PhD opportunities

PhD opportunities for 2017 are now open

All our doctoral training opportunities are through Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP) or Centres for Doctoral Training (CDT). We do not fund individuals and you will usually apply directly through the host university or DTP.

Eligibility: NERC studentships are bound by the Research Councils UK Grant Terms and Conditions including residency and minimum qualifications. Doctoral Training in Environmental Research in the UK provides a useful summary of these.

The BGS has three categories of PhDs:

Opportunities for PhDs starting in 2017 are listed by BGS science area below. New opportunities are added as they are made available so please check our site or Twitter @DocBGS regularly.

BGS Hosted opportunities

Centre for Environmental Geochemistry
Lignin as a tracer for terrestrial vegetation across the river-estuarine-coastal continuum

BGS supervisor: Dr Chris Vane

University supervisor: Prof. Colin E. Snape

DTP: ENVISION, Nottingham

DTP project details:

Biogeochemical processes in rivers, estuaries and coastal seas play key roles in the global carbon C cycle by controlling the flux of material from land to ocean. It has been estimated that as little as 10% terrestrial organic matter is transferred from rivers to sites of burial in the sediments of continental margins. However, the following questions are not well understood:

  1. Where the OC matter from?
  2. What fraction is decomposed?
  3. Where within the river-estuary system is organic matter preserved or sequestered?

Established approaches on the sources of organic matter along the river–estuarine continuum include sediment data on bulk carbon-isotope (δ13C) composition in combination with the ratios of carbon to nitrogen providing biological 'end members'. Although these approaches broadly estimate marine as compared to terrestrial organic matter, they are insensitive to changing terrestrial vascular plant sources due to a range of confounding factors. This project aims to identify the vascular plant sources encountered along river channels (land to sea) using a molecular biomarker approach to quantitatively understand the source(s), degradation processes and fate of terrestrial particulate organic matter in sediments.

The PhD will focus on the use of lignin as a tracer because it provides the greatest potential due to its ubiquitous presence in all true vascular plants, its relatively high resistance to biotic and abiotic alteration, and retention of source specific characteristic "phenolic fingerprints". The project will employ state-of-the-art analytical techniques in organic geochemistry (solid-state 13C NMR, analytical pyrolysis-GC/MS). The successful candidate will be trained in these techniques, the interpretation of the data and will be involved with fieldwork at a range of sites for the collection of samples from a range of UK catchment systems.

Candidates should have a minimum 2:1 undergraduate degree in chemistry or environmental science with a strong focus on analytical chemistry. Candidates with a strong background in analytical chemistry, with experience of organic geochemical analytical techniques, will be preferred.

How to apply:

Application deadline: Friday 6th January, 2017

Further details: are available via the links below or from Dr Christopher Vane.

Envision – NERC DTP led by Lancaster University:

Funding and other information:

Engineering geology
Coupled hydrogeophysical and geomechanical modelling of slope stability for improved early warning of landslides

BGS Supervisor: Dr Jonathan Chambers

University Supervisor: Prof. Andy Binley

DTP: ENVISION, Lancaster

DTP project details:

There is a growing interest in linking hydrogeological and geomechanical models to improve understanding of landslide failure processes, but progress has been limited by an inability to provide high spatial and temporal resolution input data on the physical properties of the subsurface (e.g. strength, composition) and changes associated with hydraulic processes (e.g. pore pressure, moisture content). It is our contention that major recent advances in geophysical and geotechnical monitoring can now provide timely information to update coupled hydro-geomechanical models – thereby enabling near-real-time estimates of slope factor of safety to aid forecasting of landslide events at the slope scale.

The aim of this work is therefore, for the first time, to develop an integrated approach to continuously update slope stability models in near-real-time, and to demonstrate this on active landslides. This will be achieved through integrating the delivery of information derived from geophysical, geotechnical and meteorological monitoring with hydro-geomechanical models. The objective will be to develop an approach that is relevant to moisture driven landslides in engineered and natural slopes – for use anywhere in the world where moisture driven landslide hazard is present. If successful this would represent a step-change in our ability to provide early warning landslide events.

The successful candidate will have access to a network of fully instrumented landslide observatories, and will have the opportunity to collaborate with international partners in landslide prone areas of Austria and Italy. In addition, specialist training will be provided in the areas of groundwater and slope stability modelling, landslide hazard assessment and geophysical monitoring.

Applicants should have strong numerical abilities and hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Earth Science, Physics, Engineering, Environmental Science, Natural Sciences.

How to apply:

Application deadline: Friday 6th January, 2017

Further details: are available via the links below or from Dr Jonathan Chambers or Prof Andy Binley

Envision – NERC DTP led by Lancaster University:

Funding and other information:

Geoanalytics and modelling
Measurement and modelling human dermal bioavailability of potentially harmful organic soil contaminants

BGS Supervisor: Dr Chris Vane and Darren Beriro

University Supervisor: Prof Paul Nathanial

DTP: ENVISION, University of Nottingham

DTP project details:

This PhD studentship presents a unique opportunity in the fields of organic geochemistry and risk-based land management. The student will optimise in vitro methods to measure the dermal bioavailability of organic soil contaminants and use the data to derive predictive numerical models. These models will help identify which factors affect the release of organic compounds in soil and show how they might be applied to samples where dermal bioavailability remains unknown. The research is aimed at understanding the uncertainties in human health risk assessment of chronic exposure to soil contaminants and reduce the reliance on animal testing.

This project is part of a programme of industry led research into potential uptake of organic soil contaminants funded by National Grid Property Holdings. The student will be a at least 21 months with British Geological Survey, to undertake their laboratory based training and be part of a thriving interdisciplinary research environment. The student will also work at the University of Nottingham where they will gain first-hand industry leading knowledge of risk-based land management. The student will also complete an internship with the industrial advisors who form part of this project.

The successful applicant will take part in an extensive training programme. The following testimonial from a current PhD student summarises this perfectly: "Thanks to being based at BGS so part of BUFI, registered at a University, and part of the Envision DTP I have had access to a wide range of courses offered by all 3 organisations. As a NERC funded student you receive emails around once a month with details of courses available, usually fully funded and many field based or international. The training opportunities have been amazing. The opportunity to present at international conferences such as EGU (Vienna) and attend the short courses run there has also been great".

The applicant will hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level in subjects such as Chemistry, Environmental Science or Natural Sciences. A post-graduate qualification is desirable as is some industrial experience. A strong foundation in chemistry would be advantageous.

How to apply:

Application deadline: Friday 6 January 2017

Further details: are available from Dr Christopher Vane or Dr Darren Beriro

Measuring and modelling the human dermal bioavailability of organic compounds in soil

BGS Supervisor: Dr Chris Vane and Darren Beriro

University Supervisor: Prof Paul Nathanial

DTP: STARS (Soils Training and Research Studentships), University of Nottingham

DTP project details:

This PhD studentship presents a unique opportunity to develop the field of organic geochemistry and risk-based land management working with a supervisory team of globally acknowledged thought leaders based at the University of Nottingham and British Geological Survey. You will optimise in vitro methods to measure dermal bioavailability of organic soil contaminants and use the data to derive predictive numerical models. The project is part of a programme of industry-led research into potential uptake of organic soil contaminants funded by National Grid Property Holdings and includes an internship at WSP | PB, a world leading geoenvironmental consultancy. You will benefit from an extensive training programme to help secure employment after the PhD. A current student summarises their DTP experience as: "The training opportunities have been amazing. The opportunity to present at international conferences such as EGU (Vienna) and attend the short courses run there has also been great".

How to apply:

Application deadline: Friday 6 January 2017

Further details: are available from Dr Christopher Vane

Geology and Regional Geophysics
The Interplay between Fracture Networks, Fluid Flow and Microseismicity

BGS Supervisor:Dr Richard Haslam

University Supervisor: Dr Max Werner, Professor Mike Kendall, Dr James Verdon and Dr Juliet Biggs

DTP: GW4 Plus, University of Bristol

DTP project details:

Fracture networks in the Earth’s crust play a key role in many crustal processes. For example, they may constrain the direct the flow of fluids, influence mechanical properties of the crust and constrain the locations and orientations of micro-seismic events. Unfortunately, fracture networks are difficult to image at depth, and we therefore have a limited understanding of the properties of deep fracture networks and the effects these have on the rockmass. Exhumed fracture networks present the unique opportunity to analyse these structures at the surface using modern geological and geophysical imaging techniques. The goal of this PhD project is to improve our understanding of the interplay between fracture networks, fluid flow and micro-seismicity using computer models that are constrained by geological and geophysical observations.

The proposed project consists of two phases. The first phase consists of obtaining detailed characterisations of exhumed fracture networks (predominantly in the UK) using modern and complementary geological and geophysical techniques. Methods include visual imaging (including photogrammetry), seismic imaging (obtaining anisotropic elastic properties), as well as measuring rock mechanical properties (permeability, porosity, frictional properties) in the laboratory. The complementary measurements will provide a unique characterised dataset of fracture networks.

The second phase consists of building a computer model that captures the observations and that can be used as a synthetic laboratory to explore important questions: How do micro-seismic events change the state of stress and the flow of fluids in the fracture network? How does fluid injection change the pore pressure and the state of stress, and how might it contribute to micro-quakes? How do fractures affect the mechanical and flow properties of the medium (such as those imaged by seismology)?

The outcomes of this project will shed greater light on the interplay between fracture networks, fluid flow and microseismicity. This insight is crucial given increasing fluid injections and hydraulic stimulation of reservoirs in the context of carbon capture and storage, geothermal energy, and oil and gas exploration. More generally, the intertwined evolution of fractures, stress and fluids may contribute to improved physics-based models of seismicity, with applications to probabilistic seismic hazard and risk assessment globally.

How to apply:

Application deadline: 6 January 2017

Further details: available from Dr Richard Haslam, telephone 0115 936 3195

Turning down the gas: what is the potential for microbial mitigation of methane leakage from soils?

BGS Supervisor: Dr Simon Gregory

University Supervisor: George Shaw

DTP: STARS (Soils Training and Research Studentships), University of Nottingham

DTP project details:

This PhD studentship presents a unique opportunity to develop the field of organic geochemistry and risk-based land management working with a supervisory team of globally acknowledged thought leaders based at the University of Nottingham and British Geological Survey. You will optimise in vitro methods to measure dermal bioavailability of organic soil contaminants and use the data to derive predictive numerical models. The project is part of a programme of industry-led research into potential uptake of organic soil contaminants funded by National Grid Property Holdings and includes an internship at WSP | PB, a world leading geoenvironmental consultancy. You will benefit from an extensive training programme to help secure employment after the PhD. A current student summarises their DTP experience as: "The training opportunities have been amazing. The opportunity to present at international conferences such as EGU (Vienna) and attend the short courses run there has also been great".

How to apply:

Application deadline: 22 January 2017

Further details: are available from Dr Simon Gregory

Land, soil, and coasts
Reconstructing 2000 years of hydrological change in Africa – implications for future climate scenarios

BGS Supervisor: Dr Keely Mills

University Supervisor: Dr Matt Jones

DTP: ENVISION, Nottingham

DTP project details:

Tropical lakes systems provide vital ecosystem services to some of Earth's fastest growing and most vulnerable human populations, but in response to climatic and anthropogenic pressure, the latter caused by land-use changes, lakes are under threat from shifts in water balance. There is an urgent need for regional climate information from tropical regions to allow the downscaling of climate projections that will aid the setting of useful policy, management and adaptation targets. Knowledge of rainfall variability and its associated temporal and spatial patterns are essential for developing sustainable water resources and land use management in this region,, ensuring ecosystem security.

This studentship will involve the production of new proxy timeseries for hydrological change in Uganda over the last 2000 years using lake isotope records. In addition monitoring data will be used to derive hydrological mass balance models for the lake systems. These new data and modelling approaches will be used to investigate how anthropogenic activity affects local hydrological balance in recent decades, against a background of natural change, and the consequences of such impacts under future climate scenarios.

As part of this studentship the successful candidate will have the opportunity to undertake fieldwork in Uganda, and develop research links with colleagues based in overseas institutions. This research is collaboration between the British Geological Survey and the University of Nottingham. At BGS, the project will be located within the Land, Soil and Coast Science Directorate and isotope analyses will be undertaken in partnership with the NERC Isotope Geosciences Facility. At UoN, the student will be based within the School of Geography.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Geography, Environmental Sciences or Geoscience. An MSc in a related discipline would be an advantage.

How to apply:

Application deadline: Friday 6th January, 2017

Further details: are available via the links below or from Dr Keely Mills or Dr Matt Jones.

Envision – NERC DTP led by Lancaster University:

Funding and other information:

BGS CASE opportunities

Earth hazards and observatories
Anticipating the next very large volcanic eruption: formation and transport of volcanic ash

BGS Supervisor: Dr Samantha Engwell

University Supervisor: Prof Katharine Cashman

DTP: GW4Plus, University of Bristol

DTP project details:

Very large explosive eruptions are the only natural rapid onset phenomenon, apart from impactors from space, which can have global impacts. Moreover, the effects of very large explosive eruptions may last for years or even decades, both by perturbing climate and because of cascading global environmental and societal impacts. Immediate global impacts are caused by injection of ash and volcanic gases into the stratosphere; these volcanic materials interact with the atmosphere and can encircle the globe, with far-reaching effects on civil aviation. Additionally, huge land areas (million of km2) can be covered in ash, which may take years to decades to erode away, causing long-term dust and lahar hazards. The consequences for civil aviation of volcanic emissions from even moderate eruptions have been graphically demonstrated over the past several years. Critically, however, despite recent statistical analyses suggesting that there is a 30% chance of such an eruption in the 21st century, we currently have very poor constraints on the physical characteristics of ash produced by these eruptions [1] or the extent to which ash continues to be remobilised after the eruptions end. This project seeks to address this knowledge gap.

Very large (VEI 7) eruptions can form in different environments, and produce a range of eruptive deposits. For this reason, this project will include analysis of ash samples from three different eruptions:

  1. The Holocene (c. 7700 ybp) rhyodacitic Mazama eruption USA; unusually, ash from this eruption is largely distributed on land and in an arid environment [2].
  2. The 39 ka phonolitic Campanian eruption from the Phlegrean Fields (near Naples, Italy), and the most recent very large eruption in Europe [3]; and
  3. The Pisolitic Tuffs from Colli Albani, a Quaternary volcano SE of Rome, Italy, which erupts unusual high-K mafic magma [4].

