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Prof. John Compton

Associate Professor

Marine geochemistry 

​Room 404
Department of Geological Sciences​
Ph:  +27 (0)21 650 2927
Fax:  +27 (0)21 650 3783


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I have several different areas of research interests and these are outlined below. For more detail on specific research projects please refer to the publication list that follows.

I was trained as a low-temperature geochemist and my general area of interest is the geochemistry of marine sediments with a focus on the origin of authigenic minerals such as francolite (phosphorite rock), dolomite, and glauconite during the early diagenesis of organic-rich sediments. In chronological order, I have worked on the Miocene Monterey Formation of California, the Neogene phosphorite deposits on the Florida Platform and phosphorite deposits on the western margin of southern Africa. These projects integrate aspects of the global carbon and phosphorus cycles and global changes in climate and sea level. Projects include the variations in the global phosphorus cycle and the age and origin of large Neogene phosphorite deposits of the southeastern USA (Florida) and their paleoceanographic significance, and the sediment record of early diagenetic minerals such as phosphorite, dolomite and glauconite associated with the Benguela Upwelling System off southwest Africa.

Another area of interest is the Quaternary evolution of the western continental margin from the slope offshore to coastal environments onshore. Projects include the origin and age of evaporative salt pan deposits and associated authigenic dolomite, Holocene sea-level fluctuations inferred from coastal salt marsh and dune deposits, transport and deposition of river sediments on the shelf and transport of sediment from the shelf onto the slope and beyond over Pleistocene glacial to interglacial cycles. High-resolution Holocene records have been studied from mud belt shelf sediments and glacial-interglacial records from upper slope sediments recovered on the western margin. Terrigenous mud delivered to the western margin is transported off the shelf during the high-amplitude sea-level fluctuations of glacial/interglacial cycles and is transported by lateral advection away from the margin to potentially provide an important source of nutrients such as iron to the Southern Ocean.

More recently I have become interested in the role of Pleistocene climate change and sea-level fluctuations in the evolution of humans in southern Africa. Large changes in sea level over glacial to interglacial cycles have resulted in expansion and contraction of the coastal plain over the last one million years. These large scale changes in coastal plain morphology combined with changes in climate may have periodically isolated populations on the southern coastal plain of South Africa and played a role in the evolution of modern humans.

Latest Publications

Compton, J.S, Bergh, E.W. (2015) Phosphorite deposits on the Namibian shelf. Marine Geology,

Bergh, E.W., Compton, J.S. (2015) A one-year post-fire record of macronutrient cycling in a mountain sandstone fynbos ecosystem, South Africa. South African Journal of Botany 97, 48-58.

Cawthra, H.C., Bateman, M.D., Carr, A.S., Compton, J.S., Holmes, P.J. (2014) Understanding Late Quaternary change at the land-ocean interface: A synthesis of the evolution of the wilderness coastline, South Africa. Quaternary Science Reviews 99, 210-223.

Toms, J.A., Compton, J.S., Smale, M., van der Heyden, S. (2014) Variation in palaeo-shorelines explains contemporary population genetic patterns of rocky shore species. Biological Letters 10: 20140330.

Brumfitt, I.M., Chinsamy, A., and Compton, J.S. (2013) Depositional environment and bone diagenesis of the Mio/Pliocene Langebaanweg bonebed, South Africa. South African Journal of Geology, 116, 241-258 doi:10.2113/gssajg.116.2.241.

Viglietti, P.A., Smith, R.M.H., Compton, J.S. (2013) Origin and palaeoenvironmental significance of Lystrosaurus bonebeds in the earliest Triassic Karoo Basin, South Africa, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 392, 9-21 (doi: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2013.08.015).

Wigley, R. and Compton, J.S. (2012) Microstratigraphy of a Miocene layered phosphatic pebble from the western margin of South Africa. Sedimentology 60, 666-678. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3091.2012.01355.x

Abanda, P.A., Compton, J.S., Hannigan, R.E. (2011) Soil nutrient content, above-ground biomass and litter in a semi-arid shrubland, South Africa. Geoderma 164, 128-137.

Compton, J.S. (2011). Pleistocene sea-level fluctuations and human evolution on the southern coastal plain of South Africa. Quaternary Science Reviews 30, 506-527.

Mauger, C. and Compton, J.S. (2011). Formation of modern dolomite in hypersaline pans of the Western Cape, South Africa. Sedimentology 58, 1678-1692 (DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-3091.2011.01229.x).



  • PhD, Harvard University Earth Science, 1986
  • BA, University of California, San Diego Chemistry/Earth Science, 1981


  • Senior Lecturer / Associate Professor, University of Cape Town, 1996-present
  • Assistant/Associate Professor, Department of Marine Science, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, FL 1986-1996

Professional Associations

  • American Geophysical Union
  • Southern African Society for Quaternary Research (SASQUA) President 2003-2005
  • Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) South African National Committee member
  • Geological Society of South Africa

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