BUFI current research projects

NERC Doctoral Training

Currently BUFI supports over 100 PhD studentships, from October 2014 these are largely funded via a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP), before this they were funded by direct collaboration with a university department. We do not fund applications from individuals. Available projects are advertised on our Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP) page. Below you can browse all our current research projects listed by BGS Science Area and we also list our past students (BUFI alumni) from more recent years so you can see the full breadth and depth of BGS supported PhDs past and present.

2018 student cohort

All of our PhDs that started in October 2017 are in collaboration with a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP). Further information can be found on our Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP) page.

Centre for Environmental Geochemistry
S406 Using Lake Sediments to Understand Past and Future Changes in Aquatic Systems

Student: Blaine Hancock

BGS Supervisor: Dr Jack Lacey

University Supervisor: Dr Katherine Selby

DTP: Non-DTP, University of York

Project description

Lakes contain the majority of the world's liquid freshwater but knowledge of how climate change and particularly increasing temperature is affecting these systems is discontinuous and largely unknown. Increasing temperatures within lakes will affect physical and biological processes potentially leading to an increase in algal blooms and decreases in water quality that would affect the entire ecosystem and services it provides. The student will use proxies, such as isotopes and diatoms, from lake sediment cores collected along a transect from upland to lowland England to reconstruct the past environmental conditions. A chronology will be developed for each core, using 210Pb, allowing the rates of change to be determined, as well as the recovery time and resilience of the systems. In addition, statistical methods will be used to reconstruct variables such as nutrients, pH, salinity, temperature and dissolved organic content from the proxy data. The student will work with experts from the BGS and the Environment Agency (CASE partner) to select lakes that represent a range of English catchments and levels of disturbance. Sediment cores will be extracted from several locations within the lakes using a sediment corer from a boat. Sediment from pre-Industrial Revolution will be collected. Contemporary monitoring of the lakes will include dissolved oxygen content, water temperature and pH. In the laboratory, diatom analysis will occur to establish the pH, salinity and overall nutrient status of the past lake environment. This will be combined with geochemical analysis using micro-XRF core scanning to establish changing environmental conditions e.g. Ca/Si will record water temperature changes. Stable isotopes of oxygen and carbon will be determined through the sediment profile to infer past climate and environmental changes.

S407 Microtox assessment of soils, sediments and waters of the Red River, Vietnam

Student: Pham Din Rinh

BGS Supervisor: Dr Chris Vane

University Supervisor: Dr Tru Le Phong

DTP: Non-DTP, University of Science & Techonology, Vietnam

Project description

This PhD will evaluate the sediment quality of the Red River System using solid phase microtox bioassay. The aim of the project is to identify which locations within the extensive Red River System present the highest ecological risk and understand this relationship in the context of land and river-use.Although concentration based sediment quality guidelines (SQG) for metals such as As, Cd, Cr, Cu, Pb, Ni, Zn and legacy and emerging organic contaminants PAH, PCB, DDT, BFR are useful measures of sediment chemistry when used as part of weight of evidence approach (WOE) they are limited in terms of ability to predict ecological risk. This is because the suite of organic compounds measured accounts for only a small proportion of potentially harmful organic chemicals available and secondly combined synergistic effects of metals and organics are not considered when using standalone concentration measurements. Finally, a third factor that should be borne in mind is that marine and estuarine SQG which have high TOC content and redox that can confound comparison. Other limitations include variable metal and organic bioavailability as well as overlapping effect and no effect responses for benthic organism.

This PhD will therefore provide an alternative yet complementary evaluation of sediment quality by employing an solid phase Microtox® tests using the sensitive marine bacterium Vibrio Fischeri . The PhD will focus on measuring lethal endpoints as assessed via loss of luminescence of the test bacterium. In the light that the Red River Catchment is very large we will employ a nested sampling strategy. At each site × 2 soils / × 1 river bank / × 1 river channel (4 samples) × 4 sites per zone × 5 zones = 80 (dry season) 4 samples × 4 sites per zone × 5 zones = 80 (wet season 2019-2020).

The toxicity results will be used to answer the following key questions:

  1. Where are the most polluted and ecologically at risk locations within the RR
  2. What are the main drivers of RR sediment toxicity organic and metal concentrations or both
  3. What is the influence of natural organic matter and particle size on sediment toxicity
  4. Is there a relationship between river-bank soil toxicity and adjacent sub surface river sediments
  5. Which stretch of the RR shows the highest/lowest toxicity (Hong, Nuhe, Day, Red River estuary) and what management solutions can be brought to bear to improve the sediment quality.
  6. Is the pollution/toxicity associated with point sources such as the effluent outfalls of Hanoi or is it diffuse or both
  7. How does the sediment toxicity alter between the wet and dry season
  8. How will the planned urban expansion of Hanoi and expansion/mechanisation of aquaculture in the Delta -Estuarine reaches effect toxicity (Does marine sediment dilution counter new anthropogenic disturbance).
S408 The hydroclimatic history of subtropical Australia inferred from North Stradbroke Island lake sediments

Student: Charles Maxson

BGS Supervisor: Professor Melanie Leng

University Supervisor: Ms Sapna Marwaha

DTP: Non-DTP, University of Nottingham

Project description

Precipitation is a key indicator of climate. It is important everywhere and affects everyone, as it is the ultimate source of fresh water for all terrestrial hydrologic systems. Quantifying changes in precipitation is therefore key in understanding how climate will change into the future. Eastern Australia is particularly affected by climate change because it is largely influenced by the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). This system influences rainfall for most of the eastern half of the country and can bring drought or flooding, depending on its phase. El Niño brings warmer, drier conditions to Australia and can bring drought in extreme cases. La Niña brings cooler, wetter conditions and flooding in extreme cases.

Quantitative reconstructions of past climate are essential to understanding the factors and influences of climate change. They can be used to compare directly against observed data, and input into models to assess or test a models' accuracy. Thus, quantitative reconstructions are highly sought after, but rare, due to the difficulty in obtaining such records. Australia, particularly, has a dearth of these prized records. It is the purpose of this study to quantify rainfall variability using a suite of plant, algal, lake, and rainfall isotope data from North Stradbroke Island through the last 10,000 years.

This study will be broken into two parts: modern and paleo environments. The modern study will frame our paleo study and will collate rainfall and lake water isotope data collected from some of the lakes around the island (Blue Lake, Brown Lake, Fern Gully, Swallow Lagoon, and Welsby Lagoon). These lakes show that rainfall and lake water are divergent isotopically, due to evaporative effects in the lake itself. Lake volume controls the extent of this evaporative effect in each basin. One lake, Blue Lake, is an exception to this rule. It is an expression of the island groundwater at the surface. Due to its high turnover rate (˜30 days; Barr et al., 2013), very little evaporation occurs at the surface. This lake may be used as a comparison to others to potentially infer local mean annual temperature as discussed in the equations of Dansgaard (1964) and Gat (1996).

Oxygen and Hydrogen isotopes from lake and rain water can be used to determine rainfall source (the tropical Pacific or Southern Ocean in this case). Evaporation, condensation, and precipitation affect isotope levels from cloud formation over the ocean to precipitation over land, but the base isotopic value of the ocean in which it formed can possibly be determined from rainfall isotopes. By studying known storms of the past five years, the relationship between rainfall and source may be determined.

Precipitation is a key indicator of climate. It is important everywhere and affects everyone, as it is the ultimate source of fresh water for all terrestrial hydrologic systems. Quantifying changes in precipitation is therefore key in understanding how climate will change into the future. Eastern Australia is particularly affected by climate change because it is largely influenced by the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). This system influences rainfall for most of the eastern half of the country and can bring drought or flooding, depending on its phase. El Niño brings warmer, drier conditions to Australia and can bring drought in extreme cases. La Niña brings cooler, wetter conditions and flooding in extreme cases.

Quantitative reconstructions of past climate are essential to understanding the factors and influences of climate change. They can be used to compare directly against observed data, and input into models to assess or test a models' accuracy. Thus, quantitative reconstructions are highly sought after, but rare, due to the difficulty in obtaining such records. Australia, particularly, has a dearth of these prized records. It is the purpose of this study to quantify rainfall variability using a suite of plant, algal, lake, and rainfall isotope data from North Stradbroke Island through the last 10,000 years.

This study will be broken into two parts: modern and paleo environments. The modern study will frame our paleo study and will collate rainfall and lake water isotope data collected from some of the lakes around the island (Blue Lake, Brown Lake, Fern Gully, Swallow Lagoon, and Welsby Lagoon). These lakes show that rainfall and lake water are divergent isotopically, due to evaporative effects in the lake itself. Lake volume controls the extent of this evaporative effect in each basin. One lake, Blue Lake, is an exception to this rule. It is an expression of the island groundwater at the surface. Due to its high turnover rate (˜30 days; Barr et al., 2013), very little evaporation occurs at the surface. This lake may be used as a comparison to others to potentially infer local mean annual temperature as discussed in the equations of Dansgaard (1964) and Gat (1996).

Oxygen and Hydrogen isotopes from lake and rain water can be used to determine rainfall source (the tropical Pacific or Southern Ocean in this case). Evaporation, condensation, and precipitation affect isotope levels from cloud formation over the ocean to precipitation over land, but the base isotopic value of the ocean in which it formed can possibly be determined from rainfall isotopes. By studying known storms of the past five years, the relationship between rainfall and source may be determined.

Blue Lake will also be the site of a modern ecological and isotopic study of plant, algal, and diatom distributions. The aim is to quantify cellulose sources in surface sediments from the lake to determine percent inputs from each source at the present. Each group (plant, algal, and diatom) will be isotopically analysed to determine oxygen and hydrogen isotope signatures as well as how lake water isotopes (O, H) are reflected in cellulose (or silica oxygen in the case of diatoms). Carbon and Nitrogen isotopes will also be considered as well as bulk C/N ratios for source, nutrient availability, and productivity within the lake.

Once collected, our modern data will be used as a base of comparison to any change seen in the Blue Lake cores. By determining cellulose source in the modern, alongside the C/N ratio (and associated isotopes), general ecology of the lake may be inferred from down core data. O and H isotopes will be able to determine local rainfall in paleoenvironments, and possibly mean annual temperatures as mentioned above. If source can be determined, then mean annual temperatures and rainfall source alongside Blue Lake ecology can give a quantitative reconstruction of the climate of North Stradbroke Island.

Once a general picture of paleoclimates has been produced by this study, drivers of climate change will be considered. ENSO, Southern Annular Mode (SAM), Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), and high pressure systems have all been identified as contributors to rainfall in Australia in the present (Risbey et al., 2009). Based on the paleo data collected, past climatic regimes may be inferred. With a suite of ecological, isotopic, and rainfall source data, it may be possible to reconstruct past ENSO and/or other systems response to climate change. This data will provide an invaluable asset to the present, as responses to climate change are uncertain.

S409 Quantifying responses to abrupt climate change in the Andes, South America: Empirical data and model synergies

Student: Charles Maxson

BGS Supervisor: Dr Chris Vane

University Supervisor: Dr Stuart Black

DTP: SCENARIO, University of Reading

Project description

In South America more than 80% of past and present populations have been reliant on water supplies from mountainous areas for drinking water and agriculture. The main source of this water discharge is stored in mountain glaciers, which are known to be retreating at an unprecedented rate. Once the glacier at the top of Mt Kilimanjaro has melted, all of the world's tropical glaciers will be located in Andes (Kaser, 1999) mainly in Bolivia or Peru. Thus, mountain glaciers are important water sources in the dry, seasonal upland environments, but are also a very sensitive measure to past and future climate change. These glaciers in turn feed upland Andean lakes and mire deposits from the mountain glacier discharge making them very sensitive repositories of past climate and environmental change signals.

In addition, a number of archaeological studies in the Andes have highlighted the close connection between past climate fluctuations and periods of cultural transitions and changes in socio-political structures over the last 2000 years. However, the clear connection to past human migrations, civilization collapse and climate change has been elusive, and there is a clear need for much higher resolution information regarding the connections of climate change and civilization collapse.

Highland Andean environments are thus the ideal natural laboratory to test the sensitivity of various climate and environmental proxies and the nature and timing of human responses to climate change. In addition, the upland Andean systems have been an important agricultural base for human communities for 1000's of years making them particularly important for the future where food security and demand for viable agricultural land is key.

Aim: This project aims to integrate isotope and palaeoecological data with quantitative modelling to determine the impact of pre-Columbian climate and environmental change on land use and human occupation for the Peruvian highlands.

In the last 15 years techniques for obtaining empirical climate and environmental reconstruction data has become increasingly available. We are now in a position to be able to collect time-integrated materials (lake cores, peat, mire and cave deposits) that can be dated accurately, and contain a range of environmental and climatic markers and fingerprints. However, until now these proxies have largely been investigated in isolation or occasionally as a combination of components. This studentship application will bring together data from organic geochemistry (lipid, faecal and bile biomarkers), palaeoecology (phytolith and pollen), inorganic geochemistry (heavy and light stable isotopes) and ancient DNA from upland Andean lake and mire systems to explore the connections between human occupation and agriculture in response to past climate changes. Two new sites will be cored in upland lakes from Peru (Chillón and Urubamba Valleys) and analysed for multi-proxy signals above and added to singular records from existing core material available on the NOAA palaeoclimate database (https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/). These environmental and climatic markers will be used in conjunction with the latest climate models to offer predictions regarding key climate and environment indicators. A predictive geographical-based model (built in ArcGIS ModellBuilder) will then be used to combine all the data together to produce time-sliced geographical outputs of environmental and climate sensitivity which will be useful for coping with future climate change.

S410 Long-term drought and water availability in sub-tropical Australia

Student: Nick Patton

BGS Supervisor: Professor Melanie Leng

University Supervisor: Professor Jamie Shulmeister

DTP: Non-DTP, The University of Queensland, Australia

Project description

This project aims to investigate environmental change and the scale of climate variability using paired records from two adjacent crater lakes in Southeast Queensland covering a minimum period of two complete glacial interglacial cycles (MIS1–7: 243,000 years). It will: 1) Provide a climate history of the last two glacial cycles from the (Eastern) Australian subtropics with a focus on deriving high quality records of water balance; 2) Use this record to determine the frequency and scale of droughts in subtropical eastern Australia over multidecadal to millennial timescales; 3) Test whether human modification was significant enough to alter vegetation structure in the latter part of the last glaciation by comparing records from the penultimate glacial cycle (no human presence) to the last glacial cycle (humans present); and 4) Test whether pre-European human modification of the landscape affected hydrological systems by examining whether changes in local vegetation structure lead or lag changes in hydrology (e.g. Woodward et al., 2014).

Engineering Geology and Infrastructure
S411 Investigation of sinkhole triggering processes

Student: Gabriella Williams

BGS Supervisor: Dr Vanessa Banks

University Supervisor: Dr Elizabeth Bowman

DTP: Non-DTP, University of Sheffield

Project description

The term sinkhole has been used to embrace an increasingly broad range of dissolution and collapse subsidence features. When these features occur in developed areas they can have a significant impact on infrastructure, ranging from individual property to transport network scale. Another interesting aspect is that they occur in spates, e.g. Norwich in 1987-8 and more broadly the south-east in 2014 that have been loosely linked to climate change. The economic and disruptive costs can be high, for example the collapse of a capped denehole (Medieval mine) shaft in the central reservation of the M2 on 10th Feb 2014 resulted in closure of the motorway for 2 days. Furthermore, the opening of sinkholes attracts the media resulting in heightened concern in local populations with implications for house insurance (Banks et al., 2016).

For a sinkhole to occur there is a requirement for an underlying cavity that will accommodate collapse material and a process to trigger the collapse of the overlying or capping material. Both cavities and collapse mechanisms can be anthropogenic or naturally occurring. For example, commonly there is also an association with focusing of water flow, e.g. at convexo-concave points in the landscape or by leaking pipes. The potential association of triggering with meteorological conditions has been widely reported, however the detail of this association may be masked by other conditioning factors, in particular age of cavity and antecedent conditions, e.g. prolonged periods of desiccation leading to shrinkage crack propagation that provides conduits for water erosion and ingress to the cavity.

Since 2014 the BGS has been collecting data with respect to documented sinkhole events, which provides a geographic overview of the timing and distribution of sinkholes and whilst this may contribute to understanding susceptibility more process understanding is required to model the likelihood of occurrence. This PhD will focus on exploring the geotechnical properties of materials and mechanisms involved in the development of various types of sinkhole (Waltham, Bell and Culshaw, 2007), with a view to determining the antecedent conditions are most likely to result in the peaks in the incidence of sinkholes and determining the conditioning factors that underlie susceptibility and likelihood of sinkhole occurrence.

The geotechnical conditioning associated with three specific scenarios linked to the spate of events in 2014 will be investigated in the context of the meteorological conditions associated with sinkhole triggering:

  1. The range of materials likely to be affected by prolonged dry weather followed by intense rainfall scenarios
  2. Hydraulic conditions leading to suffosion of sediments
  3. Age related softening and failure of underground chalk workings


S412 The development of hydrogeophysical methods to assess the impact of conservation agriculture on soil moisture and groundwater recharge

Student: Russell Swift

BGS Supervisor: Prof Jonathan Chambers, Dr Paul Wilkinson

University Supervisor: Prof Frédéric Nguyen

DTP: Non-DTP, Université de Liège

Project description

Sub-Saharan Africa is facing unprecedented increases in demand on its agricultural systems; the population of the region is expected to increase 2.5 times between 2005 and 2050, while in the same period the demand for cereals is expected to increase 3 fold. These rises are set against the backdrop of issues already affecting agriculture globally, such as climate change, water scarcity, and soil depletion, with both Africa in general and southern Africa specifically expecting a general drying as climate change progresses.

One promising weapon in the fight for food security in the face of these issues is conservation agriculture (CA). CA is based on the three principles of 1) minimum soil disturbance, 2) mulching using crop residues, and 3) rotation of crops. When compared to conventional, tilled agriculture, CA has been shown to increase water infiltration in soils. Increased infiltration results in reduced water runoff and soil erosion, together with an increased resilience of crops to drought, while crop yields have been shown to increase yields by as much as 7.3% under CA in dry climates. Due to the potential boons of CA, it has been promoted by several organisations - including the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations - as a possible solution to some of the problems facing agriculture.

Despite the promotion of CA, and evidence of its increased infiltration rates, little is known about the hydrodynamics of soils farmed using CA practices. Electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) monitoring is a geophysical technique that is ideally suited to investigate the hydrodynamics of soil under CA plots. The technique produces time-lapse volumetric distributions of electrical resistivity, an intrinsic property of earth materials that is strongly dependent on moisture content.

This project will use a mixture of 2D and 3D ERT monitoring data to study the following questions, comparing CA to conventional, tilled agriculture:

  • How is moisture retention in the soil profile influenced by CA, both temporally and spatially?
  • Is groundwater recharge altered by CA, and if so, to what degree?
  • What are the uncertainties associated with ERT derived estimates of soil moisture in this context?
  • What types of geoelectrical measurement designs are best suited for addressing these questions?
  • What types of temporal inversion schemes are best suited for addressing questions above?
Geoanalytics and modelling
S399 Building with nature: the role of bio-physical linkages within coastal wetland restoration

Student: Olivia Sears

BGS Supervisor: Kate Royse

University Supervisor: Iris Moeller

DTP: ESS, University of Cambridge

Project description

This project will address bio-physical interactions that control transitions from depositional to erosive process regimes, i.e. when hydrodynamic energy thresholds become exceeded such that hydrodynamic forcing leads to the initiation of erosion of cohesive coastal sediments in and around biological structures, such as salt marsh plants and crab burrows. Following on from a large scale wave exposure experiment to be conducted in the large wave flume facility in Hannover, Germany in the summer of 2018, the project will build on this study through conducting a series of smaller scale flume experiments in the laboratory in Cambridge. The relative importance of sediment characteristics and type of UK salt marsh plant species on the erosion thresholds under a range of tidal flow velocities within a salt-water flume will be investigated and used to improve existing morphodynamic models.

Geochronology & tracers
S393 The life and times of porphyry copper deposits in the Archean?

Student: Inja Thijssen

BGS Supervisor: Simon Tapster

University Supervisor: Ian Parkinson

DTP: GW4Plus, University of Bristol

Project description

The porphyry copper deposits that provide much of the earths global resources of Cu and Mo typically form in subduction or post subduction settings – where the geodynamic environment provides the right conditions for large ore forming hydrothermal systems associated with magmatism. Several outstanding research issues related to these systems will be addressed in this project. When and why did porphyry deposits first develop? Going further back in the geological record porphyry copper deposits become rarer, potentially due to higher geothermal gradients and lower seawater sulfate contents. However, the oldest known systems appear to have occurred in the Archean before plate tectonics as we know it was widespread. The second research issue relates to our ability to accurately interrogate absolute magmatic-hydrothermal timescales forming our major resources of Cu and Mo ore. This stems from systematic bias between the different dating systems used to date the mineral assemblages associated with each of these systems and thus integrate the magmatic and hydrothermal records.

S391 Enhancing the soil carbon sink: towards defining and quantifying new stabilizing mechanisms

Student: Amy Lewis

BGS Supervisor: Simon Kemp

University Supervisor: David Beerling

DTP: ACCE, University of Sheffield

Project description

Limiting future climate change requires urgently decreasing CO2 emissions and developing approaches for carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the atmosphere. Enhanced weathering (EW) is a CDR option achieved by amending the soils of managed croplands with crushed fast-reacting silicate rocks. EW increases C capture by locking up C in soils as aqueous CO2 reacts with the silicate minerals and eventually the oceans. However, an overlooked pathway is that the cations (e.g., Ca2+, Mg2+, Fe2+/3+) released during EW attract both inorganic and organic soil C compounds and lead to polymerization, coating of rock grains with highly stable organo-mineral complexes, formation of stable particulate organic matter and ultimately soil microaggregates. Rates of capture, turnover time and mechanisms involving silicate rock grains, however, require urgent investigation.

S395 Quantifying the role of superficial geology in controlling groundwater recharge in drylands and its sensitivity to environmental change

Student: Manny Zarate

BGS Supervisor: Alan MacDonald

University Supervisor: Mark Cuthbert

DTP: GW4Plus, Cardiff University

Project description

Drylands (semi-arid/arid regions) represent >35% of the Earth's surface, support a population of around 2 billion people, and are forecast to become increasingly water stressed in coming decades. Groundwater is the most reliable source of water in drylands but the spatio-temporal controls on rates of groundwater recharge that replenish this resource, and its sensitivity to environmental change, are poorly resolved. In drylands, most recharge comes from water lost into the beds of ephemeral streams. Some of this loss reaches deeper groundwater systems, but some returns back to the land surface via evapotranspiration. Superficial geology is critical in controlling this partitioning as well as the feedbacks between groundwater and surface water hydrology. However, little work has been carried out to date to understand these interactions in detail, and tools to forecast recharge in drylands with variable geology are lacking. The project aims to understand the role of superficial geology in governing the timing, magnitude and spatial distribution of groundwater recharge in drylands and its sensitivity to environmental change.

S396 Quantifying the importance of different sources of diffuse pollution in mining-impacted rivers

Student: Katherine Neate

BGS Supervisor: Barbara Palumbo-Roe

University Supervisor: Adam Jarvis

DTP: IAPETUS, Newcastle University

Project description

Point source discharges from abandoned base metal mines are by far the single biggest source of toxic metals such as zinc and cadmium to the aquatic environment of England and Wales. However, the freshwater burden of metals from abandoned mine sites is actually further increased, and substantially so, by diffuse sources of pollution. These diffuse pollution sources are more sporadic in nature, typically becoming more important during higher flow conditions, and are much more difficult to quantify. Groundwater inputs of metals, surface runoff from mine waste, and release of metals held in transient storage on stream bed sediments, have all been cited as possible sources of diffuse pollution. However, quantitatively discriminating between these diffuse sources has not been thoroughly explored. Setting aside other possible constraints (e.g. economic, logistical, environmental), point sources of mine water pollution are, technically, treatable using existing engineering interventions and technologies. The same cannot be said for diffuse sources of mining pollution, because it is not possible to unequivocally identify the exact locations and importance of individual diffuse sources. The limiting factor to future reductions to the metal burden of freshwaters impacted by mining pollution will therefore become these diffuse sources.

This project will therefore investigate the nature and quantitative importance of individual sources of diffuse pollution in abandoned mine catchments. In particular, research will be undertaken to differentiate between, and quantify, pollutant delivery from shallow groundwater flows and metal release from (and / or metal attenuation in) the hyporheic zone. Associated aims of the research will be to: (1) determine the extent to which variations in the water table, in response to rainfall events, results in flushing of metal pollutants, (2) characterise vertical hydrogeochemical profiles in the hyporheic zone, via multilevel sampling, to understand metal dynamics, (3) use tracer tests to determine surface water – groundwater connectivity and (4) monitor under varying environmental conditions to elucidate influences of changing hydrological conditions and seasonality on (1) – (3).

