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Dr Tom Argles

Tom in fieldwork attire, Peru

Profile summary

  • Central Academic Staff
  • Senior Lecturer / Director of Teachng
  • Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
  • School of Environment, Earth & Ecosystem Sciences
  • tom.argles

Professional biography

I have been a Senior Lecturer in the School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences (formerly Department of Earth Sciences) since 2011, and a Lecturer from 2000-2011. Prior to that, I held a NERC Research Fellowship at the Open University (1997-2000), working on highly deformed and metamorphosed rocks at the western end of the Himalaya, in northern Pakistan. Since then, my research has focused mainly on orogenic processes in the Himalaya and Tibet, with brief excursions to the Alps, Australia, southern Spain and India. In the meantime, my Himalayan research has migrated gradually eastwards, through north-west India and southern Tibet to Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. I've co-supervised a number of PhD students in that time, working on deep subduction and element cycling in the Alps, isotopic fingerprinting of tectonic units in the Himalaya, channel flow and crustal melting in the Himalaya, kimberlites and lamproites of southern India, and ground ice hazards in Iceland.

Educational research

From Jan 2008 to Dec 2009 I held a COLMSCT Teaching Fellowship entitled: yOU-Map: Delivering spatial geological data digitally to a distance-learning community. This project aimed to deliver innovative teaching of spatial geological data in a digital context to a distance-learning community of students, primarily focusing on the rewrite of the second-level Geology course (S260, being replaced by S276). You can read about that project here.

In 2011, I started a project hosted by eSTEeM at the OU entitled "Geospatial technologies in distance modules in Science", with Sarah Davies. This project is evaluating the impact of geospatial distance materials created during yOU-Map on OU students and tutors. Read a description of the project here. I was also involved in a project creating an immersive, 3-D learning environment for a virtual field trip (VFT), funded by the Wolfson Foundation, as part of the Openscience Laboratory, which was launched in July 2013. I am now pursuing 2 separate projects evaluating this VFT (Virtual Skiddaw) with OU students and schools, and scoping the potential for expanding the virtual field trip platform as a national 'library' of VFTs.

Engagement & Outreach

I have a keen interest in outreach activities, in particular coordinating, designing and running visits to local primary schools that give children hands-on experience of rocks, minerals and fossils, and to talk about what geologists do.

I have also worked on BBC projects, including 'Nature of Britain', pursuing an interest in wildlife that occupies much of my leisure time.

Research interests

  1. Orogenic processes in modern and ancient mountain belts; isotopic, metamorphic and structural investigations of how major mountain belts work
  2. Using GIS in distance education
  3. Multi-user virtual environments for virtual field trips in STEM education

Teaching interests

Metamorphic Petrology, Structural Geology, Isotope Geochemistry, GIS/digital mapping, Resources.

OU modules I have worked on:

  • S268, S278 (Physical Resources and Environment, Earth's Physical Resources)
  • S339 (Understanding the Continents)
  • S104 (Exploring Science)
  • S279 (Our dynamic planet: earth and Life)
  • S276 (Geology)
  • SXR339 (Ancient Mountains: practical geology in Scotland)
  • SXR260 (The geological history of the British Isles)
  • S288 (Remote Observation, Igneous and Metamorphic Rocks, Sedimentary Rocks and Fossils, Vegetation and Soils, Hydrology and Meteorology topics)
  • S209 (Earth science) Module team chair
  • S309 (Earth processes)

Impact and engagement

Chair of Higher Education Network of the Geological Society 2013- (Treasurer 2011-2014)

President of the Open University Geological Society (2014-2016)

Geological Society Education Committee 2013-2016

Geological Society Joint Higher Education Committee 2017-

Higher Education Coordinator of the Earth Science Teachers' Association 2013-


External collaborations

NERC Isotope Geoscience Laboratories (Nick Roberts)

Daden Ltd (developers in Birmingham with expertise in virtual worlds)

Universidad de Salamanca (Alicia López Carmona, Gabriel Gutiérrez Alonso)

Research Activity

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space and Astronomical Research (CEPSAR)CentreFaculty of Science
Isotope Geochemistry & Earth Systems GroupGroupFaculty of Science