For each deposit, the textural (grain size and shape) and physical (density and settling velocity) characteristics of ash will be determined as a function of time (stratigraphic location) and distance. These data will be used to address fundamental questions regarding ash generation (both primary and secondary fragmentation), ash transport (in conjunction with S. Engwell, BGS) and post-emplacement remobilization.

This project will require a student with a degree in geology; a background in volcanology would be helpful, as would some programming skills (including Matlab). Good communication skills will be an asset as will field skills, as the project will involve fieldwork. The student will receive training in field-based physical volcanology, electron microscopy, laboratory experiments (measurements of settling velocities) and ash transport modelling. This diverse set of skills will be useful for both academia and hazard analysis. The student will be expected to present their research at leading international conferences and to publish results in leading scientific journals.


[1] Cashman, K V, Rust, A C. 2016. Volcanic ash – generation and spatial variations. In: Mackie, S, Ricketts, H, Watson, M, Cashman, K V, Rust, A C (eds.). 2016. Volcanic ash – Hazard Observations. Elsevier.

[2] Bacon, C R. 1983. Eruptive history of Mount Mazama and Crater Lake caldera, Cascade Range, USA. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 18, 57-115.

[3] Engwell, S L, Sparks, R S J, Carey, S. 2014. Physical characteristics of tephra layers in the deep sea realm: the Campanian Ignimbrite eruption.Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 398, 47-64.

[4] De Rita, D, Giordano, G, Esposito, A, Fabbri, M, Rodani, S. 2002. Large volume phreatomagmatic ignimbrites from the Colli Albani volcano (Middle Pleistocene, Italy). Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 118, 77-98.

How to apply:

Application deadline: 6 January 2017.

Further details: available from Prof Katharine Cashman Telephone 0117 3315131.

Energy systems and basin analysis
Geothermal energy from Upcycling of Shale gas wells (GUSh)

BGS Supervisor: Dr Jon Busby

University Supervisor: Prof Gavin Bridge, Dr Charlotte Adams, Prof Jon Gluyas, and Prof Andy Aplin

DTP: IAPETUS, Durham University

DTP project details:

The UK government has a commitment to maintain secure and continuous supplies of energy whilst lowering UK carbon emissions by 80% in 2050. With increasing reliance on imported energy, the subsurface of the UK is of increasing interest both for future energy supply (conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons; geothermal energy) if not mitigation options (carbon capture and storage). Currently, the UK government is actively supporting the development of a shale-gas industry to provide an indigenous gas resource. In the absence of production data, the true extent of UK shale-gas reserves is uncertain. However, based on US data, somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 wells would be needed in order to produce 10 years of gas supply for the UK, a target which the government is pursuing. The aim of this project is to determine whether shale gas wells can be used as a long-term source of geothermal energy for direct heat.

The average UK geothermal gradient means that temperatures increase by around 26ºC per kilometre and a typical shale gas well extends to depths of 1 – 3 km with associated lateral sections of up to 2 km. For 15,000 wells, this represents around 30,000 km of horizontal well infrastructure sitting at temperatures between 30 and 90̊C. Once drilled and developed, shale-gas wells have an anticipated operational lifespan of less than a decade but theoretically could supply geothermal heat thereafter. The key questions to be addressed in this project relate to identifying the technical, regulatory, legal and socio-political factors that govern the operation of shale-gas and geothermal systems to determine whether well function could change to produce geothermal heat as the gas resource is depleted. Since geothermal wells can operate for decades, the use of shale-gas wells for geothermal energy production will extend the timescale for the delivery of energy from the well whilst taking advantage of a low carbon resource at minimal additional capital expenditure.

Shale-gas wells may be drilled to depths within the same realm as geothermal wells, but seek different targets. The former generally comprise single wells (that may be clustered at one well pad) that target low permeability shale formations stimulated by hydro-fracturing to facilitate gas flow. Conversely, wells drilled for geothermal energy target thick, high permeability strata or buried radiothermal granites whose permeability has been increased by thermal-fracturing. Geothermal energy systems are commonly configured as doublets comprising two wells, one for extracting warm water and one for returning geothermal fluid underground following heat extraction. Ensuring the necessary water flow for energy extraction from target formations is a key challenge for geothermal energy exploitation. This is a fundamental consideration for the suitability of shale gas wells for geothermal energy because of the low permeability of the host rocks. However, the risk of insufficient fluid flow can be counteracted using a single well, closed loop (pipe in pipe or standing column) system (the single well acting as both flow and return).

Technical challenges form only one element of this study and opportunities exist to examine the institutional and regulatory structures associated with accessing the subsurface for the production of shale gas and then reusing this infrastructure for heat. The fact that geothermal energy production has a potential role in reducing the carbon footprint of a well drilled to deliver gas also offers an interesting opportunity to investigate public attitudes to well re-use, and the harnessing of different subterranean resource potentials.


The proposed project seeks to determine the technical, regulatory and social feasibility of repurposing shale gas wells for geothermal energy production. This will be achieved by:

  1. Undertaking a thorough review of existing global shale-gas activities to determine whether well design, construction and siting supports their reuse for geothermal energy. This will include an analysis of the properties of shale gas reservoirs and ultimately result in an assessment of the UK resource base in terms of its future geothermal potential.
  2. Working with policy makers (BEIS planning authorities) and geothermal energy companies who are interested in this opportunity to examine whether current regulatory frameworks could accommodate the production of gas followed by the production of heat by different companies and for different markets.
  3. Assessing the public acceptability of well re-utilisation for geothermal energy production via a focussed exploration of social attitudes towards geothermal uses of subterranean resources.
  4. Determining the technical, regulatory and social conditions under which shale gas wells could operate as geothermal wells, and developing a framework that guides future action.


Year 1

Collect data from existing shale gas operations and examine the physiology of geothermal and shale gas wells to determine key attributes. Compare the key processes and operating parameters involved in both shale gas and geothermal systems.

Year 2

Explore regulatory frameworks involved in operating under a shale-gas licence and whether these can accommodate a switch to heat production; and consider public attitudes to well re-use for geothermal energy production. Identify any modifications or requirements to planned or existing shale gas production practice in order to facilitate geothermal energy extraction.

Year 3

Develop a methodology for using shale gas wells for geothermal energy production and calculate the resource potential for the UK. Map this against heat demand centres and determine whether shale-gas wells have a role in providing geothermal heat for the future.

Year 4 (6 months only)

Complete thesis and papers.

Training & Skills

The student will attend the taught module ‘Implementing Research Design’ during year one. This will include guidance on data collection, scientific method, contextualizing and problematizing research in physical geography, and group work in physical geography. Students will also benefit from enhanced employability through research and transferable skill training offered by IAPETUS and by Durham University.

The BGS are a CASE partner on this project, providing the student with the opportunity to spend 3 months working with the BGS. This will provide an invaluable experience for the student by having the chance to gain skills and training while working on projects that are relevant to the study and of interest to BGS.

Durham University and the British Geological Survey currently collaborated through the BritGeothermal research partnership (alongside the Universities of Glasgow and Newcastle) and the student would benefit from the wealth of experience in this field amongst the partner organisations. The student would also be able to join the Durham Energy Institute which offers a range of opportunities for engagement.

References & Further Reading

[1] Huenges, E. et al. 2004. The stimulation of a sedimentary geothermal reservoir in the North German Basin: case study Groß Schönebeck. In Proceedings, Twenty-Ninth Workshop on Geothermal Reservoir Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California.

[2] Tischner, T. et al. 2010. New concepts for extracting geothermal energy from one well: the GeneSys-Project. In Proceedings of the world geothermal congress, Bali (pp. 25-30).

[3] Davies, R. J. et al. 2014. Oil and gas wells and their integrity: Implications for shale and unconventional resource exploitation. Marine and Petroleum Geology, 56, 239-254.

[4] BritGeothermal Webpage

How to apply:

Application deadline: 20th January 2017 (5pm GMT)

Further details: available from Dr Charlotte Adams, telephone +44 191 3341094

Phosphate in belemnite fossils: A new palaeo-nutrient proxy?

BGS Supervisor: Dr James Riding

University Supervisor: Prof Stephen Hesselbo

DTP: GW4 Plus, University of Exeter

DTP project details:

Understanding biological productivity of marine palaeoenvironments is severely complicated by the lack of a direct proxy for nutrient availability. Such a proxy, however, would significantly improve our understanding of how the Earth system operates, both at steady state and during transient events of severe environmental change. Currently available tools for approximating this parameter require work-intensive laboratory routines and expensive analytical equipment, making the generation of large, robust datasets difficult.

The fossil remains of belemnites are ubiquitous in Jurassic and Cretaceous shelf sediments and provide a potential target for revolutionizing the understanding of nutrient availability in marine environments throughout this time interval. A considerable amount of phosphate (ca. 0.4 to 1 atom P per 1000 atoms Ca, Fig. 1) is present in the calcite rostra of belemnites (Fig. 2) which can be readily measured by spectrophotometry. The amount of phosphate in the rostra is expected to be dominantly controlled by the amount of phosphorus present in ambient water. The P concentration is likely to carry an additional, species-specific signature that may aid in species determination by way of chemical characterization.

The main aim of the project is to assemble comprehensive records of belemnite P concentration from key regions throughout important intervals of Mesozoic environmental change. Candidate study targets are the Pliensbachian-Toarcian (Early Jurassic) strata from the Yorkshire coast (Cleveland Basin; NE England), the Mochras drill core (Cardigan Bay Basin; NW Wales) and Peniche (Fig. 3; Lusitanian Basin; Portugal). Work on other time intervals in Jurassic and Cretaceous as appropriate can be included according to the interest of the candidate. A further aim of the project is to develop a method for extracting phosphate from the belemnite rostra for the determination of the oxygen isotopic composition of the phosphate molecule – a proxy that can give further insights into the dynamics of nutrient cycling in the water column.

The findings of the project will tie in with ongoing collaborative research at the Universities of Exeter, Leeds, Oxford, the BGS and international partner organizations advancing the understanding of Early Jurassic palaeoenvironment (JET project for understanding Early Jurassic environments and time scale; NERC large grant and ICDP support to PI Prof. Stephen Hesselbo). The candidate will thus be able to experience a variety of academic working environments, and be associated with a prestigious research project bringing together leading experts in their field.

How to apply:

Application deadline: 6 January 2017.

Further details: available from Prof Stephen Hesselbo telephone: 01326 253651.

Investigating drainage beneath the British-Irish Ice Sheet: groundwater flow modelling and meltwater channel networks

BGS Supervisor: Dr Christopher Jackson

University Supervisor: Dr Domenico Baú (Lead), Dr Stephen Livingstone and Prof Chris Clark

DTP: ACCE, University of Sheffield

DTP project details:

Ice sheet behaviour is largely controlled by bed conditions. Observations beneath the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets reveal significant basal meltwater generation, storage and evacuation, which can lubricate the bed causing rapid ice-flow. Meltwater flow patterns beneath modern ice sheets are poorly understood. Glaciologists have often assumed the bed as an impermeable surface, but the weight of an overlying ice mass is likely to have a strong influence on the groundwater recharge rates, flow patterns, recharge rates, and distribution. Detailing the complex aquifer–ice-sheet interactions is, therefore, crucial for understanding draining meltwater as well as landform and sediment genesis mechanisms.

In this project we will use data on the bed of the British-Irish Ice Sheet, which has fully retreated revealing a bewildering array of meltwater features, to develop a groundwater flow model that reconstructs the form, evolution and drainage of groundwater and basal meltwater over the last 70,000 years.

Candidates with knowledge/interests in groundwater/ice-sheet modelling, glacial hydrology and/or glacial geomorphology are encouraged to apply. Preferred qualifications include: master degree in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines; computer programming skills; and strong research motivation.

How to apply:

Application deadline: Monday 9 January 2017 at 2359 GMT.

Further details: available from Dr Domenico Baú or Telephone: +44 (0) 114 22 20253.

National scale conceptual modelling of hydrology coupled to groundwater processes to improve predictions of river flows

BGS Supervisor: Chris Jackson

University Supervisor: Prof Jim Freer

DTP: GW4 Plus, University of Bristol

DTP project details:

The UK’s rivers, due to the variability of our climate from year to year and associated extreme weather events, are prone to flooding and periods of drought and water scarcity. Making robust predictions of these impacts is critical to developing effective planning and management of our precious water resources both for now and in the future.

Predicting river flows, especially for extreme high and low flows, involve dynamically changing complex, interacting and non linear processes of surface, near subsurface and deeper flow pathways. At national scales, such characterisations are now possible using a range of modelling approaches that differ in their mathematical treatment and level of physically based representation of these combined catchment processes. However such larger scale modelling has many challenges in how to characterise each river catchment individually. Therefore it is necessary to ensure the dominant hydrological processes are well represented and that the models provide robust predictions of river flows for the ‘right reasons’ over a range of hydrological behaviour.

This PhD project will address a critical aspect of improving our conceptualisation of river catchments, namely where groundwater is a critical component of the hydrological cycle and how it interacts with the near-surface hydrological processes. In the context of the UK, better representations of groundwater dynamics in hydrological models will be particularly important in south-east England; here major aquifers provide high quality water into public supply for millions of people, in addition to supporting important aquatic ecosystems. Whilst strategies for exploring sources of uncertainty in complex distributed groundwater models have been developed (e.g. Refsgaard et al., 2012), there has been little research on the appropriate degree of complexity to use when representing groundwater in conceptual hydrological models, though this is recognised as a limitation (e.g. Rojas et al., 2010). Furthermore the project shall utilise a new national scale uncertainty analysis modelling framework to explore these interactions between near surface and groundwater flow paths by improving the conceptualisation of how these flow paths interact and are coupled in space and time (Coxon et al., 2014). This will ensure the concepts developed are fully evaluated for hundreds of catchments across the UK where river flow data and groundwater monitoring are available. Furthermore the student will quantify the changes in our predictive capability of river flows within an uncertainty analyses framework that importantly quantifies the quality of both the river flow and the groundwater data in the way the modelling approaches are evaluated (Coxon et al. 2015).


Refsgaard, J C et al. 2012. Review of strategies for handling geological uncertainty in groundwater flow and transport modeling. Advances in Water Resources 36, 36.

