Geosciences at Virginia Tech

Research Associates and Postdoctoral Scientists

Esther Schwarzenbach
Research Scientist

5070 Derring Hall
+1.540.231.8521 (Phone)
+1.540.231.3386 (FAX)

Mailing Address:
4044 Derring Hall (0420)
Blacksburg, VA 24061

PhD, Earth Sciences, ETH Zurich, Switzerland, 2011
M.S., Earth Sciences (Geochemistry & Petrology), ETH Zurich, Switzerland, 2006


My research interests focus on alteration processes of the oceanic crust, with the main focus on serpentinization of ultramafic rocks. This includes: (i) mineralogical and petrological characterization of alteration processes formed during water-rock interaction of the oceanic lithosphere, e.g. caused by exposure to seawater along mid-ocean ridges or during metasomatism in subduction zones, (ii) determining the extent of chemical exchange and cycling of elements (e.g. carbon and sulfur) between the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere, (iii) studying the influence of serpentinization and the formation of hydrogen and methane on microbial activity, (iv) investigating continental, weathering-type alteration of ultramafic rocks, and formation of Mg-rich to highly alkaline waters and their implication for biological activity.

Links to research groups:

Metamorphic processes:

Sedimentary geochemistry group and stable isotope laboratory:


  • Schwarzenbach, E.M., Gazel, E., Caddick, M.J. (2014). Hydrothermal processes in partially serpentinized peridotites from Costa Rica: Evidence from native copper and complex sulfide assemblages. Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology, 168, 1079, DOI: 10.1007/s00410-014-1079-2.
  • Sanches-Murillo, R., Gazel, E. Schwarzenbach, E.M., Crespo-Medina, M., Schrenk, M.O., Boll, J., Gill, B.C. (2014). Geochemical evidence for active tropical serpentinization in the Santa Elena ophiolite, Costa Rica: An analogue of a humid early Earth? Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 15 (5), 1783-1800, DOI: 10.1002/2013GC005213.
  • Schwarzenbach, E.M., Lang, S.Q., Früh-Green, G.L., Lilley, M.D., Bernasconi, S.M. (2013). Sources and cycling of carbon in continental, serpentinite-hosted alkaline springs in the Voltri Massif, Italy. Lithos, 177, 226-244, DOI: 10.1016/j.lithos.2013.07.009.
  • Schwarzenbach, E.M., Früh-Green, G.L., Bernasconi, S.M., Alt, J.C., Plas, A. (2013). Serpentinization and the incorporation of carbon: A study of two ancient peridotite-hosted hydrothermal systems. Chemical Geology, 351, 115-133, DOI: 10.1016/j.chemgeo.2013.05.016.
  • Alt, J. C., Schwarzenbach, E. M., Früh-Green, G. L., Shanks, W. C., Bernasconi, S. M., Garrido, C. J., Crispini, L., Gaggero, L., Padrón-Navarta, J. A., Marchesi, C. (2013). The role of serpentinites in cycling of carbon and sulfur: Seafloor serpentinization and subduction metamorphism. Lithos, 178, 40-54, DOI: 10.1016/j.lithos.2012.12.006.
  • Schwarzenbach, E.M., Früh-Green, G.L., Bernasconi, S.M., Alt, J.C., Shanks, W.C., Gaggero, L., Crispini, L. (2012). Sulfur geochemistry of peridotite-hosted hydrothermal systems: Comparing the Ligurian ophiolites with oceanic serpentinites. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, v91, 283-305, DOI: 10.1016/j.gca.2012.05.021.
  • Alt, J.C., Shanks, W.C., Crispini, L., Gaggero, L., Schwarzenbach, E.M., Früh-Green, G.L., Bernasconi, S.M. (2012). Uptake of carbon and sulfur during seafloor serpentinization and the effects of subduction metamorphism in Ligurian peridotites, Chemical Geology, v322-323, 268-277.
  • Schwarzenbach, E.M. (2011). Serpentinization, fluids and life: Comparing carbon and sulfur cycles in modern and ancient environments, Earth Sciences. ETH Zurich, Thesis No. 19588, Zurich, p. 240.

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