S398 Scale-dependent lithological variations and their control on water resources and flooding in the Eden Valley

Student: Alex Colyer

BGS Supervisor: Andrew Hughes

University Supervisor: Adrian Butler

DTP: SCCP, Imperial College London

Project description

Catchments, as many other natural systems, often exhibit high levels of heterogeneity and complexity, which impact on their surface and groundwater hydrology. To effectively manage water resources and flood risk it is important to adequately understand the processes that control the catchment hydrological functioning.

The Eden Valley (Cumbria, UK) is a largely rural area with a relatively low population density. Agriculture and tourism are the main sources of income. The Permo-Triassic sandstones form the major aquifer in the region and could provide considerable groundwater resources (Butcher et al. 2006). Management issues at a wide range of scales were raised for this area such as flooding (Leedal et al. 2013; Mayes et al. 2006), pollutant transport, particularly nitrates (Wang et al. 2012; Wang et al. 2013) and ecology (Seymour et al. 2008; Hulme et al. 2012). There is no detailed calibrated regional groundwater model for the Eden Valley, however addressing the previously named issues would benefit from an improved conceptual understanding of groundwater flow. Moreover any investigation of the impact of climate change conditions on the groundwater flow in the River Eden catchment would require a reliable understanding of the aquifers response to the recharge at different time scales.

The Permo-Triassic rocks of the Eden Valley lie in a fault-bounded basin (approximately 50 km long and 5-15 km wide) that is straddled to the southwest by the hills of the Lake District and to the northeast by the Pennines. This basin geology comprises Permian and Triassic deposits which dip gently to the north east. The Pennine Fault and associated escarpment form the eastern boundary of the basin, throwing Permo-Triassic rocks against Carboniferous or Lower Palaeozoic rocks. To the west, the Permo-Triassic succession wedges out against Carboniferous strata (Allen et al. 1997).

Previous work (Fox, 2016) that the smaller-scale heterogeneity, i.e. silicified layers in the Permo-Triassic sandstones affect groundwater flow and that this has a measureable impact on groundwater level response in observation boreholes. Other geological features like fault associated granulation seams and the Armathwaite dyke may also impact on groundwater flow systems at different scales. By building on detailed geological knowledge we can develop hydrogeological conceptual models that can be tested with groundwater flow models to reproduce groundwater level and surface water flow responses. The aim of the research will beto demonstrate the importance of heterogeneity at a variety of scales in controlling flow in Permo-Triassic sandstones). This will improve the understanding of the relationship between these small scale or local geological features and groundwater response which can be transferable to other settings both in the UK and internationally.


Allen D J, Bloomfield J P, Robinson V K, et al. 1997. The physical properties of major aquifers in England and Wales. 312.

Butcher A, Lawrence A, Jackson C, et al. 2006. Investigating rising nitrate concentrations in groundwater in the Permo-Triassic aquifer, Eden Valley, Cumbria, UK. Geol Soc Lond Spec Publ 263:285–296. doi: 10.1144/GSL.SP.2006.263.01.16

Fox, K, 2016. Development of a numerical groundwater model of the Eden Valley, using conceptual understanding derived from seasonal trend decomposition. MSc thesis, Imperial College

Hulme P J, Jackson C R, Atkins J K, et al. 2012. A rapid model for estimating the depletion in river flows due to groundwater abstraction. Geol Soc Lond Spec Publ 364:289–302. doi: 10.1144/SP364.18

Leedal D, Weerts A H, Smith P J, Beven K J. 2013. Application of data-based mechanistic modelling for flood forecasting at multiple locations in the Eden catchment in the National Flood Forecasting System (England and Wales). Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 17:177–185. doi: 10.5194/hess-17-177-2013

Mayes W M, Walsh C l, Bathurst J C et al. 2006. Monitoring a flood event in a densely instrumented catchment, the Upper Eden, Cumbria, UK. Water Environ J 20:217–226. doi: 10.1111/j.1747-6593.2005.00006.x

Seymour K J, Ingram J A, Gebbett S J. 2006. Structural controls on groundwater flow in the Permo-Triassic sandstones of NW England. Geol Soc Lond Spec Publ 263:169–185. doi: 10.1144/GSL.SP.2006.263.01.09

S405 Investigating nutrient cycling, retention and bioavailability of effluents discharged from constructed wetlands: optimising wetland management to reduce emerging risks to freshwaters

Student: Victoria Hussey

BGS Supervisor: Daren Gooddy

University Supervisor: Penny Johnes

DTP: GW4 FRESH, University of Bristol

Project description

Nutrient pollution is currently the single greatest known stressor on freshwater ecosystem health and services. Its impact on the ecological structure and function of freshwaters is well known. Both inorganic and organic nutrient compounds are bioavailable, and increasing in most temperate and many boreal and mediterranean systems, with substantial recent increases in major world rivers wherever countries are developing out of poverty. The fluxes derive from the waste products associated with the production and consumption of foods.

The rise in nutrient concentrations in so many waterbodies requires the modification of farming practice in the wider catchment to reduce diffuse source nutrient fluxes to rivers, and the removal of both N and P in effluent discharged from wastewater treatment facilities. Traditional approaches have included the use of ferric dosing to strip phosphorus from effluent at major wastewater treatment works (WwTW), but little attention has yet been paid to nutrient removal at smaller works. In this studentship, the use of constructed wetlands to remove C, N and P effluents will be investigated, focusing on a newly constructed treatment wetland at a small rural STW, operated by Wessex Water. This is the first full size constructed wetland in the UK to provide tertiary treatment for phosphorus from a sewage treatment works. It has been included in the Wessex Water Business Plan and recognised as the solution by the Environment Agency within the National Environment Programme.

Emerging problems associated with nutrient retention and cycling with wetlands includes the generation of organic nutrient compounds of unknown biotic impact through the uptake of inorganic and lower molecular weight organic N and P compounds by the biota. This project focuses on identifying the specific character of the C, N and P load as it moves through the biota, water and sediment pools n each of the cells of the wetland, the pathways by which it is cycled, stored and exported, the processes controlling its uptake and storage within the wetland, and the relative bioavailability of both inorganic and dissolved organic C, N and P compounds in the final discharged effluent to riverine primary producers.

This project will focus on understanding fundamental processes controlling the bioavailability and impact of C, N and P exported from these wetland systems with particular emphasis on nutrient uptake and metabolism by plants and algae, and the development of evidence to support optimisation of operation management of constructed wetlands to minimise emerging risks for on adjacent freshwaters.

S386 Exploring the resilience of groundwater governance in East Africa

Student: Jack Hemingway

BGS Supervisor: Brighid O Dochartaigh

University Supervisor: Alexandra Gormally

DTP: ESRC NWSS, Lancaster University

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jack-hemingway-5b1997101/

Project description

Overarching Research question: What are the governance reforms needed if groundwater is to be sustainably utilised as a key resource in East Africa, and in what that enhance both social and environmental resilience?

Specific questions to be explored:

  1. What current forms of ownership, including private, co-operative and community arrangements, are in place, and what implications do these have for groundwater governance?
  2. How are land and water rights enacted in practice, particularly in places where there are transboundary aquifers, and what are the impacts of this in relation to local governance?
  3. In what way does local knowledge feed into current and prospective groundwater developments and how does this impact both community resilience and the longevity projects initialised?
  4. What changes and reforms could be pursued in groundwater governance arrangements in order to better contribute to the achievement of the UN sustainability goals?

Why is this important? Groundwater is a valuable resource given its potential as good-quality and relatively inexpensive source of water for domestic, agricultural and industrial purposes. Overcoming challenges that exist on how to govern this resource, in a way that is both environmentally and socially sustainable, are becoming key questions both legislators and local practitioners. These challenges also vary across transboundary, national and local contexts. In Africa, groundwater and its governance is rising on the agenda, as demonstrated by the recent actions of the African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW), who expressed strong support for the re-operationalisation of the African Groundwater Commission (AGWC) (GRIPP, 2017). Recent research however, has shown that governance failures continue to have a negative impact on water quality in the region (Comte et al., 2016). Good governance of groundwater is key for maintaining environmental and ecological resilience as well as having implications for local health and socio-economic development.

Why East Africa? The population of East Africa is among the fastest growing worldwide, but also has some of lowest available renewable freshwater resources in Sub-Saharan Africa (Braune and Xu, 2010; Comte et al., 2016). The challenges of rapid population growth are compounded by urbanisation, increasing pressure on the already stretched groundwater resources that provide much of the region's water (GEF). Water scarcity in the region has been identified as an impediment to economic growth, harmful to human health, and having the potential to cause political instability and conflict (GEF). Furthermore, climatic change and variability are also likely to exert further pressure on water resources in the region. The sustainable use of groundwater has the potential to relieve some of these pressures, and mitigate some of the negative effects of climatic variability, but if these gains are to be achieved, and further social, economic and ecological damage is to be avoided, understanding the implications of existing and future governance structures is imperative.

The British Geological Survey (BGS) work actively in East Africa in collaboration with local partners and actors. The BGS have recently launched a platform of research, linked to their Official Development Assistance (ODA) programme, 'Geoscience for Sustainable Futures', that focus specifically on integrated resource management in Eastern Africa (BGS, 2017). This aligns with the UN's Sustainable Development goals on clean water and sanitation, and responsible consumption and production (United Nations, 2017).

The approach: This project will ground itself in theoretical frameworks of governance, such as governance for complexity and common-pool resources (Ostrom et al., 1994, Cash et al., 2006, Underdal, 2010) and critique the challenges emerging for wider conceptualisations of subsurface governance (Gormally et al., in review). In particular it will critique and contribute to debates on multi-level perspectives on governance in relation to complexity. This will be in conceptualising the role of groundwater as an evolving infrastructure that ‘interacts with a multi-layered set of laws, institutions and policies’ (Goldthau, 2014 p.134).

Case Study: Malawi in East Africa is of particular interest as at a national level, they are currently trying to assess their 'readiness' in achieving UN sustainability goals around household access to clean water. Empirically the project will contribute to a better understanding and approach to governance in the context of Malawi, feeding back outcomes to officials through capacity building workshops at the latter stages of the PhD. Specifically this will focus on the existing data frameworks, processes and application of emerging governance frameworks both at the national and local level. BGS work and have strong in-country links, enabling the student to forge networks with national and local-level stakeholders (eg. Malawian Director for Water Resources).

Methodology: Based within the theoretical framings described above, the research will begin with textual and document analysis related to existing governance structures, data frameworks and policy and legislative frameworks, complemented by an in-depth, in the field ethnographical approach. This will involve interviews and focus groups at the national level with key actors such as policy makers, the Malawian Director for Water Resources and NGO’s and organisations such as the Overseas Development Institue (ODI) who are active in this region. Following, ethnographic work at the community-level will include the use of observations, researcher field diaries and interviews with community stakeholders, local policy makers and groundwater scientists, to draw out the implications and complexities of groundwater use across scales.

Hazards & Observatories
S400 Exploring community-based geohazard response schemes in Gansu, China

Student: Susie Goodall

BGS Supervisor: Colm Jordan

University Supervisor: Tom Dijkstra

DTP:CENTA, Loughborough University

Project description

In the Bailong region of Southern Gansu (China) sustainable community development and the resilience of the infrastructures that connect them is severely compromised by the dynamic nature of the natural environment (Fig. 1). Communities are exposed to severe hazards that include seasonal events such as landslides, extreme rainfall and flooding, and recurring hazards such as earthquakes. The disaster risk picture of this region is further complicated by added pressures resulting from rapid societal change (expanding urban footprints and increasing transport links). We need to get a better understanding of the human-landscape interactions and characterise the complex hierarchies of relevant process-response systems. At the same time, it is imperative that perceptions of hazard impact and drivers of community resilience are better understood so that we can better design appropriate preparedness and management strategies, early warning systems and resource allocations.

This exciting studentship addresses three main research questions; (i) how do communities develop their perceptions of geohazard and risk, (ii) what are the priorities in terms of sustainable development and resilience building in this landscape and (iii) how can we mobilise indigenous and scientific knowledge to develop effective community-based response schemes in a truly multi-hazard framework to fully address disaster risk, develop appropriate early warning systems and achieve more resilient societies.

This research will build on a strong platform of understanding geohazard processes, including, for example, the experimental early warning systems for rainfall triggered landslides (Wudu) and the landslide susceptibility and geohazard assessments developed with Lanzhou University. It will further develop community-based research initiated in this region by Lanzhou University. The aim of this study is to develop pathways and tools to achieve fully integrated, community-centred schemes that enhance early warning and reduce geohazard impact in this region.

A literature review will familiarise the student with the research and will lead to scheduling a first fieldwork phase with a dual focus on capturing geohazard processes and conducting community surveys. Local fieldwork/research support is provided by Lanzhou University. This will enable the student to establish key contacts, selection of communities, capture sustainable development drivers, conduct initial surveys and install sensors. Practical research actions will be co-developed with key stakeholders (Lanzhou/Wudu).

The research will then assess how to combine community-focused information needs with observational data from appropriate sensor technologies (slope displacement, weather stations, flood levels, etc.) and will develop information pathways and communication technologies connecting communities and centralised Geohazards Emergency Response Centre (Wudu, Gansu, China). The project will then address how community-based training (to install and manage sensors) can be used to achieve enhanced understanding of human-landscape interactions and provide greater ownership of safer slopes management approaches.

This research will involve close collaboration with Lanzhou University and the Geohazards Emergency Response Centre in Wudu (Gansu, China). The external supervisor Prof Meng Xingmin has guaranteed support for local fieldwork and research activities. The student is expected to spend substantial time the field study region (Bailong Corridor between Zhouqu and Wudu) and at Lanzhou University. Fieldwork scheduling for this project is flexible and will be arranged to fit around the CENTA training requirements.

S401 Combining scientific and local knowledge for effective volcanic hazard maps, Fuego volcano, Guatemala

Student: Alistair Langmuir

BGS Supervisor: Joel Gill

University Supervisor: Eliza Calder

DTP: E3, University of Edinburgh

Project aim

The aim of this interdisciplinary research project is to develop an approach for integrating scientific understanding of volcanic hazards around Fuego volcano, Guatemala, with local community knowledge of past hazard impacts in order to generate combined science-based/participatory maps.

Project Rationale and Background

Hazard communication is a key issue when managing risk pre-, during, and after volcanic crises. Unfortunately, populations cannot always be adequately warned by the authorities before an eruption (Lavigne et al., 2017). Information at the local population level can be unavailable, or simply inaccessible, in the pre-eruption phases. Hence, "the purpose of evaluating volcanic hazards and contributing to mitigation of risks, should address with highest priority those phenomena with potentially the highest impact on lives, and should also give high priority to protecting livelihoods, cultural, environmental and property assets" (Giordano et al., 2016).

One of the main means of volcanic hazard communication is the hazard map. Volcanic hazard maps are drawn in diverse and not always legible ways and have different target audiences, development methods, data inputs, languages, etc. The act of delineating, zoning and the use of certain colours may also have important secondary impacts and consequences. The elaboration of alert levels, especially where coupled with a hazard map, for instance, has implicit actions attached and blends the role of volcanologists and cartographers with decision makers. Maps have traditionally been drawn using technical and scientific techniques and are, most of the time, aimed at reproducing landscape features and associated hazard footprints, precisely and accurately. With today’s technological advancements and digital instrumentation, the role of technical input in maps is naturally increasing. However, technical maps usually exclude fundamental spatio-social aspects: people from the area, their knowledge, memories, experiences and practices. While this project will be based on qualitative research, it will also combine key qualitative elements and will aim to bring together both technical digital models and analogue participative maps.

Key research questions

This project will seek to enhance our understanding of the following:

  • In what ways hazard maps can best increase preparedness and disseminate local knowledge about hazards in the landscape?
  • How participatory and technical hazard maps can be combined to communicate hazard in the landscape most effectively?
  • Which mapping techniques and hazard map types are more appropriate to communicate hazard to local communities in developing countries?
  • What impact can open-source tools play in risk management in developing countries?
  • How can volcanic hazards and associated risks be effectively communicated?
  • What implications hazard maps have to different agents?
  • Why interdisciplinary efforts are important when working with risk management?

These will be addressed through:

  1. Fieldwork: To understand the nature of the volcanic hazards and the footprint of inundation historic events. Also, to collect understanding from community leaders in two key villages about the local knowledge of past hazard impacts.
  2. Hazard Modelling: Modelling will be undertaken using depth averaged flow models for simulating pyroclastic flows (and possibly lahar/lava flow as appropriate). The suitability of different available models will be assessed after initial investigation of the field deposits.
  3. GIS: Using cartographic methods to integrate the collected information about hazards and community experience, to produce effective and well-communicated hazard maps, designed with the community-level users at their centre.
S402 Fracking magma: field and experimental investigation of hydrofracture in volcanic systems

Student: Holly Unwin

BGS Supervisor: Emrys Phillips

University Supervisor: Hugh Tuffen

DTP: ENVISION, Lancaster University

Project description

Hydrofracturing controls subsurface fluid flow in diverse geological environments including volcanoes, glaciers, and hydrocarbon reservoirs. Hydrofracture systems record the simultaneous passage of pressurised fluids (magma, water, gas or steam) and injection of fluidised particles. Volcanic hydrofracture (VH) systems are especially significant, being the pathways that can either initiate eruptions or defuse them by allowing pressurised gases to escape. Knowledge of VH systems is key to improved hazard forecasting but lags well behind that of other hydrofracture systems. Recent study of glacial hydrofractures have demonstrated that microstructures record complex, prolonged histories of multiphase fluid flow. Meanwhile, experimental approaches are revealing how heterogeneous subsurface geology influences hydrofracture propagation and geometry in hydrocarbon reservoirs. There is therefore an excellent opportunity to apply these new methodologies to address long-standing uncertainties about hydrofracture initiation and evolution in VH systems.

This PhD project will integrate a novel combination of cutting-edge techniques to characterise VH systems, by:

  • Combining detailed field-based studies and microscale structural/textural analysis to reconstruct the spatial and temporal evolution of excellently-preserved fossil VH systems in Iceland and the UK. In-situ permeability measurement will address how transport, deposition and annealing of particles influenced fluid flow. Where appropriate, geochemical markers (H2O heterogeneity around fractures) will allow direct quantification of pressure evolution and timescales.
  • Using the BGS Fracture Physics lab to experimentally investigate the conditions required for initial propagation and subsequent reactivation of VH systems, using field and analogue samples.
  • Constructing robust conceptual and quantitative models of VH systems, thereby improving knowledge of factors controlling subsurface magma and gas flow and their influence on the dynamics of volcanic eruptions.

The project will enable knowledge transfer between geoscientists addressing hydrofracture from different perspectives (NERC priorities in natural hazard mitigation and unconventional hydrocarbons). We anticipate the PhD will generate high-impact peer-reviewed publications and initiate a long-lasting Lancaster-BGS research partnership.

Marine Geosciences
S404 Will climate change make coastal erosion rates faster? Comparing historic and Holocene cliff retreat rates using cosmogenic isotopes with numerical models

Student: Jenny Shadrick

BGS Supervisor: Mike Ellis

University Supervisor: Dylan Rood

DTP: SCCP, Imperial College London

Project description

Coastal zones and associated populations and industry infrastructure are particularly vulnerable to future climate change. Current NERC-funded research (iCoasst) endeavours to predict the evolution of coastal environments under scenarios of future climate change. Such models need to be both informed and trained by antecedent conditions. Historical records of cliff retreat rates are typically limited to a few decades. This period may often be shorter than the return frequency of coastal landslides and therefore such observations have limited use in establishing baseline conditions against which to assess the impact of environmental change. Additionally it is unclear the extent to which human intervention at the coast may have influenced rates of coastal change, with large-scale coastal engineering and the onset of historic record collection coinciding. Uncertainty of the extent to which recent observations of cliff retreat may reflect long term average rates in the face of stochastic coastal processes, sea level rise, climate change and human modification of the coastline, motivate alternative approaches to quantifying long-term (centennial to millennial) rates of coastal erosion. This project will combine numerical modelling and the use of cosmogenic radionuclides (CRNs) to achieve this goal.

Cosmogenic radionuclides (CRNs) are a versatile tool for dating rock surfaces and measuring the rates at which erosion processes operate over geomorphically significant timescales (100s-1000s years). Recent pioneering studies of coastal change using CRNs have been successful in estimating cliff retreat rates averaged over several thousand years (Regard et al., 2012; Rogers et al., 2012). Recently, the PIs have successfully measured CRN concentrations in diagenetic flint from chalk platforms in East Sussex from which they were able to interpret cliff retreat rates using a numerical model. These preliminary data are the first high-precision analyses of their kind, and suggest that long-term averaged cliff retreat rates may be slower than those derived from historical surveys of cliff positions, implying that the magnitude of coastal change may be increasing.

This PhD project will apply CRN analysis to quantify Holocene-averaged rates of sea cliff retreat for the world famous white chalk cliffs of the south eastern UK. The student will perform quantitative analysis of coastal topographic and bathymetric data, map cliff line positions and look at event scale changes in response to recent severe storms. Observed differences between long- and short-term trends in coastal change will be explored though analysis of the magnitude-frequency relationship of coastal landslides. Numerical modelling of coastal evolution will seek to quantify coastal sensitivity to varying boundary conditions such as scenarios of sea level rise, increased storminess and wave climates, informed by both historic and geomorphic (i.e. CRNs) records of coastal change.

Minerals and Waste
S392 Post-subduction magmatism and mineralisation: the Tuvatu gold deposit, Fiji

Student: Rose Clarke

BGS Supervisor: Jon Naden

University Supervisor: Dan Smith

DTP: CENTA, University of Leicester

Project description

Post-subduction magmatism is a common phenomenon in former volcanic arcs and is increasingly recognised as an important control on the formation of exceptional ore deposits. Some of the world’s largest and/or highest grade copper and gold deposits are associated with arc magmatic systems that were active after subduction ceased. These post-subduction ore deposits are also notable for their enrichment in a wide range of trace elements and minerals, including "critical" elements such as Te, Pt, Pd, Bi and Sb.

The project will investigate Lion One Metals’ Tuvatu project, Viti Levu, Fiji. Tuvatu is an epithermal gold deposit that represents one of a number of mines and prospects (e.g. Vatukoula, Mt Kasi) associated with post-subduction volcanism in Fiji. These deposits occur along a trend referred to as the Viti Levu lineament.

The shoshonites (potassic volcanic rocks) and monzonites of the Tuvatu caldera host a low sulfidation epithermal deposit with high-grade gold telluride-bearing veins. Lead supervisor Smith is leading an international consortium to study post-subduction Au-Te deposits, and this project represents a key part of that portfolio. The collaboration with Lion One Metals offers an exceptional opportunity to develop models of pre-ore igneous petrogenesis, hydrothermal fluid evolution, and the architecture of the resulting ore deposit. This project will build upon previous studies of mineralisation of Tuvatu.

The aim of this project is to unravel the magmatic evolution of the Tuvatu caldera, with comparison to centres elsewhere in Fiji, on- and off-trend of the Viti Levu Lineament. The project will link the mineralisation to the magmatic evolution, and the subsequent interaction between hydrothermal fluids and the alkaline host rocks (following on from the models of Smith et al. 2017), to build a detailed, process-based genetic model for the Tuvatu deposit.

Key research questions include:

  • Why do alkaline, post-subduction magmas host exceptionally Au and Te rich ores?
  • Is the hydrothermal evolution of the Tuvatu deposit controlled by the potassic and alkaline nature of the host rocks?
  • Do the potassic post-subduction rocks of Fiji carry enhanced Au ad Te to the upper crust?

Methodology: The student will work with Lion One Metals in Fiji to collect data and samples from Tuvatu, including surface samples and subsampling of drill core. These data will be supplemented by samples previously collected by the supervisors. The Tuvatu samples will be further supplemented by regional sampling on- and off- the trend of the Viti Levu Lineament in Fiji.

Analytical work will include detailed characterisation of unaltered igneous material, alteration zones from within the Tuvatu deposit, and samples with Au-Te mineralisation. Samples will be measured for bulk chemistry, mineralogy, texture and micro-analytical chemistry using world class instrumentation at the University of Leicester and the British Geological Survey, including optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy with solid state elemental analysers, LA-ICP MS and 3D X-ray tomography. The student will be trained in the use of these facilities, as well as supporting software packages for the collation and processing of data, including ArcGIS and Micromine.

S394 Europe's cobalt resource potential for supply to low carbon vehicles

Student: Stefan Horn

BGS Supervisor: Evi Petavratzi

University Supervisor: Frances Wall

DTP: GW4Plus, University of Exeter Camborne School of Mines

Project description

Several metals, including lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese, are used in batteries for electric vehicles (EV). A 55% increase in EV sales was documented in 2016, which is twenty times greater than for ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles. At the same time many countries intend to reduce or ban petrol/diesel vehicles in the future [2,3,4]. Cobalt has various important industrial applications[5], but the demand for cobalt in EV batteries is expected to grow exponentially in the future (Figure 1). Nearly two thirds of world mine production is from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with only 1% from the EU [6]. Cobalt is a critical metal [7], a by-product and its extraction is linked with human rights’ abuses [8]. Political uncertainties in the DRC, Europe’s high import reliance and the requirement to procure cobalt from environmentally and socially sustainable sources highlights the urgent need for supply diversification to ensure security of supply. This project will address this issue through the study of 'unconventional' sources of cobalt, from geological environments such as shales and from 'waste' streams such as tailings and slags.

