradian Supergroup and the Old Red Sandstone. […]


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James Hutton on the Isle of Arran

The Isle of Arran is often described as Scotland in miniature. It has it all: sheep, highland cattle, smoked fish, haggis, whiskey, cheese, and rocks. As for the rocks, Arran offers some of the best of Scottish geology contained on a 160 square mile island off the coast of the Firth of Clyde.    Clockwise […]


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Ten years on the Grand Staircase

As a geology student, I lived for field trips. It didn’t matter whether we walked up Rock Canyon or flew over the Himalaya, being amongst the rocks was the paramount experience of every class. Although I have now ended my student phase, nothing has changed. I belong in the field. As I transition from the […]


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Namaqua Metamorphic Complex

The Namaqua Metamorphic Complex forms the western end of the Namaqua-Natal orogenic belt (see the bizarre granitoids of Natal here). These rocks were formed during the formation of the supercontinent Rodinia which was assembled roughly 1.1 to 1.0 billion years ago. This metamorphic belt reveals the guts of a collisional orogen. If we were to […]


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Alpine Eclogitic Blueschist Gigapan

This eclogitic blueschist was collected from Chamois, Italy in the Zermatt-Saas ophiolite. At this locality, smooshed pillow basalts are clearly seen at the top of the ophiolite section although in most areas the primary magmatic textures have been obliterated by high pressure metamorphism. This sample contains glaucophane, jadite/omphacite, lawsonite (pseudomorphs), and other secondary minerals. The […]


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Return to the Western Alps

This month I was lucky enough to again participate in the “Anatomy of an Orogeny” field course in the  Alps with the University of St Andrews. Last year I had four posts outlining our transect from Milan, Italy to Berne, Switerzland (clockwise from upper left: Sesia-Lanzo, Ivrea Verbano, Flysch and Molasse, Helvetic Nappes). This year we had great […]


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Namib Sand Sea

A sand sea or erg is defined as an expanse of land covered with 125 square km. The Namib Sand Sea is the second largest in the world. It covers nearly 80 thousand square kilometers (nearly the size of Austria or South Carolina). From the mountains to the dunes to the ocean, it is home […]


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Bizarre Granitoids of KwaZulu-Natal

For most geologists, thoughts of South Africa are comprised of kimberlites, chromite seams, and gold. This post has nothing to do with any of those things. Along the east coast of SA near Durban is a suite of Mesoproterozoic granitoids and high-grade metamorphic rocks called the Natal Belt that were emplaced during the collision of […]


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Uinta Mountains

The Uinta Mountains are a large east-west trending mountain range (on of the few in North and South America). It is made of a 4-km thick Neoproterozoic siciliclastic succession. These strikingly monotonous sediments are hypothesized to record the development of a large E-W trending intracratonic basin during the early stages of the breakup of Rodinia. […]


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Meteorite impact and PGEs in Scotland

The northwest coast of Scotland is an incredibly geologically diverse stretch of coastline. In less than 150 kilometers the rocks span over 2.8 billion years of Earth history, from the Archaean Lewisian gneiss to the Tertiary volcanic province on Skye with little missing in between. Such a wide temporal spread means that any particular age […]


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The Moine Thrust

In the world of geology, many firsts took place in Scotland. Scotland was the place where deep time was first demonstrated by William Hutton at Siccar Point (discussed here). It as also the birthplace of thrust tectonics. However, these tremendous discoveries were not without controversy.  Loch Eriboll A prominent feature in the highlands is a […]


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Ligurian Ophiolites

The Ligurian Coast is possibly the most iconic coastlines in Italy. In addition to being incredibly scenic and beautiful, the Ligurian Coast is home to some incredibly complex and exciting geology. The Ligurian Coast is composed of the Maritime Alps in the west and the Ligurian Nappes of the Apennines in the east. Along this coast the […]


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LA-MC-ICP-MS @ NIGL

Scientists can get often get a bit silly with acronyms. My favorite example is LA-MC-ICP-MS which stands for laser ablation multi-collector inductively coupled mass spectrometer. This instrumental method is used for in situ micro-analysis of solids. The primary application of this method is to measure the isotopic ratios of elements used in radiogenic and stable […]


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Teton Range

The Grand Tetons and the Idaho farmland The Grand Tetons are a prominent N-S mountain range in Wyoming. I am tempted to argue that the Grand Tetons have the most complex and long lasting geologic history of any mountain range on the planet. Within the range, the Grand Teton dominates the skyline standing nearly 4200 […]


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Earthquakes in South Carolina

Charleston College I recently returned from Charleston, South Carolina. Although the purpose of my visit was geologic in nature, it was a workshop rather than a field trip. Charleston is a charming city with many historical buildings still standing. In the major cities of the Southern United States it is rare to find any buildings […]


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Friday’s Fab Five #3

With Spring nearly upon us, the geologic travels are soon to begin. I am looking forward to another season of travel and fieldwork. Heck that is why I became a geologist. Until then this Friday will be Mount Etna. I visited Mount Etna in the spring of 2007 with a group of geologists from Brigham […]


