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.