This project aims to: (I) analyse the supply chain for cobalt in Europe, to understand the current and future global demand and supply patterns and to identify supply constraints and opportunities for intervention; (II) identify the cobalt resource potential of Europe by investigating appropriate geological environments and ‘novel’ resources (e.g. mine waste and secondary raw materials).

A dynamic material flow analysis (MFA) model for cobalt in Europe following a whole life approach will be developed. This will allow the 'mapping' of current stocks and flows, and also for the future based on scenario building and analysis of demand changes. It will serve to identify the need for additional sources of supply from primary and secondary raw materials.

The geological studies will initially focus on the potential for cobalt production from nickel-copper sulphide and sediment-hosted copper deposits. Cobalt occurrences in other geological environments (e.g. shales) and from novel sources (e.g. copper slags) will be reviewed to determine their resource potential. These insights will be used to inform the scenarios of the MFA model.

Field studies on selected targets will include the collection of rock, drillcore and 'waste' samples for geochemical and mineralogical studies to determine the abundance and distribution of cobalt. This will provide a basis for determining their favourability as sources of cobalt for the European EV battery sector. Field areas in Finland, Poland and possibly elsewhere in Europe will be studied.

ODA Programme
S403 Reconstructing 2000 years of hydrological change in Africa – implications for future climate scenarios

Student: Laura Hunt

BGS Supervisor: Keely Mills

University Supervisor: Matthew Jones

DTP: ENVISION, University of Nottingham

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/laura-hunt-12953514b/

Project description

Project rationale and aims: African lake systems provide drinking water to some of Earth's fastest growing and most vulnerable human populations. Exponential population growth in western Uganda is placing unprecedented pressures on vital water resources which play a crucial role in the livelihoods of many people, providing services such as aquaculture, agriculture, and ecotourism. In response to climatic and land-use changes, surface waters are under threat from shifts in water balance and water quality degradation.

There is much uncertainty relating to the impact on water of future climate change scenarios for tropical Africa. There is, therefore, an urgent need for information from tropical regions to produce climate and hydrological models at a scale that will aid the setting of useful policy and management targets. This research maps directly onto the UN Sustainable Development Goals, contributing directly to Goals 6 (clean water and sanitation) and 13 (climate a¬¬ction), and indirectly to Goal 2 (zero hunger).

Using a palaeohydrological methodology, this research, in the absence of long-term monitoring data, will provide knowledge on hydrological variability and its associated temporal and spatial patterns. Such data are critical for hydroclimate forecasting, and for underpinning strategies related to the development of sustainable water resources.

This project will, for the first time in East Africa, combine a palaeohydrological and hydrogeological approach to provide a robust hydroclimate reconstruction for Uganda over the last 2000 years, and model past and potential future regional variability in water supply.

This research will produce new stable isotope records from 4 lake sites over the last 2000 years and generate oxygen and hydrogen isotope mass balance models to quantify past hydrological change. These new data and modelling approaches will be used to investigate how anthropogenic activity has affected local hydrological balance in recent decades, and the consequences of such impacts under future climate scenarios.

2017 student cohort

All of our PhDs that started in October 2017 are in collaboration with a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP). Further information can be found on our Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP) page.

Centre for Environmental Geochemistry
S370 Impact of extreme rainfall events on the mobility of potentially toxic elements in floodplains

Student: Jessica Ponting

BGS Supervisor: Michael Watts

University Supervisor: Tom Sizmur

DTP: SCENARIO, University of Reading

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jessica-ponting-53440780/

Project description

This PhD will improve our predictive capability to assess the impact that increased flood frequency and duration will have on the mobility of potentially toxic elements in floodplain soils.

Extreme weather is likely to become more frequent in the UK as a result of more variable weather patterns from changes in the climate. Whilst the magnitude of changes is extremely uncertain, it is likely that we will experience drier summers, wetter winters, and an increase in the intensity of rainfall events. These changes are likely to lead to greater frequency and duration of flooding events and the occasional inundation of land that has rarely been flooded in the past.

Since many commercial, industrial and residential developments have historically been situated adjacent to rivers (e.g. in the Thames Valley), many floodplain soils downstream from urban environments are contaminated with potentially toxic elements, deposited from the water column during flooding events. The mobility and fate of potentially toxic elements in periodically flooded soils is poorly understood but will be investigated in this PhD with a combination of field monitoring, laboratory simulations and targeted experiments.

The Student will collect and analyse samples of soil and porewater from a floodplain site before, during, and after a real flooding event to monitor the effect of flooding on the biogeochemistry and speciation of potentially toxic elements. The Student will incubate cores taken from the field in the laboratory and subject them to flooding regimes to test the effect of increased flooding frequency and duration on the mobility of contaminants. The Student will design targeted experiments to mechanistically explain the release of potentially toxic elements from the soils during inundation. These experiments will likely focus on the impact of flooding on the rates of redox reactions in contrasting soils, and on the contribution of soil aggregate destabilisation to the release of potentially toxic elements from soils.

S376 The resilience of organic matter stored in peat in response to positive and negative feedbacks

Student: Coleen Murty

BGS Supervisor: Chris Vane

University Supervisor: Geoff Abbott

DTP: Non-DTP, Newcastle University

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/coleen-murty/

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).


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.


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.

This project will combine paleogeochemical analyses with environmental observation to unpick the processes which control SOM preservation in peatlands. The paleogeochemical 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.

S380 Measurement and modelling human dermal bioavailability of potentially harmful organic soil contaminants

Student: Jack Lort

BGS Supervisor: Chris Vane and Darren Beriro

University Supervisor: Paul Nathanail

DTP: CDT - STARS, The University of Nottingham

This PhD project is part of a programme of industry led research into human exposure to potentially harmful organic compounds in soil funded by National Grid Property Holdings (NGPH). This PhD has three aims: i) to optimise an in vitro method to quantify the human dermal bioavailability of selected organic contaminants in soil; ii) to compare the results to available animal study data linking back to the first aim where appropriate; and iii) use measured physico-chemical soil properties to develop, test and evaluate numerical models to predict dermal bioavailability, exploring which factors might be responsible for the release of contaminants from soil into and through skin. While there have been comprehensive studies on dermal bioavailability of pure compounds, the effect of the soil matrix on the dermal absorption of contaminants is poorly understood.

The research will reduce uncertainties associated with the dermal exposure pathway in multi-pathway exposure models used for assessing risks to human health required as part of post-industrial brownfield redevelopment projects. This is important because dermal bioavailability is poorly and inconsistently represented in these models. The research outputs are expected to facilitate the redevelopment of post-industrial land for housing or new commercial/industrial development which will help achieve current UK and other national Government policies. The project presents an excellent opportunity for the student to learn from and contribute to world-leading expertise from the University of Nottingham, British Geological Survey, WSP, PB and NGPH.

Earth hazards and observatories
S360 Anticipating the next very large volcanic eruption: formation and transport of volcanic ash

Student: Hannah Buckland

BGS Supervisor: Samantha Engwell

University Supervisor: Kathy Cashman and Alison Rust

DTP: GW4Plus, University of Bristol

Project description

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 21" 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. The 39 ka phonolitic Campanian eruption from the Phlegrean Fields (near Naples, Italy), and the most recent very large eruption in Europe; and
  3. The Pisolitic Tufts from Colli Albani, a Quaternary volcano SE of Rome, Italy, which erupts unusual high- K mafic magma.

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 [2]. These data will be used to address fundamental questions regarding ash generation (both primary and secondary fragmentation), ash transport and post-emplacement remobilization (in conjunction with S. Engwell, BGS). 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, 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 lgnimbrite 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.

S366 Spherical Slepian function modelling of the magnetic field to probe the outer core

Student: Hannah Rogers

BGS Supervisor: Ciaran Beggan

University Supervisor: Kathy Whaler

DTP: E3, University of Edinburgh

Models of the global magnetic field are typically expressed as spherical harmonic expansion coefficients. Spherical harmonics offer a physically-based methodology for estimating the magnetic field at any location and altitude above the surface. However, this approach does suffer from a number of limitations, the most significant being that the representation is global. This means that gaps or large errors in the data that make up the models have global consequences.

The mathematics of this approach are well known, having been developed in the 1840’s by Gauss. In recent years, a new approach using spherical Slepian functions has been developed. Spherical Slepian functions are linear combinations of spherical harmonics that produce new basis functions, which vanish approximately outside chosen geographical boundaries but also remain orthogonal within the spatial region of interest. Hence, they are suitable for decomposing spherical-harmonic models into portions that have significant magnetic field energy only in selected areas. Slepian functions are spatio-spectrally concentrated, balancing spatial bias and spectral leakage. We have previously employed them as a basis to decompose a global lithospheric magnetic field model into two distinct regions of the continental domains and its complement, the oceans (Beggan et al., 2013). The drawback is that this model is confined to the surface of a sphere and to scalar values only.

However, recent developments by Plattner and Simons (2013) have opened up the possibility of using the technique to create vector field models (similar to our current magnetic models) which are concentrated into particular regions of interest, and which can be upward and downward continued. For example, we can attempt to remove the effects of the polar gap (as there is typically a 3° gap at the poles in satellite data) or we can exclude the auroral regions (+/- 55° magnetic latitude) or we can model the field solely over the Pacific Ocean, where the rate of change is very low. This will allow imaging of smaller features of the field on the core surface. In addition, we wish to extend this work to directly invert vector data to produce regional models, rather than confining a pre-existing spherical harmonic model to a limited area using Slepian functions (as is currently the case).

The project will use satellite magnetic data collected from 1999-2017 and magnetic observatory data to produce new models of the Earth’s magnetic field concentrated into key areas of interest. The project will compare these models against existing techniques and attempt to improve our knowledge of the magnetic field and its rate of change. Once this has been achieved, the project will examine the advective flow of the liquid along the core-mantle boundary using the improved magnetic field models and seek to elucidate their nature. This studentship will also explore the potential for using spherical Slepian functions to study the Earth’s outer core, both its magnetic field and the flow of the liquid iron that explains the field changes.


Beggan, C D, Saarimäki, J, Whaler K A, Simons, F J. 2013. Spectral and spatial decomposition of lithospheric magnetic field models using spherical Slepian functions, Geophys. J. Int. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/gji/ggs122.

Plattner, A, Simons, F J. 2013. Spatiospectral concentration of vector fields on a sphere, Applied and Computational Harmonic Analysis, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.acha.2012.12.001.

S367 Measuring the pulsatory nature of Bagana volcano, Papua New Guinea

Student: Rebecca Couchman-Crook

BGS Supervisor: Julia Crummy

University Supervisor: Geoff Wadge

DTP: Non-DTP, University of Reading

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rebeccacouchmancrook/

Project description

Bagana is a singular volcano. It erupts viscous andesite lava flows almost continuously, for decades, together with the strongest plume of volcanic gases of any of the Papua New Guinea volcanoes. Occasionally it explodes and produces ash and, rarely, pyroclastic flows. Remarkably, there seems to be a distinct pulsatory character to the extrusion of lava, with pulses lasting several months. The volcano is ideal for satellite remote sensing because of its strong, dependable, surface signals, the large plume of gas and its remoteness on Bougainville island in Papua New Guinea.

The main aim of this studentship would be to improve our understanding of the pulsatory character of Bagana, mainly though remote sensing. In particular, we will use the InSAR technique to measure the rate of emission of the lava and also the accompanying deformation of the ground surface using the C-band data from the Sentinel-1 satellite and X-band data from TerraSARX/ COSMO SkyMed satellites. These results will be correlated with the emission rate of SO2 measured by the OMI and IASI sensors and the TropOMI sensor to be launched in 2016. The combined time series of these 3 data sets (magma flux, deformation and SO2 flux) will enable conceptual models of the pulsatory magma dynamics to be posed and tested (Wadge et al., 2012, Geochem. Geophys. Geosystems. 13/11 Q11011).

A second aim of the studentship will be to use the insight gained from the model testing to evaluate the risk posed by the current activity and its occasional extremes. We have very good relationship with the Rabaul Volcano Observatory (RVO) who are responsible for monitoring Bagana. RVO are keen to improve their satellite monitoring capabilities and to improve risk assessment and the student will use this to forge joint analysis of the pulses and the risk implications.

S383 Application of satellite InSAR data in the assessment of ground motion in areas of historic mining to aid environmental and resource management

Student: David Gee

BGS Supervisor: Luke Bateson

University Supervisor: Stuart Marsh and Stephen Grebby

DTP: Non-DTP, The University of Nottingham

S385 Building up a numerical code for simulating volcanic granular flows through laboratory experiments and comparison with real cases

Student: Francesco Neglia

BGS Supervisor: Fabio Dioguardi

University Supervisor: Roberto Sulpizio

DTP: Non-DTP, University of Bari

Project description

The research on the behaviour of volcanic granular flows is one of the main topics in present day geophysics and volcanology. It involves disciplines that range from sedimentology to geophysics and from laboratory experiments to numerical simulations. The vast interest is justified by the complex nature of these currents and by their very dangerous nature that threaten millions of people around the world.

The quest of a complete theory for the flow of granular media remains therefore a major goal in Geology and Engineering. A complete description of flow of granular media is beyond the scope of this project, but the distillation of a numerical code describing the macroscopic dynamics of volcanic granular flows would represent a significant step forward in the comprehension of the physics of poly-dispersed granular mixtures.

Defining a volcanic granular flow

A volcanic granular flow can be defined as every gravity-driven current of volcanic particles in which the particle-particle interaction dominates the motion, in the sense that they are poorly-to-non-influenced by effects of the interstitial fluid and cohesion. Particles have usually different sizes (from microns to meters), densities (ranging from light to heavy) and shapes. The runout of these hazardous volcanic flows is heavily controlled by the topography, which can significantly alter the motion induced by the gravity leading to flow separation, diversion and stoppage. The hazard posed by volcanic granular flow is related to their lateral impact, which can be quantified by the dynamic pressure (half the product of flow density and squared velocity). These flows are characterized by a high density, which translates into large values of dynamic pressures that can potentially lead to the collapse of buildings and infrastructures. Additionally, these flow can inundate large areas, leading to the disruption of human activities (like ground transportation, agriculture, etc.).


The proposed research moves from the lack of numerical codes satisfactorily describing the dynamics of natural granular flows in volcanic settings. These phenomena include some of the most puzzling and dangerous events potentially occurring in volcanic terrains, such pyroclastic density currents and volcaniclastic debris flows. Any physical model dealing with reproducing numerically polydisperse, natural, volcanic granular flows have to deal with the complex multiphase physics driving their motion and deposition. The direct observation of these processes is usually prevented in natural settings by the hostile nature of these flows, and the easiest and more informative way to observe the processes is to replicate scaled granular flows using volcanic material in the laboratory. The dynamics observed in laboratory experiments are easier to replicate numerically, being most of the initial and boundary conditions fixed by experimental set up. The numerical code (using MFIX platform) will be developed for simulating 2D dynamics and runout of laboratory, monodisperse and polydisperse granular flows. The code will be successively modified for solving transport and runout in 3D. The last step will be to scale and test the numerical code to the reality, using real data collected at Volcan de Colima by researchers collaborating to this project.

Energy systems and basin analysis
S362 Jurassic gateway of the North Atlantic

Student: Olivia Walker

BGS Supervisor: Tim Pharaoh

University Supervisor: Tiago Alves

DTP: CDT - UK Oil & Gas, Cardiff University

Project description

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.

S365 Evolution of a micro-continent during continental break-up; re-evaluating the Falklands Plateau

Student: Roxana-Mihaela Stanca

BGS Supervisor: David McCarthy

University Supervisor: Douglas Paton, Estelle Mortimer and Dave Hodgson

DTP: SPHERES, University of Leeds

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/roxana-stanca-55a67438/

The Falkland Plateau Basin has received significant interest in terms of hydrocarbon exploration over recent years, despite this few studies have attempted to place the area within the context of a fully constrained tectonic framework. Furthermore there still remains considerable debate in regards to tectonic evolution and whether the islands are a rotated slice of the South African Cape Fold Belt. From a tectonic perspective this limits our understanding of the true fit of Southern Africa, South America and East Antarctica which forms a critical juncture that controlled the break-up of Gondwana and the subsequent opening of the South Atlantic. This limitation subsequently increases uncertainty for future hydrocarbon exploration.

This project will address both blue-skies and applied questions, and will further the understanding of how fundamental crustal processes interact during continental separation. The region forms an intriguing margin, as it represents the complex interplay of lithospheric heterogeneity and extension, intra-continental strike-slip, micro-continental block rotation, break-up volcanism and oceanic basin formation. From the perspective of hydrocarbon prospectivity the key questions remaining regard provenance and timing of clastic sedimentary input, evolution of palaeo-geography and predictions of source rock distribution, timing and extent of volcanism, heat flow variation as a function of both volcanic addition and lithospheric stretching, and predicted Gross Depositional Environment mapping.

Using seismic reflection data, gravity and magnetic data and plate restoration techniques the central aim of this project is to establish the tectonic configuration and evolution of the Eastern Falklands Plateau area. This will be achieved through an integrated and iterative approach to basin analysis (e.g Paton et al., 2006). Although the focus of the project is the Falklands area it is important to understand its position in the context of the wider tectonic setting.

To ensure a successful context for the project it will utilise the existing research and data available to the Basin Structure Group at the University of Leeds, as well as the expertise available at the British Geological Survey. The Leeds group has worked in the onshore and offshore structure of the Falklands (Macdonald et al., 2003), but also extensively in the conjugate margin of southern Africa (Paton et al., 2006) and the Durban basin which is the along trend continuity of the Maurice Ewing Bank and Eastern Falklands Plateau (Passandra, 2016). The British Geological Survey has worked extensively with government and industry on all of the sedimentary basins surrounding the Falklands since the early nineties, and has developed an in depth understanding of the petroleum basin evolution of the area.

S368 Structural, stratigraphic and geodynamic controls on the evolution of the Carboniferous succession of northern England and southern Scotland

Student: Louis Howell

BGS Supervisor: Graham Leslie

University Supervisor: Stuart Clarke

DTP: UK Oil & Gas, Keele University

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/louis-howell-306885100/

Project description

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.

S372 The nature, consequences and controls of deformation during superimposed rifting: the Inner Moray Firth Basin

Student: Alexandra Tamas

BGS Supervisor: David McCarthy

University Supervisor: R E Holdsworth and John Underhill

DTP: CDT - UK Oil & Gas, Durham University and Heriot Watt University

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexandra-t%C4%83ma%C8%99-8686bb90/

Project description

Widely regarded as a world-class example of a structurally complex continental rift basin, the Inner Moray Firth Basin (IMFB), Scotland, has experienced a long history of superimposed rifting and inversion events since its initiation in the Devonian. The absolute timing and significance of many deformation events has remained uncertain, whilst the role of reactivation of both basement fabrics and earlier formed, basin-bounding brittle faults is disputed mainly due to the inherent resolution limitations of offshore geophysical and borehole analyses. This project proposes a detailed study of key basin-bounding faults and associated deformation features using fieldwork, microscopy and Re-Os geochronology to give new insights into the kinematics, timing and structural controls of rift basin development.

S373 Palaeoecology of Sirius Passet: an Early Cambrian exceptional fossil fauna

Student: Morten Lunde Nielsen

BGS Supervisor: Phil Wilby

University Supervisor: Jakob Vinther

DTP: GW4Plus, University of Bristol

LinkedIn: https:/www.linkedin.com/in/mortenlundenielsen/

Project description

The Cambrian period (541-485 Ma) marks the onset of diverse and varied animal life on Earth, and saw the rapid radiation of the stem lineages to modern phyletic groups from about 540 to 520 million years ago. In most instances, the fossil record only captures biomineralised organisms, but at a few localities around the world (so-called lagerstätten) a more complete record is preserved including elements of the soft-bodied biota.

This project will focus on the Sirius Passet Lagerstatte(1), a 520 million year old deposit in Greenland, which yields more than 50 species of soft-bodied sponges, worms and arthropods(2-4). The fauna is about 15 million years older than the more famous Burgess Shale. The unique composition of this fauna, and its exceptional preservation/depositional context, provides an unique opportunity to more fully resolve the environment in which these organisms lived, which directly relates to the ecology of the organisms of the Cambrian Explosion.

This project will seek to explore the community structure of the Sirius Passet biota and its relationship to variations in the benthic environment. It will be based principally on bed-by-bed collections and will require the application and interpretation of various geochemical proxies.

The student will analyse the faunal composition of key bedding plane assemblages and relate them to sedimentological and geochemical evidence of the depositional environment, which in turn will enable an understanding of which aspects of the fossil composition reflect original community structure and which are a consequence of taphonomic overprint.

A diverse range of methodologies will be utilised, including: Taxonomic and quantitative analysis of the assemblages, and geochemical and sedimentological analysis of the lagerstatte. There will also be opportunity for taxonomic description of yet undescribed organisms from the biota. The fauna is furthermore a unique opportunity in understanding the role of microbial mats in exceptional preservation. The frequency of microbial mats also bring in reminiscence to the Ediacaran and suggest a role in microbial mats for Cambrian ecology, which still needs further appreciation.

The project partners, BGS and Korean Polar Research Institute (KOPRI) will be able to provide access to collections and facilities for sedimentological and geochemical analyses.

  1. Ineson, J R, Peel, J S. 2011. Geological and depositional setting of the Sirius Passet Lagerstätte (Early Cambrian), North Greenland. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 48, 1259-1281.
  2. Vinther, J, Stein, M, Longrich, N R, Harper, D A. 2014. A suspension-feeding anomalocarid from the Early Cambrian. Nature 507, 496-499.
  3. Vinther, J, Eibye-Jacobsen, D, Harper, D. 2011. An Early Cambrian stem polychaete with pygidial cirri. Biol Letters 7, 929-932.
  4. Vinther, J, Smith, M P, Harper, D A T. 2011. Vetulicolians from the Lower Cambrian Sirius Passet Lagerstätte, North Greenland, and the polarity of morphological characters in basal deuterostomes. Palaentology 54, 711-719.
S379 Oceanographic and vegetation changes across the Palaecene-Eocene Thermal Maximum in northwest Europe and the Arctic

Student: Erica Mariani

BGS Supervisor: Jim Riding and Melanie Leng

University Supervisor: Sev Kender and Stephen Hesselbo

DTP: GW4Plus, University of Exeter, Camborne School of Mines

Project description

The Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) was a period of rapid warming on Earth thought to be associated with massive releases of greenhouse gas to the ocean/atmosphere system about 55.5 million years ago, and has therefore been considered one of the best geological analogues for current and future climate change. One of the leading hypotheses for its trigger is the massive volcanism associated with the North Atlantic at this time (the North Atlantic Igneous Province. However, the causes and palaeoenvironmental responses to the greenhouse gas are yet to be fully documented, in particular in northwest Europe near the North Atlantic Igneous Province (Kender et al. 2012). Outstanding questions include the extent and causes of oceanic anoxia in the Arctic–North Sea basin (Dickson et al. 2012), and the response of vegetation across the region (Kender et al. 2012). Although vegetation in the tropics may have undergone enhanced evolution and origination (Jaramillo et al. 2010), and mid-latitudes significant migrations (Wing et al. 2013), the high latitudes are less well understood.

The research team have secured access to a number of marine sediment cores passing through the PETM in the Arctic–North Sea basin, some of which will form the basis for this project and provide a unique opportunity to address these questions. These include new pristine core material housed at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland GEUS), which consist of well-preserved mudstones that contain abundant organic material suitable for palynological and geochemical analyses. The student will reconstruct changes to the regional vegetation by analysing spores and pollen in multiple locations to piece together the first comprehensive picture of short time scale (millennial) and longer time scale vegetation evolution. Dinoflagellate cyst analysis will be interpreted in terms of regional surface ocean changes in salinity and nutrient availability. The student will also use X-ray fluorescence and thin sectioning to characterise the sediment at a fine scale. In addition to investigating the longer-term response to global warming and subsequent cooling of the PETM, high resolution sampling will be used to investigate vegetation and oceanographic changes during rapid (millennial-scale) regional precursor events.

This project forms part of a larger study of the PETM in the Arctic-North Sea region that the student will benefit from being a part of. The supervisory team will provide expert supervision in micropalaeontology, sedimentology, sediment geochemistry and vegetation reconstruction.


Dickson, A J, Cohen, A S and Coe, A L. 2012. Seawater oxygenation during the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum. Geology 40, 639–642.

Jaramillo, C. et al. 2010. Effects of Rapid Global Warming at the Paleocene-Eocene Boundary on Neotropical Vegetation. Science 330, 957–961.

Kender, S, et al. 2012. Marine and terrestrial environmental changes in NW Europe preceding carbon release at the Paleocene-Eocene transition. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 353–354, 108–120.

Wing, S L and Currano, E D. 2013. Plant response to a global greenhouse event 56 million years ago. American Journal of Botany 100, 1234–1254.