Rojas R, et al. 2010. Application of a multimodel approach to account for conceptual model and scenario uncertainties in groundwater modelling. Journal of Hydrology 394, 416.

Coxon, G, et al. 2014. Diagnostic evaluation of multiple hypotheses of hydrological behaviour in a limits-of-acceptability framework for 24 UK catchments. Hydrological Processes 28(25), 6135-6150.

Coxon, G, et al. 2015. A novel framework for discharge uncertainty quantification applied to 500 UK gauging stations. Water Resources Research 51(7), 5531-5546.

How to apply:

Application deadline: 6th January 2017

Further details: available from Dr Jim Freer or telephone 0117 3318388.

Land, soil, and coasts
The resilience of organic matter stored in peat in response to positive and negative feedbacks

BGS Supervisor: Dr Chris Vane

University Supervisor: Dr Geoffrey Abbott

DTP: IAPETUS, Newcastle University

DTP project details: (Ref IAP-16-84)


One of the general findings from the latest Assessment Report of the United Nations IPCC is that warming of the atmosphere and ocean system is unequivocal. There is also no doubt that this will impact on northern peatlands which store about 550 Gt of carbon equivalent to approximately one third of global C stocks and 75% of the total pre-industrial amount of C stored in the atmosphere. The question addressed in this study is which of the following two types of feedback to climate warming is occurring in such ecosystems: positive feedback (acceleration of peat decay) or a negative feedback (an increase in carbon sequestration rate).

The research will explore down-core chemical diagenesis of peat soil organic matter (SOM) and assess the decay potential of deep peat exposed to oxic conditions, a scenario possible due to a changing climate or through significant land-use change. This project is aligned with the Carbon & Nutrient Cycling IAPETUS Research Theme and specifically into the sub-theme ii) Peatland Dynamics to Understand Feedback to the C Cycle.


Northern peatlands currently cover approximately 2.4 % of the Earth’s land surface, and store approximately one-third of global carbon (C) as water-logged peat, half of which is estimated to derive from one moss species: Sphagnum spp. Carbon accumulation occurs as a result of an increased rate of input of organic material from the surface relative to the rate of decomposition, due to in part the low temperatures, and the oxygen constraints on the degrading enzymes. However the rates of carbon sequestration on peatlands are a complex balance between carbon inputs and carbon outputs, with minor changes in plant communities, the temperature and precipitation regimes, the water table and the soil chemistry, potentially having a significant effect on carbon storage.

The future role of peatlands in the global C cycle will depend strongly on their response to climate and land use change. Most sensitive here will be processes that influence the water table depth as this controls both peat formation and peat oxidation. There is evidence from ocean salinity patterns that global warming is intensifying the global hydrological cycle. These changes will impact upon seasonal fluctuations of the water table in northern peatlands. Continued lowering of the water table in drier periods may result in a shift in the composition of the plant community, potentially altering litter decomposability, heterotrophic respiration, and increased CO2/CH4 production. Similarly wetter periods could enhance C sequestration. The complex interactions of these controls on SOM storage need to be disentangled in order to fully understand the impact of environmental change on the system. Will changes in the water table trigger significant secondary aerobic decay of previously anaerobic peat, or will rapid climate change trigger a shift to a more efficient peat-accumulating system, with inherently slower rates of SOM decay? The answers to these questions are crucial to projecting feedback effects between the peatland C cycle and the global climate system.


This project will combine palaeogeochemical analyses with environmental observation to unpick the processes which control SOM preservation in peatlands. The palaeogeochemical analyses are needed to understand the processes of physical and chemical diagenesis of peat SOM; the current environment characterisation is needed to understand better environmental controls and sensitivities on the drivers of peat decomposition and OM preservation.

Intra-site homogeneity is rarely considered and to address this we will focus on one site. The chosen field site is Butterburn Flow a 450 ha blanket bog which straddles the border between Cumbria and Northumberland. It is one of only four peat bogs in the UK which is transitional between an ombrotrophic raised bog and a patterned mire (extensive lawns and hummocks), providing a clear transect from bog plateau through the bog margin and fen lagg, comprising of hummocks and hollows at each of these locations along the gradient. As such it is a crucial field site because it comprises peatland sub-habitats that are representative of a wide range of peatlands, but with homogeneity in meteorological conditions.

We will quantify species– and trait–environment relationships along the peat transect by characterising plant species composition and functional traits and by measuring environmental conditions (pH, electrical conductivity, water-table depth and redox profiles) at about 10 sampling stations. Intersite and down-core comparisons across the macrotopographic gradient from the bog centre to the mire boundary will provide an unprecedented database for inferring processes of physical and chemical diagenesis of peat SOM that is representative of a wide class of peatlands in the UK. Because the abundance of Sphagnum moss and the degree of decay of its remains is mostly determined by water table depth in ombrotrophic bogs, precipitation and height of the water table will be monitored continually at Butterburn Flow.

Litter reactivity will be assessed by respirometry of headspace CO2 (by gas chromatography/flame ionization detector (GC/FID)).

Coring of the surficial peat layers (i.e. the first 0–100 cm, which will include the acrotelm and the upper part of the catotelm) must be carried out with the greatest care in order to retrieve a perfectly shaped core without any compaction, in order to provide an accurate estimate of subsample bulk density.

A detailed programme of water table monitoring will be undertaken over the course of 24 months, involving continuous measurements of water table depth using loggers at about 10 sites across the transect of the 450 ha Butterburn Flow site which will correspond to the sampled peat cores. Water table in the dipwells will be recorded at hourly intervals.

The application of molecular approaches to examine heterogeneous mixtures of organic matter (e.g. peat) provides detailed information on its structural composition. Analytical pyrolysis with combined gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (pyrolysis-GC/MS) is a powerful tool for the molecular characterization of peat and allows analysis of macromolecular structures that are not amenable with normal GC/MS. Even more detailed information can be obtained with thermally assisted hydrolysis with methylation (THM) in the presence of tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH). THM provides information on (poly)phenolic components of the OM by derivatisation/protection of functional groups. This is especially important in the analysis of lignin, tannins and other phenolic molecules. This is the best technique we have at present for the depolymerisation of organic C and the subsequent analysis of the "bound" phenols.



  • Field Survey
  • Define transect from bog plateau through the bog margin and fen lag
  • Collection of peat cores along this transect.


  • Installation of loggers for monitoring water table
  • Carbon and nitrogen measurements
  • Molecular analyses of peat as a function of distance from water table

YEAR 3 – YEAR 4 (6 months only)

Training is fundamental to the development of postgraduate research students and, together with the DTP, University and School we provide a substantial training programme. Priorities for training are determined from the 'Training Needs Analysis' carried out in the initial supervisory meeting with the student.

School training in (a) research skills and techniques and (b) research environment are provided through four mechanisms: (i) a programme of MSc taught modules; (ii) internal training ‘workshops’ that focus on key geochemical research skills and techniques; (iii) input from supervisors.

Students receive instruction in data collection and the scientific method, contextualizing and problematizing research in biogeochemistry, planning for field- and laboratory work, and team and group working in biogeochemistry. Assessment of students in this module is formative. There is also extensive generic training offered by Newcastle University.

Research training continues through the second and third years, and is based around a number of themes: Recognition and validation of problems; Demonstration of the original, independent and critical thinking, and the ability to develop theoretical concepts; Knowledge of recent advances within research field and in related areas; Understanding relevant research methodologies and techniques and their appropriate application within research field; Ability to analyse and critically evaluate findings and those of others; and Summarising, documenting, reporting and reflecting on progress.

References & Further Reading

Abbott, G D, Swain, E Y, Muhammad, A B, Allton, K, Belyea, L R, Laing, C G, Cowie, G L. 2013. Effect of water-table fluctuations on the degradation of Sphagnum phenols in surficial peats, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 106, 177-191.

Lang'at, J K S, Kairo, J G, Mencuccini, M, Bouillon, S, Skov, M W, Waldron, S, Huxham, M. 2014 Rapid Losses of Surface Elevation following Tree Girdling and Cutting in Tropical Mangrove PLoS ONE 9, e107868. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0107868

Large, A R G, Mayes, W, Newson, M, Parkin, G. 2007. Using long-term monitoring of fen hydrology and vegetation to underpin wetland restoration strategies. Applied Vegetation Science 10, 417-428.

Swain, E Y & Abbott, G D. 2013. The effect of redox conditions on sphagnum acid thermochemolysis product distributions in a northern peatland. Journal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis 103, 2–7.

Waldron S, Hall A J and Fallick A E. 1999 Enigmatic stable isotope dynamics of deep peat methane. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 13, 93-100.

How to apply:

Application deadline: 20th January 2017 (5pm GMT)

Further details: are available from Dr Geoffrey Abbott Tel: +44 (0)191 2226 608

Tropical lake ecosystems in the Anthropocene: quantifying recent human impacts on aquatic biodiversity and biogeochemical cycling

BGS Supervisor: Dr Keely Mills

University Supervisor: Dr David Ryves and Prof John Anderson Department of Geography, Loughborough University

DTP: CENTA, Loughborough

DTP project details:

Tropical freshwater lakes are critical natural systems of global importance, yet are scientifically under researched. Their catchments provide vital ecosystem services to some of Earth’s fastest growing and most vulnerable human populations, but the provision of fundamental ecological and life-supporting services is under threat due to the impact of human activities acting at the landscape-scale in the current Anthropocene (Butzer, 2015). Separating anthropogenic impacts from natural variability on aquatic systems is a key challenge to understanding their past and present development in the Anthropocene, and so for managing livelihoods in East Africa into the future (e.g. NERC HyCRISTAL project).

Human activity often drastically alters both nutrient cycling and biodiversity in lakes and their catchments (Mills et al. in press). Lakes are now seen as hotspots of biogeochemical dynamics (e.g. for carbon, silicon, phosphorus) within their landscapes, especially in small lakes, which have the highest rates of nutrient cycling. Very little work has been carried out on productive tropical lakes, which are often undergoing rapid catchment and environmental change, with largely unknown impacts on these.

This PhD will address this gap, in the lake-rich region of equatorial western Uganda, where there are ˜100 crater lakes in 4 lake districts varying from shallow and saline, to deep and fresh (Mills & Ryves 2012), together comprising one of the world's top 200 most biologically valuable ecoregions (Fig. 1) and acting as a natural aquatic laboratory. These freshwater lakes are important resources for drinking, irrigation and nutrition (e.g. fishing), as well as centres of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity, within landscapes often heavily impacted by human activity (Fig. 1). Anticipating how ecosystems change in space and time is crucial to understanding the future resilience of these systems at a time when anthropogenic impacts increasingly drive global environmental change.

This PhD project combines contemporary and palaeolimnology across a suite of contrasting crater lakes in western Uganda with the aim of characterising environmental and ecological change over the recent past (Ryves et al. 2011; Mills et al. 2014), to link changes in lake functioning as hotspots of both biodiversity and biogeochemistry (e.g. C and Si burial) in the last ˜100–150 years. Specific objectives include addressing the extent to which catchment land use change over this period has affected aquatic (especially algal) biodiversity and productivity, lake sedimentation and nutrient dynamics (e.g. C, Si), and critically testing the linkages between these using new sediment records collected within the project. Outcomes of this project will have great relevance for management of these crucial freshwater resources.

How to apply:

Application deadline: 23rd January 2017

Further details: contact Dr David Ryves.

For enquiries about the application process, please contact Susan Clarke, Department of Geography, Loughborough University. Please quote CENTA when completing the application form:

Marine geoscience
Interaction between proglacial lake development and Icelandic glacier dynamics

BGS Supervisor: Prof Emrys Phillips

University Supervisor: Dr Rachel Carr and Prof. Andy Russell

DTP: IAPETUS, Newcastle University

DTP project details:

Glaciers and ice caps are major contributors to global sea level rise and this is forecast to continue during the 21st Century. Consequently, understanding the mechanisms by which glaciers retreat and identifying the factors controlling ice losses are essential for accurate prediction of near-future sea level rise. A growing influence on ice loss is the expansion of proglacial lakes, which develop at the glacier margins as the ice retreats. As a consequence of climate warming, these lakes are currently expanding in many regions, including Iceland, the Himalaya and New Zealand. Here, they represent major natural hazards, with outburst floods threatening human life and causing severe and costly damage to infrastructure. Despite their expanding impact, the detailed interaction between proglacial lakes and their associated glaciers is not properly understood, which limits our capacity to accurately predict glacier loss and its associated hazards, as climate warms.

The formation of a proglacial lake markedly alters the conditions at the glacier terminus and allows the glacier to loose mass through calving of icebergs, in addition to surface melting. Iceberg calving is a key mass loss mechanism for both lake- and marine-terminating glaciers, but the process and its triggers are not properly understood. A number of potential controls have been identified to date, including: lake level; lake properties (temperature, circulation); pre-existing weaknesses created by crevasses; surface melt inputs; and ice thinning. However, it is unclear which factor(s) dominate and how this may change over time, as proglacial lakes develop grow. Furthermore, it is uncertain how the interaction between the lake and the glacier evolves temporarily and the types of feedbacks that might develop.

Iceland and Europe’s largest ice cap, Vatnajökull, has a number of outlet glaciers with recently developed proglacial lakes (e.g. Skeiðarárjökull, Skaftafellsjökull, Fjallsjökull, Heinabergsjökull and Hoffellsjökull. Iceland is therefore an ideal location for investigating interactions between proglacial lakes and glacier dynamics. Icelandic glaciers have been highly responsive to climate change and has experienced negative mass balance and margin retreat for the past 20 years (Aðalgeirsdóttir et al., 2006). During this time, proglacial lakes have expanded rapidly at the margins of its southern outlet glaciers (Schomacker, 2010) and have been identified as a cause of their variable response to climate change (Hannesdóttir, et al., 2015), but this relationship is not properly understood, due to a lack of detailed data. Given that major ice loss is forecast to continue in the region during the 21st and 22nd centuries (Aðalgeirsdóttir et al., 2006), it is vital to understand controls on ice loss from the region.

