General Interests

Elements move on earth’s surface and deep in its interior through the action of mobile agents such as fluids and silicate melts. John’s research focuses on what controls the movement of trace elements in chemical systems. Recent research has focused on using shifts in chemical and isotopic compositions to characterize the…

  • cycling of heavy metals between soil, porewater, surface water, shrimp, and rice (PhD student Matt Dietrich, funded by NSF).
  • fluxes of carbon dioxide and methane from Quaternary volcanic calderas in Yellowstone and Valles Caldera (PhD student Moyo Ajayi).
  • sources of salinity and arsenic in soils in SW Bangladesh (Master’s students David Fry, work funded by ONR, and Brooke Patton, funded by NSF).
  • provenance of soil in Nashville determined by measuring zircon U-Pb age spectra for soil and limestone bedrock (with Master’s student Nate Katsiaficas and visiting Professor Xiaomei Wang).
  • Solubility of the mineral titanite (sphene) in magmas (with Calvin Miller and Daniel Flanagan, work funded by NSF).
  • potential mobility of trace elements in zircon-saturated fluids. PhD student Tim Peters has measured zircon/fluid partition coefficients for a wide range of trace elements (work funded by NSF).


Recently John became interested in how changes in chemical systems, often caused by natural resource extraction, affect sustainability. This caused him to write a book about sustainability from an earth scientist’s perspective, “Sustainability: An Environmental Science Perspective”, published by Taylor and Francis in 2017.

What Students Do

Students choose whether they want to do laboratory, field, or theoretical work, or some combination of the three. Students doing lab or field work measure the chemical and isotopic compositions of their samples using a variety of sophisticated analytical tools at Vanderbilt and other locations. Theoretical work involves geochemical modeling, and may involve use of GIS software. John’s students develop problem solving skills and a quantitative understanding of earth processes. This experience is highly relevant to environmental problems. It is thus very practical, leading to job opportunities, and contributing to our knowledge of large-scale earth processes.

Selected Publications (*denotes Students)

Fan M, Liu X, Sun S, Dong Y, Ayers JC, Santosh M (2023) Effect of chemical composition on zircon radiation damage dating: Implications for low-temperature thermochronology. Geoscience Frontiers,

Raff J, Pickering J, Gilligan J, Ayers JC, Goodbred S (2023) Sediment delivery to the Bengal delta under anthropogenic climate change. Nature Climate Change.

Gruber C, Steen M, Brown KG, Delapp R, Matteo E, Klein-BenDavid O, Bar-Nes G, Meeussen H, Ayers JC, Kosson DS (2022) Cement-carbonate rock interaction under saturated conditions: from laboratory to modelling. Cement and Concrete Research 160:106899.

Dietrich M, Ayers JC (2022) Element transport and partitioning along tidal channels in Southwest Bangladesh. Estuaries and Coasts.

Ayers JC, Flanagan D, Ackerson M, Wallrich B, Miller CF, Watson EB, Ryerson FJ (2022) The solubility of titanite in silicate melt determined from growth and dissolution experiments. Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology 177:37. 15 pp.

Dietrich M, Ayers JC (2021) Influences on tidal channel and aquaculture shrimp pond water in Southwest Bangladesh. Geochemical Transactions 22:2.

Dietrich M, Ayers JC (2021) Geochemical cycling, partitioning, and possible heavy metal(loid) bioaccumulation within aquaculture shrimp ponds. Science of the Total Environment 788, 147777.

Ajayi M, Ayers JC (2021) CH4 and CO2 diffuse gas emissions before, during, and after a Steamboat Geyser eruption. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 414, 107233.

Ayers JC, Patton B, Dietrich M (2020) Preliminary Evidence of Transport-Limited Chemical Weathering and Element Immobility in the Ganges Tidal Delta Plain of Bangladesh. Geochemistry, Geophys Geosystems 21:e2020GC009029.

Wang X, Katsiaficas N, Nam JH, Lasley C, Liu X, Ayers JC (2020) Use of zircon U-Pb ages and bulk trace element and Nd and Hf isotope compositions to determine soil provenance in a limestone terrane, middle TN, USA. Chemical Geology V. 536, 20 March 2020, 119465.

