Dr. Esther Schwarzenbach


Arbeitsbereich Mineralogie-Petrologie

Adresse Malteserstr. 74-100
Raum N 28
12249 Berlin
Telefon +49 (0)30 - 838 58 952
Fax +49 (0)30 - 838 458 952
E-Mail esther.schwarzenbach@fu-berlin.de

Research Interests

As a petrologist and geochemist I investigate the geochemical and isotopic evolution of the oceanic lithosphere and the links between biogenic and abiogenic processes during water-lithosphere interaction. My recent research focuses on the processes associated with serpentinization reactions – the hydration of ultramafic rocks – and their role in mid-ocean ridge settings, subduction zones and in continental serpentinization environments. This includes studying the impact of serpentinization on global geochemical cycles, coupling thermodynamic, textural and compositional constraints to understand processes of progressive water-rock interaction, and investigating how the hydration of mantle rock changes the chemical and petrophysical properties of the oceanic lithosphere and controls the transport of key components (e.g. water, carbon, sulfur) into Earth’s mantle. Furthermore, serpentinization reactions are a significant source of reduced chemical species such as hydrogen and methane. These reduced volatiles support microbial activity in present day serpentinization systems giving rise to hypotheses that such environments may have served as a birthplace for life on Earth and that serpentinization may support or once supported life on other planetary bodies.


Current and Past Appointments

2015 – present: Research Scientist, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

2015 – present: Adjunct faculty, Virginia Tech, USA

2013 – 2015: Research Scientist, Virginia Tech, USA

2012 – 2013: Postdoctoral Associate, Virginia Tech, USA

2011: Research Associate, ‘focusTERRA’ geological museum and outreach center ETH Zurich, Switzerland

2011: Postdoctoral Researcher, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

2007-2011: Teaching assistant, ETH Zurich, Switzerland


Educational History

2007 – 2011: PhD at the Department of Earth Sciences, ETH Zurich

Thesis: “Serpentinization, fluids and life: Comparing carbon and sulfur cycles in modern and ancient environments”.

2001 – 2006: Diploma in Earth Sciences at ETH Zurich with focus on Geochemistry and Mineralogy.

Thesis: “Petrographie und Geochemie der Alten Vulkanischen Serie der Insel Patmos (Dodekanes, Griechenland)”.


Schwarzenbach, E.M., Gill, B.C. and Johnston, D. (2018) Unraveling multiple phases of sulfur cycling during the alteration of ancient ultramafic oceanic lithosphere. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 223, 279-299.


Cooperdock, E.H.G., Raia, N.H., Barnes, J.D., Stockli, D.F. and Schwarzenbach, E.M. (2018) Tectonic origin of serpentinites on Syros, Greece: Geochemical signatures of abyssal origin preserved in a HP/LT subduction complex. Lithos, 352-364.


Lamadrid, H.M., Rimstidt, J.D., Schwarzenbach, E.M., Klein, F., Ulrich, S., Dolocan, A. and Bodnar, R.J. (2017) Effect of water activity on rates of serpentinization of olivine. Nature Communications 8, 16107.

Schwarzenbach, E.M., Gill, B.C., Gazel, E., Madrigal, P. 2016. Sulfur and carbon geochemistry of the Santa Elena peridotites: Comparing oceanic and continental processes during peridotite alteration. Lithos 252-253, 92-108, doi:10.1016/j.lithos.2016.02.017.


Wang, X., Plansvsky, N., Reinhard, C.T., Zou, H., Ague, J., Wu, Y, Gill, B. C., Schwarzenbach, E.M., Peucker-Ehrenbrink, B., 2016.Chromium isotope fractionation during subduction-related metamorphism, black shale weathering, and hydrothermal alteration. Chemical Geology 423, 19-33, doi: 10.1016/j.chemgeo.2016.01.003


Schwarzenbach, E.M., Caddick, M.J., Beard, B.S., Bodnar, R.J., 2015. Serpentinization, element transfer and the progressive development of zoning in veins: Evidence from a partially serpentinized harzburgite. Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology 171.

Klein, F., Humphris, S., Guo, W., Schubotz, F., Schwarzenbach, E.M., Orsi, W., 2015. A fossil 'Lost-City'-type hydrothermal system at the Iberia Margin: Subseafloor fluid mixing and the deep biosphere. PNAS 112, 12036-12041.

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.


Sanchez-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.


Schwarzenbach, E. M., Lang, S. Q., Früh-Green, G. L., Lilley, M. D., Bernasconi, S. M., Méhay, S., 2013. Sources and cycling of carbon in continental, serpentinite-hosted alkaline springs in the Voltri Massif, Italy. Lithos, 177, 226-244.

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.


Alt, J. C., Schwarzenbach, E. M., Früh-Green, G. L., Shanks III, W. C., Bernasconi, S. M., Garrido, C. J., Crispini, L., Gaggero, L., Padron-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.

Schwarzenbach, E. M., Früh-Green, G. L., Bernasconi, S. M., Alt, J. C., Shanks III, 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, 91, 283-305


Alt, J. C., Shanks III, 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, 322-323, 268-277.