How to apply:

Application deadline: 20th January 2017 (5pm GMT)

Further details: available from Dr Rachel Carr telephone +44 (0) 191 208 6436

Offshore records of subglacial bedforms: using marine geophysics to test process hypotheses

BGS Supervisor: Dr Claire Mellett

University Supervisor: Prof Richard Chiverrell and Dr James Lea

DTP: Earth Atmosphere and Ocean (EAO), University of Liverpool

DTP project details:

Introduction: The sea floor geomorphology (e.g. van Landeghem et al., 2009) between Great Britain and the Isle of Man displays extensive geophysical evidence for subglacial landforms preserved in a pristine condition on the floor of the Irish Sea basin. The landform and sedimentary record preserved in this offshore realm documents the last deglaciation. The aim is to use extensive marine geophysical and geotechnical datasets for the Irish Sea basin to test hypotheses about the character and processes associated with the formation of subglacial bedforms preserved on the sea floor. The Irish Sea basin is a fertile testing ground for research of this nature, with >2000 drumlins, numerous ribbed moraine and flutes, gridded by shallow marine geophysics and borehole data and sediments.

Project summary: The last British – Irish Ice Sheet declined rapidly after 24,000 years ago, with the Irish Sea home to one of the largest ice streams draining this former ice mass. Geochronological modelling constrains the decline of this ice mass to 24,000 to 19,000 years ago (Chiverrell et al., 2013). The subglacial bedform record comprises mega-scale glacial lineations, drumlins, ribbed moraine and flutes; all well described in three marine geophysical datasets. BriticeChrono is a 5 year NERC Consortium Project running 2012-2018; the explicit aim was to constrain the rates and styles of ice stream retreat. The lead supervisor (Chiverrell) is the Terrestrial Lead for Britice-Chrono and Transect Lead for Irish Sea East. The recent Britice-Chrono cruise of the RRS James Cook obtained >h;40 cores and 100's km of geophysical (seismic) and multibeam morphological data for the Irish Sea (Dataset 1). This coupled with >h;270 cores and a comprehensive survey dataset for the High Voltage Direct Link (HVDL) that crosses the Irish Sea from the Wirral to the Firth of Clyde (Dataset 2). The R3 Rhiannon dataset comprises ˜2000km2 of multibeam echosounder data, 2D sub-bottom seismic (Chirp) data forming a 150x500m grid and 43 borehole records. Van Landeghem and Chiverrell (2011) undertook a comprehensive assessment of the landform and sediment record in the R3 Rhiannon area (Dataset 3). Together these three datasets provide an unrivalled opportunity to test hypotheses about the morphology, composition and processes associated with one of the largest subglacial bedform clusters off-shore of the British and Irish Isles.

This project will use an unrivalled geophysical data archive and comprehensive collection of core materials to explore the environments and ice marginal retreat sequence in the Irish Sea broadly north from the Llyn Peninsula to SW Scotland and Cumbria. Focusing entirely on the offshore record the project will test hypotheses about: nature and influence of grounded ice masses, the extent and ice flow indications in the subglacial landforms, the sediment signature across the subglacial to proglacial transition, the extent and degree of marine influence (there is unambiguous evidence for an active calving margin during ice retreat). Though independent of the NERC Consortium BriticeChrono the research will benefit from a comprehensive marine and land-based geochronology developed by that Consortia and the PhD candidate would benefit from the connections and research environment of the Britice-Chrono research community (Field and Annual Meetings, and Conferences). The overarching aim is to use these extensive marine geophysical datasets to test hypotheses about the character and processes associated with the formation of key subglacial bedforms. For example, ideas about the formation of drumlins have evolved towards attribution as an emergent phenomena arising from self-organization in the coupled flow of ice, sediment and water. Bedform pattern perhaps linked to self-organisation driven by instability in the coupled flow of ice and subglacial sediment. Characterising the internal structure and composition of large numbers of drumlins and other subglacial bedforms would test the hypothesis that the structure and composition in part governs the development of these bedforms.

The prospective PhD research will gain comprehensive training in geophysical methods, sedimentology, and build a comprehensive database of subglacial bedform characteristics. These data will be used to test an ensemble of process hypotheses. He/She will benefit from a supervisory team including Richard Chiverrell (geophysics/sedimentology/geochronology), James Lea (glaciology and sedimentology), Claire Mellett (CASE Partner: British Geological Survey: offshore geology), Chris Clark (Sheffield: Glaciology) and Katrien van Landghem (Bangor: marine geophysics). He/She will benefit from training opportunities inherent to the Doctoral Training Partnership that joins expertise from Liverpool, Manchester and the National Oceanographic Centre, and be part of the fourth cohort of enthusiastic DTP PhD students and will develop strong interdisciplinary skills through specific training.


Chiverrell R C et al. 2013. Bayesian modelling the retreat of the Irish Sea Ice Stream. Journal of Quaternary Science 28, 200-209.

Clark C D. 2010. Emergent drumlins and their clones: from till dilatancy to flow instabilities. Journal of Glaciology, Vol. 51, No. 200, 2010.

Hindmarsh R C A. 1998. Drumlinization and drumlin-forming instabilities: viscous till mechanisms. J. Glaciol., 44 (147), 293–314.

Mellett C, Long D, Carter G, Chiverrell R C and Van Landeghem K J J Geology of the seabed and shallow subsurface: The Irish Sea. BRITISH GEOLOGICAL SURVEY, Energy and Marine Geoscience Programme, COMMISSIONED REPORT CR/15/057

Van Landeghem K J J et al. 2009. Seafloor evidence for palaeo-streaming and calving of the grounded Irish Sea Ice Stream: implications for the interpretation of its final deglaciation phase. Boreas 38, 119-113.

How to apply:

Application deadline: 18 January 2017

Further details: available from Prof Richard Chiverrell

Scotland's Pockmarks: how and when did they form?

BGS Supervisor: Dr Joana Gafeira

University Supervisor: Dr Tom Bradwell and Dr John Howe (SAMS)

DTP: IAPETUS, Stirling

DTP project details:

Pockmarks are roughly circular, concave, crater-like depressions in the seabed. They were first reported by King and MacLean (1970) offshore Nova Scotia (Canada), who suggested that gas and/or water from the underlying bedrock was released in sufficient quantities to put fine-grained marine sediment into suspension. Since then, pockmarks have been found worldwide: within lakes and estuaries, on open shelves and in deep oceans. Pockmarks are now considered to be the most abundant expression of gas seepage seen at seabed. This process of gas release is of great interest to geologists, but also has important implications for marine civil engineering and offshore industry (i.e. the renewable energy sector) as well as potentially impacting on marine life.

Higher-resolution multibeam echo-sounder surveys conducted over the last 10 years have identified increasing numbers of pockmarks around Scotland’s western and northern coast. Notable pockmark fields have been found within several sea lochs, including: Loch Eriboll, Loch Broom and the Minch (Stoker et al., 2006), areas east of the Small Isles (Howe et al., 2012) and the Firth of Lorn & Loch Linnhe (Howe et al., 2015). All these Scottish sea lochs occur within Precambrian to Early Palaeozoic metamorphic terrain which has subsequently been modified during the Quaternary – when extensive ice sheets carved out numerous basins into which late-glacial to Holocene sediments have collected.

The presence of deep basins and shallow sills has effectively trapped organic matter within the sediments since deglaciation resulting in the subsequent build-up and release of shallow biogenic gas. Importantly, the timing and evolution of pockmark formation and gas release can now be examined through the use of U-Th geochronology of methane-derived authigenic carbonates (MDACs) sampled from the seabed. Recent dating studies using this technique have resulted in high-impact journal publications (e.g. Cremiere et al., 2016).

Pockmark distribution is non-random; with their occurrence being apparently strongly controlled (Roy et al., 2016). Pockmark morphology also varies markedly with spatial location.

This project would have twin aims:

  1. to assess the degree of geological and bathymetric control on pockmark formation and morphology;
  2. to examine the association between pockmark setting, rapid ice-sheet unloading and neotectonics (postglacial fault movement).

For instance in Loch Linnhe and the Firth of Lorn, pockmarks tend to form in lines reflecting the strongly faulted underlying geology of the area (Howe et al., 2015). In Loch Eriboll, pockmarks are subtle and very shallow; whilst around the Small Isles (Inner Hebrides), pockmarks are deeper and steeper-sided than any equivalent-sized pockmarks on the UK continental shelf (internal depths of >18 m). How can these differing morphological traits be explained? What do they mean for pockmark formation rate, gas escape, and seabed stability?

  • Does seabed geology determine pockmark distribution and morphology?
  • Was pockmark formation triggered by rapid retreat of the last British Ice Sheet?
  • Do Scotland's pockmarks result from long-term reduced marine sedimentation above active seeps? Or did they form by episodic gas-release events and sediment expulsion?
  • When did they form? And are Scottish pockmarks still active?
  • What risks do they pose for marine infrastructure and engineering projects in UK waters?

This fully funded PhD studentship would aim to answer these outstanding research questions and contribute to a significant knowledge gap.

How to apply: Reference IAP-16-37

Application deadline: 20th January 2017 (5pm GMT)

Further details: available from Dr Tom Bradwell or Dr Joana Gafeira

Sea-level change, glacial isostatic adjustment and drowned geomorphology of northern Scotland

BGS Supervisor: Dr Claire Mellett

University Supervisor: Prof Ian Shennan and Prof Antony Long (Durham University) and Dr Tom Bradwell (University of Stirling)

DTP: IAPETUS, Durham University

DTP project details:

Current highly sophisticated glacial-isostatic adjustment (GIA) models used to predict long-term land and sea-level changes generally show good agreement with empirically derived postglacial sea level curves from around the British Isles (Shennan et al., 2006, 2011) (Fig. 1). But these models struggle to predict the relative sea-level variations at sites around the NW margins of the last British and Fennoscandian ice sheets, partly owing to a lack of good empirical data constraints on ice sheet dimensions and thickness and also because of a lack of good quality empirical observations of past sea-level and shoreline positions (Kuchar et al., 2012).

The NW seaboard and northern isles of Scotland provide unique constraints on both the sea level and ice sheet components relevant for GIA modelling. Between Applecross and Shetland, a distance of 400 km, relative sea level and crustal motions change considerably across a steep spatial gradient. Whilst Applecross experienced overall lateglacial emergence and uplift; Shetland has experienced continuously rising sea levels coupled with the highest current rates of subsidence in the UK and Ireland (˜1 mm/yr) (Shennan et al., 2006).

Explaining the contrasting sea-level records across northern Scotland is rooted in the ice sheet history of the wider area. Until relatively recently it was widely thought that parts of northernmost Scotland were largely unaffected by the last British and Scandinavian Ice Sheets – with any evidence of glaciation on Orkney or Shetland related to small, thin local ice caps or to earlier glacial cycles (Lambeck, 1993).

This model has since been overturned, largely through the advent of new shelf-wide digital bathymetry data (e.g. Bradwell et al., 2008) showing numerous ice sheet moraines with fresh morphology on the seafloor around northern Scotland. Although not currently dated, seismic stratigraphy and selected offshore cores place this widespread glaciation of northernmost Scotland and the adjacent continental shelf within Marine Isotope Stage 2 (Bradwell et al., 2008). Recent ice-sheet modelling experiments support these empirical reconstructions, with a considerably thicker and more extensive ice mass developing over northern Scotland (Hubbard et al., 2009). The maximum British-Irish ice sheet extent, flow configuration and decay history are currently the subject of a major NERC-funded research project – Britice-Chrono.

Importantly only some of the new, glaciologically realistic, ice sheet models provide reasonable fits with the sea-level records – the minimum model of Hubbard et al. (2009) for example, but not the median and maximum models. Increasing numbers of cosmogenic-exposure ages also point to a thicker ice sheet across NW Scotland, with a younger age for thinning and final deglaciation (e.g. Bradwell et al., 2008; Mathers, 2014). These increased ice-volume scenarios all predict RSL above present ca. 16-12 ka BP in parts of NW Scotland.

One of the key aims of this doctoral training project is to gather empirical constraints from across northern mainland Scotland to test the hypothesis that RSL was above present during the lateglacial. The student will integrate their new observations with dated ice-sheet margins arising from Britice-Chrono and systematically compile these to produce a geospatial database of palaeo-shoreline information to integrate with Long and Shennan’s continuing collaborations with GIA modellers (G. Milne, Ottawa; S. Bradley, Utrecht). In addition, the student will undertake new mapping of the offshore zone, especially the seafloor around Shetland where numerous submarine features have been attributed to marine erosion (Flinn, 1964), and may date from the lateglacial period. This aspect of the project will draw on state-of-the-art high-resolution multibeam echosounder bathymetry data (Fig.4) to extend the geospatial database to drowned sea level features, in order to produce detailed onshore/offshore palaeo-coastline maps from ˜20ka to the present day. These maps will be used to target further nearshore marine geophysical surveys (multibeam, sub-bottom seismic, etc), and geological seabed coring within the second half of the studentship to establish the sedimentary architecture and age of the drowned shorelines (Mellett et al., 2012). Crucially these spatially and temporally constrained palaeo-marine limits will enable a new long-term sea-level curve to be constructed for northern Scotland and will serve as valuable index points to refine future GIA models of the British Isles – reducing uncertainties and improving predictive capability in this weakly constrained sector.

The research methodology will be transdisciplinary, supervised by recognised experts working in sea level research and process geomorphology, marine geology, ice sheet science, and GIA modelling. This studentship will involve fieldwork (terrestrial and marine), geological and geophysical data collection and analysis; as well as using new and recently acquired bathymetric, geological and geochronological data.

The research methods will include: GIS and database construction, 2D and 3D geomorphological mapping (terrestrial and submarine); geophysical data analysis; geological core analysis; ITRAX sedimentology and geochemistry; C-14 dating techniques; integration of GIS databases with GIA models.


Year 1:

Autumn-winter: Doctoral training methods programme at Durham including field techniques; training in sediment analyses methods; training in GIS techniques and database compilation; bathymetric dataset evaluation (at BGS); submarine landform mapping; evaluation of field sites in NW and N Scotland.

Spring-Summer: assessment and sub-sampling of previously collected marine cores; first field season (NW Scotland); laboratory analyses of core material; C-14 application submission; PhD progression paper presentation.

Year 2:

Lab analyses of core material; selection of further material for C-14 dating; second field season (Orkney & Shetland); continued analysis of bathymetric data; develop GIS shoreline model; collection of seabed geophysical data, and possible offshore coastal coring campaign (with BGS); presentation of results at national conference (e.g. QRA Annual Discussion Meeting).