Engineering geology
S364 Assimilation of geophysical data in snow hydrology modelling

Student: Alex Priestley

BGS Supervisor: Oliver Kuras

University Supervisor: Richard Essery

DTP: E3, University of Edinburgh

Project summary

This project will develop a novel fusion of geophysical measurements and models to enable automated tracking of liquid water flow in snow for improved forecasting of flood and avalanche risks.


It has been estimated that a sixth of the world population rely on melt from seasonal snow and glaciers for their water (Barnett et al. 2005). Snowmelt provides both important hydropower resources for industry and significant hazards to people and infrastructure (e.g. flooding, wet snow avalanches). Even if the total annual precipitation remains the same in a warming climate, changes in the fraction falling as snow and the timing of melt will require major adaptations in management of water resources and risk. Management decisions currently have to be made with the aid of models that only have simplistic representations of snow hydrology due to a lack of input data and a poor understanding of flow processes. Standard methods for measuring the liquid water content of snow rely on destructive sampling and cannot be adapted for continuous in-situ monitoring in support of early warning systems.

Electrical self-potential and resistivity measurements are mature methods in hydrogeology that we have recently adapted for application in snow (Kulessa et al. 2012, Thompson et al. 2015) and permafrost (Kuras et al. 2014). There is now a need for detailed experimental design and field trials to develop these methods into a complete snow hydrology measurement system. The Météo-France snow research site at Col de Porte (1325 m elevation) in the Chartreuse Mountains near Grenoble will provide an excellent location for these trials, with existing facilities and hydrometeorological instrumentation. The data will be used to test model representations of hydrology and to adjust model parameters in a flexible snow modelling framework (Essery 2015). The model that relates electrical potential to water flux requires information on snow density and grain size, which are regularly measured by destructive sampling at Col de Porte. These measurements will be used in initial tests but will later be replaced by predictions from the snow model itself. Using a model to produce synthetic observations, comparing these with real observations and adjusting the model state to minimize differences is a classical application of data assimilation for which well-founded methods are available.

S375 The use of near surface seismic geophysical methods for assessing the condition of transport infrastructure

Student: Jessica Holmes

BGS Supervisor: Jon Chambers and Dave Gunn

University Supervisor: Shane Donohue

DTP: Non-DTP, Queens's University Belfast

Project description

The UK and Ireland’s major transportation arteries are supported by a vast network of infrastructure earthwork assets (e.g. cuttings, embankments) that require sustainable cost-effective management, while maintaining an appropriate service level to meet social, economic and environmental needs. Recent extreme weather has highlighted their vulnerability to climate variations – with the resulting earthwork failures severely impacting transportation users and operators, and the wider economy. As these variations are projected to become more extreme, climate resilient infrastructure is becoming an increasingly important national priority. It is therefore crucial that appropriate approaches for assessing the stability of earthworks are developed so that repair work can be better targeted and failures avoided wherever possible. Current earthwork condition assessment practices are heavily dependent on either surface observations, which only address failures that have already begun, or point sensors, which are inadequate to detect localized deterioration. Use of these approaches is a major barrier to prevention as they do not identify the incremental development of internal conditions that ultimately trigger earthwork failure, and therefore limit the basis for early intervention.

This PhD project will assess the potential of near surface seismic geophysical methods for both rapidly assessing and monitoring the condition of earthworks. It will involve (a) development of data acquisition approaches that deliver the temporal and spatial resolutions required to support asset assessment, and (b) the establishment of a scientific basis to underpin relationships for geophysical to geotechnical property translation.

S377 Coupled hydrogeophysical and geomechanical modelling of slope stability for improved early warning of landslides impacting natural and engineered infrastructure slopes

Student: James Boyd

BGS Supervisor: Dr Jon Chambers

University Supervisor: Andrew Binley

DTP: ENVISION, Lancaster University

Most current methodologies for assessing landslide hazard are heavily dependent on surface observations (e.g. remote sensing or walk-over surveys). These approaches generally neglect the influences of subsurface structure and hydrogeological processes on landslide triggering and activation; instead they typically only quantify the surface expressions of slope failure events once they have been initiated. Consequently, there is a growing interest in the development geophysical approaches for investigating slope stability (e.g. Perrone et al., 2014). Geophysical techniques have the potential to provide volumetric subsurface information revealing the internal structure and hydraulic process within the slope or landslide body – thereby providing an indication of subsurface precursors to slope failure (e.g. elevated moisture distributions) and possibly early warning of failure events.

Here we seek to develop two very promising, and complementary, geophysical approaches for slope characterisation – geoelectrical and seismic methods. Geoelectrical imaging is sensitive to lithological variability, and crucially with recent advances in monitoring instrumentation, changing moisture conditions in the subsurface. Seismic methods, such as P and S wave tomography, can provide information on the engineering properties of the subsurface in terms of strength, stiffness and compressibility. Emerging developments in the area of geophysical inverse theory now enable joint inversion of geoelectrical and seismic data – thereby improving image resolution and enhancing the information content of the resulting interpretations. Our hypothesis is that the combined use of geoelectrical and seismic monitoring will provide the means to investigate subsurface processes at unprecedented levels of spatial and temporal resolution – thereby providing an enhanced diagnostic and predictive capability for early warning of failure events within vulnerable slopes.

The student will have access to a number of geophysical observatories on natural and engineered slopes, all of which are instrumented with geophysical monitoring systems and environmental / geotechnical sensor networks (e.g. weather stations, pore pressure, tilt, and moisture content). A key site is the Hollin Hill Observatory in North Yorkshire (Merritt et al., 2014), which BGS has been operating since 2008 on an active landslide in Lias Clays in North Yorkshire, UK. This observatory has a permanently installed resistivity monitoring system, seismic survey data, and a broad band seismometer. The primary purpose of the seismometer is to monitoring fracking activities in the Vale of Pickering – but will also be capable of monitoring shallow landslide movements at the site. This combination of sensors, instrumentation and surveys provides the potential to investigate both moisture-driven and seismically induced landslide events.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-boyd94/

For slope-scale forecasting of moisture driven landslide events, the complex subsurface structure (materials, strata) and hydrogeology need to be characterized and understood in 3D, and at resolutions and timescales consistent with the processes driving slope failure. Recent years have seen key advances in several relevant and complementary areas: (1) integrated surface water-groundwater models incorporating unsaturated flow allowing slope hydrology to be modelled in 3D (e.g. Modflow-UZF1); (2) development of 3D geomechanical approaches to slope stability modelling (e.g. SVSlope, GALENA); (3) 3D characterisation and 4D monitoring of slopes using geotechnical and geophysical approaches (e.g. geoelectrical, seismic).

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). Our hypothesis is that 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. We will demonstrate the value of this approach for case studies of unstable infrastructure slopes, provided by industry partners, by integrating the delivery of information derived from geophysical, geotechnical and meteorological monitoring with hydro-geomechanical models. The objective is to develop an approach enabling data-driven assessments of hydrological threshold conditions that can lead to slope failure in engineered and natural slopes. If successful this would represent a step-change in our ability to assess the condition of infrastructure slopes and provide early-warning of landslide events.

S361 National scale conceptual modelling of hydrology coupled to groundwater processes to improve predictions of river flows

Student: Louisa Oldham (née Peaver)

BGS Supervisor: Chris Jackson and John Bloomfield

University Supervisor: Jim Freer

DTP: GW4Plus, University of Bristol

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/louisa-oldham-69a62ab3/

Project description

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, 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. 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. 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.

S374 Turning down the gas: what is the potential for microbial mitigation of methane leakage from soils?

Student: Tom Bott

BGS Supervisor: Simon Gregory

University Supervisor: George Shaw

DTP: CDT - STARS, The University of Nottingham


Project description

The potential environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas extraction are a major concern for the general public, regulators and industry. One concern is the possibility of methane leakage. Methane is a greenhouse gas and a potential explosion hazard if it accumulated in enclosed spaces. Quantifying the impacts of methane leakage requires a good understanding of chemical, physical and biological processes involved in methane cycling in natural systems. The need for improved knowledge of natural biological processes in the critical zone, including soils, and their response to pollutants from industrial activities such as shale gas extraction was highlighted in NERC’s recent ESIOS Science Plan. This project will use laboratory experiments, fieldwork and modelling to understand the microbial controls on source/sink behaviour of CH4 at a range of scales in the soil system. Hydrocarbon contaminated soils will be used to establish the influence of environmental factors on CH4 transport and how biological, geochemical and physical factors affect surface emissions. The key aims are:

  • To assess the potential of the soil microbial community to respond to new or increased levels of methane leakage. Questions to be addressed include: How do the synchronous methane production (methanogenesis) and oxidation (methanotrophy) affect transport and mean residence times of CH4 in soils? How rapid and sustained is the microbial response to increased methane concentrations? Is the response due to changes in microbial activity, number or community composition?
  • To identify, under laboratory conditions, the geochemical and physical conditions under which microbial activity in soils is critical for the prevention of methane escapes to the atmosphere.
  • To adapt and test techniques used in microbial oil and gas prospecting as potential tools for discriminating between leakages from shale gas operations, pre-existing hydrocarbon seeps and natural variations in biological methane cycling.
S378 Enabling environmental citizenship

Student: Clifford Richardson

BGS Supervisor: Patrick Bell

University Supervisor: Stuart Marsh

DTP: CDT - HORIZON, The University of Nottingham


Marine geoscience
S371 Reconstruction of glacigenic palaeo-sedimentary environments during the late Quaternary evolution of the Dogger Bank, North Sea

Student: Kirstin Johnson

BGS Supervisor: Emrys Phillips and Carol Cotterill

University Supervisor: Dave Hodgson

DTP: Non-DTP, University of Leeds


Project description

The proposed PhD research aims to document the sedimentary architecture and depositional setting of key parts of the Quaternary sedimentary sequence concealed within the subsurface of the Dogger Bank. Key research objectives are i) to establish a model for evolution of the complex system of subglacial drainage channels (tunnel valleys) that developed beneath the former ice sheets, which repeatedly inundated this part of the North Sea, ii) understand the sedimentary architecture and evolution of ice-marginal depositional systems during the active retreat of a major Weichselian ice sheet, and iii) constrain the interplay between large-scale glacitectonism and sedimentation associated with a highly dynamic former ice margin. The results of this study will greatly add to our understanding of the evolution of the glaciated continental shelf around the UK. This research can therefore be directly linked to the science and commercial programmes of the Marine Geoscience Directorate, further developing existing collaboration between BGS, academia and industry (e.g. FUGRO, Apache, RPS Energy Ltd, Statoil). Consequently it will not only impact upon academic research (e.g. NERC-funded BRITICE Chrono project), but also translate NERC-funded science to have an impact within the commercial energy sector.

S363 Increasing the temporal resolution of animal movements – a comparative study of LA and microdrilling for Sr-isotope profiling of herbivore teeth

Student: Bryony Rogers

BGS Supervisor: Jane Evans and Matt Horstwood

University Supervisor: Janet Montgomery, Peter Rowley-Conwy and Geoff Norwell

DTP: IAPETUS, Durham University

Strontium isotopes are used in archaeology to investigate the migrations of wild herds across geological terrains and smaller-scale movements controlled by humans such as transhumance and droving as part of domestic animal husbandry practices (Towers et al. 2010; Gron et al. 2016). The tall hypsodont molars of herbivores such as cattle and sheep have been shown to record c. 6-12 months of life in the enamel of the tooth crown (Figure 1). Strontium isotopes of herbivore tooth enamel may also be used in conjunction with δ13C and δ18O profiles to link the residential movement to a particular season or seasonality of birth (Towers et al. 2011, 2014; Gron et al. 2015) although the direct comparability of Sr with lighter isotopes of oxygen and carbon which have much shorter body residence and turnover times remains problematic (Montgomery et al. 2010). Conventionally, such profiles are produced from samples obtained by cutting and drilling with dental tools (Figure 1) and analysis by TIMS or solution MC-ICP-MS. Higher resolution sampling methods such as laser ablation or microdrilling have been underused due in no small part to unresolved issues such as the perceived poor quality of LA Sr-isotope data and whether and how high-spatial resolution sampling recovers high-temporal resolution information about animal movements (Horstwood et al. 2008, Nowell & Horstwood 2009; Montgomery et al. 2010; Lewis et al. 2014).


Evans J A,Montgomery, J et al. 2010. Spatial variations in biosphere 87Sr/86Sr in Britain. J Geol Soc 167:1-4.

Gron, Kurt J, Montgomery, J, Nielsen, P O, Nowell, G M, Peterkin, J L, Sørensen, L, Rowley-Conwy, P. 2016. Strontium isotope evidence of early Funnel Beaker Culture movement of cattle. J Arch Sci Rep 6:248-251.

Gron, Kurt J, J Montgomery, P Rowley-Conwy. 2015. Cattle Management for Dairying in Scandinavia’s earliest Neolithic. PLoS ONE 10 (7):e0131267.

Horstwood, MSA, J Evans, J Montgomery. 2008. Determination of Sr isotopes in calcium phosphates using LA-ICP-MS & their application to archaeological tooth enamel. GCA 72 (23):5659-5674.

Lewis, J, Coath, C D, Pike, A W G. 2014. An improved protocol for 87Sr/86Sr by LA-MC-ICP-MS using oxide reduction and a customised plasma interface, Chem Geol 390:173-181.

Montgomery, J, Evans, J A, Horstwood, M S A. 2010. Evidence for long-term averaging of strontium in bovine enamel using TIMS and LA-MC-ICP-MS strontium isotope intra-molar profiles. Env Arch 15 (1):32-42.

Montgomery, J. 2010. Passports from the past: Investigating human dispersals using strontium isotope analysis of tooth enamel. Ann Hum Biol 37 (3):325-346.

Nowell, G M, Horstwood, M S A. 2009. Comments on Richards et al., J Arch Sci 35, 2008 "Sr isotope evidence of Neanderthal mobility at the site of Lakonis, Greece using laser-ablation PIMMS". J Arch Sci 36 (7):1334-1341.

Towers, J, A Gledhill, J Bond, J Montgomery. 2014. An investigation of cattle birth seasonality using δ13C and δ18O profiles within first molar enamel. Archaeometry 56:208-236.

Towers, J, Jay, M, Mainland, I, Nehlich, O, Montgomery, J. 2011. A calf for all seasons? The potential of stable isotope analysis to investigate prehistoric husbandry practices. J Arch Sci 38 (8):1858-1868.

Towers, J, Montgomery, J, Evans, J et al. 2010. An investigation of the origins of cattle and aurochs deposited in the Early Bronze Age barrows at Gayhurst and Irthlingborough. J Arch Sci 37 (3):508-515.

Warham, J O. 2012. Mapping biosphere strontium isotope ratios across major lithological boundaries. Unpublished PhD, Dept. Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford.

S369 Fracturing and fluid-flow in an exhumed Jurassic basin: an integrated field, microstructural, geochronological and isotopic study of vein mineralisation within mudstone-dominated successions

Student: Jack Lee

BGS Supervisor: Nick Roberts and Richard Haslam

University Supervisor: Jonathan Imber

DTP: CDT - UK Oil & Gas, Durham University

Project description

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 aim of this studentship 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. 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.

Geological background

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 (sourced from the Toarcian-age Jet Rock.

Methodology and 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.

S381 Advancing micro-analytical isotopic and trace-element ICP-MS techniques for future applications to ore genesis and exploration

Student: Lewis Banks

BGS Supervisor: Simon Tapster and Matt Horstwood

University Supervisor: Dan Smith

DTP: CENTA, University of Leicester

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lewis-banks-6ba792113/

Project description

Magmatic systems and their associated ore deposits are the end-products of protracted events that lead to complex and diverse signatures of chemical processes and source inputs. Although whole-rock (bulk) analyses provide first-order assessments that can be used to great effect, there is an ever increasing need to delve into the wealth of information about system heterogeneity contained in the mineral-scale records of magmatic and ore forming systems. In order to interrogate these mineral-scale records, tracer isotopic systems (e.g. Lu-Hf, Sm-Nd, Rb-Sr, Pb-Pb) and trace element data need to be measured at a level of precision greater than system variations, whilst simultaneously achieving a spatial resolution that can be linked to detailed petrographic and geochronological records.

S335 Testing tectonic-climate interactions using sedimentary records in the Tarim Basin, China

Student: Chris Kneale

BGS Supervisor: Dr Ian Millar

University Supervisor: Dr Y Najman

DTP: ENVISION, Lancaster

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopher-kneale-b570b039

This project will use the sediment record in the Tarim Basin, China, to document regional climate change during development of the northern Tibetan plateau. Himalayan-Tibet evolution is a type example of continental collision and climate-tectonic interactions. The plateau's uplift is considered to have caused regional climate change, by deflection of wind systems, intensification of the monsoon, and retreat of the adjacent Paratethys ocean. Yet a knowledge of the mechanisms and timing of the plateau’s evolution, needed to assess its interaction with climate, and to contribute to our understanding of crustal deformation processes, are poorly known. Similarly, the influence and timing of increased monsoon intensity and retreat of the Paratethys ocean on the regional climate is debated. Better constraints to both timing of plateau evolution and regional climate change are required in order to test their proposed coupling.

For many isotopic and trace element analyses throughout the Earth Sciences, inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) is the tool of choice. However, there are significant limitations to conventional methods of sample introduction that arise from low volumes of material, low elemental abundance, or the absence of well characterised reference materials. Until recently, these limitations have left considerable amounts of high resolution (spatial resolution or analytical precision) geological information about key magmatic and ore forming processes ‘off-limits’. The new MVX-7100ul workstation developed by Teledyne-CETAC Technologies (a world leader in sample introduction and sample handling equipment for elemental analysis for ICP-MS techniques and the project CASE partner), provides novel sample introduction technology for ICP-MS analysis utilising a material quantity that can be reduced by at least an order of magnitude compared to standard solution analysis methods, whilst maintaining comparable levels of precision and accuracy in isotopic ratio determination. This technological leap realises the possibility to analyse isotopic systems and trace elements within samples previously thought to be present at too low an abundance. The challenge now faced is to turn a proof of concept into routine methods for both scientific research and industry application.

The aim of this project is to provide the transition between the state-of-the-art MVX-7100ul workstation technology and end-user applications. This will be achieved by: 1) Defining measurement capabilities in low volumes or low concentrations of conventional accessory phases used for analyses; 2) Explore new avenues of research utilising isotopic tracers (e.g. Lu-Hf, Sm-Nd, Rb-Sr, Pb-Pb) in non-conventional mineral phases where elements of interest occur in low abundance; 3) Characterise widely-used reference materials required throughout Earth sciences for micro-analytical work; 4) Develop efficient ways of linking data to petrographic and U-Pb geochronological data to explore current paradigms and issues surrounding magmatic and ore forming systems in unprecedented detail. The project outcomes will be fed back to the product developer Teledyne-CETAC Technologies in order to improve capability and efficiency of the MVX-7100ul workstation.

S382 Hadean mantle evolution

Student: Daniel Stubbs

BGS Supervisor: Matt Horstwood

University Supervisor: Tim Elliott

DTP: GW4Plus, University of Bristol

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daniel-stubbs-42532013b/

Project description

There is no rock record of the first ˜500Ma of Earth history, the Hadean, and the nature of geological processes active in this period are dominantly gleaned from isotopic measurements in younger samples. Of particular importance are variations in short-lived isotope systems, which definitively track the decay of parent extant in the first few 10-100s millions years of the solar system. A significant recent finding is that some of the oldest terrestrial rocks have notably elevated 182W/184W relative to modern values. This relict Hadean signature has been interpreted in two very different ways. Some have argued this reflects vestiges of the crystallisation of a global magma ocean, whereas others have related it to the mantle composition before the Late Veneer (the last 0.5% of mass accreted by the Earth after core formation). These contrasting explanations have very different implications for the early evolution of the Earth.

This project will attempt to resolve the debate by making more specific tests of the Late Veneer model. In particular, the student will investigate the information carried in the relative abundance, mass-dependent and mass independent isotopic compositions of Mo. These measurements ideally complement the key radiogenic signature carried by geochemically similar W. A persistent problem with studying Archean samples, however, is being able to assess the effects of subsequent alteration. We will gauge both recent and ancient perturbations using measurements of short-lived, mass-dependent and the Pb decay products of U, which also has important similarities in its chemistry to W and Mo, forming (IV) and (VI) valent oxy-anions. We will apply this novel combination of sophisticated geochemical tools to samples which we have already analysed for W and to a new suite of samples from the Pilbara craton.

The project will train the student in a range of sophisticated mass-spectrometry skills. High-precision, mass independent variations in W and Mo, coupled with double-spiked, mass-dependent Mo measurements will be made at Bristol. Any perturbation of the samples will be assessed as part of the CASE partnership, by comparing the Pb and Hf systematics of separated zircons with bulk rock analyses. In this way both the primary ages and a time of disturbance can be assessed. This will put into clear context, any W and Mo isotopic variability. Through all this work the student will receive a thorough training in modern analytical chemistry.

2016 student cohort

All of our PhDs that started in October 2016 are in collaboration with a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP). Further information can be found on our Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP) page.

Centre for Environmental Geochemistry
S336 Are land-use decisions of African elephants based on environmental geochemistry?

Student: Fiona Sach

BGS Supervisor: Michael Watts

University Supervisor: Martin Broadley

DTP: ENVISION, Nottingham

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/fiona-sach-11a53b77

The supply of essential minerals to humans and animals is influenced by the local mineral characteristics of soils. Plants growing in mineral-deficient soils lack key minerals, resulting in deficiencies in those consuming the plants.

The primary aim of this project is to assess the influence of environmental geochemistry on land use decisions by wild African elephants. Mineral levels in a range of biological samples (serum, urine, nails, hair) from elephants at five UK zoos will be measured to validate their use as possible biomarkers of mineral status in wild elephants, alongside mineral analyses of soil, food and water consumed by these elephants. This first phase of the project will involve using advanced inductively coupled mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) techniques. Stable isotope data from tail hairs will determine seasonal variation in their diet.

The second phase of this project will apply these validated methods to a case study of wild African elephants. The multi-element capability of ICP-MS for measuring environmental and biomonitoring samples will enable the estimation of mineral balance and potential metal uptake from the discharge of a phosphate mine in South Africa.

The working hypothesis for the project is that elephants for this particular case study in South Africa are deficient in phosphorus, owing to a phosphorous deficiency in the (soil and) forage in the associated National Park; this drives the elephants to supplement their phosphorus from the water, soil and forage on the land surrounding the phosphorus mine. Elephant incursion into human settlements near this mine have resulted in human-elephant conflict, causing risk of injury and loss of income. This project may identify key locations in the elephants’ home range at which mineral-supplemented forage, or mineral licks, may be placed to reduce the drive to seek additional sources of phosphorus; this could reduce human-elephant conflict.

S340 Gold mineralisation and tectonomagmatic evolution of the Yalgoo-Singleton Greenstone Belt, Western Australia

Student: Jamie Price

BGS Supervisor: Dr Kathryn Goodenough

University Supervisor: Dr Andrew Kerr

DTP: GW4Plus, Cardiff University

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamie-price-28242483

The Murchison Province in the Archaean Yilgarn Craton is comprised of greenstone belts surrounded by several generations of granitoid intrusions. The 190 km–long Yalgoo-Singleton greenstone belt (YSGB), extends in a NNW direction from Mount Gibson in the south, to north of Yalgootown and hosts significant gold deposits. The project partner, Minjar Gold, owns the mineral rights to much of the belt, which can be divided into a lower ˜10 km thick, 3.0 Ga Group (Luke Creek) and an overlying ˜5 km thick, 2.8 Ga Group (Mount Farmer) (Watkins & Hickman, 1990). Both successions contain mostly mafic volcanic and intrusive rocks, with minor ultramafic and felsic rocks and the belt is characterised by heterogeneous deformation, with narrow high-strain zones separating more weakly deformed zones.

The YSGB hosts world-class Volcanogenic Massive Sulphide (VMS) deposits, including the Cu-Pb-Zn-Ag-Au Golden Grove mine. The belt also contains extensive gold mineralisation, thought to post-date the VMS mineralising event. The Minjar Project tenements, which host 1.1 million ounces of gold resource, cover ˜70% of the YSGB. The source(s) and timing of the mineralising fluids are still poorly understood in the YSGB and initial SEM-work indicates multiple overprinting mineralisation events.

Using detailed structural mapping, along with petrography, SEM, XRD, ICP-MS and fluid inclusion work, the project will study the paragenesis of the various mineral assemblages associated with Au mineralisation and will assess the composition and origin (deep vs. shallow) of the mineralising fluids along the main shear zones within the YSGB. Radiometric dating of the mineralisation events will also shed more light on their origin and formation.

Little is known about the geochemistry of the meta-igneous rocks in this belt and the project will also involve the systematic collection and (elemental and isotopic) analysis of a suite of samples in order to determine the petrogenesis, tectonomagmatic evolution and more-precise age of these rocks. This part of the project will also inform our understanding of the province's mineralisation events. The working hypothesis is that the Luke Creek and Mount Farmer groups represent the remnants of several Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs). The geochemical framework produced for these postulated LIPs will be compared with geochemistry of similar age LIP magmatism elsewhere in the Yilgarn Craton and on other cratons.