Externally funded projects

When did crustal melting form the soft centre at the heart of the Himalaya

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01/Oct/201631/Mar/2020NERC - British Geological Survey (BGS)
Major mountain belts are contortions of the Earth’s crust, ravaged by gravity. Rocks buried in these zones soften, stretch and melt, with drastic consequences for their mechanical strength. Just a few percent of partial melt can dramatically weaken the continental crust1 and rapidly change the evolution of the mountain belt. In the Himalaya, research on granites has mainly focused on conspicuous, pale bodies of Miocene-aged granites (leucogranites). These magmas formed when fertile rocks were rapidly exhumed from the mid-crust, decompressed and melted. However, these melts were a symptom of that dramatic exhumation, not its cause. Clues to what triggered that exhumation in the Himalayan core must lie in earlier events. Sporadic evidence for earlier melting has been recognised along the entire Himalayan chain from Pakistan to Bhutan2. These cryptic, deformed kyanite-bearing leucogranites and partly-molten gneisses (migmatites) crystallized during Paleogene prograde burial and heating. However, such evidence is commonly overlooked among rocks with textures heavily reworked during Neogene mountain-building. Understanding Paleogene crustal melting in these youthful mountains is therefore key for establishing the tipping point at which crustal thickening was overtaken by exhumation3. Moreover the spatial distribution of such melting will help fingerprint the underlying tectonic mechanism that drove the tectonic extrusion (critical taper, wedge tectonics or channel flow). This project aims to interrogate field relations and mineral assemblages to define melt reactions during heating in the crystalline core of the Himalaya. Results from the project will yield insights into viscosity changes in both the Paleogene Himalaya and older collisional orogens, providing critical constraints on thermomechanical models that attempt to explain how all mountain belts evolve.

Crust-mantle exchange in orogenic lower crust: the record in high temperature eclogites

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01/Oct/201531/Mar/2019NERC - British Geological Survey (BGS)
Crust-mantle exchange in orogenic lower crust: the record in high temperature eclogites project. PhD studentship was awarded to Eleni Wood.