Year 3:

Final field season; lab analyses of core material and selection of material for C-14 dating; completion of GIS palaeo-shoreline model and interfacing with GIA; lead authorship of key manuscript(s); presentation at international meeting or workshop (e.g. AGU 2019, EGU or PALSEA2); thesis preparation, write-up and final submission.

Training & Skills

Training in specialist and complementary skills is the most important aspect of a PhD programme. Specialist training will be provided in: Quaternary geology field techniques, including 2D and 3D (terrestrial and submarine) geomorphological mapping; marine geophysical data interpretation; DEM generation, 3D visualisation and interrogation in ArcGIS, Fledermaus, etc.; field site selection; a range of (terrestrial, lacustrine, and shallow marine) sediment coring methods; sediment analysis: e.g. LOI, X-ray, MSCL, ITRAX (XRF); 14C dating and construction of age-depth models using Bayesian methods (with NERC RCL and SUERC, East Kilbride); stratigraphic correlation techniques; micropalaeontological analysis.

The student will take the Geography Department training course which covers research skills and techniques; research environment; research management; personal effectiveness; communication skills; networking and team-working; career management. The student will join a vibrant community of staff and students with interests in ice sheet history and sea-level changes at Durham and BGS. The supervisors will also provide tailored training: e.g. fieldwork, data analysis, oral and poster presentations, paper writing, thesis writing, compiling bibliographies, troubleshooting, interview preparation.

References & Further Reading

Bradwell, T et al. 2008. The northern sector of the last British Ice Sheet: maximum extent and demise. Earth-Science Reviews 88, 207-226.

Brooks, A J et al. 2008. Postglacial relative sea-level observations from Ireland and their role in glacial rebound modelling. Journal of Quaternary Science 23, 175-192.

Flinn, D. 1964. Coastal and submarine features around the Shetland Islands. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association 75, 321-339.

Hubbard, A et al. 2009. Dynamic cycles, ice streams and their impact on the extent, chronology and deglaciation of the last British-Irish Ice Sheet. Quaternary Science Reviews 28, 758-776.

Kuchar, J et al. 2012. Evaluation of a numerical model of the British-Irish ice sheet using relative sea-level data: implications for the interpretation of trimline observations. Journal of Quaternary Science 27, 597-605.

Lambeck, K. 1993b. Glacial rebound of the British Isles. 2. A high resolution, high precision model. Geophysical Journal International 115, 960-990.

Mathers, H. 2014. The impact of the Minch palaeo-ice stream in NW Scotland. University of Glasgow, Unpublished PhD Thesis.

Mellett, C et al., 2012. Preservation of a drowned barrier complex: a landscape evolution study from the north-eastern English Channel. Marine Geology 315-318, 115-131.

Shennan, I et al. 2006. Relative sea-level changes, glacial isostatic modelling and ice-sheet reconstructions from the British Isles since the Last Glacial Maximum. Journal of Quaternary Science, 21, 585–599.

Shennan, I et al. 2012. Late Holocene vertical land motion and relative sea level changes: lesson.

How to apply: (Ref IAP-16-27)

Application deadline: 20 January 2017

Further details: available from Prof Ian Shennan, or Dr Tom Bradwell or Dr Claire Mellet

Minerals and waste
How do submarine landslides evolve in salt-withdrawal basins?

BGS Supervisor: Dr Davide Gamboa and Prof. David Tappin

University Supervisor: Dr Tiago Alves

DTP: GW4-Plus, Cardiff

DTP project details:

Submarine landslides are major hazards in underwater environments as they can generate tsunamis and, in parallel, compromise the safety and integrity of seafloor and subsurface infrastructure. Furthermore, the presence of stratigraphic and structural heterogeneities in submarine landslide deposits has the potential to change the hydrological properties of buried units, with variable impacts on subsurface fluid retention and drainage systems. Despite continued research, important questions still prevail on submarine landslide occurrence, run-out distance and their internal deformation. The classical models for landslide deposition show a continuum of deformation styles and internal structures that range from intact blocks near the headwall to completely disaggregated strata in their toe area. These models, however, are constantly under scrutiny as new data is made available to academia and industry. In addition, the spatial and temporal recurrence of submarine landslides is of great importance to assess areas that can retain and trap fluid in the subsurface. To assess these areas is relevant for underground storage and offshore carbon sequestration.

The PhD project will focus on the quantitative analysis of submarine landslides and their deformation styles. High-quality 3D seismic from the Brazilian, Australian and Norwegian margins will be used to map submarine landslides in offshore domains affected by salt tectonics (Figures 1 and 2). The geomorphological and statistical analysis of the landslides will be used to estimate, and correlate their sizes, recurrence and persistence. Specialised software will be used for the 3D reconstruction of the movement of landslides, aiming to quantify and compare the differential movement in distinct deposits. A modelling component is to be included to replicate the observations undertaken on seismic data. This approach will allow to understand which factors control the geometry of submarine landslides after they are triggered. The aim is to produce a hazard susceptibility model for submarine landslides generated in salt-withdrawal basins. The results of the project will be important to other continental slopes where confined landslides occur, such as the Gulf of Mexico, West Africa or Pacific Central American margin, and also to understand landslides’ internal character in lacustrine environments.

The project benefits from a close collaboration between the 3D Seismic Lab (Cardiff University), one of the top basin analysis research centres in Europe, and the British Geological Survey. The student will benefit from state-of-the-art interpretation resources at Cardiff, and have access to British Geological Survey’s renowned expertise on geohazard characterisation and modelling. Training courses will also be available to the successful candidate through the British Geological Survey.


Li, W, Alves, T M, Wu, S, Rebesco, M, Zhao, F, Mi, L, Ma, B. 2016. A giant, submarine creep zone as a precursor of large-scale slope instability offshore the Dongsha Islands (South China Sea), Earth and Planetary Science Letters, vol. 451, 272-284.

Gamboa, D and Alves, T M. 2016. Bi-modal deformation styles in confined mass-transport deposits: Examples from a salt minibasin in SE Brazil, Marine Geology, vol. 379, 176-193.

Alves, T M. 2015. Submarine slide blocks and associated soft-sediment deformation in deep-water basins: a review, Marine and Petroleum Geology, vol. 67, 262-285.

Alves, T M, Cartwright, J A. 2009. Volume balance of a submarine landslide in the Espírito Santo Basin, offshore Brazil: quantifying seafloor erosion, sediment accumulation and depletion, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, vol. 288, 572-580.

How to apply:

Application deadline: 6th January 2017

Further details: contact are available from Dr Tiago Alves or telephone 029 208 76754.

Understanding the origin of alkaline igneous provinces and associated critical metal mineralisation: the Chilwa Alkaline Province, Malawi

BGS Supervisor: Dr Kathryn Goodenough

University Supervisor: Prof Frances Wall

DTP: GW4 Plus, University of Exeter

DTP project details:

The Chilwa Alkaline Province (CAP), in southern Malawi, is one of the 'classic' areas of car-bonatite and alkaline magmatism. It comprises large alkaline intrusions ranging from Mlanje, at approximately 640 km2 and rising to 3000 m, to smaller intrusions and minor plugs and dykes. These intrusive centres, mainly late Jurassic, are remarkable for their lithological diver-sity, including granites, quartz syenites, syenites and trachytes, nepheline syenites and phono-lites, ijolites and nephelinites, and a plethora of dykes and carbonatites with associated fenites. They are characteristically associated with critical metals deposits, especially REE and Nb. Critical metals are essential for a range of essential environmental and digital technologies. They are difficult to substitute, and at risk of supply disruption because of their limited number of sources. Better exploration models will help diversity and secure critical metals supply.

The genesis of alkaline provinces such as the CAP is contentious, with two main controls ad-vocated: a structural control, in the lithosphere (Woolley, 1987); and a mantle plume derived control (e.g. Bell, 2001). The CAP is an example of a province considered to be emplaced through structural control in the lithosphere, with up-doming, lithospheric focussing and rifting ascribed to an early stage of the East African Rift (Woolley, 1987). However, this hypothesis is supported by geochemical analyses from only a few intrusions in the north of the province, and limited Ar-Ar and fission track data. There is no holistic model for the critical metal mineralisa-tion.

The project objective is to produce a model for the CAP that relates the processes that concen-trate the resources, especially REE, P and Nb, in certain intrusions, to the fundamental petro-genesis. Project partner, Mkango Resources, operates in Malawi and can support fieldwork to obtain samples from the poorly-studied intrusions of the southern CAP (Fig 1). The Natural History Museum (NHM) project partner will facilitate access to collections of material from the northern CAP and aid whole-rock geochemical analyses. The project will use state of the art spatially-resolved geochemical techniques. The results will be an important step in the devel-opment of a mineral deposit model for this area, which can be applied to other alkaline igneous provinces globally.

The project will run alongside two large consortia research programmes: SoS RARE ( researching mobility and concentration of REE and HiTechAlkCarb ( a new European level project developing exploration geomodels for al-kaline rocks and carbonatites.


Bell, K. 2001. Carbonatites: relationships to mantle plume activity. Pp. 267 -290 in: Mantle plumes: their identification through time (. Ernst, R E and Buchan, K L. editors). Geological So-ciety of America, Special Paper, 352.

Woolley, A R. 1987. Lithosphere metasomatism and the petrogenesis of the Chilwa Province of alkaline igneous rocks and carbonatites, Malawi. Journal of African Earth Sciences, 6, 891-898.

How to apply:

Application deadline: 6th January 2017

Further details: available from Prof Frances Wall telephone: 01326 371831.

Stable Isotope Centre
Changes in ice volume and ocean stratification across the Mid Pleistocene Transition: A multiproxy paleoceanographic study on the Agulhas Plateau

BGS Supervisor: Dr Sev Kender

University Supervisor: Prof Ian Hall (Cardiff University) and Prof Sidney Hemming (Columbia University).

DTP: GW4 Plus, Cardiff University

DTP project details:

Explanations of the glacial–interglacial and millennial timescale variations in atmospheric pCO2 invoke an important role for the deep ocean in the storage of CO2. Deep-ocean density stratification has been proposed as a mechanism to promote the storage of CO2 in the deep ocean during glacial times. Little is known, however, about how ocean stratification might have evolved across much of the Pliocene–Pleistocene and therefore its potential role in regulating atmospheric pCO2.

The recent International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 361 drilled six sites on the southeast African margin and in the Indian-Atlantic ocean gateway (IAOG), southwest Indian Ocean during spring 2016 (Hall et al., 2016). This project, which will be collaborative with an international team, intends to utilise material collected during EXP 361 to provide quantitative reconstructions of water-column hydrography, dynamics, sediment provenance and relative export production in the Subantarctic Zone (SAZ) and IAOG during key intervals of climate change over the past ˜5 Ma. Will we also assess changes in the oxygen isotopic composition of seawater as a proxy for ice volume.

The project will initially focus the on the Early Middle Pleistocene Transition (EMPT; 1.4-0.4 Ma) – which marks a fundamental shift in the Earth's climate state with a progressive increase in the amplitude of glacial-interglacial oscillations and a shift towards a quasi-100 kyr frequency – to investigate (i) the extent of changes in ocean stratification during the EMPT (ii) the response of the soft-tissue biological pump to the increased iron deposition observed during the onset of the EMPT (iii) the intensity of oceanic CO2 leakage from the SAZ and (iv) these processes in the context of changes in ice volume and meridional overturning circulation on a regional and global scale. These records will then be compared to similar reconstructions across other key Pliocene glacial events, which may have been global and occurred at ˜4.9-4.8 Ma, ˜4.0 Ma, ˜3.6 Ma and ˜3.3 Ma. It is anticipate that this study will provide a valuable contribution to our understanding of the processes that resulted in lower glacial atmospheric pCO2 in the post-EMPT world.

TThe PhD project will involve a range of palaeoceanographic and geochemical techniques. The student will work within a very active and dynamic research environment and will be trained fully in laboratory techniques. The project will also involve a visit to Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (Columbia University, New York) for 40Ar/39Ar and K/Ar analyses. This project would suit a student with an analytical geochemistry/sedimentology background and a strong interest in Earth science and climate change. It is envisaged that the student will gain seagoing experience.


Hall, I R, Hemming, S R, LeVay, L J, and the Expedition 361 Scientists. 2016. Expedition 361 Preliminary Report: South African Climates (Agulhas LGM Density Profile). International Ocean Discovery Program.

Clark, P U, Archer, D, Pollard, D, Blum, J D, Rial, J A, Brovkin, V, Mix, A C, et al. 2006. The Middle Pleistocene transition: characteristics, mechanisms, and implications for long-term changes in atmospheric pCO2. Quaternary Science Reviews 25, 3150-3184.

Ziegler, M, Diz, P, Hall, I R, Zahn, R. 2013. Millennial-scale changes in atmospheric CO2 levels linked to the Southern Ocean carbon isotope gradient and dust flux, Nature Geoscience, 6, 457-461.

Beal, L M, De Ruijter, W P M, Biastoch, A, Zahn, R Cronin, M, Hermes, J, Lutjeharms, J, Quartly, G, Tomoki, T, Baker-Yeboah, S, Bornman, T, Cipollini, P, Dijkstra, H, Hall, I R, Park, W, Peeters, F, Penven, P, Ridderinkhof, H and Zinke, J. On the role of the Agulhas system in ocean circulation and climate. Nature, 472 (7344): 429 DOI: 10.1038/nature09983 (2011).

How to apply:

Application deadline: 6th January 2017

Further details: available from Prof Ian Hall Tel 00 4429 2087 5612

Holocene climate evolution in Alaska: gaining new insights from high-resolution isotope records

BGS Supervisor: Prof Melanie Leng

University Supervisor: Dr Andrew Henderson and Dr Maarten van Hardenbroek (Newcastle), Prof Darrell Kaufman (Northern Arizona University) and Prof Mat Wooller, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

DTP: IAPETUS, Newcastle University

DTP project details: Ref IAP-16-03

Understanding the mechanisms involved in past climate variability, especially at a regional scale, is essential to assessing the dynamic nature and the trajectory of climate change. While meteorological and satellite data have improved our knowledge of the modern North Pacific climate system, regional climate responses to large-scale forcing remains poorly constrained. Documenting regional responses in the North Pacific is essential because they may be nonlinear due to complex land-ocean-atmosphere feedbacks. Such nonlinear behaviour constitutes a major source of climate "surprises" with significant socioeconomic and ecological implications. Distinct changes in moisture have already been documented during the Holocene across Alaska and the Yukon, and these have been linked to shifts in large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns.