In short, this project represents an exciting opportunity to study both the nature of the gold mineralisation in, and the tectonomagmatic evolution of, a relatively unknown greenstone belt.

S349 Impact of extreme rainfall events on the mobility of potentially toxic elements in floodplains

Student: Layla Al-Mousili

BGS Supervisor: Michael Watts

University Supervisor: Dr Tom Sizmur

DTP: SCENARIO, University of Reading

This PhD will improve our predictive capability to assess the impact that increased flood frequency and duration will have on the mobility of potentially toxic elements in floodplain soils.

Extreme weather is likely to become more frequent in the UK as a result of more variable weather patterns from changes in the climate. Whilst the magnitude of changes is extremely uncertain, it is likely that we will experience drier summers, wetter winters, and an increase in the intensity of rainfall events. These changes are likely to lead to greater frequency and duration of flooding events and the occasional inundation of land that has rarely been flooded in the past.

Since many commercial, industrial and residential developments have historically been situated adjacent to rivers (e.g. in the Thames Valley), many floodplain soils downstream from urban environments are contaminated with potentially toxic elements, deposited from the water column during flooding events. The mobility and fate of potentially toxic elements in periodically flooded soils is poorly understood but will be investigated in this PhD with a combination of field monitoring, laboratory simulations and targeted experiments.

The Student will collect and analyse samples of soil and porewater from a floodplain site before, during, and after a real flooding event to monitor the effect of flooding on the biogeochemistry and speciation of potentially toxic elements. The Student will incubate cores taken from the field in the laboratory and subject them to flooding regimes to test the effect of increased flooding frequency and duration on the mobility of contaminants. The Student will design targeted experiments to mechanistically explain the release of potentially toxic elements from the soils during inundation. These experiments will likely focus on the impact of flooding on the rates of redox reactions in contrasting soils, and on the contribution of soil aggregate destabilisation to the release of potentially toxic elements from soils.

S351 Late Quaternary Antarctic ice sheet discharge: exploiting the sediment diatom silica archive

Student: James Williams

BGS Supervisor: Prof Melanie Leng

University Supervisor: Dr Jennifer Pike

DTP: GW4Plus, Cardiff University

Over the past few decades, there has been much deliberation over the role of the Antarctic ice sheet in eustatic sea level rise. The spatial pattern of modern glacial discharge from the Antarctic ice sheets is currently not well understood, particularly in the climatically-sensitive region of the Antarctic Peninsula (AP). The AP accounts for 25% of Antarctic ice mass loss, and 28% of the global contribution of mountain glaciers and ice caps to sea level rise – a pattern that reflects the recent rapid regional warming of the AP that began in the mid–20th Century. There is a societal need to place these modern observations, such as AP warming and melt water contribution, into a longer temporal framework in order to contribute to projections about how the changing ice sheet is likely to impact sea level. Diatom silica oxygen isotopes (δ18Odiatom) can be used as a palaeo-indicator of glacial discharge from the Antarctic marine-terminating glaciers and ice shelves during the Holocene, on seasonal and decadal timescales. By combining δ18Odiatom and diatom assemblages we can infer the balance between atmospheric (i.e. El Niño-Southern Oscillation) and oceanic (i.e. upper circumpolar deep-water) forcing of glacial discharge (Pike, Swann, Leng and Snelling, 2013. Nature Geoscience 6, 199–202; Swann, Pike, Snelling, Leng and Williams, 2013. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 364, 12–23). This project will utilise Antarctic margin sediment cores (for example, a suite of existing BAS sediment cores from the AP; existing US/Australian sediment cores from the East Antarctic margin) to develop Late Quaternary records of glacial discharge and forcing (atmospheric vs. oceanic), investigate spatial coherence of past changes along the Antarctic margin, and provide a context for observed changes. As a second strand to the research project, Cardiff has a new experimental Cold Climate Laboratory that could also afford the opportunity for diatom simulation experiments and culturing, to further ground-truth the δ18Odiatom proxy in high latitude marine waters. Diatom silica stable isotope analyses and diatom assemblages from Antarctic margin cores will be used to answer important questions such as: Is the recent warming and dramatic retreat of tidewater glaciers along the AP over the past few decades an exceptional event, or are current patterns of change part of a longer, centennial-scale natural cycle in the climate of the Antarctic Peninsula region?

Earth hazards and observatories
S326 Measuring the pulse of Bagana volcano

Student: Amy Sharp

BGS Supervisor: Dr Julia Crummy

University Supervisor: Prog Geoff Wadge

DTP: COMET, University of Reading

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amy-diane-sharp-36a9a8a4

Bagana is a singular volcano. It erupts viscous andesite lava flows almost continuously, for decades, together with the strongest plume of volcanic gases of any of the Papua New Guinea volcanoes. Occasionally it explodes and produces ash and, rarely, pyroclastic flows. Remarkably, there seems to be a distinct pulsatory character to the extrusion of lava, with pulses lasting several months. The volcano is ideal for satellite remote sensing because of its strong, dependable, surface signals, the large plume of gas and its remoteness on Bougainville island in Papua New Guinea.

The main aim of this studentship would be to improve our understanding of the pulsatory character of Bagana, mainly though remote sensing. In particular, we will use the InSAR technique to measure the rate of emission of the lava and also the accompanying deformation of the ground surface using the C-band data from the Sentinel-1 satellite and X-band data from TerraSARX/ COSMO SkyMed satellites. These results will be correlated with the emission rate of SO2 measured by the OMI and IASI sensors and the TropOMI sensor to be launched in 2016. The combined time series of these 3 data sets (magma flux, deformation and SO2 flux) will enable conceptual models of the pulsatory magma dynamics to be posed and tested (Wadge et al., 2012, Geochem. Geophys. Geosystems. 13/11 Q11011).

A second aim of the studentship will be to use the insight gained from the model testing to evaluate the risk posed by the current activity and its occasional extremes. We have very good relationship with the Rabaul Volcano Observatory (RVO) who are responsible for monitoring Bagana. RVO are keen to improve their satellite monitoring capabilities and to improve risk assessment and the student will use this to forge joint analysis of the pulses and the risk implications.

S350 Physics-based forecasting of earthquake sequences

Student: Simone Mancini

BGS Supervisor: Dr Margarita Segou

University Supervisor: Dr Maximilian Werner

DTP: GW4Plus, University of Bristol

Recent earthquakes from around the world have shown that our cities suffer greatly not only from unexpected great earthquakes but also from their catastrophic aftershocks, despite their transient temporal nature. Examples of such earthquake sequences include the 2011 M6.3 Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand, the 2013 M6.9 Lushan earthquake in China, and the 2015 M7.8 Gorkha earthquake in Nepal. To help communities prepare for pending disasters due to devastating aftershocks, real-time seismic hazard updates are required that provide the public, government and other end-users with the necessary input for informed decision-making. Empirical (statistical) models have shown considerable skill in forecasting aftershock sequences in case studies. The goals of this PhD project are to improve our understanding of the physics of earthquake sequences and to provide time-dependent earthquake forecasts that are based on physics and may thus provide improved forecasts.

The first objective is to conduct retrospective evaluations of physics-based forecasting models in areas of high seismic hazard (the Himalayan Belt, Japan, China, California, Italy, Greece, New Zealand). We can thereby evaluate the influence of different seismotectonic environments. The goal is evaluate the ability of physics-based models to forecast the spatio-temporal evolution of triggered seismicity. These models combine laboratory-derived rate-and-state friction laws with Coulomb failure theory. The predictive power of the forecast models, and therefore the importance of the physical mechanism, will be determined by comparing them against simple empirical/statistical models that are derived from averaging over past observations of aftershock sequences.

This new knowledge will be channelled back into the development of real-time earthquake forecast models that will be submitted to the Collaboratory for the Study of Earthquake Predictability (CSEP, www.cseptesting.org), where the models will be evaluated in an automated, blind and independent manner in a prospective mode and compared against other existing models. The attached figure presents statistical and physical forecasts for the first week following the 1989 Loma Prieta M=6.9 earthquake in Northern California (Segou et al., 2013).

A main outcome of this PhD project will be to help government agencies in the development and deployment of real-time operational earthquake forecasting systems that provide authoritative information about the time-dependence of seismic hazards and risks to communities and end-users.

Energy and marine geoscience
S332 Collapse of the British-Irish Ice Sheet: the role of climate and sea level changes

Student: Niall Gandy

BGS Supervisor: Dayton Dove and Dr Claire Mellett

University Supervisor: Dr Lauren Gregoire


This project will use the latest generation of ice sheet models and a new reconstruction of the retreat of British and Irish ice sheet (BIIS) to understand what drives the collapse of marine-influenced ice sheets.

The largest threat to future sea level rise is the potential collapse of the marine–influenced West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The same processes that could cause up to 5 m sea level rise over the coming centuries were at play at the end of the last ice age and drove the collapse of the BIIS. Now, thanks to the BRITICE-CHRONO project, the BIIS is becoming the best constrained palaeo-ice sheet system globally, and can serve as an excellent test case for ice sheet models that that will be used to project future sea level rise.

Marine-influenced ice sheets (where portions of the ice sheet are based below sea level) can retreat and in some cases be destabilized by atmosphere and ocean warming and sea level rise. Simulating such processes requires complex models such as BISICLES. What makes BISICLES stand out from other complex ice sheet models is its ability to increase its resolution where and when it is needed, allowing us to make efficient and accurate simulations of marine ice sheets. Simulating the British-Irish and Scandinavian Ice Sheets with BISICLES will allow us to test these latest model developments.

BRITICE-CHRONO is a large research project lead by Prof Chris Clark (co-supervisor of this project) aimed at reconstructing the rate and patterns of retreat of the British-Irish Ice Sheet. Research cruises and fieldwork have been undertaken to collect material to build a reconstruction of the collapse and retreat of the ice sheet. Further data will be provided by the CASE partner, the British Geological Survey (see below), to help understand the complex interaction of the British and Scandinavian ice sheets.

The project will use the last generation BISICLES ice sheet model combined with the new and extensive BRITICE-CHONO dataset and British Geological Survey datasets to understand the extent to which ice retreat is driven by fluctuations in sea level and ocean and atmosphere warming.

S346 Finding tsunami-causing landslide deposits in the lakes of New Zealand

Student: Ryan Dick

BGS Supervisor: Dr Dave Tappin

University Supervisor: Dr Stuart Dunning

DTP: IAPETUS, Newcastle University

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ryan-dick-2204b189

Relief in mountainous landscapes is a balance between the forces of tectonics, climate, and surface processes. Landslides are an effective means of limiting the growth of mountains to maintain some form of equilibrium, with seismic shaking in particular able to trigger widespread failure and downslope mobilisation of material. It is common that during earthquakes a number of very large, highly mobile landslides, termed rock avalanches, can be expected to be triggered from steep mountainsides with sufficient relief. If rock avalanche run out paths reach settlements or infrastructure, destruction is almost total and with death tolls historically measured in thousands. However, in many of the landscapes where these events happen, the rates of geomorphic processes are high enough to erode and remove most evidence of past events. As a result, the relative frequency of these catastrophic events remains poorly understood, and so the risks posed remains poorly understood.

Advantageously, in previously glaciated terrain deep fiords and inland lakes are common, and interestingly, provide a unique geomorphic setting that can capture the record of past large landslides through underwater preservation of the landslide deposits. If these landslide deposit post-date initial lake formation / relative sea level rise, they may also have triggered tsunami, which themselves pose further risks to a wider area.

The South Island of New Zealand is one of the most seismically-active areas in the world, demonstrated recently by a series of earthquakes that highlighted significant urban vulnerabilities (ML 7.1 and 6.3). These, however, remain minor compared with the expected > ML 8 earthquake on the 600-km long Alpine Fault on the margin of the Southern Alps (SA), known to rupture on average every 200-300 years.

The area that will be affected by intense coseismic shaking has numerous waterside population centres, usually heavily tourist focussed, bounded by steep rock walls already at threshold stability. The last rupture was 1717 AD, a ML 8+ earthquake is a 34% probability in the next 20 years, and 54% in the next 100 years. Fault movement of > 8 m horizontally and > 4m vertically is predicted with a rupture length of ˜400 km. This scale of event will generate shaking intensities sufficient to trigger landsliding across much of the SA, and many will enter lakes and fiords, and some will in turn generate hazardous tsunami. There are consequently large risks to waterside developments in this rapidly-developing tourist region.

Tsunami-hazard assessment requires the spatial distribution and sizes of landslides triggered by previous earthquakes; currently there is only a partially complete inventory of terrestrial deposits, and exceptionally limited investigation of submarine deposits in lakes and fiords. This project aims to fill this data gap using the following hypotheses:

[H1] Large landslide deposits are likely to be preserved in lake-bottom environments so geophysics will be able to determine their magnitude-frequency.

[H2] If large landslides are triggered coseismically then spatial and temporal clustering relationships can be developed.

Energy systems and basin analysis
S339 Global change during the Jurassic; applying multiproxy studies to outcrop and cores

Student: Alex Hudson

BGS Supervisor: Dr Jim Riding and Dr Dan Condon

University Supervisor: Prof Stephen Hesselbo

DTP: GW4Plus, Exeter Camborne School of Mines

The Jurassic was a dynamic time in Earth's history. Despite intense study of both marine and terrestrial sections, much remains to be discovered regarding the coupling between climate and the carbon cycle during this enigmatic period. However, it is necessary to have a robust orbitally-tuned age model on which to hang other geochemical, sedimentological, and palaeontological data.

This project will investigate key Jurassic intervals using multi-proxy techniques, such as X-ray fluorescence, carbon-isotope stratigraphy and palaeomagnetic analysis. We will study outcrop of European basins, such as those in Germany France and the UK, as well as accessing the significantly underused UK borehole archive at the British Geological Survey (BGS). These boreholes have yielded a detailed biostratigraphy, and the lithological succession and geophysical log characteristics are well known, but they have only been subject to limited additional analysis. Advances in stratigraphical techniques, as well as new data suggesting that cores previously thought to be devoid of a primary remnant magnetisation still carry a weak signal, will allow high-resolution age models to be constructed for this interval for the first time. Additionally, these data will shed light on major environmental change events from this interval, notably expressed as black shales in the Sinemurian and at the Sinemurian-Pliensbachian boundary. In these examples, the stratigraphical records show close similarities to the well-known palaeoenvironmental changes at the Triassic-Jurassic boundary and during the Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event, but the intensity and duration remain mysterious. Data generated will be interpreted in the context of these larger perturbations to the Earth system and also used to test hypotheses that link palaeoenvironmental change to either long-periodicity orbital variations or large igneous province development.

The student will be embedded within the Deep Time Global Change group at the University of Exeter, as well as gaining experience with project partners at BGS and the University of Oxford. Combining fieldwork and borehole studies, along with a multi-proxy approach, will ensure excellent employability and training in a range of technical and research skills.

Measurements on the cores will be carried out at the British Geological Survey in Keyworth where the cores are currently stored. In addition to a programme of non-destructive XRF and magnetic susceptibility measurement the student will take oriented core samples for analysis in the Oxford Palaeomagnetism Laboratory, and a series of smaller bulk rock and macrofossil samples for generation of a high-resolution chemostratigraphy using analytical facilities at Exeter.

S355 Analysis of shale mineralogy and fabric and its induced anisotropic seismic response for hydrocarbon exploration and production

Student: Iain Anderson

BGS Supervisor: Dr Xiaoyang Wu

University Supervisor: Dr Jingsheng Ma

DTP: UK Oil and Gas, Heriot-Watt University

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/iain-anderson

Unconventional hydrocarbons have become a fundamental part of the energy mix for the 21st century. Amongst these unconventional resources, shale gas is playing an increasingly important role in natural gas exploration and production (especially in North America). However, despite the North American experience, shales are much more poorly understood as reservoirs than their conventional sandstone or carbonate counterparts. Shales are known to occur in a wide variety of types, with significant variation in their compositional, textural and structural attributes. They commonly exhibit marked heterogeneity in rock properties, including fabric, as well as strong seismic anisotropy. Effective exploration and production of shale gas needs systematic and multidisciplinary investigation in all aspects of rock properties, shale heterogeneity and seismic response. In this project, the student will focus on the nature of the Bowland Formation shales of northern England, generate new analytical data from outcrop and borehole data, and use these results to inform novel modelling of the seismic response.

S357 Using Pb and Zn isotope compositions of crude oils as geological and environmental tracers

Student: Nadége Fetter

BGS Supervisor: John Ludden

University Supervisor: Directeur de Recherche CNRS

DTP: Non-DTP, Ecole Normale Superieure de Lyon, Laboratoire de Geologie de Lyon

Radiogenic and stable isotope tracing of crude oils has never so far been undertaken largely due to the difficulties of dealing with the low trace element contents of oil samples, in the present case Pb and Zn. We show here that we have developed a novel proof-of-concept analytical protocol that allows radiogenic Pb and stable Zn isotope determinations on < 10 ml of crude oil. Through a number of sources we now have access to well-characterized (for organic components, well description, and location) crude oil samples.

This project will focus primarily on oil samples from Northern Europe, including the North Sea and UK oil onshore. Our preliminary data indicate that this type of analysis will allow detailed provenance and basin-wide studies that can be extended globally later on in the project once proven to be informative for Northern Europe. The Pb isotope data on oil further will complement extensive Pb isotope work on minerals (sulfides and K-feldspar) from granites elsewhere in Europe, including Scandinavia and the circum-Mediterranean, and help in the characterization of geotectonic domains and the maturation of crust in the European platform. Further to this, we also expect that this new technique will open up new avenues in oil formation, maturation, and reservoir characterization and we will test these first in Northern Europe given the extensive knowledge that is available on these basins and their formation. Lastly, we anticipate applications in forensic characterization of oil samples for environmental studies.

At the time of writing, we have achieved proof-of-concept of a novel analytical protocol that successfully extracts Pb and Zn from the same 5 ml crude oil aliquot using dichloromethane and hydrobromic acid. Once the Pb and Zn has been extracted from the oil, both elements are separated and purified by anion-exchange chromatography on a 250 microliter column, in one step for Pb and two steps for Zn. We are able to measure as little as a few nanograms of Pb and Zn with a precision of ˜0.01% for Pb and 0.0005% for Zn using multiple-collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry with added Tl (for Pb) and Cu (for Zn) to correct for instrumental mass bias and additionally applying sample-standard bracketing to obtain accurate results. The total procedural Pb and Zn blanks currently are of the order of tens of picograms, but will be reduced further by refining and improving the technique over the coming months. A first set of preliminary Pb and Zn isotope data obtained in July 2016 for a variety of crude oil types (22 oils in total) with different geographical origins around the world is listed in Table 1: these results give the correct Pb model ages for the oils and indicate, also correctly, whether the oils are of marine or lacustrine origin (based on their Zn isotope compositions).

However, some areas on our current European Pb isotope maps are void of data, namely those regions where the European sedimentary basins cover the crystalline basement (for example, the Paris, Weald, and Pannonian Basins). This is where measuring Pb isotopes in oils, whose Pb likely is sourced in the underlying basement, can add missing data to the European Pb maps. During the first year of this project we will focus on filling in the European maps by analyzing oils notably from the Paris and Weald basins and the North Sea, including the northern North Sea, which is a unique place where basement fragments of Archean, Grenvillian, and Hercynian ages meet and hence will put this new technique and the power of Pb models ages to the test. We will also focus on oils from the Pannonian basin in Eastern Europe, which is another major data gap on the maps. During the second year we will extend the project to global oil sources in an attempt to come up with at least the beginning of a world map. During the third year, we expect all analytical work to be completed so time can be spent on mapping out the data and writing up the scientific results for publication in leading scientific journals.

Zinc isotopes, which we will measure simultaneously on the same oil aliquots as those on which we measure Pb isotopes, will complement the Pb isotopes by reflecting planktonic (marine) or lacustrine origins by comparison with literature Zn isotope data on plants, roots, lichens, etc. Zinc has a ‘hard’ nutrient (Si-like) behavior with surface water being depleted in the heavy isotopes. To the best of our knowledge, the data we have acquired so far constitute the first attempt at measuring 66Zn/64Zn in oil. The range we observe among the first 16 out of the 22 oils analyzed (almost 1 permil, which is a factor of 200 larger than the external reproducibility of our Zn isotope measurements of 0.005 permil; Table 1) is quite encouraging. Coupling Zn isotopes with more conventional organic tracers will improve our understanding of the position of oil-forming organics in the water column and on the local organic productivity at the time of oil formation.

Engineering geology
S329 The geological dimension of urban resilience: Impact of geo-hazards in resilient urban design and policy

Student: Vangelis Pitidis

BGS Supervisor: Dr Deodato Tapete

University Supervisor: Prof Jon Coaffee

DTP: Non DTP, Warwick University

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vangelis-pitidis-38252549

This PhD will investigate the geological dimension of urban resilience, how current and future practice of urban design are accounting for city exposure to geo-hazards and what solutions (including nature-based approaches) are already, and can be put, in place to increase the resilience of the city form and building design.

BGS will contribute to specific components of the student research programme in particular: (i) the comparative analysis of commonalities, distinctiveness and specific requirements of the different end-users and stakeholder communities in the realm of urban design that might benefit of the PhD research outcomes and the tool; (ii) selection and incorporation of the geological and environmental datasets within the tool; (iii) scalability, applicability and suitability of the tool for incorporation and translation into policies and directives.

To achieve the above objectives the project will be provided with full access to the unique core datasets available at BGS and state-of-the-art research facilities and expertise of modelling and tool design at the Resilient Cities Laboratories in the University of Warwick.

S334 Impact and value of geo-resources underneath cities for resilient urban design

Student: Katherine Harris

BGS Supervisor: Dr Deodato Tapete

University Supervisor: Prof Jon Coaffee

DTP: CENTA, University of Warwick

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katherine-harris-5867a95b

There is a wealth of geo-resources and services that the subsurface offers to growing and transforming cities including: bedrock for foundations; water for domestic/business uses; space for waste disposal, underground storage, infrastructure and utilities; energy sources; building materials.

With increasing urbanisation cities are becoming more reliant on subsurface and deep geological resources (e.g., in the UK each city-dweller’s typical daily use amounts to 150-165 litres of freshwater (the UK Water Partnership, 2015) and ˜19% of London’s heat demand may be met from ground heat (London’s Zero Carbon Energy Resource: Secondary Heat Report Phase (2013)). Urban geo-reources are not always renewable, frequently interdependent with other city systems and their stock, demand and quality vary spatially from site to site, even within the boundaries of the same city.

There are existing examples presented in the academic literature about how local supply of geo-resources influenced the urban development and structure of past cities (Margottini & Spizzichino, 2014; Bianca, 2014), and what the opportunities and challenges are associated with strategic approach to urban development (European Commission, 2002).

However more research is needed to assess quantitatively how present and future cities can utilise these resources to be more resilient to urbanisation and environmental pressures and their interactions.

This project therefore aims to answer the following key research questions:

  • What metrics can we use to quantify the resilience of urban design?
  • How can innovative use of urban geo-resources complement contemporary urban design?
  • What social and economic benefits can be generated to promote the three pillars of sustainability?

The PhD will develop a novel 'geoscientific-thinking' model as a new paradigm of urban design where geological approaches are fully integrated into the design process of city and building forms.

This will be achieved by valuing the geoscientific data as source of objective information and use them into inputs of practical solutions to the concept of 'working with the landscape' established in the contemporary theory of sustainable urbanism.

S337 Geophysical indicators of slope stability: towards improved early warning of landslide hazards

Student: James Whiteley

BGS Supervisor: Dr Jon Chambers

University Supervisor: Prof Michael Kendall

DTP: GW4Plus, University of Bristol

Most current methodologies for assessing landslide hazard are heavily dependent on surface observations (e.g. remote sensing or walk-over surveys). These approaches generally neglect the influences of subsurface structure and hydrogeological processes on landslide triggering and activation; instead they typically only quantify the surface expressions of slope failure events once they have been initiated. Consequently, there is a growing interest in the development geophysical approaches for investigating slope stability (e.g. Perrone et al., 2014). Geophysical techniques have the potential to provide volumetric subsurface information revealing the internal structure and hydraulic process within the slope or landslide body – thereby providing an indication of subsurface precursors to slope failure (e.g. elevated moisture distributions) and possibly early warning of failure events.

Here we seek to develop two very promising, and complementary, geophysical approaches for slope characterisation – geoelectrical and seismic methods. Geoelectrical imaging is sensitive to lithological variability, and crucially with recent advances in monitoring instrumentation, changing moisture conditions in the subsurface. Seismic methods, such as P and S wave tomography, can provide information on the engineering properties of the subsurface in terms of strength, stiffness and compressibility. Emerging developments in the area of geophysical inverse theory now enable joint inversion of geoelectrical and seismic data – thereby improving image resolution and enhancing the information content of the resulting interpretations. Our hypothesis is that the combined use of geoelectrical and seismic monitoring will provide the means to investigate subsurface processes at unprecedented levels of spatial and temporal resolution – thereby providing an enhanced diagnostic and predictive capability for early warning of failure events within vulnerable slopes.