Zhang F, Wang Y-B, Dua L-L, Yang C-H, Ayers JC, Yuan H-Q (2019) The Neoarchean-Paleoproterozoic volcanic-sedimentary rocks in the Zanhuang Complex, North China Craton: Constraints on the evolution of Tran-North China Orogen. Precambrian Research, v. 328, pp. 64-80.

Pickering J.L., Beam J.C., Covey A.K., Ayers J.C., Goodbred S.L. (2018) Landform evolution of Late Pleistocene to recent terraces of the Brahmaputra-Jamuna River in the upper Bengal Basin. Basin Research. pp. 1-18, DOI: 10.1111/bre.12236

Ayers J.C., Peters T. (2018) Zircon/fluid trace element partition coefficients measured by recrystallization of Mud Tank zircon at 1.5 GPa and 800-1000°C. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta V. 23, pp. 60-74. .

Ayers J.C. (2017) Sustainability: An Environmental Science Perspective. Taylor & Francis Group, CRC Press, 322 pages, ISBN 9781498752657,

Ayers J.C., Goodbred S.L. (2017) Arsenic Contamination in South and Southeast Asia. Oxford Bibliographies in Environmental Science. Ed. Ellen Wohl. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017/10/25.

Ayers J.C., George G., Fry D., Benneyworth L., Wilson C., Wallace Auerbach L., Roy K., Karim M.R., Akter F., Goodbred S.L. (2017) Salinization and Arsenic Contamination of Surface Water in Southwest Bangladesh. Geochemical Transactions, 18:4, 23 pages,

*Benneyworth L., Gilligan J., Ayers J.C., Carrico A., George G., Karim M.D., Akter F., *Fry D., Goodbred S., Donato D., Piya B. (2016), Drinking water insecurity: water quality and access in coastal Southwestern Bangladesh. International Journal of Environmental Health Research, DOI: 10.1080/09603123.2016.1194383

Ayers J.C., Goodbred S.L., George G., *Fry D., *Benneyworth L., Roy K., Karim M.R., Akhter F. (2016) Sources of Salinity and Arsenic in groundwater in Southwest Bangladesh. Geochemical Transactions, doi:10.1186/s12932-016-0036-6,

Ayers J.C., Bryant D.L., Giles K. (2015) Effect of fluid composition on monazite solubility and growth rate at 1.0 GPa and 1000°C. American Mineralogist.

Hornberger G.M., Ayers J.C. (2014) Hydraulic Fracturing in the Development of Unconventional Hydrocarbon Resources. Oxford Bibliography Online, Environmental Science. New York: Oxford University Press.

Goudie D.J., Fisher C.M., Hanchar J.M, Davis W.J., Crowley J.L., Ayers J.C. (2014) Simultaneous in situ determination of U-Th-Pb and Sm-Nd isotopes in monazite by laser ablation ICP-MS. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems (G-cubed), 26 pp., DOI 10.1002/2014GC005431.

*Lasley, Camille, Katsiaficas N., Ayers J.C. (2014) Provenance of a soil atop a terrace along the Harpeth River in Tennessee using immobile trace element concentration ratios. Young Scientist v. 4, pp. 21-22.

Ayers J.C., *Crombie S., *Loflin M., Miller C.F., Luo Y. (2013) Country rock monazite response to intrusion of the Searchlight pluton, southern Nevada. Amer. Jour. Science, v. 313, pp. 345-394. DOI 10.2475/04.2013.04.

Peters, T.*, Ayers J.C., Gao S., Liu X. (2013) The response of zircon in eclogite to metamorphism during the multi-stage evolution of the Huwan Shear Zone, China: Insights from Lu-Hf-U-Pb isotopic and trace-element geochemistry. Gondwana Research, v. 23, Issue 2, March 2013, pp. 726–747, doi:10.1016/

Ayers J.C., Zhang L.*, Luo Y., Peters T.* (2012) Solubility of zircon in neutral to alkaline aqueous fluids at upper crustal conditions. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta. v. 96, 18-28. doi:10.1016/j.gca.2012.08.027.


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