Using non-glacial lakes, the proposed studentship aims to develop a network of proxy diatom oxygen isotope records to improve our understanding of regional hydrological variability in Alaska. The student will reconstruct Holocene climate change using lake sediments recovered from the Kenai Peninsula, south Alaska and from Tanana Valley, central Alaska. This palaeoclimate work will be coupled with a modern experimental study at Lost Lake in central Alaska to gain insights into the isotope systematics of oxygen isotopes in diatoms. Together, this research will be used to address research questions over the Holocene focusing on the last two millennia, the mid-Holocene transition and the evolution of climate from the deglacial period, onset of the Holocene and the Holocene thermal maximum.

The student will develop two new high-resolution palaeoclimate records using the oxygen isotope composition of diatoms (18Odiatom) from the sediments of Paradox and Lost Lake. Both of these lakes have previously been worked on before, but not for diatom isotopes, and the their high biogenic silica abundance lends them to being suitable sites for generating oxygen isotope records that will be linked to atmospheric circulation (open basins fed by precipitation).

The motivation for this project comes from recent work that highlights the sensitivity of these and other regional lakes to seasonal changes in precipitation abundance. Southern and central Alaska has been chosen because its maritime influenced climate is sensitive to changes in the strength and location of atmospheric circulation centres, which in turn are modulated by climate variability across the North Pacific region. This project will contribute to understanding the sub-Arctic and Artic system by placing recent climate change in the context of mid-Holocene climate transitions and early Holocene climate instability of the last ˜15 ka.

How to apply:

Application deadline: 20th January 2017

Further details: available from Andrew Henderson Tel: +44 (0) 191 208 3086

South Orkney plateau: determining how shifts in the south westerly winds impacts the exchange of waters between the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and the Weddell Gyre

BGS Supervisor: Prof Melanie Leng

University Supervisor: Dr Claire Allen and Dr Victoria Peck (British Antarctic Survey) and Dr Jennifer Pike (Cardiff)

DTP: GW4 Plus, Cardiff University

DTP project details:

Dense deep and bottom waters exported from beneath the sea ice and ice shelves of the Weddell Sea form a critical component of the Atlantic meridional circulation, regulating global ocean circulation. Recent observations reveal that waters exported from the Weddell Sea into the Scotia Sea are becoming significantly warmer and fresher. The concurrent poleward shift of the southern westerly winds (SWW) could explain this trend, in which case the predicted continuation of this SWW migration through the 21st century would likely intensify upper ocean overturning and reduce sea ice, in turn leading to continued warming and freshening of waters exported from the WS. These changes would have a profound impact on the local ecosystem as well as implications for global ocean circulation.

While climate reconstructions in the West Antarctic Peninsula, Subantarctic Islands and South America have shown that the SWW belt migrated south (north) of its current trajectory during the Early (Late) Holocene, with significant impacts on regional oceanography, the effect that these SWW migrations may have had on the Weddell Sea region and deep/bottom water formation has not yet been investigated.

The South Orkney Plateau (SOP) in the SW Atlantic straddles the South Scotia Ridge between the Scotia and Weddell Seas. Waters entrained within the Weddell Sea gyre are exposed to sub-ice shelf and sea ice processes, increasing their density causing them to sink as deep/bottom waters. Export of these dense waters into the Scotia Sea, while en route north into the Atlantic, allows a degree of mixing with the relatively warm Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC).It is now well established that poleward shifts in the SWW increase upwelling of CDW along the southern boundary of the ACC. Similarly, sea-ice, ocean temperatures and water mass composition along the northern limb of the Weddell Sea gyre are likely to be sensitive to shifts in the SWW. Located along the boundary between the ACC and the Weddell Sea gyre, the SOP is ideally placed to establish how changes in the position of the SWW impact ocean circulation in this region.

Using diatoms and foraminferal proxies (assemblages and stable isotopes) to reconstruct sea-ice cover, surface & deep ocean temperatures, productivity, water mass distribution and stratification in the SOP region will provide the necessary information to determine how the boundary between the ACC and Weddell Sea gyre, and also deep/bottom water export responds to changes in the position of the SWW.


Murphy, E, Clarke, A. Variability of sea-ice in the northern Weddell Sea during the 20th century. J. Geophys. Res., 119, 4549–4572 (2014) Peck, V L, Allen, C S. Oceanographic variability on the West Antarctic Peninsula during the Holocene and the influence of upper circumpolar deep water. Quat. Sci. Rev., 119, 54-65 (2015)

How to apply:

Application deadline: 6th January 2017

Further details: available from Dr Claire Allen, telephone 01223 221422

BGS Joint opportunities

Engineering Geology
Understanding coastal vulnerability in an uncertain world

BGS Supervisor: Dr Jez Everest and Lee Jones

University Supervisor: Dr Suzi Ilic and Dr Mike James, Lancaster University and Dr David Hodgetts, University of Manchester

DTP: ENVISION, Lancaster University

Sea-level rise and enhanced storminess, driven by climate change, is greatly increasing coastal vulnerability and the impacts of coastal recession worldwide. Although coastal cliffs provide valuable natural protection, they also present rockfall and landslide hazards; thus, understanding the processes involved in coastal recession is vital in order to implement appropriate sustainable management strategies to carefully maintain natural defences. This project will use detailed 3D models from data collected by terrestrial laser scanner (TLS) and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to assess active coastal sites for change.

Critically, the work will develop the use of a new technique for detecting change at specified confidence levels. This will be applied to models based on UAV data, and validated through comparison with TLS surveys. Consequently, the project aims to tackle the central challenge of providing a quantitative assessment of the vulnerability of coastal cliffs to storms and sea-level rise through deriving uncertainty-bounded measurements of topographic change.

The project will involve UAV and TLS data collection in the UK, in collaboration with the British Geological Survey (BGS). The student would gain experience in state-of-the-art processing techniques for such data and would develop a range of remote sensing and geohazard expertise.

Suitable training (e.g. UAV piloting) would be provided throughout the project and the student would be working closely with a range of experts at Manchester University and the BGS as well as at Lancaster. The project will have worldwide relevance and also direct links with applied aspects of geohazard monitoring and management in the UK.

The project is eligible for competitive funding through the Envision DTP (NERC). Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Environmental Science, Geography or Natural Sciences.

As a jointly supervised Phd student with BGS you will benefit from short term access typically 1–2 months in 1–2 week periods, to equipment and data and BGS. You will also be invited to present at the BUFI Science Festival and other training opportunities with BGS.

How to apply:

Application deadline: Friday 6th January, 2017

Further details are available via the links below or from Dr Mike James

Envision – NERC DTP led by Lancaster University:

Funding and other information:

Novel instruments for continuous water quality assessment in remote areas

BGS Supervisor: Dr Dan Lapworth

University Supervisor: Dr Sharon Velasquez Orta and Dr David Werner

DTP: IAPETUS, Newcastle University

DTP project details:

Urban groundwater resources are under enormous pressure around the globe because of rapid growth in densely populated areas. In countries like the UK with early industrial development, the sewer networks infrastructure is now very old and leaking raw sewage into groundwater in many unknown locations. In developing countries like Tanzania with large unplanned settlements, the majority of the population are using on-site sanitation systems such as pit latrines and septic tanks and this has also led to a rise in anthropogenic groundwater pollution through chemicals i.e. increased dissolved organic carbon (DOC), nitrate (NO3- ) and pathogens. Experience has shown that waterborne disease outbreaks in Dar es Salaam City in Tanzania are usually triggered by rainfall, which is thought to be caused by the washing of faecal matter into groundwater drinking water sources such as shallow wells, which has also been noted in other countries. Lack of routine groundwater quality monitoring is thus a major challenge for the management of public health in both the developed and developing world.

The vision of Earth Systems Engineering relies of inexpensive, continuous monitoring of environmental conditions, which forms the basis for cost-effective and timely targeted interventions. This project will tackle this low cost monitoring requirement by the development of a Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) biosensor for the continuous monitoring of groundwater quality. Microbial fuel cells convert the chemical energy contained in polluted water into electrical current using bacteria as catalyst. The electrical current is proportional to the microbial density present as well as the concentration of water pollutants such as organic matter and inorganic nutrients. These constituents would all be present in groundwater impacted by faecal pollution. Importantly, because microbial fuel cells produce energy from the water pollution they do not need batteries or chemicals to operate. Therefore they have huge potential for self-reliant continuous monitoring of groundwater quality and the detection of major pollution events. This PhD project will aim to facilitate the continuous monitoring of anthropogenic groundwater quality in urban environments through the development and rigorous testing of an inexpensive and user-friendly in situ bio-sensor which requires no power source or chemicals to operate.

Methodology: The student will start conducting a literature review on the topic. Next an inexpensive MFC biosensor would be developed along with the environmental experimental system set-up. Various designs will be assessed with respect to electrode sizes and materials. Also sensitivity and repeatability of the biosensor response would be evaluated using variable nutrient concentration and wastewater strengths. After this, the student will embed MFC biosensors in different columns containing different aquifer materials. Ground water or diluted wastewater will then be introduced to the columns and faecal coliforms and other parameters will be correlated with biosensor signals. Also, a plug input of diluted wastewater/groundwater will be fed into the "uncontaminated columns" and the feed of the "contaminated columns" will be switched to ground water only and the water quality indicator/biosensor responses to these changes in ground water quality will be compared. Field work will be carried out in an UK area where a shallow aquifer is used and pollution is likely. This will be used to field test the suitability of MFC for groundwater quality monitoring. Ground water quality and biosensor signals will be monitored in these wells and the results will be compared with those obtained from Newcastle University laboratories using column studies. Further filed work will take place abroad to compare results under different environmental conditions. The data obtained from both locations will be incorporated in the final biosensor design.

Timeline A detailed research proposal and literature review would be developed in the first 3 months of the programme. Secondly, in the next 9 months different biosensor designs and materials will be tested using a Design of Experiments. The main work, 12 months, would be devoted to test different types of aquifer beddings in the laboratory. Field tests will be conducted on the first half of the last year. The last months would be used to analyse results, work dissemination and finish thesis writing.

Training & Skills

The student will be primarily based in the environmental bioelectrochemistry research group within the School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials (CEAM) at Newcastle University. The student will participate in research group meetings, and attend CEAM and environmental engineering seminars. The student will receive technical and research skills to support development as an independent researcher through the Postgraduate Training Programme plus a UK electrochemistry workshop. During the project, the student will interact with our international collaborators based in Tanzania and in Mexico to develop skills when working with researchers outside the UK.

References & Further Reading

Mato et al., 2002. Groundwater Pollution in Urban Dares-Salaam, Tanzania. Assessing vulnerability and protection priorities, PhD. Thesis, 2002. Piexoto, et al. 2011. In situ microbial fuel cell as a biochemical oxygen demand sensor. Bioelectrochemisty 81(2), 99-103. Rodriguez-Mozaz et al., 2004. Biosensors for environmental applications: Future development trends. Pure Appl. Chem., 76 (4), pp. 723–752. Rogers et al. 1996. Environmental Biosensors: A Status Report, Environ. Sci. Technol. 30, 486A-491A. Thevenot et al., 1999. Electrochemical Biosensors: recommended definitions and classification. Pure Appl. Chem. 71 (12) 2333-2348. Velasquez-Orta et al., 2015. A Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) biosensor for water quality monitoring in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In: UN (United Nations) Water Annual International Zaragoza Conference. Water and Sustainable Development: From Vision To Action. Zaragoza, Spain 15 – 17 January 2015. New York: United Nations.

How to apply:

Application deadline: 20th January, 2017

Further details: available from Dr Sharon Velasquez Orta

Minerals and waste
Bubbles rising through rocky cracks

BGS Supervisor: Lorraine Field

University Supervisor: Barbara Turnbull and Matt Scase

DTP: ENVISION, Nottingham

DTP project details:

This project will explore the coalescence and break up of bubbles as they emerge through cracks in the earth's crust. This is truly interdisciplinary work, where you will define your experiments and mathematical modelling through detailed examination and characterization of rock samples, jointly supervised by the British Geological Survey.

You will be part of the ENVISION Doctoral Training programme, where you will have the opportunity to interact with a wide range of environmental scientists, geographers and natural scientists. This programme will provide training in interdisciplinary research skills and provide access to over 40 partner businesses to open your future career opportunities.

The studentship will allow you to attend the prestigious 2-week summer school 'Fluid Dynamics of Sustainability and the Environment', hosted by Cambridge University and Ecole Polytechnique (Paris). This will introduce you to different perspectives in environmental science and provide support and insight as you develop your theoretical and experimental fluid mechanics skills, directly benefitting your research.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honors Degree at 2:1 level (or equivalent) in Natural Sciences, Physics, Engineering or Mathematics.

How to apply:

Application deadline: Friday 6th January, 2017

Further details: are available via the links below or from Dr Barbara Turnbull

Envision – NERC DTP led by Lancaster University:

Funding and other information:

Stable Isotope Centre
Coupling of late Pliocene Indian monsoon variability and global climate: new data from IODP Expedition 353

BGS Supervisor: Prof Melanie Leng

University Supervisor: Dr Kate Littler and Dr Ian Bailey (University of Exeter), Dr Pallavi Anand (Open University) and Dr Marci Robinson (United States Geological Survey).

DTP: GW4 Plus, University of Exeter

DTP project details:

The Indian monsoon is one of the most powerful meteorological phenomena on the planet, affecting the lives of over a billion people. However, its behaviour in the near future under the influence of anthropogenic climate change is uncertain, particularly in terms of the intensity and amount of seasonal precipitation. The Pliocene (2.58–5.33 Ma) is the most recent period in Earth's history with similar elevated global temperatures and CO2 levels to those predicted for the coming century, and may serve as a useful analogue for future climate and monsoon behaviour. The late Pliocene (˜3.3–2.5 Ma) was a time of great global change, witnessing the descent into Northern Hemisphere glaciation concurrent with a significant drop in CO2. Understanding the response of the monsoon system during this time of changing boundary conditions will further enhance our mechanistic understanding.

