UNESCO Research Chair on Ophiolite Studies

The purpose of the UNESCO Chair on Ophiolite studies  is to promote an integrated system of research, training and information in the field of ophiolite and related oceanic crust studies. The research component of the project will center on studies on the ancient oceanic crust ‘ophiolie’.  The teaching component will focus on the creation of a distance education platform that will offer training in ophiolite studies in collaboration with a network of international partners. The Chair will complement existing training and research activities already carried out at Sultan Qaboos University and, in particular, at the Department of Earth Sciences and the Earth Sciences Research Centre, by enlarging their scope and by offering some of the curricular and extra-curricular activities to high-school students.


Ophiolites are believed to be pieces of ocean crust and upper mantle that have been thrust up onto the continental crust. Ophiolite was first discovered in the Alps in the early 20th century, and was later found in almost every orogenic belt on the earth. Semail ophiolite in Oman, Troodos ophiolite in Cyprus, Papua ophiolite in Papua-New Guinea, and Bay of Islands ophiolite in Newfoundland are the best known examples, while Yakuno, Horokanai  and Poroshiri ophiolite is also found in Japan. 


Most of Earth’s surface is made up of oceanic crust and ophiolite.  Rapid recent progress in ophiolite research indicates that Earth’s history has been dominated by cycles of supercontinent assembly and breakup.  The inaccessibility of the present-day seafloor makes it logistically difficult to study. However, fragments of ancient oceanic lithosphere (ophiolite)   provide access to complete cross-sections of ocean.  Direct information about the oceanic crust is still very limited. The occurrence of the oceanic lithosphere on land presents geoscientists with the opportunity to explore far below the ocean floor providing crucial insights into processes taking place deep in the ocean crust.  Research on ophiolites in the 1980s and 1990s revealed that they are much more complicated than first thought.  


Two-thirds of Earth’s surface is made up of oceanic crust, which forms at mid-ocean ridges and is recycled into the underlying mantle via subduction at convergent plate boundaries. During each phase of its ~200 million year lifecycle the oceanic crust plays a key role in global geochemical cycles, including the carbon cycle (UNESCO Climate Action C13 and Life under Water C14). The inaccessibility of the present-day seafloor makes it logistically difficult to study. However, fragments of ancient oceanic lithosphere (crust + uppermost mantle) that have been tectonically emplaced on continental margins provide access to complete cross-sections of seafloor. These exposed sections of oceanic lithosphere are called ophiolites. The Oman ophiolite is perhaps the world’s best exposed section of oceanic crust and mantle.  As such, it provides earth scientists with an opportunity to examine features at a scale and detail that is not possible in the marine environment.  The Oman Mountains, with its internationally renowned Semail ophiolite, attracts geologists from all over the world because of its unique stratigraphic completeness, preservation and exposure, its numerous ancient and contemporary mines, its quarries, and its beautiful natural landscape. It is an area of unique ecological, cultural and historical interest at both local and international levels, and it represents an important geological model for the creation and preservation of oceanic crust and mid-oceanic ridge and well preserved transform fault analogues.   As such, it can help in the understanding of the evolution of the oceans and  scientific questions relating to the formation, hydrothermal alteration and biotic and abiotic weathering of oceanic lithosphere.  Since the late 1970s,Oman ophiolite has been the subject of intensive study by a large number of different research groups, notably those from the USA, UK, France, Germany, and Japan.  


The long term objectives of the chair are

  • I. To promote an integrated interdisciplinary system of research, information and development activities in the fields of ophiolite and geodynamics of oceanic crust at an international level.
  • II. To promote community development and capacity building in geoscience subjects through education and high level training focusing on geosciences, oceanic crust and geodynamics with traditional curricula and distance learning. 
  • III. To enhance opportunities to develop educational networks and information exchange in understanding ophiolite and oceanic crust geodynamic.
  • IV. To implement scientific and thematic workshops and meetings focusing on ocean crust and geodynamics towards interested stakeholders from both Oman and other countries and to enhance the knowledge of participants  


The Specific objectives includes

  • I.To develop common research projects and strengthen links with partners.
  • II.To foster advanced research, facilitate the exchange of scientists, and increase the availability of outstanding specialists.
  • III.To train students and technicians at the university with modern research and management principles in the fields of geoscience studies.
  • IV.To exchange and disseminate scientific knowledge and information between institutions about ophiolite research.

