BUFI current research projects


Currently BUFI supports over 100 PhD studentships, from October 2014 these are largely funded via a Natural Environmental 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 cohort year and we also list our past researchers (BUFI alumni) from more recent years so you can see the full breadth and depth of BGS supported PhDs past and present.

2022 PhD cohort
2021 PhD cohort
2020 PhD cohort
2019 PhD cohort
2018 PhD cohort
2017 PhD cohort
2014 PhD cohort

2022 PhD cohort

Researcher: Alexander Clark
Area: GSNI
BGS supervisor: Sam Roberson
University supervisor: Bethan Davies
DTP: DTP London Royal Holloway and Bedford New College

Researcher: Hero Bain
Area: Decarbonisation and Resource Management
BGS supervisor: Simon Tapster
University supervisor: Frances Cooper
DTP: GW4Plus Bristol

Researcher: Gemma Shaw
Area: Digital
BGS supervisor: Darren Beriro
University supervisor: Daniel Evans
DTP: CENTA2 Cranfield

Researcher: Ankita Bhattacharya
Area: Environmental Change, Adaptation and Resilience
BGS supervisor: Andrew Barkwith
University supervisor: Peter Robins

Researcher: Jessica Peto
Area: Environmental change, adaptation and resilience
BGS supervisor: Angela Lamb
University supervisor: Naomi Sykes
DTP: GW4Plus Exeter

Researcher: Cecilia Reed
Area: Multi-hazards and resilience
BGS supervisor: Anna Hicks
University supervisor: Amy Donovan
DTP: ESRC DTP for Social Sciences Cambridge

Researcher: Rosa Maleki
Area: Multi-hazards and resilience
BGS supervisor: Jon Chambers
University supervisor: Ross Stirling
DTP: IAPETUS2 Newcastle

Researcher: Douglas Smith
Area: Decarbonisation and Resource Management
BGS supervisor: Edward Hough
University supervisor: Andreas Busch
DTP: IAPETUS2 Heriot-Watt

Researcher: Naomi Shakespeare-Rees
Area: Multi-hazards and resilience
BGS supervisor: William Brown
University supervisor: Phil Livermore

Researcher: Hamish Duncalf-Youngson
Area: Environmental Change, Adaptation and Resilience
BGS supervisor: Jack Lacey
University supervisor: Virginia Panizzo
DTP: ENVISION Nottingham

2021 PhD cohort

Researcher: Aideliz Montiel
Area: Multi-hazards and resilience
BGS supervisor: Juliane Huebert and Ciaran Beggan
University supervisor: Kathy Whaler
DTP: E4, Edinburgh
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/aideliz-montiel/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AidelizMA

Project description:

Magnetotellurics (MT) is a passive geophysical technique that investigates the electrical properties of Earth’s crust and mantle rocks. The electrical conductivity varies greatly with different rock composition, fluid content and temperature and is uniquely able to help image and identify different geological terrains and targets (e.g., minerals, geothermal, hydrogeological settings). In addition, as subsurface rocks conduct currents, they can generate a geoelectric field during large geomagnetic storms driven by space weather (Beggan et al., 2013). A hazard arises when this geoelectric field tries to equalise across large distances by flowing through low resistance wires, pipes and railways, creating so-called geomagnetically induced currents (GICs). If they are large enough, they are a threat to our modern technological infrastructure.

MT field measurements entail the recording of the natural variations in the magnetic and electric field for several weeks at a single location – sensing into the ground to the depths of interest requires resolving longer period signals. In the UK, relatively few MT surveys have been conducted in the past, but a new NERC-funded project will collect MT data at 40 sites in England and Wales, adding to previous work done in Scotland and legacy data from the 1970s onwards.

Recent advances in instrumentation and computational power have allowed the development of 3D inverse techniques that can model the complex composition of the subsurface. One of the objectives is to use these measurements to make a new three-dimensional model of the subsurface conductivity. The 3D model can be used in conjunction with real-time magnetic field measurements to forecast GICs during severe space weather events. In addition, a new and refined model will also help to improve our knowledge of the overall electrical conductivity of the British Isles.

The proposed project will focus on inverse modelling of the new MT data set using state-of-the-art parallelized computer algorithms, e.g. ModEM (‘Modular EM’ by Kelbert et al., 2014) that can fully discretize the model space in three dimensions and include onshore topography and offshore bathymetry. Bathymetry is particularly important because the electric currents that flow in salty sea water affect the data at significant distances from the coast. The new 3-D model will allow a better characterization of the GIC hazard for infrastructure in the UK.