This project will utilise new deep-sea sediments recovered during IODP Expedition 353 (Dec 2014–Jan 2015). As this region has never been scientifically drilled before, these high-resolution cores represent an unparalleled opportunity to better understand the past behaviour of the Indian Monsoon through the application of sophisticated multi-proxy techniques. We will generate coupled Mg/Ca and d18O records to reconstruct temperature and d18O seawater (salinity) changes of surface and thermocline-dwelling planktic foraminifera, at high (2-kyr) resolution, allowing us to track the changing response of the Indian monsoon to orbital forcing. These records will be compared to pollen, biomarker, and foraminifer assemblage data from the same samples, which will allow a holistic picture of orbitally-paced climate change in the region to be constructed.

The student will be embedded within the Deep Time Global Change group at the University of Exeter under the supervision of Dr Littler and Dr Bailey, where facilities for sediment and foraminifera processing and trace element analysis are available. The student will benefit from significant involvement with the British Geological Survey, where the majority of the stable isotope data will be generated under the supervision of Prof. Leng. A portion of the trace element data will be generated at the Open University under the supervision of Dr Anand. The student will also visit Dr Robinson at the United States Geological Survey in the USA to learn foraminiferal assemblage skills. The student will also be fully embedded within the wider Exp. 353 international scientific team.


Clemens, S C, Kuhnt, W, LeVay, L J and the Expedition 353 Scientists. Proceedings of the International Ocean Discovery Program. Volume 353, Indian Monsoon Rainfall. IODP (2016)

Clemens, S C et al., Southern Hemisphere forcing of Pliocene 18O and the evolution of Indo-Asian monsoons. Paleoceanography 23 (4) (2008)

Zhang, Y G et al., Mid-Pliocene Asian monsoon intensification and the onset of Northern Hemisphere glaciation. Geology 37 (7), 599-602 (2009)

How to apply:

Application deadline: 6th January 2017

Further details: available from Dr Kate Littler, telephone 01326 255 725

Iron age palaeoenvironemnts of NW Scotland

BGS Supervisor: Prof Melanie Leng

University Supervisor: Dr Maarten van Hardenbroek and Dr Andrew Henderson (Newcastle University) and Dr Graeme Cavers (AOC Archaeology Group)

DTP: IAPETUS, Newcastle University

DTP project details:

The Northwest coast of Scotland has a remarkably dense concentration of Iron Age archaeological sites, many of them contain structures such as brochs and crannogs (Harding, 2004). These were most likely used as part of strengthened farmsteads, but little is known about the daily life in the Iron Age and the way in which people interacted with their environment. In this project, we will reconstruct the palaeoenvironments using remains from lake sediment cores collected near three key sites in NW Scotland.

Many biological and chemical indicators are well-preserved in lake sediment archives, including pollen, plant macrofossils, and chemical markers of plants and animals. By taking lake sediment cores adjacent to archaeological sites, a wealth of palaeoenvironmental information can be found that provides evidence for the local environment and for the way in which humans cultivated their landscape to produce crops, raise livestock, and build settlements.

The project will focus on understanding changes in vegetation and agricultural practices from pollen, plant macrofossils, stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes, and specific biomarkers for vegetation. The elemental composition of sediments will be analysed via X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) to understand changes in erosion and local hydrology. Other biomarkers, specific for human and animal waste, will provide direct evidence of the intensity of human occupation of the sites. This multi-proxy approach will provide an integrated view on human impact on past environments, and a step-change in understanding NW Scotland’s landscape in the Iron Age.

The project will be closely aligned with ongoing excavations at three Iron Age sites at the Assynt coast, Sutherland by CASE partner AOC Archaeology. The sites include Clachtoll Broch, Loch na Claise Crannog, and Achlochan Broch, all of which are located in or close to the shore of a lake that can be used to obtain sediment cores.

This studentship will address the following key research questions:


The project will use a combination of fieldwork, analysis of plant macrofossils, pollen, biogeochemistry, and statistical methods to address the research questions.

Wide-diameter sediment cores will be obtained during fieldwork in fall 2017. Cores will be analysed by XRF core scanning at BOSCORF NERC facility and AMS 14C-dated. From each core ca 30 samples will be analysed, depending on the exact chronologies. 90 Subsamples will be analysed for charcoal and plant macrofossils at AOC Archaeology. Subsamples for stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes will be analysed at BGS. Subsmaples for biomarkers will be analysed at Newcastle University. The ratio of n-alkane chain length will be used to infer switches between forest and grassland. In addition, concentrations of specific faecal sterols (coprostanol, 5beta;-campestanol and 5beta;-stigmastanol) will provide evidence for human and animal waste.

Multivariate statistics will be used to indicate the main changes that occur through time. Because the same methodology is used at all three sites, they can be compared in detail with respect to timing.


Year1: Literature review, fieldwork, sample processing, XRF core scanning, 210Pb/137Cs dating

Year2: Training for charcoal and plant macrofossil idenfitication at AOC Archaeology.

Training for biomarker analysis at Newcastle University. Analysis of material from site 1.

Year3: Analysis of material from sites 2 and 3.

Year4: Integration of results and thesis writing.

Training & Skills

The student will receive training in sediment coring, logging, XRF scanning, and sample processing for plant macrofossils, stable isotopes, and biomarkers. He/she will be trained to identify charcoal and plant macrofossils by CASE partner AOC Archaeology. Training to extract and measure n-alkanes and faecal sterols will take place at Newcastle University. The student will also receive training in statistical methods to interpret multi-proxy environmental data.

References & Further Reading

Bull I D, Elhmmali M M, Perret V, Matthews W, Roberts D J, Evershed R P (2005) Biomarker evidence of faecal deposition in archaeological sediments at Çatalhöyük. Inhabiting Çatalhöyük: Reports from the 1995–1999 seasons. McDonald Institute for Archeological Research/British Institute for Archeology at Ankara Monograph, 415-20.

Davies S J, Lamb H F, Roberts S J (2015) Micro-XRF core scanning in palaeolimnology: recent developments. In: Croudace I W, Rothwell R G, Micro-XRF studies of sediment cores. Springer. p 189-226.

Harding D W (2004) The Iron Age in Northern Britain: Celts and Romans, Natives and Invaders. Routledge.

O'Brien C, Selby K, Ruiz Z, Brown A, Dinnin M, Caseldine C, Langdon P, Stuijts I (2005) A sediment-based multiproxy palaeoecological approach to the environmental archaeology of lake dwellings (crannogs), central Ireland. Holocene 15: 707-719.

How to apply:

Application deadline: 20th January 2017 (5pm GMT)

Further details: available from Dr Maarten van Hardenbroek

BGS Oil and Gas opportunities

Energy systems and basins analysis
Controls on Mesozoic-Recent sediment routing in the Falkland Basins: implications for reservoir distribution in a frontier exploration setting

BGS Supervisor: David McCarthy

University Supervisor: Uisdean Nicholson, Dorrik Stow and John Underhill (heriot Watt) and David Macdonald (Aberdeen)

CDT: Oil and Gas, Heriot-Watt University

CDT project details:

The Late Jurassic to Early Cretaceous rifting and subsequent separation of South America from Africa was accommodated along the southern margin of both continents by the ˜1200 km long Agulhas-Falklands Transform-Fracture Zone. The Falklands Plateau and its various sub-basins were dominated by the tectonic evolution of the transform margin for most of the Mesozoic, until the onset of continental collision along the southern margin of the plateau at the start of the Cenozoic (Bry et al., 2004).

These evolving tectonic boundary conditions led to significant changes in the structural evolution of the sedimentary basins surrounding the Falkland Islands, including the rate of subsidence and the orientation and style of faulting and magmatic intrusions, which vary significantly across the region (Richardson and Underhill, 2002; Stone et al., 2008). This in turn had a first-order control on the generation (by erosion during thermally in-duced and tectonically driven uplift) and distribution of sediments, including the sands which now form the main reservoirs for hydrocarbons in the region. This project aims to understand the distribution and nature of reservoir sands, particularly in the Cretaceous-Early Tertiary deep-water sequences; the presence and quality of such sands is a key risk for hydrocarbon exploration in these basins. This will be done by taking a 'source-to-sink' approach: by palinspastically reconstructing the various source regions; sys-tematically evaluating existing petrographic and heavy mineral data and supplementing with new datasets where necessary; constraining the timing of rock uplift and defor-mation using geochronology and thermochronology; and seismic mapping of shelf-deepwater sedimentary systems using an extensive 2D and 3D seismic dataset cover-ing the North Falklands Basin and Falklands Plateau Basin, together with a suite of ex-ploration and development wells which will be provided by the BGS. The combined da-tasets will lead to the construction of a suite of detailed palaeogeographic maps, which can be used to aide hydrocarbon exploration in this challenging offshore environment, as well as providing an important scientific contribution to models of landscape and ba-sin evolution along this transform margin.

How to apply:

Application deadline: usually 31 January, check with the institute you are applying to.

Further information: available from Lorna Morrow, School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure & Society, Riccarton, Edinburgh. 00 44 (0)131 451 4725

Geological Uncertainty of CO2-EOR in North Sea Tertiary Oil Fields

BGS Supervisor: Martyn Quinn

University Supervisor: Masoud Babaei, Jonathan Redfern and Mads Huuse

CDT: Oil and Gas, University of Manchester

CDT project details:

Unlocking additional oil resources from the North Sea, whilst locking in greenhouse gases, is of vital importance for the UKs energy security. The most readily available future oil production from the UKCS is that which can be unlocked from existing fields by EOR using miscible CO2 injection1. Considering the lack of a framework for pure CCS projects, the only currently viable mechanism for geological carbon disposal is through CO2 EOR, providing a dual incentive to designing optimal workflows and models for CO2 EOR of existing depleted oil fields.

Two reservoirs that have been considered for potential CO2 storage through EOR in the UK Sector of the Central North Sea are the Forties and Nelson oilfields, which feature high-quality Palaeocene channel sandstone reservoirs. A detailed reservoir model has been constructed by which accounts for the lithological facies distribution of the Forties Sandstone Member dominated by channelized turbidites. Considering the initial-oil-in-place of 800 MMBO (125 x106 m3) and a recovery factor of ˜0.58 by 2016, the reservoir still contains significant quantities of oil left in-place. Modelling work indicates that the Nelson Field is not a "single tank" but more complex, producing from nine discrete drainage volumes. Of these nine cells, four have been identified to contain significant remaining "mobile" oil. As identified by previous researchers, the distribution of shale within the channel sands and defining the character and location of the channel margins are some of the main sources of uncertainty. These uncertainties can be addressed through subsurface characterization using an extensive set of well data tied with advanced seismic data including 4D.

The aim of the research is to quantify and constrain the geological uncertainties in the reservoir architecture and properties that will influence our understanding of the lithological facies distribution and compartmentalization. The PhD will assess the viability of secure sequestration of CO2, and quantify the effect of geological uncertainty on the economic case to generate additional revenue from the hydrocarbons generated. The research will assess the sensitivity for infill drilling wells to evaluate the potential of incremental oil recovery due to CO2 injection and possible related carbon sequestration benefits. CO2 injection into the reservoir will be considered by miscible oil-gas displacement modelling. The dissolution of CO2 in aqueous phase, surrounding aquifer influx, communication with the neighbouring hydrocarbon fields, and risk of leakage through the existing wells in the Nelson platform will be accounted for.

How to apply:

Application deadline: usually 31 January, check with the institute you are applying to.

Further information: available from Professor Jonathan Redfern, School of Earth, Atmospheric & Environmental Sciences, University of Manchester.

Integrated subsurface characterization of a basin-scale carbon reservoir target

BGS Supervisor: Margaret Stewart

University Supervisor: Mads Huuse and Jonathan Redfern

CDT: Oil and Gas, University of Manchester

CDT project details:

Carbon capture and storage is crucial for reduction of the climate impact of fossil fuel consumption and the only way for the UK to retain energy security without breaching CO2 quotas1. The Utsira sandstone is one of the largest and most widespread sand bodies in the North Sea basin and is identified as a prime target for carbon sequestration due to its large pore volume and ideal subsurface distribution some 800-1200 m beneath the North Sea2. However, its reservoir properties are relatively poorly documented and its top seal capacity to withhold a gas column over human or geological time scales is unknown beyond the immediate vicinity of the successful Sleipner CO2 injection site3. Until 2015, thousands of wells drilled in the North Sea had not encountered any hydrocarbons in the Utsira sandstone raising doubts over its top seal integrity, also questioned by recent (local) studies of seal bypass systems4 and sand injectites5 that affect both the reservoir and its topseal. Existing models for the Utsira sandstone range from deep- to shallow marine and its environment is likely to vary across the basin. The North Sea has been explored for hydrocarbons for over 50 years resulting in a vast legacy database comprising thousands of wells and almost complete 3D seismic coverage allowing unprecedented insights into both reservoir architecture and facies and overburden properties and plumbing systems providing possible pathways for fluid escape into shallower aquifers and eventually to the seabed.

This study will leverage state of the art 3D seismic technology calibrated by wells to provide the first basinwide characterization of the Utsira sandstone and its overburden in order to provide a comprehensive inventory of viable carbon injection sites and top seal risk, which will be key to successful implementation of carbon storage for both UK and Norwegian carbon sources. Generic insights regarding the links between deeper structures, reservoir architecture and overburden leakage paths will be extracted to provide insights into the formation of seal bypass systems in general. Shallow gas reservoirs will be examined to avoid misinterpreting imaging artifacts as leakage paths. The methods and insights developed will have general applicability to basin analysis, petroleum exploration and carbon storage, and will yield crucial insights to inform future policy and implementation of carbon storage strategies. in the UK and Norway.

How to apply:

Application deadline: usually 31 January, check with the institute you are applying to.

Further information: available from Professor Jonathan Redfern, School of Earth, Atmospheric & Environmental Sciences, University of Manchester.

Jurassic Oceanic Gateways of the North Atlantic

BGS Supervisor: Tim Pharaoh

University Supervisor: Tiago M. Alves and Stephen Hesselbo (University of Exeter)

CDT: Oil and Gas, Cardiff University

CDT project details:

Jurassic rifting and breakup are still poorly understood in the North Atlantic region, particularly when considering that large swathes of NW Europe record the development of proto-oceanic gateways as early as the Late Triassic-Jurassic [1]. The first of these proto-oceanic gateways to form, and to effectively link the North and Central Atlantic regions, was the Iberia-Newfoundland gateway with its prolongation towards Ireland and the North Sea.

