Claire Nichols

Claire Nichols

Associate Professor of the Geology of Planetary Processes
Tel: +44 (0) 1865 272002

I use magnetism as a novel tool to understand Earth and planetary formation, the environment of early Earth and planetary habitability. Earth has undergone billions of years of complex physical and chemical evolution leaving many questions about its earliest history unresolved. By interrogating the magnetic signals preserved by ancient terrestrial and extraterrestrial materials much insight can be gained as to how our solar system and planet formed and how life subsequently emerged. I combine synchrotron and electron microscopy techniques with rock magnetism, paleomagnetism and fieldwork in an attempt to understand planetary formation and Earth’s earliest history.

My current research interests include:

  • Constraining the ancient record of Earth’s magnetic field using banded iron formations, such as the 3.7 Ga formation in the Isua Supracrustal Belt, Southwest Greenland
  • Characterizing the magnetic mineralogy of banded iron formations to constrain the redox state of the Archean ocean, precursor mineralogies and diagenetic processes
  • Investigating evidence for lunar secular variation and true polar wander during the first billion years of dynamo activity on the Moon
  • Studying terrestrial and laboratory analogues for ancient Martian lacustrine environments to learn more about the process and rate of magnetite authigenesis
  • The role and significance of the polar wind for atmospheric escape
  • Using magnetization as a proxy for the thermal structure of subduction zones


C.I.O. Nichols, J.F.J. Bryson, R. Blukis, J. Herrero-Albillos, F. Kronast, R. Rueffer, A.I. Chumakov, R.J. Harrison “Variations in the magnetic properties of meteoritic cloudy zone,” Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, vol. 21, pp. 1-14, 2020.


C.I.O. Nichols, J. Einsle, M-Y. Im, T. Kasama, Z. Saghi, P.A. Midgley, R.J. Harrison Field-response of magnetic vortices in dusty olivine from the Semarkona chondrite,” Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, vol. 20, pp. 1-13, 2019.


C.I.O. Nichols, R. Krakow, J. Herrero-Albillos, F. Kronast, G. Northwood-Smith, R.J. Harrison Microstructural and Paleomagnetic Insight into the Formation and Impact History of the IAB Parent Body,” Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 229, pp. 1-19, 2018.


C.I.O. Nichols, J.F.J. Bryson, J. Herrero-Albillos, F. Kronast, F. Nimmo and R.J. Harrison, Pallasite paleomagnetism: Quiescence of a core dynamo,” Earth and Planetary Science Letters, vol. 441, pp. 103-112, 2016.


Zawaski, N.M. Kelly, O. F. Orlandini, C.I.O. Nichols, A.C. Allwood, S.J. Mojzsis Chemical and structural analysis of purported ca. 3.7 Ga stromatolites from the Isua Supracrustal Belt (West Greenland) – a reappraisal.”  EPSL, vol. 545, pp 1-14, 2020.


S. Mighani, H. Wang, D.L. Shuster, C.S. Borlina, C.I.O. Nichols, B.P. Weiss  The End of the Lunar Dynamo,” Science Advances, vol. 6, no.1, pp. 1-8, 2020.


R.J. Harrison, J.F.J. Bryson, C.I.O. Nichols, B.P. Weiss, Magnetic Mineralogy of Meteoritic Metal: Paleomagnetic Evidence for Dynamo Activity on Differentiated Planetesimals,” In Planetesimals, Cambridge University Press, ch. 10, pp. 204-222, 2017.


J.F.J. Bryson, C.I.O. Nichols, J. Herrero-Albillos, F. Kronast, T. Kasama, H. Alimadadi, G. van der Laan, F. Nimmo and R.J. Harrison, Long-lived magnetism from solidication-driven convection on the pallasite parent body,” Nature, vol. 517, pp. 472-475, 2015.