UNESCO’s project priorities

The proposed UNESCO Chair on Ophiolite Studies-Earth Sciences is multidisciplinary in its nature and is directly related to many UNESCO domains, disciplines, and priorities, such as Earth Sciences and observation, the environment, global warming, climate change, international geoscience programs, biosphere, science education, ecology, engineering, natural hazards, science and technology, policy and administration, public awareness and access to information.


Projects Strategy for 2014-2021 (37 C/4)

The project is related to many of UNESCO’s medium-term strategies for 2014-2021 as it will help provide quality education, mobilize scientific knowledge, encourage sustainable development (SDG), and promote cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and a culture of peace while building inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication.


Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

The project will help ensure environmental sustainability by furthering studies in climate change (SDG C13- Climate action) and environmental degradation through research on CO2 sequestration and the interaction of CO2 with ultramafic rocks of the oceanic crust (SDG C13 and SDG C14-life below water). The Oman ophiolite absorbs 100,000 tons of CO2 annually by natural interaction of mafic and ultramafic rocks of the ophiolite with water and the atmosphere. This process is slow and the proposed chair will investigate methods of enhancing this reaction of absorption through in-situ or ex-situ sequestration of CO2. The chair will also seek to develop global partnerships with various UNESCO Chairs and institutions in Europe, the USA, Canada and the Middle East.


National development

The proposed Chair will offer a number of social benefits to Oman including:

Promoting increased awareness of oceanic crust and its associated mineralization and its positive attributes in terms of sustainability and regional economic development.

Facilitating the preservation of ophiolite heritage through the use of appropriate material, and encouraging the safeguarding of important heritage   ophiolite resources from subsequent sterilization.


Regional development

This Chair seeks to create an international and multidisciplinary platform allowing geoscientists from academia and industry to sustain a dialogue that is conducive to the integration of findings from different fields into a more cohesive understanding of oceanic crust. The project research themes will address a diverse range of scientific questions relating to the formation, hydrothermal alteration and biotic and abiotic weathering of oceanic lithosphere, the formation of oceanic lithosphere at mid-ocean ridges, the hydrothermal alteration of the sea floor, and subsequent mass transfer between the crust and the oceans and recycling of volatile elements in subduction zones. SQU’s faculty and department staff, various partners, and interested researchers from neighboring GCC and Middle Eastern countries, will be asked to participate in the interdisciplinary programme of the proposed UNESCO Chair. By doing so, the Chair will bring together a diverse range of geoscience expertise in order to explore the occurrence and evolution history of supercontinents through time, and the underlying geodynamic processes. This will contribute to the creation of advanced scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of the geodynamics of the oceanic crust and related geology.



Postgraduate teaching program [x] (Supporting postgraduate supervision) Short-term training [x] (Offering short-term training to universities and industry) Research [x] (Promoting research about different aspects of ophiolite and biotic-a biotic-rock-water-atmosphere interaction) Visiting professorships [x] (Exchange of professors and students) Scholarships [x] (Raise research funds from industry and funding agencies) Institutional development [x] (Raise ranking and visibility)


Target beneficiaries:

Students, Academics Professionals in development fields Visibility

I.Data distribution and annual reports

II.Website, media and brochures, electronic newsletters, discussion groups

III.Lectures and seminars

IV.Workshops and conferences (scientific, technical training and capacity-building with participants)

V.Short courses and postgraduate training and staff exchange programs

VI.Publications (publicity materials for universities, researchers, governmental agencies, conference papers, scientific papers, presentations in the media)



The Chairperson will be the coordinator of all Chair activities. The Chair will be housed in the Earth Sciences Research Centre at the University. The scientific steering committee will aim to develop and spread the activities of the Chair. It is intended that this committee will meet at regular intervals. The Chair secretariat for administrative support of the Chair. Capacity building The Chair will seek the necessary funding for undertaking selected projects.