Following widespread evaporite deposition in the Late Triassic-earliest Jurassic, marine strata were first deposited during the Sinemurian in West Iberia. Black shales were episodically developed during the Pliensbachian-Toarcian and again during Oxfordian-Kimmeridgian. Outcrop and borehole data provide information on these periods of basinal deoxygenation in Iberia, Southern UK, and in extended areas of the Central North Sea [2]. However, an integrated analysis of the petrophysical, geochemical and stratigraphic significance of 'North Atlantic' black shale events is still to be undertaken to unravel the tectonic, climatic, and eustatic controls.

The project will use seismic, borehole and outcrop data from West Iberia, Canada, Southern UK and North Sea to investigate the conditions in which Jurassic black shales were deposited. We aim to document at seismic, borehole and outcrop scales the occurrence (and distribution) of these black shale events and to understand the main local and regional controls on their generation, and at what time and length scales these operate. The student will interpret a suite of 50+ boreholes from the region, tying stratigraphic, petrophysical and geochemical information to 2D and 3D seismic data. In parallel, field analogues from the Lusitanian (Portugal) and Wessex Basins (England) will be comprehensively studied and sampled. Data from these sites are necessary to correlate petrophysical, seismic and geochemical data at different scales, and to document the stratigraphic architecture of black shales.

Training in seismic interpretation will be provided using state-of-the-art workstations. Following a recent upgrade, Cardiff houses one of the most advanced seismic interpretation laboratories in Europe and the student will have access to leading edge computational facilities, namely Schlumberger’s Petrel®, CGG-Veritas Hampson-Russell® and IKON Rock-Doc® for petrophysical modelling and borehole analyses. IGI Ltd. will provide geochemical data and the P:IGI software.

References cited:

Hesselbo, S P. 2007. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 253, 455-470.

Pereira, R and Alves, T M. 2012. Tectonics, TC4001.

How to apply:

Application deadline: usually 31 January, check with the institute you are applying to.

Further information: available from Dr Tiago Alves, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University 00 44 (0)2920 876754

Microfossil records of basin evolution

BGS Supervisor: Dr Sev Kender

University Supervisor: Ian Boomer and Kirsty Edgar

CDT: Oil and Gas, University of Birmingham

CDT project details:

The Early Jurassic of the UK is recognised as a significantly important interval of source-rock formation (e.g. Sinemurian Shales with Beef). Bottom water conditions change in response to basin evolution, (reflecting changes in depth and oxygenation) and in the most extreme cases, bottom water dysoxia can result in the deposition of organic rich sediments that may ultimately become hydrocarbon source rocks. Early Jurassic benthic microfossil assemblages (Forami-nifera, Ostracoda) reflect environmental changes at and immediately below the sediment-water interface. These groups are known to be particularly susceptible to changes in bottom water oxygenation through changes of circulation/ventilation and/or surface productivity.

The study will focus on changing abundance, diversity as well as indicators such as mor-phogroup analysis to study the response of benthic ecosystems to changes in palaeo-depth, palaeo-oxygenation and palaeo-productivity through time. The project will evaluate changes in microfossil assemblages at a number of key localities (both onshore and offshore UK) to better understand the impact of palaeoceanographic and palaeoclimatic changes on bottom-water conditions.

Events such as the Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event are relatively well known and plans are advanced to re-core one of the key UK sections over this interval at Mochras, Wales (Hesselbo et al., 2013 Sci Drilling.16, 81-91, ICDP and NERC supported). It is hoped that material from the new borehole will form part of this study alongside additional offshore records of the same age from the same region (e.g. 107/21-1 St Georges Channel). There are also a number of less well known/incipient OAEs recorded from areas such as Lincolnshire (Sinemurian, Riding et al., 2013 Palaeo-3. 374, 16-27.), the Midlands and the Weald Basin which may also be incorporated into a wider, comparative study. Much of the material is already available through the BGS Core store, Keyworth.

How to apply:

Application deadline: usually 31 January, check with the institute you are applying to.

Further information: available from Dr Tom Dunkley-Jones, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham Tel 00 44 (0)121 414 6751

Geology and regional geophysics
Fracturing and fluid-flow in an exhumed Jurassic basin: an integrated field, microstructural, geochronological and isotopic study of vein mineralisation within mudstone-dominated successions

BGS Supervisor: Dr Nick Roberts and Dr Richard Haslam

University Supervisor: Dr Jonny Imber and Prof Andy Aplin

CDT: Oil and Gas, University of Durham

CDT project details:


The aim of this project is to apply the Roberts & Walker method to determine the absolute ages of syn-kinematic calcite mineralisation along previously well-characterised faults and fractures from across the Cleveland Basin (Imber et al., 2014), and adjacent offshore areas (Fig. 1). Using the Cleveland Basin as a case study, the student will develop a structural and isotopic "toolkit" that can be used to determine the absolute chronology of fracturing, fluid-flow, burial and exhumation within sedimentary basins.

The recently developed method of LA-ICP-MS U-Pb geochronology on calcite fault and vein fills (Roberts & Walker, 2016) provides a new opportunity to place absolute age constraints on the structural and mineralisation histories of sedimentary basins. The Cleveland Basin is a Jurassic to early Cretaceous depocentre that overlies Zechstein salt deposits, and was inverted during the latest Cretaceous to Neogene as a distal effect of the Alpine Orogeny (Kent, 1980). Both its northern and southern margins are faulted: the former is characterised by N-S/NNW-SSE striking faults; the latter is defined by the E-W striking Vale of Pickering and Flamborough Fault Zones.

The Cleveland Basin provides an ideal “natural laboratory” for this study because: (1) field and microstructural observations demonstrate that the faults and fractures contain syn-kinematic calcite fills (Imber et al., 2014); (2) stratigraphic relationships demonstrate that the various E-W and N-S/NNW-SSE striking faults experienced distinct periods of movement (Howarth, 1962; Milsom & Rawson, 1989; Imber et al., 2014) that should yield different isotopic ages; and (3) the availability of well and seismic data in the immediate offshore area (Stewart & Bailey, 1996) will enable us to integrate the isotopic dates with regional tectonostratigraphic models, providing fresh insight into the causes of deformation.

The supervisors have carried out pilot studies to test the potential of applying LA-ICP-MS U-Pb geochronology to calcite fault and vein fills from the Cleveland Basin. Four out of seven tests were successful, with calcite samples yielding ages of 35 to 31 Ma (latest Eocene to early Oligocene). These ages are significantly younger than the previously hypothesised Jurassic to latest Cretaceous normal fault movements – and are in fact later than, or synchronous with inversion. These ages also post-date the onset of oil generation within the basin.

Methodology & outcomes

By coupling age determinations of calcite with structural characterisation and elemental, stable and clumped isotope analyses, the student will develop detailed models that integrate evolving fluid composition and formation temperatures (e.g. John, 2015), with the timing of fracturing and faulting related to subsidence and exhumation. The student will undertake: 1) detailed fieldwork to establish the relative chronology and kinematics of calcite-filled faults and veins; 2) detailed microstructural characterisation of the sampled fault and vein fills, using optical, SEM- & ICP-MS-based techniques; and 3) novel U-Pb geochronological and clumped isotopic analyses.

The project outcomes will be: 1) improved knowledge of hydrocarbon expulsion, retention and migration; 2) fundamental advances in applying the U-Pb geochronometer to calcite-filled structures; and 3) improved constraints on the tectonics of northern England and the Sole Pit Basin (Southern Gas Basin).

The student will be registered at Durham University, co-hosted by the NERC Isotope Geoscience Laboratory (BGS Keyworth) and will collaborate with the Carbonate Research Group at Imperial College London. The student will spend time working at each partner institute, and will undertake fieldwork in the Cleveland Basin.


Year 1: CDT training academy courses (10 weeks), desk-based compilation and literature review, fieldwork and sample acquisition.

Years 2 and 3: CDT training academy courses (5 weeks per year), supplementary fieldwork, main phase of microstructural characterisation of vein materials (optical and Scanning Electron Microscopy), U-Pb geochronology and isotopic analysis.

Year 4: Integration of onshore and subsurface (seismic and well datasets), thesis completion, papers for international journals

Training & Skills

As part of a CDT cohort, you will receive 20 weeks bespoke, residential training of broad relevance to the oil and gas industry: 10 weeks in Year 1 and 5 weeks each in Years 2 and 3. Instructors will be both from expert academics from across the CDT and also experienced oil and gas industry professionals.

The supervisory team in Durham, BGS and Imperial has expertise in field-based geology, offshore seismic dataset interpretation, geochronology and isotopic analysis. You will learn how to use a range of high level analytical methods, how to integrate different data types and to understand their significance from both scientific and industrial perspectives.

The training will provide the student with a unique, multi-disciplinary skill set that will equip them for a career in pure or applied research, academia, the hydrocarbon industry or a specialist consultancy role.

References & Further Reading

Alexander, J & Gawthorpe, R L. 1993, J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 73, 123-142; Green, P F. 1989, J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 146, 755-773; Howarth, M K. 1962, Proc. Yorks. Geol. Soc. 33, 381-422; Imber, J. et al., 2014, AAPG Bulletin 98, 2411-2437; John, C M, Spec. Pub. Geol. Soc. Lond. 435,; Kent, P E. 1980, Proc. Yorks. Geol. Soc. 42, 505-524; Milsom, J. & Rawson, P F. 1989, Geol. Mag. 126, 699-705; Powell, J H. 2010, Proc. Yorks. Geol. Soc. 58, 21-72; Roberts, N M W & Walker, R J. 2016, Geology, doi:10.1130/G37868.1; Smith, F W et al., 2014, Proc. 17th Extract. Ind. Geol. Conf., 45-50; Stewart, S A & Bailey, H W. 1996, J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 153, 163-173; Williams, P F V. 1986, Mar. & Pet. Geol. 3, 258-281.

How to apply:

Application deadline: usually 31 January, check with the institute you are applying to.

Further information: available from Jonny Imber, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Durham tel 00 44 (0)191 334 4307

Structural, stratigraphic and geodynamic controls on the evolution of the Carboniferous succession of northern England and southern Scotland

BGS Supervisor: Dr Graham Leslie

University Supervisor: Dr Stuart Egan and Dr Stuart M. Clarke

CDT: Oil and Gas, Keele University

CDT project details:

The structural and geodynamic processes that have controlled the evolution of the Carboniferous basin system of northern England and southern Scotland, as well as interactions with the neighbouring North Sea, are very poorly understood. As a consequence, correlations of sedimentary fill, and sequence stratigraphical controls upon them, remain elusive. The main aim of this project will be to apply and further develop 3D lithosphere-scale tectonic modelling techniques in order to determine the interplay of geological and geodynamic processes that have controlled the evolution of the Carboniferous succession within the Northumberland Trough, Solway Basin, Stainmore Trough, Vale of Eden Basin and Midland Valley, as well as their offshore extensions and intervening areas of relative uplift such as the Alston Block, which contain large granitic intrusions within the pre-Carboniferous basement. The models will be constrained by regional-scale cross-sections constructed from the BGS database and the public domain, with selected profiles sequentially restored to provide a “snapshot” of structural and stratigraphical architecture during the Carboniferous Period. Further constraint will be provided by the wealth of subsurface mining-related sedimentary data, combined with the field acquisition of structural data. The study will provide insights into the importance of deep processes, such as depth-dependent extension, and how they interact with basin-controlling processes, such as bathymetry and sedimentary infill, within intra-continental, 'basin and block' settings. In particular, model results will provide insights into the development of accommodation space through time in response to sea level, tectonics and sediment supply, providing a structural and geodynamic framework for the sequence stratigraphical interpretation of the Carboniferous succession within this relatively poorly understood basin system.

How to apply:

Application deadline: usually 31 January, check with the institute you are applying to.

Further information: available from Dr Stuart Clarke, Geology, Geography and the Environment, Keele University. Tel 00 44 (0)1782 733171

The reservoir potential of submarine slide blocks and associated deposits

BGS Supervisor: Davide Gamboa

University Supervisor: Tiago M. Alves

CDT: Oil and Gas, Cardiff University

CDT project details:

Submarine slide blocks reflect periods of intense tectonism on continental margins, and comprise a drilling hazard when occurring in units where hydrocarbons accumulate. They are generated during major instability events in a variety of geological settings and their size exceeds that of boulders, which are <4.1 m. In practice, slide blocks can be >500 m high by >4.5 km long on a number of continental margins, presenting internal folding, thrusting and rolling over basal breccia-conglomerate carpets [1]. Strata containing slide blocks can comprise prolific reservoirs for oil and gas. However, no systematic characterisations of the structural styles and morphology of slide blocks, and associated successions, have been undertaken, thus creating a gap in knowledge. This gap needs to be addressed at a time when hydrocarbon exploration is moving to deep-water areas of continental margins, where slide blocks and mass-transport deposits are ubiquitous [2].

This project will use high-quality 3D seismic data and borehole data from SE Brazil, North Sea, Barents Sea and NW Australia to document the internal compartmentalisation and distribution of slide blocks in distinct geological settings. Emphasis will be given to the interpretation of fluid flow features, and magmatic intrusions, associated with the main periods of slide-block formation and deposition. Using 3D Stress©, the prospective student will model fluid flow paths in fractured blocks, documenting the regions where fluid accumulations are more likely to occur. Field analogues from SE Crete will be used to document depositional facies variations in slope successions rich in slide blocks. In summary, this project aims to:

  1. Document the internal structure of submarine slide blocks, and 3D seismic character of different deformation styles.
  2. Identify the type(s) and timing(s) of faults in blocks, relating them with specific stages of movement and fluid migration in sedimentary basins.
  3. Quantify differential compaction using novel 3D seismic interpretation methods, documenting the main control(s) on the formation of stratigraphic and structural traps above slide blocks.

[1] Alves, T M. 2015. Marine and Petroleum Geology 67: 262-285.

[2] Kvalstad et al. 2005. Marine and Petroleum Geology 22: 245-256.

How to apply:

Application deadline: usually 31 January, check with the institute you are applying to.

Further information: available from Dr Tiago Alves, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University tel 00 44 (0)2920 876754