Additionally, the new and legacy MT data can be jointly inverted with other geophysical data sets (gravity and seismic tomography) to image the deep geological architecture of the British Isles and help determine structures and processes in a new and refined way, using e.g. the algorithm by Moorkamp et al. (2011) and building on the seismic tomography model by Galetti et al. (2017).

Researcher: Tom Gribbin
Area: Environmental Change, Adaptation and Resilience
Topic: Monitoring and Forecasting
BGS supervisor: Jon Mackay
University supervisor: David Hannah
DTP: CENTA, Birmingham (Hosted)
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tom-gribbin-340b3917a

This project is also in collaboration with CONDESAN, https://condesan.org/ a leading NGO with considerable experience in Andean water resource management. It is part of the ongoing NIWS project, which aims to enhance Peruvian water security through investment in natural infrastructure such as bofedales and, therefore, represents an important end-user for this project.

Project description:

Mountains are the world’s water towers because they convey large rainfall inputs and meltwater from snow and glaciers to downstream regions. In the arid lowlands of western Peru, runoff from the Andes mountain range is pivotal in meeting domestic and industrial water demand relating to hydropower production, mining and agriculture (Vuille et al., 2018). However, rising water demand, projected climate warming (Pabón-Caicedo et al., 2020), and the continued retreat of Peru’s mountain glaciers (Zemp et al., 2019) are exacerbating national water scarcity and affirm the need for effective water resource planning. A key bottleneck to this, is lack of hydrological process understanding relating to how Andean rainfall and meltwater propagates through the terrestrial water cycle to downstream end users (Buytaert et al., 2017).

In the Peruvian Andes, vast mountain wetland systems, locally known as bofedales, are thought to be important water stores that regulate the release of stored water seasonally and, therefore, are likely to control the provision of mountain runoff to downstream end users (Buytaert et al., 2011). These natural infrastructures also provide wider ecosystem services by filtering mountain runoff, enriching local biodiversity and acting as a considerable carbon store. They are, however, extremely vulnerable to hydroclimatic shifts and anthropogenic disturbances brought about by climate warming, glacier retreat, and peat exploitation (Polk et al., 2017).

Despite their potential hydrological significance and high vulnerability to environmental change, our current understanding of bofedales hydrology is very limited. This study aims to address this knowledge gap by developing new process-understanding of bofedales hydrology. This will be underpinned by new and existing in-situ field measurements which will be used to characterise bofedales water sources and pathways dynamics and their interactions (e.g. snow, glaciers, hillslopes, groundwater). Once established, the new process-understanding will be implemented in a computational glacier-hydrology model and validated against field data, with the potential to use this to explore the wider significance of bofedales in meeting downstream human and environmental water demand.

Buytaert et al. 2011. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1466-8238.2010.00585.x

Buytaert et al. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aa926c

Pabón-Caicedo et al. 2020.

Polk et al. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeog.2016.11.004

Vuille et al. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.earscirev.2017.09.019

Zemp et al. 2019. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1071-0

Researcher: Harriet Thompson
Area: Multi-Hazards and Resilience
Topic: Multi-Hazard Systems / Multi-Hazard Risk Reduction
BGS supervisor: Joel Gill
University supervisor: Bruce Malamud and Robert Šakić Trogrlić
DTP: Non-DTP, London King’s College associated with Tomorrow’s Cities GCRF Hub
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/harriet-thompson-004443197/

Project description:
Although there has been in-depth research on physical sciences approaches to single hazards and disaster risk reduction (DRR) in urban poor areas such as those in Kathmandu, the application of such methods to understanding multi-hazards is still developing. There is still a sparse understanding of the relationship between primary and secondary hazard intensities, and of hazard to impact intensities, particularly with regards to quantifying these relationships. Specific challenges include confusion concerning overlapping terminology, contrasting approaches to multi-hazards by different organisations, and simultaneously understanding multi-hazards from theoretical and specific case study perspectives. Studies have investigated the challenges facing urban poor communities in Kathmandu, yet they have predominantly addressed social-economic issues independently rather than their contribution towards multi-hazard vulnerability. Equally sparse in the literature is discussion of the impacts of multi-hazards, despite the high vulnerability of these communities.

A range of physical and social science datasets (e.g., secondary instrumental/field data, peer-review publications, grey literature/social media) will be used to characterise hazard interrelationship events, including primary hazards triggering/amplifying secondary hazards, and coincidence hazards.