The student will have access to a number of geophysical observatories on natural and engineered slopes, all of which are instrumented with geophysical monitoring systems and environmental / geotechnical sensor networks (e.g. weather stations, pore pressure, tilt, and moisture content). A key site is the Hollin Hill Observatory in North Yorkshire (Merritt et al., 2014), which BGS has been operating since 2008 on an active landslide in Lias Clays in North Yorkshire, UK. This observatory has a permanently installed resistivity monitoring system, seismic survey data, and a broad band seismometer. The primary purpose of the seismometer is to monitoring fracking activities in the Vale of Pickering – but will also be capable of monitoring shallow landslide movements at the site. This combination of sensors, instrumentation and surveys provides the potential to investigate both moisture-driven and seismically induced landslide events.

S347 Combining geoelectrical imaging and X-ray Computed Tomography (CT) for improved hydraulic characterisation of soils

Student: Mihai Cimpoiasu

BGS Supervisor: Dr Oliver Kuras

University Supervisor: Prof Sacha Mooney

DTP: STARS, University of Nottingham

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mihai-cimpoiasu-085aa312a

Soils are the host for hydrological and biogeochemical processes in the unsaturated zone. However, variations in soil structure and hydraulic properties remain difficult to quantify, hence improved physical characterisation at multiple scales is vitally important if we want to truly understand fluid dynamics and the fate of nutrients and pollutants in soils.

Current soil imaging methodologies operate at different spatial scales, are sensitive to different physical properties, and have distinctive strengths. Rapid advances have recently been made in two promising, but unconnected fields, namely geoelectrical imaging and X-ray Computed Tomography (CT). Modern geophysical techniques evaluate geophysical properties of soils to infer spatiotemporal models of hydrological properties or states. Novel instrumentation with permanent sensor arrays allows continuous geophysical monitoring of soil volumes in near-real time and with practical resolutions in the cm range on soil columns. Conversely, CT maps variations of spatial attenuation of EM radiation with material densities, which allows examination of the soil porous architecture at the microscopic level. State-of-the-art CT systems achieve much higher spatial resolution than geophysics (˜10 m voxels on 10 mm samples), however accurate segmentation of soil images is non-trivial, a trade-off exists between sample size and resolution, and repeat measurements, e.g. to track moisture dynamics, are time-consuming.

Integration of both methodologies has not been attempted so far, however their joint application to quantitative soil characterisation offers great potential for reducing uncertainty in the imaging of preferential flow and estimation of unsaturated hydraulic conductivity. This would benefit studies of agricultural and industrial leaching of contaminants in different soil scenarios.

Geoanalytics and modelling
S352 Can nature protect us from the coastal impacts of climate change? An analysis of geotechnical properties of salt marshes and implications for salt marsh stability

Student: Helen Brookes

BGS Supervisor: Dr Kate Royse

University Supervisor: Dr Iris Moeller

DTP: ESS, University of Cambridge

Salt marshes are known as a ‘natural’ form of coastal protection-the vegetation on the salt marsh platform attenuates incoming waves, tidal and storm-surge-induced currents. This protects the hinterland from incoming waves and extreme water levels. In many locations, salt marshes are located in front of sea walls, so the protective capacity of a given sea wall often depends, at least in part, on the presence and size of the salt marsh in front of it. While we generally understand the stability and the strength of these designed and constructed defences, we know far less about the stability of salt marshes. Marsh stability is defined as the ability of marsh surface and margin substrates to resist erosive hydrodynamic forcing, while also accreting to keep pace with sea-level rise (Reed 1995). Some studies have looked at the effect of certain biological or geochemical properties on marsh erosion rates, but there is a distinct lack of research on salt marsh sediment properties. The few studies that do exist on salt marsh sediment properties are rarely linked to erosion processes, and therefore do not improve our understanding of how sediment properties relate to marsh stability.

This PhD will use a combination of field, laboratory and remote sensing techniques, focusing on two field sites: one in Essex (UK East coast), and another in Morecambe Bay (UK West coast). Field measurements will include shear strength determination, using a shear vane and Cohesive Strength Meter. Laboratory tests will then be used to assess the substrate compressibility, shear strength (based on shear box and ring shear tests), behavioural properties (liquid, plastic and shrinkage limits) and sedimentology (particle size analysis, water content, bulk density and loss on ignition).

Vertical and lateral changes to the marsh (an indication of marsh stability) will be quantified based on field measurements and marsh edge mapping from aerial photographs. Finally, this PhD will compare:

  • the geotechnical properties of the tidal flat and the salt marsh at each site
  • the geotechnical properties found at each field location
  • the relation of these geotechnical properties to observed vertical and lateral marsh change over annual to decadal time periods
S341 Understanding hydrological drought

Student: Doris Wendt

BGS Supervisor: Dr John Bloomfield

University Supervisor: Dr Anne Van Loon

DTP: CENTA, University of Birmingham


Droughts are having major impacts around the world. The ongoing, multiyear California drought, for example, has led to problems with water supply, agriculture, wild fires, and ecology. Adequate drought management is, however, impeded by lack of understanding of the processes that underlie development of drought. In the case of California, snow accumulation in the mountains in winter is driving the water system, but changes in snow cover in the future are highly uncertain. This is the case for many regions around the world. For example, large cities in Asia are dependent on Himalayan glacier melt for their drinking water while glaciers are expected to decrease rapidly, and countries like Norway are almost completely dependent on snow and ice for their domestic electricity production, which makes them very vulnerable in a changing climate.

Moreover, groundwater is often used as a substitution for surface water during drought, but groundwater aquifers are being depleted rapidly and might not be available in the future anymore unless we start to manage them sustainably. In California at the moment there is no restriction on groundwater use, leading to unprecedented groundwater depletion, and the same is true for many other countries like India and the Netherlands. There are many questions related to droughts in groundwater that require an answer. The intense groundwater use during drought also brings forward questions about the influence of human activities on drought. In California, the completely engineered water supply system with reservoirs and pipelines has increased water availability, but urbanisation and agriculture are changing hydrological processes and might aggravate drought. In the human-dominated world we live in today, we need to go beyond studying natural processes and start including human influences on drought.

One of the major reasons for the current knowledge gap is the lack of observational data on the appropriate resolution to quantify natural drivers of and human influences on drought. To really increase our understanding and provide useful answers for drought management, we should explore innovative ways to combine and analyse existing datasets and new data options, such as satellite information on water storage and qualitative data on human water use and management. This project therefore aims to increase understanding of drought in complex systems through quantification of natural drivers and human influences on water storage. It will focus on comparing contrasting case studies around the world.

The student will utilise a range of existing and new datasets to address the research question. Especially the use of new satellite tools, such as NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite, and new qualitative datasets on water use will be explored in combination with point measurements of snow accumulation, groundwater levels and streamflow. Case study regions will be selected to represent variations in climate and catchment conditions, and contrasting human influences. Datasets from these case study regions will be provided by our partner organisations. The PhD student will perform a (statistical) data analysis on this data, resulting in a quantification of the driving processes of drought in different regions. This then allows for the evaluation of the effects of projected climate change and changes in human water use on drought.

S342 Application of novel field sensors for tracking pathogens in drinking water supplies in Africa

Student: Jade Ward

BGS Supervisor: Dr Daniel Lapworth

University Supervisor: Dr Stephen Pedley

DTP: SCENARIO, University of Surrey


Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing unprecedented changes. Rapid projected population growth, pressures on land-use, growing climate variability, and often poor environmental hygiene are threatening the long-term sustainability of clean sources of water. The problem is particularly acute in heavily populated low-income peri-urban areas of major cities where faecal contamination of water supplies can be widespread. Bacteria and viruses found in wastewater and sewage cause diarrheal diseases, such as cholera, which kill 1.8 million people every year, 90% of whom are children under 5 years. Here, poor health from drinking contaminated water has a huge impact on the livelihoods of millions of people, reducing life expectancy, their ability to generate income and ultimately their ability to improve their economic prospects. Sustainable Development Goal 6 sets a challenge to eliminate these conditions by 2030 by "[achieving] universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all." Monitoring water to confirm safety is going to be an important task. Waterborne pathogens are typically inferred from the presence of surrogate indicator organisms such as thermo-tolerant coliforms. However, analysis requires access to suitable laboratories, specialist trained personnel, and is time-consuming: typically 24 - 48 hours to get a result. This can limit sampling resolution, particularly during critical pollution events or for intervention monitoring. Given the limited capability of many laboratories in Sub-Saharan Africa and the growing pressure on water resources, it is vital to research the potential for quick, cheap, accurate ways of measuring faecal pollution in the field to guide efforts to provide safe and affordable drinking water for all.

This research project will focus on the application of novel field-based sensors for tracking faecal contamination in drinking water supplies (e.g. Sorensen et al 2015) in East Africa (Uganda and Kenya). These methods will be reviewed and tested alongside a suite of tools, which will include: molecular DNA (qPCR, High throughput sequencing) techniques to quantify pathogenic strains of bacteria and viruses; mapping, characterizing and quantifying the risks posed by water-borne pathogens in both urban and rural communities. In partnership with NGOs (including Oxfam and Practical Action) and local ministries, the project will generate much-needed process understanding about the fate a dispersal of pathogens in shallow groundwater in Africa. Equally important, it will increase the capacity of local actors to collect real-time information about the quality of sources and the need for interventions.

Sorensen, J P R, Lapworth, D J, Marchant, B P, Nkhuwa, D C W, Pedley, S, Stuart, M E, Bell, R A, Chirwa, M, Kabika, J, Liemisa, M, Chibesa, M, 2015. In-situ tryptophan-like fluorescence: a real-time indicator of faecal contamination in drinking water supplies. Water Research, 81. 38-46

2. WHO (2004) http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/factsfigures04/en/ [accessed July 2015]

3. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300 [accessed October 2015]

Marine geoscience
S327 Fluid flow paths through sedimentary basins: Implications for exploration in challenging geological environments

Student: Chantelle Roelofse

BGS Supervisor: Joana Gafeira

University Supervisor: Dr Tiago Alves

CDT: UK Oil and Gas, Cardiff University


Fluid flow through sedimentary basins is recorded at multiple depths and in distinct ways, from near- seafloor features that chiefly reflect the escape of biogenic and diagenetic fluids, to larger subsurface conduits for thermogenic fluid and magma. Hence, when recognised on 3D Seismic Data, fluid flow features may represent paleo-or modern paths for fluid on their way from source to reservoir, or from source to surface. Their presence is key to the recognition of active petroleum systems and associated geohazards.

Scientific objectives of this study include: 1) Use semi-automated methods to identify, and characterise, fluid flow features in subsurface units, and thus reconstruct the migration history of hydrocarbons in time and space; 2) Correlate local and regional events (tectonic, eustatic or magmatic) with main periods of fluid flow in sedimentary basins; and 3) Correlate the sub-surface distribution of fluid flow features with local structures, such as faults, salt structures, mass movement deposits and karst systems, so that the main paths for fluid are recognised in complex sedimentary sequences.

The project will use 3D seismic data and borehole data from the Central and Southern North Sea, NW Australia (Browse Basin) and NE Brazil to characterise the path of fluids through sedimentary basins, and their relationship with major and local structures. Fluid flow features observed at key horizons will be mapped with an adaptation of the semi-automatic GIS method of seabed pockmarks characterization created by the BGS.

S353 Climatic cyclicity and environmental interactions in arid continental basins: The Leman Sandstone, Southern North Sea

Student: Charlotte Priddy

BGS Supervisor: Dr Thomas Randles

University Supervisor: Dr Stuart M Clarke

CDT: UK Oil and Gas, Keele University

This project will evaluate the interactions and controlling mechanisms affecting linked ephemeral fluvial, playa and aeolian systems in outcrop and a sub-surface North Sea analogue. It will elucidate the relative impacts of climate change and tectonism on facies distributions and interactions in these systems, and provide a 3D fluid-flow model pertinent to migration and reservoir evaluation.

The Leman Sandstone comprises a sedimentary succession recording the interaction between ephemeral fluvial systems and aeolian and playa environments. The record is punctuated by numerous regional surfaces, the origin of which may have been mostly climatic, with periods of increased run-off resulting in fluvial incision, especially near active faults. However, the surfaces formed in a basin that was subsiding. Thus, even in a background of overall increasing accommodation space, climatic variation may have allowed for periods of significant erosion. The occurrence of significant erosion resulted in a sedimentary record that shows pronounced lateral as well as vertical facies variations.

The distribution of facies element geometries, their 3D interactions and relationships to regional erosive surfaces, and their dependence on climatic variation and active tectonism, are critical to understanding the distribution of petrophysical properties within the Leman Sandstone, and therefore to the distribution of fluid migration pathways for reservoir characterisation and management. Interactions between fluvial and aeolian systems in arid continental basins have been the subject of past research, and these relationships have been related to a sequence-stratigraphical framework based upon climatic cyclicity. However, this past work does not account for a fluvial component that is strongly ephemeral, and upon which there is a strong control on facies distribution from active tectonism. North & Taylor (1996), and the present authors, have shown that in strongly ephemeral-fluvial systems elements show significantly more variability at all scales. Hence the distribution of ephemeral-fluvial deposits, and their interaction with other environments, will more strongly control permeability distributions and migration pathways than is the case for more stable fluvial settings.

This project will use extensive fieldwork of well-exposed sedimentary successions through arid continental depositional systems within the intra-cratonic basins of the Western USA, principally the Wingate, Moenave and Kayenta formations of the Colorado Plateau. As well as traditional methods of data gathering and analysis in the field, the project will make use of novel and developing 3D photogrammetric techniques to provide spatially accurate 3D models of the outcrop.

The fieldwork will provide a well-constrained analogue for environmental interaction and facies distribution within the Leman Sandstone, which is undergoing a resurgence of successful exploration activity at present with new discoveries such as Pharos and nearby as yet undrilled exploration prospects.

S354 Constraining the thermal histories of the Carboniferous Midland Valley of Scotland: a potential resource for unconventional gas and shale oil?

Student: Eamon McKenna

BGS Supervisor: Dr Alison Monaghan

University Supervisor: Dr Cristina Persano

CDT: UK Oil and Gas, University of Glasgow

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/eamon-mckenna-6b578693

The Carboniferous shales of the Midland Valley in central Scotland have been recently evaluated a viable resource for shale gas and oil1. The accuracy of the estimates, however, is hampered by the poor data quality and quantity. The aim of this project is to provide data that constrain the geological histories of the sedimentary basins and their thermal maturity.

A successful source of oil and gas is generally a large, stable basin, with a simple tectonic history. By contrast, The Midland Valley is a Late Palaeozoic terrane, including a series of fault-bounded basins that experienced a complex and prolonged tectonic history with several phases of deposition and exhumation and Late Carboniferous to Permian magmatism. The presence of igneous activity results in major uncertainties in the calculation of the sediment maturity, as magma alters the thermal field of the sedimentary rocks in which it is intruded, but only at local scale and for a short time span. Faults may also have a thermal effect, as they are often conduits for fluids. To date, the thermal histories of the basins in the Midland Valley, and therefore, the maturity of the organic matter, have been reconstructed mainly using vitrinite reflectance data from boreholes2. Although this technique is extremely useful because it supplies the maximum temperature registered by the organic material since deposition, it does not provide the length of time over which the rocks were exposed at the high temperature. When magmatic intrusions and faults are present, the information retrieved from the vitrinite reflectance that the rocks have been in the 'oil and gas window' (˜60–130°C) may not be indicative of the maturity of the organic material, as the residence time in the oil window may have been insufficient for the organic matter to mature.

In this project we will use low temperature thermochronometry (apatite fission track and zircon (U-Th)/He analysis) to derive thermal histories integrated over the time that the rocks spent in the oil and gas window. The time-temperature paths will, in turn, provide robust, quantitative constraints on the maturity of the organic matter and on the exhumation histories of the evolving sedimentary basins. The project will use apatite and zircon-bearing rock samples from boreholes (BGS collection) and outcrops across the Midland Valley, focussing, but not limiting, to the stratigraphic intervals that prospective studies have identified as a potential resource for unconventional shale gas and oil1.

1.Monaghan A A. 2014 The Carboniferous shales of the Midland Valley of Scotland: geology and resource estimation. British Geological Survey for Department of Energy and Climate Change, London, UK

2.Vincent C J. et al. 2010 Thermal and burial history modelling in the Midlothian-Leven syncline in the Midland Valley of Scotland using BasinMod and HotPot Scottish Journal of Geology, 46; 125-142.

S356 Impact of glaciation on Arctic petroleum systems: seismic geomorphology and petroleum systems modelling offshore West Greenland and West Norway

Student: David Cox

BGS Supervisor: Erica Greenhalgh

University Supervisor: Prof Mads Huuse

CDT: UK Oil and Gas, University of Manchester


The arctic is the last frontier for petroleum exploration and poses unique challenges and opportunities to industry and academia. Arctic continental margins are characterised by rapid recent sedimentation offshore, eroded shelf areas and often severely exhumed hinterland areas. The linkages between exhumation, temporary storage and ultimate deposition in combination with highly dynamic ice sheets make up an extremely dynamic setting that allows dissection of mountain chains and deposition of entire depocentres to take place over a few million years. Exploration activities along the western Norway and Greenland continental margins have provided an extensive geophysical archive that contains the shelf and deep water parts of these dynamic systems, imagining them to a high level of detail, allowing high-resolution mapping of depositional sequences and depositional elements and fluid flow phenomena, which help constrain the presence of petroleum systems. Constructing a high-resolution and spatially extensive chronological, depositional and fluid flow framework through seismic geomorphological methods is the first challenge of this project. Quantitative petroleum systems modelling incorporating rapid and spatially variable sedimentation under varying global and local climate conditions is the second challenge addressed by this project. The occurrence of coarse clastic depositional elements in arctic stratigraphic successions form important analogues for glaciogenic reservoirs in the older stratigraphic record and documenting these thus forms an important third aspect of the project.

In the course of the PhD project the student will undertake extensive seismic interpretation of areas offshore western Greenland and western Norway in order to constrain tectono-stratigraphic evolution and glacial activity, in particular extent of depocentres and facies, grounding zones and evidence for hinterland exhumation. These data will be used to derive a basin-scale sediment budgets and to populate petroleum systems models focused on the impact of glaciation on the underlying petroleum systems. Supplementary fieldwork to constrain aspects of glacial sedimentology and petroleum systems will be encouraged.

The PhD student will receive research training that will provide them with the skills to enter academia or the oil and gas industry. Seismic interpretation will utilize Petrel and Paleoscan and petroleum systems modelling will be using Nova and PetroMod. The student will join a large group of PhD students, post-docs and academic staff in the Petroleum Geoscience and Basin Studies Group at Manchester. The project spans the fields of seismic stratigraphy, seismic geomorphology, palaeo-environmental analysis and petroleum systems modelling and is suitable for a student with a background in geology/geoscience/geophysics.

S348 Structural glaciological evolution of rapidly receding temperate piedmont glaciers: a case study from southern Iceland

Student: Ailsa Guild

BGS Supervisor: Emrys Phillips and Kay Smith

University Supervisor: Prof David Evans

DTP: Durham University


The research project will focus upon the structural glaciological evolution of rapidly receding temperate piedmont glaciers in southern Iceland to demonstration how these highly sensitive ice masses are responding to the current period of accelerated climate change.

Over the past two decades Iceland's glaciers have been undergoing a phase of accelerated retreat due to warmer summers and milder winters allowing melt all year round. Due to their maritime North Atlantic location, high-mass turnover and steep gradients, southern Iceland’s glaciers are exceptionally sensitive to climatic fluctuations on annual to decadal timescales, making them an ideal natural laboratory for the study of glacier response during the current period of climate change.

It is not fully understood how glaciers are responding to climatic change but, retreating glacier margins are often considered to behave in two ways: (i) "active retreat" where the margin oscillates on an annual cycle, as retreat due to summer melt is offset by forward motion resulting in a small readvance during the cold winter months and (ii) "passive retreat" where the glacier margin is no longer moving forward and stagnates, retreating by in situ melting or "downwasting". Annual recessional moraines occur in front of numerous Icelandic glaciers including Skálafellsjökull, Lambatungnajökull, Breiðamerkurjökull, and Fjallsjökull. The magnitude of the fluctuations occurring during the active retreat of a glacier margin are strongly dependent on the glacier's mass balance, which is partly controlled by climatic factors, such as temperature and precipitation, averaged over time.

Recent structural glaciological studies have focused on the structures established within different glacier types from a wide range of settings. This research has not only contributed to our understanding of the pasts and structural evolution of these glaciers, but has also outlined the mechanisms controlling their forward movement and highlighted the importance of deformation structures in controlling sediment distribution within a glacier. However, structural studies of the deformation occurring within the ice during stagnation and collapse are, in contrast, relatively rare. The proposed study aims to address this knowledge gap.

Minerals and waste
S345 Epithermal paleosurface evolution in emergent volcanoes: implications for shallow submarine mineral deposit exploration and preservation

Student: Jo Miles

BGS Supervisor: Dr Jon Naden

University Supervisor: Dr Frances Cooper

DTP: GW4Plus, University of Bristol

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amyjomiles

Active geothermal and volcanic-hydrothermal systems are commonly associated with characteristic near surface and surface landscape products and structures resulting from the discharge of thermal fluids. Relics of these surface features and products can be preserved in a range of epithermal mineral deposits, which are significant sources of Au, Ag, Cu and by-product technology metals (e.g. Sb, Te and Se). Moreover, they can serve as vectors to mineralisation [1]. It is also known that epithermal style mineralisation can extend into the submarine environment [2], which is an emerging field for mineral exploration and exploitation and is currently attracting significant international and national research funding to help secure the supply of a range of raw materials.

The intention of the PhD project is to extend our understanding and knowledge of paleo-geothermal and volcanic-hydrothermal systems into the shallow submarine environment.

Two key research questions will be addressed:

  1. What are the key geological, geochemical, and mineralogical features of shallow submarine epithermal paleosurfaces and how do these relate to different mineral deposit styles?
  2. How does paleosurface aggradation and degradation affect deposit evolution as volcanism transitions from the submarine to subaerial environment?

The questions will answered by undertaking a programme of research on a recently (<2 Ma) emergent volcano – Milos island, Greece – that is an on-land natural laboratory for studying volcanic-hydrothermal processes in the submarine environment.

The project will employ the following methodologies and techniques:

  • Remote sensing: A high-resolution airborne remote sensing data set (LiDAR, digital photography, hyperspectral SWIR imagery) will provide information on paleosurface features, geological structures and types of hydrothermal alteration.
  • Fieldwork: Fieldwork will focus on detailed mapping and sampling of up to three paleosurface alteration systems, mostly identified through interpretation of the remote sensing data. It will include the deployment of field-based-spectroscopic techniques (ASD/PIMA, hand-held XRF).
  • Mineralogy and geochemistry: Guided by the results of the field studies, a suite of samples will be collected for detailed mineralogical and geochemical analysis. Techniques to be deployed will include SEM and XRD to determine mineralogy and mineral textures and ICP-MS analysis to provide information on the spatial distribution of trace elements, in particular semi-metal pathfinder elements such as Sb, As, and Te, in paleosurfaces and alteration zones.
  • Laboratory-based spectral analysis. Laboratory-based spectral analysis of rocks and hydrothermal alteration products will be undertaken to help underpin the interpretation of the satellite and airborne remote sensing data.
  • Geochronology: There will be a need to put paleosurface processes into the correct volcanological context. This will require a targeted geochronological study of alteration systems and their hosting volcanic rocks. Techniques to be utilized include U-Pb dating of zircon in the host volcanics, zircon and apatite (U-Th)/He thermochronology of material located in the cores of hydrothermal up-flow zones, Ar-Ar dating of alteration minerals such as adularia, and potentially cosmogenic nuclide dating of silicified paleosurfaces such as sinters.


[1] Sillitoe (in press) Epithermal paleosurfaces. Mineralium Deposita. DOI: 10.1007/s00126-015-0614-z

[2] Naden et al (2005). Active geothermal systems with entrained seawater as modern analogs for transitional volcanic-hosted massive sulfide and continental magmato-hydrothermal mineralization: The example of Milos Island, Greece. Geology 33: 541–544 DOI: 10.1130/G21307.1

S384 Geological and oceanographic controls on the variation in concentration of E-tech elements (REE, cobalt and tellurium) in seafloor Fe-Mn crusts

Student: Sarah Howarth

BGS Supervisor: Paul Lusty

University Supervisor: Rachael James

DTP: SPITFIRE, University of Southampton/ National Oceanography Centre

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-a-howarth/

Project description

Ferromanganese crusts grow throughout the global ocean by direct precipitation from seawater and consist of thin layers (2 up to 25 cm thick) accumulated on hard substrate rocks over millions of years. Because of their extremely high specific surface area, and very slow growth rates, crusts sorb large quantities of elements from seawater, including those metals, such as REE, cobalt and tellurium, considered critical to high-technology and ‘green’ energy production. The environment of crust formation on seamounts is highly variable, affecting their composition and thickness at all spatial levels: ocean basin, regional, local, and within individual crusts. Geochemical studies of crusts from different water depths and locations reveal dependence in composition on a variety of factors. For example, we can distinguish between a metal group that is controlled by Mn- and a second group of metals that is closely related to the Fe+ content of the crusts. Both metal groups behave inversely and vary with water depth. In spite of the work already done on ferromanganese crusts, there is a clear need for investigation of the processes that control the origin, distribution, and resource potential of these deposits at local and sub-regional scales.