Garnet–monazite rare earth element relationships in sub-solidus metapelites: a case study from Bhutan (2018-04-07)
Warren, Clare J.; Greenwood, Lucy V.; Argles, Tom W.; Roberts, Nick M. W.; Parrish, Randall R. and Harris, Nigel B. W.
Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 468 (SP478.1)
Debris-flow release processes investigated through the analysis of multi-temporal LiDAR datasets in north-western Iceland (2018)
Morino, Costanza; Conway, Susan J.; Balme, Matthew R.; Hillier, John; Jordan, Colm; Saemundsson, Þorsteinn and Argles, Tom
Earth Surface Processes and Landforms ((Early Access))
Teaching practical science online using GIS: a cautionary tale of coping strategies (2017)
Argles, Tom
Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 41(3) (pp. 341-352)
Recognition of massive Upper Cretaceous carbonate bodies as olistoliths using rudist bivalves as internal bedding indicators (Campanian Merfeg Formation, Central Tunisia) (2016-11)
Negra, M. Hédi; Skelton, Peter W.; Gili, Eulàlia; Valldeperas, F. Xavier and Argles, Tom
Cretaceous Research, 66 (pp. 177-193)
The geology and tectonics of central Bhutan (2016)
Greenwood, Lucy V.; Argles, Tom W.; Parrish, Randall R.; Harris, Nigel B. W. and Warren, Clare
Journal of the Geological Society, 173(2) (pp. 352-369)
Using U-Th-Pb petrochronology to determine rates of ductile thrusting: time windows into the Main Central Thrust, Sikkim Himalaya (2015-07)
Mottram, Catherine M.; Parrish, Randall R.; Regis, Daniele; Warren, Clare J.; Argles, Tom W.; Harris, Nigel B. W. and Roberts, Nick M. W.
Tectonics, 34(7) (pp. 1355-1374)
Developing an inverted Barrovian sequence; insights from monazite petrochronology (2014-10-01)
Mottram, Catherine M.; Warren, Clare J.; Regis, Daniele; Roberts, Nick M. W.; Harris, Nigel B. W.; Argles, Tom W. and Parrish, Randall R.
Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 403 (pp. 418-431)
Tectonic interleaving along the Main Central Thrust, Sikkim Himalaya (2014-03)
Mottram, Catherine M.; Argles, T. W.; Harris, N. B. W.; Parrish, R. R.; Horstwood, M. S. A.; Warren, C. J. and Gupta, S.
Journal of the Geological Society, 171(2) (pp. 255-268)
The source of A-type magmas in two contrasting settings: U–Pb, Lu–Hf and Re–Os isotopic constraints (2013)
Pankhurst, M. J.; Schaefer, B. F.; Turner, S. P.; Argles, T. and Wade, C. E.
Chemical Geology, 351 (pp. 175-194)
New Ar-Ar ages of southern Indian kimberlites and a lamproite and their geochemical evolution (2011-08)
Osborne, Ian; Sherlock, Sarah; Anand, Mahesh and Argles, Tom
Precambrian Research, 189(1-2) (pp. 91-103)
A short-duration pulse of ductile normal shear on the outer South Tibetan detachment in Bhutan: Alternating channel flow and critical taper mechanics of the eastern Himalaya (2011-04)
Chambers, Jennifer; Parrish, Randall; Argles, Tom; Harris, Nigel and Horstwood, Matthew
Tectonics, 30, Article TC2005(2)
Contribution of crustal anatexis to the tectonic evolution of Indian crust beneath southern Tibet (2011-01)
King, Jess; Harris, Nigel; Argles, Tom; Parrish, Randall and Zhang, Hongfei
Geological Society of America Bulletin, 123(1-2) (pp. 218-239)
Highly siderophile element behaviour accompanying subduction of oceanic crust: Whole rock and mineral-scale insights from a high-pressure terrain (2009)
Dale, C.W.; Burton, K. W.; Pearson, D. G.; Gannoun, A.; Alard, O.; Argles, T. W. and Parkinson, I. J.
Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 73(5) (pp. 1394-1416)
Empirical constraints on extrusion mechanisms from the upper margin of an exhumed high-grade orogenic core, Sutlej valley, NW India (2009)
Chambers, Jennifer; Caddick, Mark; Argles, Thomas; Horstwood, Matthew; Sherlock, Sarah; Harris, Nigel; Parrish, Randall and Ahmad, Talat
Tectonophysics, 477(1-2) (pp. 77-92)
Tectonic implications of Palaeoproterozoic anatexis and Late Miocene metamorphism in the Lesser Himalayan Sequence, Sutlej Valley, NW India (2008-05)
Chambers, Jennifer; Argles, Thomas; Horstwood, Matthew; Harris, Nigel; Parrish, Randall and Ahmad, Talat
Journal of the Geological Society, 165(3) (pp. 725-737)
Giant submarine landslide grooves in the Neoproterozoic/Lower Cambrian Phe Formation, northwest Himalaya: Mechanisms of formation and palaeogeographic implications (2008-04-01)
Draganits, Erich; Schlaf, Jurgen; Grasemann, Bernhard and Argles, Thomas
Sedimentary Geology, 205(3-4) (pp. 126-141)
Rhenium-osmium isotope and elemental behaviour during subduction of oceanic crust and the implications for mantle recycling (2007-01-15)
Dale, C.W.; Gannoun, A.; Burton, K.W.; Argles, T.W. and Parkinson, I.J.
Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 253(1-2) (pp. 211-225)
First field evidence of southward ductile flow of Asian crust beneath southern Tibet (2007)
King, Jess; Harris, Nigel; Argles, Tom; Parrish, Randy; Charlier, Bruce; Sherlock, Sarah and Zhang, Hong Fei