The proposed activities will be linked with related regional and international research projects. The Centre is already linked to the Oman drilling project, which is a   multi-national collaboration to explore ancient seafloor in the deserts of Oman.See www.omandrilling.ac.uk

How will benefits be sustained?

Developing close ties and links with scientists from involved institutions at the regional and international levels and building-up international collaborations and exposure. See www,omandrilling.ac.uk- Raising public awareness and the interest of policy makers, and

Receiving funding from participation in national, European and international research projects.


Knowledge sharing

The knowledge acquimaroon will be transfermaroon and shamaroon among participating scientists, students and the public as well with similar interested institutions, nationally, regionally and internationally.

The UNESCO Chair in Ophiolite Studies was established in 2018 and was authorized to coordinate and stimulate an International Network of Institutes for ophiolite studies, training, associating higher education institutes, and to develop an up-to-date syllabus for ophiolite research and education which will satisfy the requirements of geological schools in the world. The International Network of the Chair consists already of many units in several countries, and produced lot of online teaching courses and field guides. More courses, newsletter and books are continuously built and produced.

  • National
  • International Participations


Faculty (ies)/Department(s) concerned:

The staff of the Research Centers and the Department of Earth Sciences, Sultan Qaboos University, will participate in the Chair’s activities. These center and departments carry out high quality research in the fields of earth sciences.

Research Centers:     Earth Sciences Research Center.

                                   Earthquake Monitoring Center.

                                   Remote Sensing and GIS Center.

                                   Water Research Center.

                                   Environmental Studies Center.

                                   Oil and Gas Research Center.

Faculty of Sciences:  Department of Earth Sciences

Central Analytical and Applied Research Unit.


The following scientists are already involved with the Centre activities

  • 1.  Prof. Dr. Peter B. Kelemen, Columbia University, Earth and Environmental Science,   peterk@ideo.columbia.edu  www.omandrilling.ac.uk
  • 2.  Dr. Juerg Matter, Ocean and Earth Sciences, National Oceanography Centre, J.Matter@southampton.ac.uk www.omandrilling.ac.uk
  • 3.  Dr. Marguerite Godard, Chargée de Recherche, CNRS, Université de Montpellier, France, Marguerite.Godard@um2.fr
  • 4.  Prof. Jürgen Koepke, Leibniz Universitaet, Germany, koepke@mineralogie.uni-hannover.de
  • 5.  Prof. Eiichi Takazawa, Niigata University, Japan, takazawa@geo.sc.niigata-u.ac.jp
  • 6.  Dr. Neil Banerjee, Western Ontario University, Canada, neil.banerjee@gmail.com
  • 7.  Prof. Dr. Hugh Rollinson, University of Derby, Geosciences Department, H.Rollinson@derby.ac.uk

Proposed UNESCO Chairs/Networking

  • Chaire UNESCO en changements environnementaux à l’échelle du globe (1992), Université du Québec à Montréal, Montréal (54)
  • UNESCO Chair in Marine Geology and Coastal Management (1997), Christian Albrecht’s University of Kiel, Kiel
  • UNESCO Chair on Water, Disaster Management and Climate Change (2016), Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok 
  • UNESCO Chair in South-South Cooperation on Science and Technology to Address Climate Change (2012), Beijing Institute of Technology, China Science and Technology Exchange Center 
  • UNESCO Chair on the Application of the Fundamental Principles of the Earth Charter for a More Sustainable Society 
  • Institute of Problems of Ecology and Mineral Wealth Use of the Tatars tan Academy of Sciences, Kaza
  • UNESCO Chair on Solid Earth Physics and Geohazards Risk Reduction (2015), Technological Educational Institute of Crete