S344 Magmatic evolution of a gold telluride district – Metaliferi Mountains, Romania

Student: Vlad Victor Ene

BGS Supervisor: Dr Jon Naden

University Supervisor: Dr Daniel Smith

DTP: CENTA, University of Leicester

Project Highlights:

  • Challenge longstanding ideas of how magmatic activity relates to ore formation
  • Join a multinational research team studying tellurium in geochemical and ore forming processes
  • Develop opportunities for career paths in academic and industry


Some of the world's most significant gold deposits are rich in tellurium, and are hosted in atypical igneous host rocks (alkalic or adakite-like compositions). Despite the economic importance of Au-Te ore deposits, the underlying processes which link them to particular types of magmas are poorly understood. This project will seek to address this important knowledge gap and will utilise fieldwork coupled with state-of-the-art analytical techniques.

The study area will be Metaliferi Mountains (part of the Apuseni Mountains) of Romania and the research will focus on its magmatic history. The area hosts world–class examples of Au-Ag-Te epithermal and porphyry mineralisation (Cioacă et al. 2014). Previous studies on the region indicate that the magmatism is not directly related to subduction, despite being predominantly calc-alkaline in nature and bearing the geochemical hallmarks of subduction. Instead, various groups have argued that the magmas are produced by partially melting metasomatised mantle during crustal extension (Harris et al. 2013; Seghedi et al. 2007).

Metaliferi shares many characteristics with Cripple Creek, Colorado, which we are currently studying as part of a large project on tellurium geochemistry. Here, prolonged calc-alkaline magmatism was followed by post-subduction, alkaline magmas that produced world-class Au-Ag-Te ores. The PhD will extend the study to Metaliferi, and work with the research team to compare and contrast the magmatic evolution of the ore-forming systems in both regions.

Our novelty will be through determining how Te behaves, and whether the ore-stage magmatism did indeed originate in the metasomatised mantle. The extended magmatic histories of both regions mean that there will be a cumulate pile in the lower crust, which is likely to be hydrous (Davidson et al. 2007; Smith 2014) and ore-element bearing (Jenner et al. 2010). Dehydration melting of this assemblage during extension would generate calk-alkaline to alkaline magmas, and the fractionation of the precursor magmas may serve as a pre-concentration step for Au and Te in particular. Such a process has been suggested for Cripple Creek (Kelley et al 2002), and we are currently investigating how Te in particular would behave during such a series of events.

This project thus contributes to a growing body of work around the world, across multiple institutions that the lower crust is an active, dynamic part of magmatism at arcs during and after subduction, and not just an inert fractionated phase.

S333 When did crustal melting form the soft centre at the heart of the Himalaya?

Student: Stacy Phillips

BGS Supervisor: Dr Nick Roberts

University Supervisor: Dr Tom Argles

DTP: CENTA, The Open University

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stacyphillips

Major mountain belts are contortions of the Earth’s crust, ravaged by gravity. Rocks buried in these zones soften, stretch and melt, with drastic consequences for their mechanical strength. Just a few percent of partial melt can dramatically weaken the continental crust1 and rapidly change the evolution of the mountain belt.

In the Himalaya, research on granites has mainly focused on conspicuous, pale bodies of Miocene-aged granites (leucogranites). These magmas formed when fertile rocks were rapidly exhumed from the mid-crust, decompressed and melted. However, these melts were a symptom of that dramatic exhumation, not its cause. Clues to what triggered that exhumation in the Himalayan core must lie in earlier events.

Sporadic evidence for earlier melting has been recognised along the entire Himalayan chain from Pakistan to Bhutan2. These cryptic, deformed kyanite-bearing leucogranites and partly-molten gneisses (migmatites) crystallized during Paleogene prograde burial and heating. However, such evidence is commonly overlooked among rocks with textures heavily reworked during Neogene mountain-building.

Understanding Paleogene crustal melting in these youthful mountains is therefore key for establishing the tipping point at which crustal thickening was overtaken by exhumation3. Moreover the spatial distribution of such melting will help fingerprint the underlying tectonic mechanism that drove the tectonic extrusion (critical taper, wedge tectonics or channel flow).

This project aims to interrogate field relations and mineral assemblages to define melt reactions during heating in the crystalline core of the Himalaya.

Results from the project will yield insights into viscosity changes in both the Paleogene Himalaya and older collisional orogens, providing critical constraints on thermomechanical models that attempt to explain how all mountain belts evolve.

S338 Provenance of the late Quaternary loess along the middle and lower Danube River, Europe

Student: Kaja Fenn

BGS Supervisor: Dr Ian Millar

University Supervisor: Prof David S G Thomas

DTP: Oxford, University of Oxford

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kaja-fenn-140216112

Dust is a crucial component of the Earth system. Its particles affect atmospheric radiative budgets, naturally fertilise oceans impacting the carbon cycle, and influence cloud formation. It also has a negative effect on human health. However, currently the IPCC views atmospheric dust as a substantial uncertainty in future climate models.

The fundamental aim of this research is to examine primary sources of loess in Central Europe over the last interglacial (MIS5)-glacial (MIS2) cycle. This will be addressed through a series of objectives:

  1. Examine the spatial differences in loess source along the course of the middle and lower reaches of the Danube River;
  2. Test the dust provenance variability within individual units, both loess and palaeosol;
  3. Assess dust provenance variability between loess and palaeosol units; and
  4. Determine the main dust transport pathways during the late Quaternary period.

Various sites will be investigated, including loess sequences and modern day river sediments, in sufficient numbers to achieve the high temporal resolution and spatial coverage required to satisfy the aims, whilst meeting time and financial constraints. Sites will be selected along the middle and lower reaches of the Danube River (Hungary, Serbia and Romania or Bulgaria) focusing on the junctions of the Danube and its tributaries (e.g. Tiza, Drava, Sava, Morava). For each of the tributaries and the Danube modern day samples will also be collected from exposed alluvium, sand bars or river waters upstream from selected loess sites.

Each site will be sampled from the last interglacial palaeosol to the end of the glacial period. This will be guided by the reported chronostratigraphy of the area and visual assessment in the field. A high resolution sampling approach will be adopted, based on selected sites. Sample sizes will vary depending on the need to construct a chronology and reported potential heavy mineral yield.

Reliable independent chronology is crucial for studies of any past environments and climates. Firstly, wiggle matching with other sites or palaeoclimatic archives based on proxies e.g. grain size rather than absolute chronologies, have lead to incorrect interpretations of the regional picture and global patterns. Further it has been shown erroneous assumptions were made regarding the continuity and age of loess deposits. Well developed chronologies are required to connect all sites and address the timing of changes, leads and lags. Optically stimulated luminescence dating (OSL) lends itself to loess sediment as it uses common minerals, quartz and feldspars and can determine the time of grain deposition. In European loess quartz is reported to reach its saturation levels around 50ka, potentially limiting its application. Therefore for older sediments the use of post-infrared infrared stimulated luminescence (post IR-IRSL) on feldspars, which range potentially extends to 180ka, is considered an advantageous approach.

Most analysis in Europe thus far has focused on bulk sample geochemistry. Despite the benefits of this approach in characterising sources and sediment itself, post and prior depositional changes can alter the provenance signal. Further in some cases the geochemical makeup reflects a mix of multiple sources, demonstrating that bulk sampling alone often cannot pinpoint individual sources. As this has been the most widely used method in Europe, it inevitably precluded identification of loess sources.

Recently an alternative single grain approach has been utilised in provenance research on the Chinese Loess Plateau. Single grain techniques, focused on U-Pb dating of detrital zircons, are much more appropriate for identifying source regions and verifying inter-sample variations as a single grain can have only one source. It has led to the disproving of the most commonly held theory that deserts to the North of the Chinese Loess Plateau were not the source of the material. It is important to note that these two approaches could be used in combination, to offer a much more holistic picture of the sediment history.

Geochemical analysis will also focus on Rare Earth Elements (REE) patterns. It will provide an initial evaluation of geochemical make up and enable a comparison with older studies. The REE composition have been shown to be well preserved in a terrestrial setting and not affected by river transport making them useful for this study. Further analysis of REE in Hungary noted regional differences between loess and potential sources.

To complement single grain analysis heavy mineral assemblages will be produced. The multiple development phases of Carpathians and Alps should lead to varying heavy mineral assemblages, if loess comes from multiple areas. This would also enable a comparison with an array of existing source data and the assessment of potential weathering, diagenesis and sediment transport mechanics. Finally, certain minerals can also be indicative of sources.

Single grain methods will include U-Pb dating of detrital zircons, which is well established in loess provenance research. Zircon crystals are formed predominantly in igneous, particularly plutonic, rocks. The obtained date reflects the age of crystallisation of a grain and therefore the igneous or mountain building event to which they can be matched. The Alps and Carpathians were predominantly created during the Alpine Orogeny, though parts date to Hercynian events as well as to Precambrian. As the mountains were created in phases, zircon dating should identify the sources of each phase. One study of loess zircons in Europe was able to show differences between sources and loess sections, though the sample size was too small to provide conclusive answers.

Lastly, detrital garnet geochemistry will be used as a single grain provenance indicator. Garnet end-members are diagnostic of metamorphic rocks, therefore providing a complementary tool to igneous sourced zircons. Further they are one of the most abundant detrital heavy minerals, with relatively high preservation potential. Heavy mineral assemblage studies in the Carpathians have also shown that garnets are particularly abundant. They have long been used as a provenance tool in geology, but in only three studies of loess and desert environments.

This research project expects to have following outcomes by the end of the project.

  • To critically evaluate existing provenance practices in loess community
  • To develop new source identification method for application in loess provenance studies
  • To identify source(s) of loess in the middle and lower Danube
  • To analyse spatial distribution and temporal provenance of the late Quaternary dust
  • To assess interplay between surface processes and atmospheric conditions
  • To determine relationship between loess deposition and rivers
  • To reconstruct regional atmospheric patterns (incl. palaeowind direction) throughout the last glacial-interglacial cycle
S330 Subduction and exhumation of the Tso Morari dome, Ladakh, Himalaya

Student: Anna Bidgood

BGS Supervisor: Dr Nick Roberts

University Supervisor: Prof Mike Searle

DTP: Oxford, University of Oxford

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/anna-bidgood-0b950a56

It is known that continental material can be subducted to depths in excess of 100 km during continental. Crustal rocks that have been to such depths experience ultrahigh-pressure (UHP) metamorphism, and are characterised by distinctive eclogite facies mineral assemblages that may include key index minerals such as coesite (the high-pressure equivalent of quartz) or even diamond. Although these assemblages are unstable at lower pressures, rocks containing partly preserved UHP minerals are found in numerous collision zones around the world, demonstrating that it is possible to return them to the surface. Continental crust is less dense than oceanic crust and mantle, so that buoyancy most probably plays a role in its exhumation. A number of exhumation mechanisms have been proposed, for example: buoyant return flow back up the slab-mantle interface, extensional exhumation, diapiric upwelling. The conditions that control depth of subduction, preservation and exhumation are not fully understood. UHP assemblages are known from over 15 mountain belts ranging from Proterozoic-Cambrian to Pliocene. However, these rare outcrops are generally discrete and discontinuous, making it difficult to get a representative picture of subsurface mechanisms.

Eclogite-facies assemblages can be formed from continental silicic material or mafic material. Many examples record eclogite-facies metamorphism in mafic bodies (dykes?) in the leading edge of continental margins which have been subducted to UHP depths. Continental subduction can occur beneath island arcs (Kohistan, Pakistan), beneath an ocean plate (Oman) or at a continent-continent collision zone (Western Gneiss region, Kaghan Valley, Kokchetav metamorphic terrain, etc). The relative timing of metamorphism in relation to collision varies across mountain belts. For example, pre collisional metamorphism and exhumation (Oman), or post collisional metamorphism (Himalaya). In the Himalayas, the timing of continental collision is thought to be at 50 Ma based on evidence from the timing of ophiolite obduction, deep sea sediments unconformably overlain by continental sediments and high pressure blueschists. The two UHP terrains of the Himalaya are situated in the western Himalaya (Kaghan in Pakistan and the Tso Morari in Ladakh). The suture zone is exposed in the western Himalayan region, Ladakh. Ophiolites are exposed in the Indian passive margin (Spontang) and along the suture (Nidar), adjacent to Tethyan passive continental margin (Permian-Cretaceous) which subsequently underwent crustal thickening, resulting in regional Barrovian metamorphism.

The Tso Morari Complex (TMC) is situated adjacent to the Nidar ophiolite and forms a north Himalayan dome with regional metamorphism up to sillimanite grade, enclosing blocks and boudins of mafic eclogites in the lowermost unit. This region was structurally mapped by Epard & Steck 2008. Detailed pressure-temperature-time (P-T-t) work was undertaken by Sigoyer et al. 2004, St-Onge et al. 2013, etc. However the range of sampling is extremely limited. Their work showed that the mafic boudins in the Tethyan continental shelf reached UHP conditions at 50.8 Ma and were exhumed at plate tectonic rates of around 12mma-1 , similar to those published for Kaghan, Pakistan.

Given the results of previous P-T-t work, the detailed structural mapping and the limited sampling localities, this project proposes to study a transect across the Tso Morari complex, from NE-SW across the exhumed subduction zone. By collecting a wide range of samples from throughout the Tso Morari Complex, the petrological observations made on the single outcrop can be compared to other localities up to 50km away from the suture zone. The abundance of mafic eclogite pods across the complex provides us with a unique window into the 4D evolution of the subduction zone. We will be able to infer what goes on inside a subducted slice of continental crust during its burial and return to surface, in terms of the geodynamical mechanisms as well as the petrological evolution.

S335 Testing tectonic-climate interactions using sedimentary records in the Tarim Basin, China

Student: Chris Kneale

BGS Supervisor: Dr Ian Millar

University Supervisor: Dr Y Najman

DTP: ENVISION, Lancaster

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopher-kneale-b570b039

This project will use the sediment record in the Tarim Basin, China, to document regional climate change during development of the northern Tibetan plateau. Himalayan-Tibet evolution is a type example of continental collision and climate-tectonic interactions. The plateau's uplift is considered to have caused regional climate change, by deflection of wind systems, intensification of the monsoon, and retreat of the adjacent Paratethys ocean. Yet a knowledge of the mechanisms and timing of the plateau’s evolution, needed to assess its interaction with climate, and to contribute to our understanding of crustal deformation processes, are poorly known. Similarly, the influence and timing of increased monsoon intensity and retreat of the Paratethys ocean on the regional climate is debated. Better constraints to both timing of plateau evolution and regional climate change are required in order to test their proposed coupling.

2015 student cohort

All of our PhDs that started in October 2015 are in collaboration with a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP). Further information can be found on our Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP) page.

Centre for Environmental Geochemistry
S315 Dynamics of metal nanoparticles in soil environments

Student: Rebecca Draper

BGS Supervisor: Andy Tye

University Supervisor: L Bailey, Nottingham

Climate and landscape change
S313 Morphogenesis and development in the Ediacaran macrobiota

Student: Frances Dunn

BGS Supervisor: Phil Wilby

University Supervisor: P Donoghue, Bristol

Ediacaran website

S302 Investigating Bering Sea oceanographic controls on the Middle Pleistocene Transition

Student: Savannah Worne

BGS Supervisor: Jim Riding

University Supervisor: S Kender, Nottingham

Earth hazards and observatories
S304 Separating magnetic field sources using the Swarm satellite constellation

Student: Ashley Smith

BGS Supervisor: Sue Macmillan

University Supervisor: K Whaler, Edinburgh

S305 Forecasting changes in Earth's magnetic field

Student: Maurits Metman

BGS Supervisor: Ciaran Beggan

University Supervisor: P Livermore, Leeds

S328 Community based, non structural flood risk management for Malawi

Student: Robert Sakic Trogrlic

BGS Supervisor: Melanie Duncan

University Supervisor: Wright Grant

DTP: Non-DTP Heriot-Watt University

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/robertsakictrogrlic

Energy and marine geoscience
S307 Glacial sculpting and post glacial drowning of the Celtic Sea

Student: Edward Lockhart

BGS Supervisor: Claire Mellett

University Supervisor: J Scourse, Bangor

S319 Deepwater geo-hazards from bottom-currents: High-resolution geophysics, geotechnics and the bedform-velocity matrix

Student: Philip Green

BGS Supervisor: Dr Joana Gafeira

University Supervisor: Prof Dorrik Stow

CDT: UK Oil and Gas, Heriot-Watt University

Bottom currents have a strong influence on deepwater contourite sedimentation and erosion along continental margins. They affect the geotechnical properties of the sediment and the integrity of subsea cables, pipelines and other seafloor installations. They are of key interest to geo-hazard mapping and mitigation in challenging deepwater environments. However, very little work has so far addressed these specific issues related to bottom-current hazards. We suggest that fundamental advances and improved understanding can be made through the integration of flow properties, contourite sedimentation and geotechnical properties.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/phillip-green-67b280115

S320 Linking rifting history and magmatic cyclicity West of Britain (WoB)

Student: Faye Walker

BGS Supervisor: Dr Margaret Stewart

University Supervisor: Dr Nick Schofield

CDT: UK Oil and Gas, University of Aberdeen

Volcanic rifted margins evolve by extension accompanied by intrusive and extrusive magmatism, typically over short periods of time during breakup. Current views of such systems are commonly based on regional, often margin-wide studies, often limited by data and/or data types. However, a growing amount of high quality regional seismic data WoB, combined with recent wells (e.g. Brugdan, Lagavulin, Anne-Marie) that have penetrated considerable thickness's (km's) of Palaeogene aged basalt-subcrop, allows us, for the first time, to specifically understand and link the high resolution magmatic stratigraphy to rifting events and basin evolution. The tectonic and volcanic evolution of the basins WoB, and in particular the Rockall and NE Rockall basins, has remained enigmatic. In terms of hydrocarbons, a limited number of wells have targeted the Rockall, although discoveries (e.g. Benbecula), have indicated that a petroleum system exists. With recent success of exploration in close association with volcanic stratigraphy (e.g. intra-lava Rosebank field) several oil companies are currently re-evaluating the Rockall Trough. Although, without a detailed volcanic stratigraphic framework and understanding of its relationship to regional rifting, a major challenge in the regional correlation of strata still exist in exploration of this region. Importantly, recent work (Hole et al. in press), based on regional geochemical and chronostratigraphic analysis, has indicated that the magmatism in the Rockall Trough and onshore are associated with at least two rifting events, during end-Cretaceous to Palaeocene times. Between each magmatic event, a hiatus in activity occurs, starting at around sequence T36 (pre-chron 24; ˜ 58.4ma) with re-establishment of magmatism at sequence T40 (˜ 56.1Ma). It is also apparent that there is a linked cyclicity in the style, composition and duration of magmatic activity associated across each rifting event, suggesting a possible underlying genetic control which may, or may not be, plume related. These two rifting events should be manifested in the lava field stratigraphy. Using regional high quality seismic data, combined with a unique availability of detailed well control through basalt/lava subcrop WoB (an aspect often unavailable in rifting studies), accompanied with biostratigraphical and geochemical control throughout the province, will allow the detailed evolutionary history of the basin rifting, and its incipient relationship to the magmatism to be linked and elucidated.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/faye-walker-68270796

S321 The influence of halokinesis on shallow-marine sediments in salt basins: The Fulmar Formation, Central North Sea, UK

Student: James Foey

BGS Supervisor: Thomas Randles

University Supervisor: Dr Ian Stimpton

CDT: UK Oil and Gas, Keele University

The Upper Jurassic Fulmar Formation hosts significant accumulations of hydrocarbons across the central North Sea, with currently over sixty discoveries and developments within this single play. Despite this success, the number of exploration wells targeting Fulmar plays is decreasing, despite ample opportunities for continued exploration. The Fulmar sediments accumulated within Late Jurassic salt-collapse basins, formed by dissolution of mobile Zechstein salt walls. However, the genesis of the play is complicated, as the formation of an economic reservoir requires a carefully balanced rate of sediment supply and salt-wall dissolution: if the rate of sediment supply compared to that of subsidence is too low, the basin may be filled with deep-water fine-grained sediment, but if the rate of sediment supply is too high, sediment may be scoured from the basin during sediment bypass.

This project will investigate the influence of halokinesis upon the sedimentology of the Fulmar Formation by examining the temporal and spatial distribution of facies between the collapse basins across the Central North Sea, and their relationship to the magnitude of salt dissolution (subsidence rate), relative sediment input rates and, where possible, the timing of basin formation. From these analyses, the project will construct depositional models that describe the likely depositional environments and distribution of facies, both within the Jurassic collapse-basins and between them. In so doing, the work will elucidate the relative influence of sediment supply, halokinesis and subsidence upon facies distribution, and produce predictive models of likely reservoir distribution, quality and connectivity that are applicable to the Fulmar Formation and similar salt-influenced shallow-marine sediment hydrocarbon plays.

The project will focus primarily on the study of core and wireline data from well penetrations of the Fulmar Formation and associated stratigraphy, and 3D seismic data collected from across the Central North Sea, to examine the nature and to constrain the lateral extent of the Fulmar within the collapse basins. Typically, where field development has taken place, multiple close-spaced wells penetrate the Fulmar Formation, providing a level of spatial coverage that will allow detailed observation of lateral facies variations within a single collapse basin. To supplement this desk-based study, a single field season to observe shallow marine-halokinetic interactions will constrain lateral facies variations and the relationship of architectural elements within the depositional system. Likely candidate field areas include: La Popa Basin, Mexico; Wonoka Formation, Australia; Mississippi delta.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-foey-56709466

S322 Shale Gas in the UK – Geochemical mapping of critical shale properties across Carboniferous basins

Student: Jack Walker

BGS Supervisor: Dr Jan Hennissen and Edward Hough

University Supervisor: Dr Cees van der Land

CDT: UK Oil and Gas, Newcastle University

The last decade has seen vast changes in the perceived volumes of global hydrocarbon resources. This has come about through the realisation that with modern technology and advanced understanding of subsurface strata, it is now possible to produce hydrocarbons directly from their source rocks, which are one of the commonly termed unconventional resources. The focus of exploration for these unconventional resources has shifted to the accurate identification and prediction of the occurrence of organically rich source rocks, their mineralogy and thermal maturity. Petroleum geochemistry and shale sedimentology/ mineralogy have an important role to play in advancing this knowledge and improving the foundation for quantitative estimates. The area of particular interest lies in North West England where Carboniferous rocks occur at some depth in the subsurface. These rocks of Mississippian-Pennsylvanian age include the Bowland, Edale, Holywell Shale and top part of Craven Group of the Pennine – Irish Basin.

Recent research at Newcastle University and APT-UK confirmed small scale heterogeneities in thermal maturity and organic facies composition across the Bowland Basin, often with unexpectedly low levels of maturity, in many instances equivalent to the early mature window of oil production. This heterogeneity, both spatially but also stratigraphically, potentially has large implications on the overall gas potential of the basin, requiring more detailed research using a combined geochemical (organic and inorganic), microscopic (vitrinite reflectance, spore colour), sedimentological, fracture development and gas storage (micro-porosity) approach.

The project will integrate core, well and field data to produce detailed regional facies models that link petrological properties to petrophysical behaviour. This integration will enable to compile a comprehensive set of samples from shale sections across North West England. This project combines expertise at Newcastle University, Durham University, and Applied Petroleum Technology (APT) UK, based in Wales. The project will integrate core, well and field data to produce detailed regional facies models that link petrological properties to petrophysical behaviour. This integration will enable to compile a comprehensive set of samples from shale sections across North West England. A central outcome of this study will be detailed maturity and organic facies maps of the Carboniferous that can be used for improved estimation of total gas potential and identification of sweet spots for shale gas production.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jack-walker-26514083

Engineering geology
S300 Early warning of landslide events using computer vision and geophysical image analysis

Student: Luke Sibbett

BGS Supervisor: Jon Chambers

University Supervisor: L Bai, Nottingham

S301 Revealing hydrological and bioeochemical heterogeneity at the groundwater-surface water interface using geophysics

Student: Paul McLachlan

BGS Supervisor: Jon Chambers

University Supervisor: A Binley, Lancaster

Environmental modelling
S303 PRELUDE: PREdictive modelling of lead concentrations using g-base datasets for urban environments

Student: Sarah Donoghue

BGS Supervisor: Fiona Fordyce

University Supervisor: M Graham, Edinburgh

S310 Glacial, hydrological and landscape change in a deglaciating catchment: Virkisjökull, Iceland

Student: Jon MacKay

BGS Supervisor: Chris Jackson

University Supervisor: N Barrand, Birmingham

GeoAnalytics and Modelling
S316 Trust, risk communication format and the nature of uncertainty

Student: Sarah Jenkins

BGS Supervisor: Hazel Napier

University Supervisor: A Harris, University College London

Minerals and waste
S311 BLUE MINING: What drives hydrothermal systems and how does it vary over time?