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Friday’s Fab Five #2

Because there is not much traveling in the wintertime, I will post another fab five for this Friday. This week’s fab five come from India. No where in particular, just some amazing sites around the country. The Taj Mahal is built of marble quarried from Makrana in Rajasthan. I was amazing at how little dissolution there […]


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Friday’s Fab Five #1

This weeks fab five comes from my old stomping grounds: the Colorado Plateau. Prof. Tom Morris (in the aquamarine shirt) standing atop Glass Mountain in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. Glass Mountain is a large diapir of selenite. Selenite is a variety of gypsum (CaSO4•2H2O) in the form of glassy crystals. Glass Mountain formed as […]


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Labrador

Labrador has a fabulous diversity of geology. It has rocks as old as 3.8 billion years old to the present. In addition to rocks, Labrador also is known for:   Bears… Wide expanses of pine trees… Blueberries!   Most of the best exposures in Labrador are to be found in quarries. These quarries are large […]


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New York City

Although New York City is not thought of as a mecca for geologists you would be surprised at the hidden gems it has to offer. My first stop in New York City was the top of the Rockefeller Center. A terribly touristy place offers an unparalleled view of the city. I will never cease to […]


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Central Alps – Flysch and Molasse

Flysch and Molasse are terms that describe different sets of sedimentary facies associated with orogenic belts. Molasse is defined as terrestrial and shallow marine deposits formed nearest the rising mountain front. It consists of various interbedded rock types including conglomerates, sandstones, and shales. The molasse on the other hand is made up of deep marine […]


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Central Alps – Helvetic Nappes

First off we should define what is a nappe. A nappes is a package of rock that has been folded and deformed to the point that it is completely allocthonous, that is disconnected from its origin (generally over 5km from the original position). They are characterized by rootless, recumbent, and isoclinal folds. The word nappe is […]


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Central Alps – Sesia-Lanzo

Last week we transected the Apulian crust through the Ivrea-Verbano Zone to the Insubric Line. The Insubric Line is the suture between the Apulian crust that makes up Italy and the European continent. Within this suture zone is a sliver of oceanic crust zone known as the Sesia-Lanzo Zone. The Sesia Lanzo and other units of […]


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Central Alps – Ivrea Verbano Zone

I recently returned from a trip to the Central Alps in Italy and Switzerland. All things considered, the Alps might be my favorite mountain range to visit. It has the incredible relief of the Andes and Himalaya (almost), accessibility of the Rockies, and food of … Italy! The Alpine mountain chain  extends basically along the […]


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Tenerife – Mt Teide and Recent Volcanism

The last and current stage of volcanism on Tenerife is the post-caldera rejuvenation stage. This is primarily characterized by the stratovolcano of Mt Teide (12,198 ft) and its lower neighbor Pico-Viejo. These two stratovolcanoes are primarily trachytic and phonolitic in composition and are built upon a common basanitic and basaltic base. The most recent activity […]


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Tenerife – Las Cañadas Caldera

Once the Old Basaltic shield-building eruptions found in Anaga and Teno merged into a single massif the shield experienced two to three million years of erosion. The post-erosion phase began with a new volcanic edifice was erupting in the center of the island between 3.2 and 0.17 Ma. This second stage is known as the Cañadas succession. […]


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Tenerife – Old Basaltic Series

Ocean island or hotspot volcanos generally go through several distinct magmatic phases. The shield stage represents the first stage major episode of magmatism and nearly 95% of the volcano is formed during this stage. The rate of eruption is also maximized during the shield stage and is dominated by tholeiitic basaltic eruptions. Following the shield […]


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The Canary Islands – Tenerife

La Gomera  I am currently on the island of Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands. Initially, my wife, son, and I came to Tenerife for a relaxing holiday at the beach for the wife and son and a quiet place for me to finish a few manuscripts that have burning a hole in my […]


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Ubehebe Crater and Titus Canyon

Death Valley National Park contains arguably the most diverse set of geologic features per square mile than any other national park in the world. Among the highlights are the Ubehebe volcanic field and Titus Canyon. The Ubehebe (you-bee-hee-bee) volcanic field is a classic example of a phreatomagmatic eruption. A phreatomagmatic eruption occurs when rising magma […]


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The Furthest Traveled Geologist – Harrison Schmitt

The idea of traveling to the far flung, rarely visited regions of the planet is a dream for most geologists. What about the prospect of traveling beyond the comfort of our own planet? For this type of adventure, geologists can only dream. This goes for all the geologists this world has to offer with the […]


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Yellowstone – Plume or Not?