Geology, 35(8) (pp. 727-730)
Correlation of lithotectonic units across the Eastern Himalaya, Bhutan (2006-05)
Richards, Andy; Parrish, Randall; Harris, Nigel; Argles, Tom and Zhang, Li
Geology, 34(5) (pp. 341-344)
Himalayan architecture constrained by isotopic tracers from clastic sediments (2005-08-15)
Richards, Andy; Argles, Tom; Harris, Nigel; Parrish, Randy; Ahmad, Talat; Darbyshire, Fiona and Draganits, Erich
Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 236(3-4) (pp. 773-796)
Exhumation of the Ronda peridotite and its crustal envelope: constraints from thermal modelling of a P-T-time array (2004)
Platt, J.P; Argles, T.W; Carter, A.; Kelley, S.P; Whitehouse, M.J and Lonergan, L.
Journal of the Geological Society, 160(5) (pp. 655-676)
Isotope studies reveal a complete Himalayan section in the Nanga Parbat syntaxis (2003-12)
Argles, Tom; Foster, Gavin; Whittington, Alan; Harris, Nigel and George, Mark
Geology, 31(12) (pp. 1109-1112)
The Tertiary collision-related thermal history and tectonic evolution of the NW Himalaya (2002-12)
Foster, G.; Vance, D.; Argles, T. and Harris, N.
Journal of Metamorphic Geology, 20(9) (pp. 827-844)
First evidence for Himalayan-age synconvergent extension recognized within the western syntaxis - Nanga Parbat, Pakistan (2002-08)
Argles, T.W. and Edwards, M.A.
Journal of Structural Geology, 24(8) (pp. 1327-1344)
Geological Field Techniques (2010)
Coe, Angela; Argles, Thomas; Rothery, David and Spicer, Robert
ISBN : 978-1-4443-3061-8 | Publisher : Wiley Blackwell in association with the OU | Published : Chichester
Fieldscapes – Creating and Evaluating a 3D Virtual Field Trip System (2017-06-29)
Burden, D.J.H.; Argles, T.; Minocha, S.; Rock, J.; Tilling, S. and Wheeler, P.
In : The Immersive Learning Research Network Conference - iLRN 2017 (26-29 Jun 2017, Coimbra, Portugal) (pp. 18-29)
FieldscapesVR: Virtual world field trips to extend and enrich field teaching (2017-01-11)
Argles, T. W.; Burden, D.; Tilling, S. and Minocha, S.
In : 35th International Geological Congress (27 Aug - 04 Sep 2016, Cape Town, South Africa)
Delivering authentic online practical science teaching – geoscience perspectives from the OpenScience Laboratory (2017-01-11)
Argles, T. W.; Brodeur, M. and Braithwaite, N. St.J.
In : 35th International Geological Congress (27 Aug - 04 Sep 2016, Cape Town, South Africa)
Boosting the petrochronology arsenal: REE partitioning between garnet and monazite in Bhutanese pelitic metasediments (2017-01-11)
Warren, C. J.; Argles, T. W.; Greenwood, L. V.; Harris, N. B. W. and Roberts, N. M. W.
In : 35th International Geological Congress (27 Aug 2016-4 Sep 2016, Cape Town, South Africa)
Enhancing ecological fieldwork with Virtual Reality (2016-12)
Tilling, Steve; Wheeler, Philip; Burden, David and Argles, Thomas
In : British Ecological Society Annual Meeting 2016 (11-14 Dec 2016, Liverpool, UK)
Virtual field teaching has evolved: benefits of a 3D gaming environment (2015-11)
Argles, Tom; Minocha, Shailey and Burden, David
In : E-games and virtual worlds: golden egg or wild GEES chase? (22 Jan 2015, Plymouth) (pp. 222-226)
Pedagogical advantages of 3D virtual field trips and the challenges for their adoption (2015-06-16)
Minocha, Shailey; Tilling, Steve; Argles, Tom; Braithwaite, Nick; Burden, David and Rock, James
In : Computers and Learning Research Group (CALRG) Conference 2015 (15-17 Jun 2015, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK)
Exploring the affordances of virtual fieldwork in a multi-user, 3-D digital environment (2015-01-22)
Argles, Thomas; Minocha, Shailey and Burden, David
In : Higher Education Network (HEN) Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of London (21-22 Jan 2015, Plymouth University, Plymouth)
3D virtual geology field trips: opportunities and limitations (2014-06-11)
Minocha, Shailey; Davies, Sarah-Jane; Richardson, Brian and Argles, Thomas
In : Computers and Learning Research Group Annual Conference 2014 (10-11 Jun 2014, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, UK)
A 3D virtual geology field trip in Unity (2013-07-27)
Minocha, Shailey; Argles, Thomas; Richardson, Brian and Burden, David
In : Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (24-27 Jul 2013, Second Life (3D virtual world))
3D virtual geology field trips: opportunities and limitations (2013-04-17)
Argles, Tom; Richardson, Brian; Davies, Sarah; Minocha, Shailey and Braithwaite, Nick
In : HEA STEM: Annual Learning and Teaching Conference 2013: Where practice and pedagogy meet (17-18 Apr 2013, Birmingham)
3D Virtual Field Trips as a Service (VFTaaS): Learning Design (2015-05-07)
Minocha, Shailey; Burden, David; Tilling, Steve; Argles, Thomas and Rock, James
The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.

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