Student: Iain Stobbs

BGS Supervisor: Mr Paul Lusty

University Supervisor: B Murton, Southampton

S298 Tracking solar nebula evolution with analyses of single chondrules

Student: Timothy Gregory

BGS Supervisor: Stephen Noble

University Supervisor: T Elliott, Bristol/Natural History Museum

S306 Vestiges of the Earliest Crust; Crustal Evolution in the Yilgarn Craton, Australia

Student: Leanne Staddon

BGS Supervisor: Matt Horstwood

University Supervisor: I Parkinson, Bristol

S308 Crust-mantle exchange in orogenic lower crust: the record in high temperature eclogites

Student: Eleni Wood

BGS Supervisor: Nick Roberts

University Supervisor: C Warren, Open

S309 Characterising the chemical and physical properties of the UK's stockpile of depleted, natural and low-enriched uranium and its behaviour and fate on disposal

Student: Matthew Druce

BGS Supervisor: Matt Horstwood

University Supervisor: D Read, Loughborough

S312 Investigating the role of oceanic plateaus in early continental growth

Student: David Cavell

BGS Supervisor: Ian Millar

University Supervisor: A Hastie, Birmingham

2014 student cohort

All of our PhDs that started in October 2014 are in collaboration with a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP). Further information can be found on our Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP) page.

Climate and landscape change
S221 Millennial-scale variability in ice-ocean-climate interaction in the Sub-Antarctic SW Atlantic – a multi-proxy study of intermediate water production and Patagonian ice sheet variability over the last glacial

Student: Jenny Roberts

BGS Supervisor: Sev Kender

University Supervisor: Cambridge, Earth Sciences

Earth hazards and observatories
S263 The sources, mechanisms and timing of volatile loss accompanying basaltic volcanism

Student: Catherine Gallagher

BGS Supervisor: Charlotte Vye-Brown

University Supervisor: Kevin Burton, Durham University, Earth Sciences

Continental flood basalt (CFB) volcanism is characterised by the repeated eruption of huge batches of magma, producing enormous basalt provinces (105-106 km3) over relatively brief intervals of time, and delivering large masses of volcanic gas to the atmosphere [e.g. 1]. The release of gases and aerosols during CFB volcanism is thought to have had a significant impact on the atmosphere, ocean chemistry and climate – and many have linked such eruptions with mass extinction events that punctuate the history of life on Earth [e.g. 2]. Some of the key factors influencing atmospheric chemistry and the environmental impact of continental flood basalt eruptions are:

  1. The source of volatiles to the magma – because of the pressure dependence of sulphur (S) solubility in melts, mantle derived magmas should be undersaturated in S when they arrive at the surface. However, CFBs are normally S saturated and this must occur either by near-surface fractional crystallisation or by assimilation of crustal rocks, each of which are likely to deliver a very different volatile budget to the melt.
  2. The duration of volatile release, into the atmosphere – because the residence time of many gases and aerosols in the atmosphere is on the order of weeks up to 3 years, and their impact on the atmospheric chemistry is thus a function of the duration of atmospheric loading (e.g. [1]). This, in turn, will depend upon the extent and duration of S saturation in the melt (that results from fractional crystallization or crustal assimilation).
  3. The mechanism of gas and aerosol release into the atmosphere. This depends, in part, on the chemistry of the melt (in particular, oxygen fugacity fO2) determining which gaseous species (H2S and SO2) are actually present [3], but also, in part, on the mechanism of transfer to the atmosphere. Where the release of sulphur may occur via gaseous species or else via the emission of crystalline sulfide particles (FeS2) or sulfates in aerosols, each of which will have a very different impact on the environment and climate (e.g. [4]).

In turn the volatile content of the magma will play a role in magma dynamics, and the style and nature of the eruption – and volatile degassing may ultimately be responsible for the initiation of eruption.

Over recent years considerable progress has been made in determining the precise timing of CFB volcanism, relative to climatic/biotic events (e.g. [5]). However, the timescale of atmospheric loading with gases and aerosols is considerably shorter than the recurrence interval of flood-basalt eruptions in an individual province [6]. The critical question then becomes whether it is possible that the atmospheric effects from a single eruption are sufficient to trigger an environmental response that results in significant climate change and/or a biotic crisis, or if 2 or 3 closely spaced events are required. Such information can only be obtained by dissecting an individual flood basalt event.

The 187Re-187Os isotope system is exceptionally sensitive to the presence of crustal material in mantle derived melts, while the extremely high parent/daughter ratios of many basaltic minerals can be used to reveal precise age information and details of equilibration between coexisting phases [7]. Recent results indicate that for individual flood basalt flows both the Columbia river and Deccan provinces, the earliest melts are affected by crustal assimilation suggesting a clear role for this process in driving melts to volatile saturation, and that immiscible sulphide (due to S oversaturation) was present in those early melts [8]. Work undertaken thus far in both the Deccan and Columbia river basalts indicates that contamination of the earliest melts is a common phenomena. However, the approach adopted here requires the presence of phenocrysts (rare in the Deccan) and for this reason the proposed work will focus on porhyritic lava flows in the Columbia river) and modern analogues in Iceland, the Laki eruption (affected by crustal assimilation) and the Thorsja eruption (little crustal contamination).

The principal objectives of the research proposed here are to use a combination of isotope and petrological techniques to constrain:

The source of the volatiles, using the exceptional sensitivity of the 187Re-187Os to the presence of crustal material in the melt, linking that information with trace element and volatile measurements on coexisting phases (and melt inclusions), and assessing the impact of immiscible sulphide (due to excess S saturation) on early volatile release.

The relative duration of volatile release during volcanism using the 187Re-187Os isotope system to monitor variations in melt chemistry and volatile release that accompany mineral crystallisation during the eruption of an individual flow.

The mechanism of volatile release, in particular, which gaseous species are present and the mechanism of S transport, either as gases or crystalline sulfide particles and/or sulfates, traced using highly siderophile element (HSE) abundances, Cu, Z and S stable isotopes.

This information will then be used to make greatly improved estimates of the mass of sulphur (and other volatiles) released during individual flood basalt eruptions, and the consequences for atmospheric loading and climatic and environmental effects. This novel approach will make a significant contribution to a long-lived and polarised debate on the potentially deleterious effects of flood basalt volcanism on the atmosphere and biosphere and the causes of mass extinction events on Earth.


[1] Self, S. et al Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 248 (2006) 518-532.

[2] Thordarson, T. et al. Geol. Soc. Am. Spec. Pub. 453 (2009) 37-53.

[3] Burgisser, A., Scaillet, B. Nature 445 (2007) 194-197.

[4] Thordarsson, T., Self, S. J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res. 74 (1996) 49-73.

[5] Chenet, A.-L. et al. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 263 (2007) 1-15.

[6] Widdowson, M. et al. Geol. Soc. Spec. Pub. (1997) 269-281.

[7] Gannoun, A. et al. Science 303 (2004) 70-72.

[8] Vye-Brown, et al. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 368 (2007) 183-194.

S285 Soil moisture estimation: a new approach using multi-temporal satellite and airborne RADAR data

Student: Clare Bliss

BGS Supervisor: Colm Jordan

University Supervisor: Daniel Donoghue, Durham University, Geography

Engineering geology
S293 Geomorphology and landslide hazard assessments. Evaluating the control of landscape evolution on landslide hazards in the UK

Student: Steven Parry

BGS Supervisor: Vanessa Banks and Claire Dashwood

University Supervisor: Bill Murphy, Leeds School of Earth and Environment

Environmental modelling
S271 Understanding the interactions between adited groundwater sources and the Chalk aquifer under drought conditions, using the example of the River Colne Catchment and its groundwater sources

Student: Azucena Yebra

BGS Supervisor: Andrew Hughes

University Supervisor: Adrian Butler, Imperial College London, Civil and Environmental Engineering

In droughts the Chalk aquifer provides the largest water resource in southern England. Although Chalk often yields large quantities of water through high hydraulic conductivity zones, in some areas it doesn’t, and storage is poor. In these cases, e.g. the Colne valley, to improve yields horizontal adits (tunnels up to ~1 km long) were dug from vertical shafts. Affinity Water’s sources are such supplies, providing water to >0.5 million people.

In the Colne catchment groundwater is stored in the alluvial and glacial sands and gravels, the Palaeogene deposits, and Chalk. Recharge may be direct to the Chalk, via leakage from the Palaeogene, runoff from the London Clay, or indirect leakage from the gravels or the River Colne. The hydrogeology is complicated by karst development at the Palaeogene boundary. Understanding of drawdown and groundwater flow-path distributions to these sources is very poor. Under extreme droughts, the gravels may dewater, or the adits themselves become depressurised and even dewater causing non-linear behaviour. This area is poorly studied and to understand the relationships between the adit systems and the aquifer detailed modelling is required. Groundwater level, and pump test data for the shafts and observation boreholes are available to validate such models.

Zhang and Lerner1 have addressed the simulation of flow in aquifer-adit systems, but their model2 could not represent complex adit-borehole geometries, adit dewatering and seepage face development.

Aim & objectives: The aim of this project is to develop a new methodology to simulate adited systems that will allow improved assessment of yields during droughts. There are 4 key objectives:

  1. develop a detailed model of pressurised and gravity flow in borehole-adit systems;
  2. develop a method to couple this to a regional groundwater model;
  3. improve understanding of the hydrogeology of the Colne catchment and the important processes to model;
  4. apply the new model in the Colne, assess its performance under historic droughts, and quantify river flows and source yield under future climates.


  1. will be achieved by reviewing, selecting and modifying existing borehole and pipe flow models.
  2. will build upon work of an ongoing, joint Imperial-BGS PhD project, which has developed a linked model that simulates non-Darcian flow to vertical boreholes within regional aquifers3, using OpenMI model linkage tools (openmi.org) to couple a borehole model to a groundwater model. To address the complex geometries of adited sources unstructured finite volume schemes will be investigated to couple a pipe flow model to finite difference groundwater models.
  3. will be based on a review of previous research and a large hydrogeological dataset held by the Affinity Water and BGS.
  4. will be achieved using BGS groundwater models and those which the Affinity Water has access to. Future climate scenarios will be based on latest statistical downscaling methods developed by the NERC funded Changing Water Cycle HydEF project, led by Imperial.


1. Zhang & Lerner, 2000, Groundwater 38(1);

2. Swain & Wexler, 1996, USGS Tech. of Wat.‐Res. Investigations, book 6; 3Upton et al, 2013, Modflow & More, Golden, June 2013.

Energy and marine geoscience
S287 Unravelling the structural controls and consequent feedbacks on Permian and Mesozoic depositional systems in the Southern North Sea

Student: Ross Grant

BGS Supervisor: Dr Thomas Randles

University Supervisor: John Underhill and Rachel Jamieson, Heriot-Watt, Institute of Petroleum Engineering

S280 The Bowland Shale of the UK: development of diagenetic models for a major UK hydrocarbon reservoir

Student: Sarah Kenworthy

BGS Supervisor: Edward Hough

University Supervisor: Kevin Taylor, University of Manchester, School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Science

S270 The mid-Pleistocene transition in Asian monsoon variability

Student: Sonja Felder

BGS Supervisor: Melanie Leng.

University Supervisor: Andrew Henderson, Newcastle University, Geography, Politics and Sociology

A fundamental change in Earth’s climate occurred between ~1.3 and 0.6 million years ago (Ma), where the dominant periodicity of climate cycles shifted from 41 thousand to 100 thousand years (ka). Known as the mid-Pleistocene transition (MPT), this enigmatic climate change occurred in the absence of any substantial changes in external orbital forcing, indicating the mechanisms that caused this climate shift were internal to Earth’s climate system. During the MPT, the amplitude of deep-ocean oxygen isotopes increased, which have been interpreted as the main rhythm of ice ages throughout the Pleistocene. Recent research suggests the MPT was initiated by an abrupt increase in Antarctic ice volume ~0.9 Ma, while other evidence points to a quasi-100 ka cycle begining at 1.2 Ma, when sea surface temperatures first decrease, followed by a pronounced cooling at 0.9 Ma. A number of mechanisms have been suggested to explain the shift from 41 ka to 100 ka cycles during the MPT, including high latitude ice sheet dynamics and changes in the global carbon cycle leading to fluctuations in atmospheric CO2 concentration. Even so, the trigger for the MPT remains elusive, with tropical forcing involving the global carbon reservoir, sea surface temperature (SST) changes in the equatorial Pacific, internal feedbacks of CO2 and ice albedo, as well as strong silicate weathering during glacial lowstands linked to Tibetan Plateau (TP) uplift, all being suggested.

Geological and modelling evidence show the uplift of the TP has pronounced effects on crustal weathering and atmospheric circulation, being invoked as a mechanism for late Cenozoic cooling by CO2 drawdown through silicate weathering. In addition, this uplift also enhanced the seasonal contrast between land and ocean, which drives the Asian monsoon system, as well as biofurcating the westerly jet circulation. Continental records from the Chinese Loess Plateau suggest the MPT evolved in two major steps closely linked to the stepwise uplift of the plateau, and intriguingly, there is evidence for rapid uplift of the TP, especially in the northern part, during the mid-Pleistocene at 1.2, 0.9 – 0.8 and 0.6 Ma. These events set up a positive feedback related to surface conditions on the TP, changes in oceanic and atmospheric circulation linked to the enhancement of the Asian monsoon system, as well as the development of Northern Hemisphere ice sheets. However, there are very few high-resolution records of Asian monsoon variability covering the MPT and this hampers our ability to fully test this continental-weathering hypothesis.

The objective of this project is to produce the first high-resolution record of Asian monsoon variability from the Japan Sea/East Sea over the MPT using the oxygen isotope composition of benthic (ice volume and temperature) and planktonic (Asian monsoon variability) foraminifera, coupled with Mg/Ca ratios to tease out temperature effects on their geochemistry. These proxies will provide the necessary dataset to test the role of TP uplift during the MPT. The project benefits from newly collected material from the recent Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Expedition 346 (July-Sept 2013) to the Japan Sea/East Sea and it will focus on Sites U1426 and U1427, which are influenced by the Tsushima Warm Current (TWC) that flows into the basin. In turn, the strength of the TWC is controlled by the discharge of the Yangzte River in China. Annual discharge of the Yangzte River is inextricably linked to the intensity of the Asian monsoon, and therefore changes in the amount of freshwater delivered to the Japan Sea/East Sea will be reflected in the isotopic composition of planktonic foraminifera and hence reflect monsoon variability. In addition, Sites U1426 and U1427 have abundant foraminifera ideal for the proposed geochemical analysis, with working biostratigraphies already established, but, as part of this programme of research, these new geochemical records will be tuned to provide robust age models. The student will have access to all shipboard data, as well as being integrated into an international network of scientists working on these sites.

Key research questions this studentship will address are:

  1. What is the timing and nature of Asian monsoon variability during the MPT?
  2. How does changes in the Asian monsoon relate to Tibetan Plateau uplift?
  3. What is the sychroneity of monsoon variability with records of sea surface temperature and ice volume changes? And what do they tell us about the likely forcing mechanisms of the MPT?
S277 Bioavailability of chromium from African soils near mine waste dumps: implications for staple crops

Student: Elliott Hamilton

BGS Supervisor: Michael Watts

University Supervisor: Liz Bailey and Scott Young, University of Nottingham, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The environmental ubiquity of chromium can be attributed to both natural and anthropogenic sources. The toxicity of chromium is dependent on its chemical forms, with Cr(III) and Cr(VI) being the primary species in the environment (Kotaś and Stasicka 2000). It has been widely reported that Cr(VI) is acutely toxic and carcinogenic (Katz and Salem 1993), therefore increased concentrations of Cr(VI) can potentially pose a risk to living matter within soils. In addition, crops and plants grown in high-Cr(VI) soils can present a risk to human health as well as having deleterious effects on the growth of the plant (Shanker, Cervantes et al. 2005). Although it is known that Cr(VI) is more mobile and bioavailable due to its anionic forms (Fendorf, Wielinga et al. 2000), the mechanistic aspects of its fate in soils are not fully understood. Reduction of Cr(VI) to Cr(III) in soils is possible through both geological and biological pathways, but anthropogenic contributions (fertiliser, liming) may also affect the speciation and bioavailability of Cr.

The aim of this proposal is to assess the mechanisms of chromium species equilibria in soils over a range of properties and conditions, and establish whether these mechanisms increase the likelihood of exposure to Cr(VI). This work will build upon existing analytical methodology with a view to incorporating computational speciation models to assess the processes dominating chromium speciation in soils. Isotope speciation analysis will be utilised to monitor redox reactions and species uptake, combined with pot experiments and fieldwork to evaluate controls on chromium speciation in idealised and real-world situations. There is scope to incorporate liming/fertiliser trials to look at the impact of agriculture on chromium speciation, whilst additional elements of interest, such as antimony, could be included on a site-specific basis. For example, Copperbelt mining in Zambia has been shown to increase total elemental concentrations in both the environment (von der Heyden and New 2004) and occupationally-exposed workers (Ndilila, Callan et al. 2014), although the specific pathways of exposure have yet to be determined; a more thorough understanding of chromium’s soil chemistry could begin the process of addressing this problem.

S269 Environmental lead pollution in the Roman Empire – characterising its effects on juvenile exposure, health and geographic mobility

Student: Joanna Moore

BGS Supervisor: Jane Evans

University Supervisor: Jane Montgomery, University of Bradford, Division of Archaeological, Geographical and Environmental Sciences.

This project will investigate the impact of environmental lead pollution on human health and mobility in the Roman Period. It will develop the use of lead isotopes as an indicator of the cultural sphere an individual inhabited using exposure to geographically-determined anthropogenic pollution as a proxy. Lead isotope and concentration analysis will be undertaken on individuals from Roman period cemeteries across the Empire with the aim of:

  1. establishing and comparing the level of lead they were exposed to during childhood;
  2. establishing geographic and cultural variation in Roman Period human lead isotopes;
  3. exploring the link between lead burden and childhood health;
  4. Investigating the possibility of obtaining high-spatial and high-temporal resolution lead isotope data using LA-ICP-MS.

The project will obtain teeth from selected individuals buried in five Roman Period cemeteries at Dorchester, England, Ravenna, Italy, Tarragona, Spain, Budapest, Hungary, and Mainz, Germany. Enamel will be removed from the teeth following established procedures and measured for lead isotope and trace element concentration. Lead isotope preparation and analysis will be carried out in the clean laboratory suite at NIGL. Lead will be measured using PIMMS (MC-ICP-MS) according to established laboratory protocols. A novel aspect of this High spatial-resolution lead isotope analysis of enamel will be obtained by means of a New Wave Research UP193FX LA system connected to a Nu Instruments AttoM HR singlecollector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (HR-ICP-MS). The elemental Pb concentrations of the enamel samples and quality control materials will be determined using an Agilent quadrupole ICP-MS instrument. Palaeopathological data will be collated from previously published data and integrated and analysed in relation to the isotope results.

Geology and regional geophysics
S264 Formation and age of the Arran central ring complex

Student: Robert Gooday

BGS Supervisor: Kathryn Goodenough

University Supervisor: Andrew Kerr, Cardiff University, Earth and Ocean Sciences

Our understanding of the processes behind the emplacement of silica-poor (e.g. basalt) and silica-rich (e.g. rhyolite) lavas currently differ significantly. This project will close this gap by deriving a generalized multi-scale model for lava emplacement, based on observations, textural analyses and 3D computer reconstructions of flows at Cordón Caulle, Chile and Mt. Etna, Sicily. Fieldwork will be carried out at both locations to enable characterisation of flow processes over scales of mm- to 100s-m. The results will be combined with laboratory analyses to quantify degassing, and satellite data to provide km-scale process information. State-of-the-art analytical facilities and novel computer modelling approaches will be used whilst working with international experts from the U.S., Italy and the U.K. The results of the project will have wide implications for our understanding of flow emplacement both on Earth and on other planets. For details on our preliminary study, see Tuffen, James et al. (2013), Nature Comms., 4, 2709, doi:10.1038/ncomms3709.

Flow processes in low-viscosity basaltic lavas are broadly understood as eruptions are commonly observed. However, high-viscosity lavas (e.g. rhyolites) are seldom witnessed and poorly understood. The supervisors have recently collected the first observations of an advancing rhyolite lava flow, during the 2011-13 eruption of Cordón Caulle, Chile (preliminary study: Tuffen, James et al, Nature Comms., 2013). With this being the most silica-rich lava flow ever observed, we now have a unique opportunity to develop a generalised model for lava flow emplacement, based on observations and measurements taken of active flows.

A central challenge is to understand how degassing, crystallization and shear localization interact within lavas. Such effects are critically important in high-viscosity flows, leading to highly-heterogeneous flow and gas escape, and affect processes operative over scales of millimetres to kilometres. This project will combine existing and new field data, laboratory analyses and satellite imagery to develop a multi-scale model of high-silica lava emplacement processes firmly linked to existing understanding of lower-viscosity lavas. The resulting universal emplacement model will have broad application, from geologists studying terrestrial flow fields to planetary scientists, who are beginning to discover high-viscosity lavas on Mars in the latest satellite images. Insights gained into degassing and strain localisation during flow will have significant additional implications for our understanding of magma ascent, and ultimately, how volcanoes erupt – whether they produce explosive ash or effusive lava.

S273 Runoff generation, flooding and flowpaths in the changing environment of upland UK

Student: Leo Peskett

BGS Supervisor: Alan MacDonald

University Supervisor: Kate Heal, University of Edinburgh, School of GeoSciences

In temperate environments, uplands are often dominated by agricultural land use, as in the UK, which is linked to downstream flood risk. Increasingly natural flood management (NFM) measures applied in the uplands - such as wetland restoration, changes in land use and management, and tree planting - are promoted as more sustainable ways of addressing flood risk compared to constructing more extensive flood defences downstream. NFM measures should also be more resilient to the increased flood risk expected as the result of more frequent extreme rainfall events. However, for NFM to be effective requires an integrated understanding of runoff processes and flowpaths across a catchment. This enables the scale and locations of different types of NFM measures to be selected so as to reduce flood peak flow and volume downstream. The situation is further complicated by the heterogeneous nature of upland catchments, which typically contain a mixture of topography, land uses and soil types within a small area. Most research on upland hydrological processes has focused on plot- and small-scale investigations and not on the catchment scale which is most relevant for implementing NFM. The interaction between surface and subsurface flow and water stores has also been largely overlooked in upland catchments, even though it has been shown to have an important effect on catchment hydrology. These research gaps will be addressed in this project which aims to relate detailed understanding of hydrological processes to river flows at the catchment scale.

Minerals and waste
S295 An enhanced understanding of the thermal and fluid history of a Variscan metallogenic province from critical metal investigations: The antimony and tungsten-bismuth deposits of south-west England.

Student: Eimear Deady

BGS Supervisor: Dr Kathryn Goodenough and Mr Paul Lusty

University Supervisor: Dr Kathryn Moore and Dr Frances Wall, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter

The aims of this project are to improve the model for tungsten mineralisation in the south-west and to develop a model for bismuth mineralisation which has not been established as yet in this region. An additional deliverable is to establish a robust directory of tungsten mineral occurrences in the south-west using legacy collections and the associated metadata.

Ideally the project would aim to characterise the bismuth minerals associated with the tungsten mineralisation and to establish whether this accessory could be processed as a value-adding by product to tungsten processing. To establish the paragenetic sequence of the mineralisation, using a variety of localities across the region. Describe previously un-described bismuth mineralisation in samples from spoil heaps.

S297 Geochemical dynamics and bioavailability of Iodine and Selenium in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

Student: Saeed Ahmad

BGS Supervisor: Michael Watts

University Supervisor: S Young, Nottingham

Pre-2014 student cohorts

Energy and marine geoscience
S232 Seismological insights into the building of the Lesser Antilles Arc

Student: David Schlaphorst

BGS Supervisor: Brian Baptie

University Supervisor: Michael Kendall, University of Bristol, Earth Sciences

S249 Evaluating 3D sedimentary architecture as a fundamental control on geotechnical and physical properties (Dogger Bank Round 3 Windfarm Zone)

Student: Kieran Blacker

BGS Supervisor: Carol Cotterill

University Supervisor: Sarah Davies, Leicester, Geology

S204.2 Geogenic arsenic attributable health risks in UK and the European Union

Student: Daniel Middleton

BGS Supervisor: Michael Watts

University Supervisor: Manchester, School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Science

Contacts for further information

Jon Naden
BGS University Funding Initiative
British Geological Survey
NG12 5GG
E-mail: BUFI
Telephone: 0115 936 3100
Fax: 0115 936 3200
Twitter: @DocBGS