Since relocating to Europe (Scotland to be precise), I have noticed many Europeans choose to leave their homeland during the summer months for long (sometimes 2-3 months) vacations. For the average American this is unheard of. Vacations I have experienced are always quick and to the point. One week in Disneyland, two days at the […]


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Sveconorwegian Orogeny, Norway

I recently returned from a couple weeks of field work in the Telemark Region of Norway. The Telemark is widely known for its Stave Churches, the birth place of Telemark skiing, very cold winters (like all of Norway), and funky cottages on stilts. 12 century stave church in Seljord One legend recalls that the church […]


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Augusto Gansser – A true traveling geologist

Augusto Gansser (by Vera Markus) Augusto Gansser is to the Himalaya, what James Cook is to the Pacific Ocean, and John Wesley Powell is to the American West. While none of these men were the first to explore these regions of the world the impact these men left will continue to influence the way we see […]


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NordSIM – Stockholm

Until now most of the posts have been about geologists traveling strictly for fieldwork. However, this is not the only reason geologists travel. Recently I made a non-fieldwork related trip to Stockholm, Sweden to use a Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer (SIMS) housed at their Natural History Museum. The NordSIM facility is operated as a collaborative […]


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EGU 2012 – Vienna, Austria

City Center of Vienna EGU 2012 in Vienna has just ended. The conference was great. There were many interesting sessions and fabulous talks. There were a few talks that were more interesting than others. Here are my two favorites: The Greater India Basin Hypothesis by Douwe van Hinsbergen et al. Douwe talked about the discrepancy between the […]


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Barrovian Metamorphism in Central Spain

George Barrow (1853-1932), a self-taught field geologist discovered systematic changes in metamorphic mineral assemblages in the Scottish Highlands. He further proposed that the sequence of mineral appearances was an indication of increasing metamorphic grade or the conditions under which the rocks were metamorphosed. The mineral sequence is thus: Chlorite – Biotite – Garnet – Staurolite […]


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Ladakh – Transect through a Volcanic Arc Complex

Ladakh is a region in north-westernmost India. It is truly a magical place. The dominant culture is Buddhist and some would say is the last stronghold of true Tibetan culture. Isolated from the oppressive Chinese government, the Ladakhi people have been able to find peace and solitude in the high Zanskar mountains. Ladakh is also a Mecca […]


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Zircons

Zircons are — more often than not — the reason why I travel. Zircon is a zirconium (number 40 on the periodic table) bearing silicate mineral (ZrSiO4). Zircon is an extremely important mineral for geologists because although Zr is the dominant cation, zircon also contains several other large cations such as uranium, hafnium, and rare […]


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Coastal Maine Magmatism

My trip to coastal Maine started in the Deer Isle granite complex. This Devonian granite complex exhibits a complex and highly diverse set of igneous textures that are the result of new magma injection and mixing. The base of the plutonic complex is dominated by cumulates of large alkali feldspars and abundant mafic enclaves. Many of […]


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Battle Island – Pre-Grenvillian Sediments

Battle Island is a small island off the east coast of Labrador. Although this island is only 16 square kilometers, Battle Island one of the few places that preserves the youngest pre-Grenvillian sediments. Why does this matter you ask? I am trying to understand the changes in the chemistry of the continental crust due to […]


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Siccar Point

In 1784 Abraham Gottlob Werner put forth a theory later referred to as ‘Neptunism’. In this book he claimed that at the beginning of creation the Earth was covered with water. Rocks were separated from shrinking oceans incrementally layer upon layer with granite lying at its base. This precipitation continued until the creation was finished and continued […]


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Bahama Banks and Florida Platform

The Great Bahama Bank is a Holocene (recent) shallow water carbonate platform in the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida and north of Cuba. Although the rocks associated with carbonate platforms are found in great quantity around the world, there are very few places where these rocks are currently forming today. Places where carbonates are currently […]


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Italian/Suisse Alps

The Alpide Belt is a seismogenic zone extending from the Atlas mountains in Morocco through the Zagros mountains of Iran to the easternmost region of Indonesia. This range of mountains was formed through the collision of Africa, Arabia, India, and Australia with Eurasia. Having covered the Indian portion of this collision previously, I now move […]


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High in the Himalaya

The Himalaya were formed from the collision of the Indian subcontinent with Asia. This collision has created the highest mountain chain in the world with Mount Everest reaching 8848 meters (29029 feet) above sea level. In addition to creating the highest mountains in the world, the Indo-Asian collision subducted a large amount of the northern […]


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Tyrrhenian Subduction Volcanoes

Imagine with me the most idyllic Mediterranean paradise: sandy beaches, isolated villages, 70º all year long, and gelato (lots of gelato). Now superimpose on this paradise one of the most destructive forces Mother Nature has to offer. For the past 400 thousand years the landmass surrounding the Tyrrhenian sea has been pounded by Plinian volcanic eruptions. […]


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Beginnings in Utah

Like most Utah-educated geologists, field trips began along the Wasatch Front and Colorado Plateau. In Utah, we are extremely spoiled with world class geology a stones throw from all of the Earth Science Departments in the state. My geologic interests waxed and waned with the semesters. While studying sedimentology, I wanted to be a petroleum geologist. […]


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