Dr. Alex McCoy-West research focuses on using a wide range of geochemical tools to understand the processes involved in the formation, differentiation and evolution of the terrestrial planets and their major geochemical reservoirs. He is a geologist and geochemist with expertise in a large range of radiogenic (Sr-Nd-Hf-Pb-Os) and novel stable (Fe, Zn, Mo, and Nd) isotope systems.

His major scientific achievements include using Mo isotopes to demonstrate that twice the volume of the continental crust today was generated in the first billion years of Earth’s history, implying rapid crustal growth and destruction on the early Earth (McCoy-West et al., Nature Geoscience 2019). Dr. McCoy-West has been pioneering the development of double-spike neodymium (Nd) stable isotope analyses, the first measurements of this kind in the world (McCoy-West et al., EPSL, 2017). This powerful technique has many future applications as from a single measurement it simultaneously allows constraints to be placed on both the source or age of a material and the processes involved in its formation.

Dr. McCoy-West's current research focus is placing new constraints on continental emergence (when Earth's contienents emerged from the ocean). A multiple isotope record will be generated from Banded Iron Formations to track changes in the weathering flux and chemistry of Earth’s earliest oceans. He also continues to research and collaborate on a wide selection of projects using non-traditional stable isotopes to explore planetary formation, early crustal growth, igneous rocks, hydrothermal systems, weathering processes and mineralization.

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  • CS3002: Soil Mechanics and Geology (Level 3; TSV)
  • EA2900: Introductory Outback Field Mapping (Level 2; TSV & CNS)
  • EA3800: Earth and Environmental Geochemistry (Level 3; TSV)
  • EA5046: Earth and Environmental Geochemistry (Level 5; TSV)
  • Novel stable isotopes
  • Radiogenic isotopes
  • Igneous petrology
  • Planetary formation
  • Continental growth
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Geochemical modelling
  • Ore deposit formation
  • 2018 to 2021 - Research Fellow, Monsah Universiy (Melbourne, Australia)
  • 2016 to 2018 - Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Durham University (Durham, United Kingdom)
  • 2014 to 2016 - Postdoctoral Research Associate, Durham University (Durham, United Kingdom)
  • 2010 to 2014 - PhD, Australian National University (Canberra, Australia)
  • 2009 to 2010 - Geothermal Geologist, Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (Taupo, New Zealand)
  • 2008 to 2009 - MSc (first class), Victoria University of Wellington (Wellington, New Zealand)
Research Disciplines
Socio-Economic Objectives
  • 2020 - Monash University Faculty of Science Award for Research Excellence by an Early Career Researcher (Finalist)
  • 2018 - United Kingdom Geochemistry Group Postdoctoral Paper Medal
  • 2013 - D.A. Brown Travel Scholarship
  • 2010 to 2014 - J.C. Jaegar PhD Scholarship
  • 2021 to 2024 - Discovery Early Career Research Fellowship
  • 2013 to 2020 - European Association of Geochemistry

These are the most recent publications associated with this author. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU. Hover over Altmetrics badges to see social impact.

Journal Articles

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 19+ research outputs authored by Dr Alex McCoy-West from 2014 onwards.

Current Funding

Current and recent Research Funding to JCU is shown by funding source and project.

Australian Research Council - Discovery Early Career Researcher Award

Linking continental emergence and climatic evolution on the Early Earth

Indicative Funding
$447,627 over 4 years
This project aims to constrain the timing and extent to which the continents were emergent (above sealevel) at different times in Earth?s history and its impact on climatic evolution, which remains poorly understood. Continental emergence was a pivotal moment in the development of our habitable planet, because it controls the influx of bioessential elements (like phosphorus) to the oceans. Using innovative geochemical techniques, expected outcomes of this work include a detailed record of changes in ocean chemistry and a time integrated model of the amount of emergent crust on the early Earth. Documenting the impact of changes in the solid Earth on the evolution of life is of the highest interest to society in Australia and abroad.
Alex McCoy-West (College of Science & Engineering)
Isotope geochemistry; Evolution of life; Continental emergence

Queensland Department of Resources - Contract Research

Fingerprinting environmentally sustainable ores using neodymium isotopes

Indicative Funding
$420,500 over 2 years
The rare earth elements (REE) are a critical resource as the world transitions to an energy system dominated by green energy. However, current extraction methods rely on strong acid leaching, which has the potential to create environmental contamination. Alternative REE extraction methodologies, including phyto?extraction (using plants) and bacteria induced bioleaching are currently being investigated. This project aims to utilise radiogenic and stable neodymium isotopes to characterise the isotopic fractionations induced during different REE extraction techniques. This isotopic fingerprinting will provide a method to verify more sustainably generated REE concentrates, enabling the Australian REE industry to be positioned as a world leading environmental producer.
Alex McCoy-West in collaboration with Brandon Mahan, Helen McCoy-West, Nathan Fox, Gordon Southam, James Vaughan and Peter Erskine (College of Science & Engineering and The University of Queensland)
sustainable ores; Rare Earth Elements; neodymium; isotope tracers; metallurgical source tracing; phyto-extraction

Geoscience Australia - Contract Research

Exploratory study of effects of sample storage/stabilisation on Cu isotope compositions of groundwater, and linkage between groundwater and proximal soil profiles.

Indicative Funding
The aims of this collaborative project between JCU and Geoscience Australia are simple. Geoscience Australia have legacy groundwater samples from active bores through their previous hydrogeochemical surveys (e.g. Northern Australia Hydrogeochemical Survey), where both acidified and unacidified samples have been kept in storage, some for up to several years. Copper concentrations measured at/near the time of sampling are variable, with some being in the sub-ppb range and others significantly higher. For some bores, proximal soil and rock samples are also available. This project will leverage all the above towards the following objectives: 1. Analyse Cu concentrations and isotope compositions for a small cohort of legacy groundwater samples (~10). 2. Analyse Cu isotope compositions in proximity-matched soil/rock samples. Where spatially matched soil and/or core rock samples are available, an additional subset of these solid samples will be processed and analysed to characterize their Cu isotope compositions and compare to that of matched groundwater samples. 3. Collate all results and jointly interpret with Geoscience Australia
Brandon Mahan, Alex McCoy-West and Dafne Koutamanis in collaboration with Ivan Schroder and Patrice de Caritat (College of Science & Engineering and Geoscience Australia)
Isotope geochemistry; Sustainable futures; Hydrogeochemistry; Trace Element Geochemistry; Ore Vectoring

Save Our Seas Foundation - Grant

Development of in situ Sr isotope analyses in shark vertebrae

Indicative Funding
$13,747 over 1 year
Accurately ageing sharks underpins sustainable harvest and population recovery. The conventional ageing technique consists of counting growth bands in vertebrae, however, this approach suffers errors associated with over- and under-counting due to misidentifying periodic features and in-complete. More recently, element-to-element ratios have been explored as complementary tools for determining age and migratory, and in this context Mn:Ca shows promise as an age-specific fingerprint, and Sr:Ca has shown promise as one of the most prominent indicators of fresh/estuarial vs. marine environment (along with Ba:Ca), because marine environments typically have significantly higher Sr (and lower Ba) concentrations. This means that Sr:Ca?alongside Mn:Ca and Ba:Ca?can potentially be used as an annual marker, in particular for female sharks that annually return to freshwater environments to pup. It is well-known from fish otoliths (a calcified part of the inner ear) that marine and freshwater environments display distinct Sr isotope signatures (87Sr/86Sr ratios), and that fresh vs marine signatures can be readily distinguished at requisite length-scales (e.g. 50 microns) using in situ (?in place?, i.e. non-destructively) laser ablation multi-collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (or LA-MC-ICP-MS). Moreover, it is well-established that 87Sr/86Sr ratios can be determined in situ in bio-apatite (calcium phosphate or bone, such as that in fish vertebrae), and 87Sr/86Sr ratios in bio-apatite can be used to determine sub-annual mobility. And yet to date, Sr isotopes have never been investigated in shark vertebrae towards these ends. This study will combine in situ elemental compositions and 87Sr/86Sr ratios in the vertebrae of sharks to determine their ultimate viability as complementary ageing, environmental and migratory reconstruction tools.
Brandon Mahan, Alex McCoy-West and Michael Grant (College of Science & Engineering)
Sr isotopes; Isotope geochemistry; Elasmobranch/shark; Vertebrae age determination

Advisory Accreditation: I can be on your Advisory Panel as a Primary or Secondary Advisor.

These Higher Degree Research projects are either current or by students who have completed their studies within the past 5 years at JCU. Linked titles show theses available within ResearchOnline@JCU.

  • Tectono-sedimentary and Taphonomic investigation of the Triassic System, Northern Bowen Basin, Australia (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • Using experiments to constrain stable isotope fractionation in banded iron formations (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • Investigating Global REE ion adsorption deposits to understand their genesis: Investigating trace element and REE stable isotope systematics (PhD , Primary Advisor)

The map shows research collaborations by institution from the past 7 years.
Note: Map points are indicative of the countries or states that institutions are associated with.

  • 5+ collaborations
  • 4 collaborations
  • 3 collaborations
  • 2 collaborations
  • 1 collaboration
  • Indicates the Tropics (Torrid Zone)

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