These will include the quantitative or semi-quantitative relationship between multi-hazard intensities (between primary and secondary hazards, and between coincidence hazards) and between hazard intensities and their impact. The data collection and understanding of the data and interrelationships will be supported by social science methods including interviews and workshops involving key stakeholders engaged with urban poor communities. This will be done in the context of the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) project Tomorrow’s Cities (https://www.tomorrowscities.org/). Local stakeholders might include the Tomorrow’s Cities Kathmandu team, local authority members, non-governmental organisations (e.g., Lumanti of Nepal), and individuals from these communities. Results will be analysed for spatial and temporal trends to assess how significantly anthropogenic changes have impacted multi-hazards and impact in Kathmandu.

Researcher: Matthew Goodey
Area: Decarbonisation and Resource Management
Topic: Rock Volume Characterisation
BGS supervisor: Rock Volume Characterisation
University supervisor: Nicholas Gardiner
DTP: IAPETUS, St Andrews (Hosted)

Project description:
Large granite provinces that extend over 100s km are the refineries for many lithophile elements such as tin, tungsten and tantalum, and even lithium, that make up critical resources for new green technologies. Huge volumes of silicic magmas are formed during injection of mafic magmatism and the melting of different crustal source regions over millions to tens of millions of years. These granitic melts are transported to the mid to upper continental crust and incrementally emplaced forming reservoirs of melt where they can further concentrate metals of interest during fractional crystallisation. Ultimately these melts exsolve volatiles that may go on to form magmatic-hydrothermal ore deposits containing key metals such as Sn, W, and Ta that can be extracted to provide the essential raw materials we need for a the low-carbon green economy.

It is uncommon for the emplaced magmas to form economic ore deposits Despite the protracted timescales of the magmatic system evolution over millions of years, ore-forming events are rare, short-lived, and discrete. Yet we know little about why and when ore deposits formed during protracted batholith construction.
We don’t know how much of the granitic melt required to feed the ore system is present at the time of ore formation or what role this “melt volume” has on the size of the deposit. We don’t know what mechanisms serve to preferentially concentrate metals in these melt events or if they are concentrated. Often, we don’t even know which magmatic event the hydrothermal ores are related to, an extremely basic issue for trying to develop geological models and advance process understanding.

By using novel high-precision analytical techniques with new mineral geochronometers (e.g. cassiterite U-Pb) we now have the potential to define precise and accurate timings (<0.1%) for hydrothermal events in granite systems by directly dating the ore. This exciting new opportunity in chronology will allow us to link the record of economic deposit formation of Sn (and associated metals) to high-precision temporal records of hosting granite system construction via zircon U-Pb at unprecedented resolution.
In-situ trace-elements including economic metals of interest and tracer isotopic analyses (e.g. Lu-Hf, O) of the zircon we use to date the magmatic record can track the source inputs and the concentration of metals in the granite melts. Combined with geochronology these techniques allow us to identify evaluate how the rates of pluton construction and melt volumes can influence ore formation potential and what chemical signatures this leaves behind in the mineral record.

This project will apply these analytical techniques in two key study areas where large-scale granite production is associated with abundant economic tin mineralisation. Fieldwork will be carried out in the granites and Sn-deposits of the ~2 Ga Bushveld complex (South Africa) and the Sn-province of the Early Permian Cornubian Batholith (SW England) where mineral exploration is currently undergoing a resurgence. These represent anorogenic and post-orogenic granitic systems and have excellent exposure allowing sample collection across the hosting rocks and through a number of economic deposits.

Field observations and sampling in the 2 study areas (Bushveld, South Africa and Cornwall, UK) will focus on the emplacement history of granite units using cross-cutting relationships and cross-section/deep core to build 3 dimensional views of the emplacement record and ore events.

Researcher: Archita Bhattacharyya
Area: Environmental Change, Adaptation and Resilience
Topic: Processes
BGS supervisor: James Sorensen
University supervisor: Ben Surridge
DTP: ENVISION, Lancaster (Hosted)

Project description:
This project aims to provide the first overview of the UK’s groundwater microbial ecosystem. Groundwater constitutes 99% of all accessible freshwater on the planet and is a vital resource for public water supply in the UK. It contains a little-studied indigenous microbial ecosystem responsible for the cycling of nutrients and a food-source for blind subterranean macroinvertebrates. These ecosystems are increasingly under pressure due to population growth, urbanisation, and climate change, which can all modify the ecosystem assemblage. This project seeks to explore the:

  • The abundance of subterranean archaeal, prokaryotic and eukaryotic microbes and their activity within our UK aquifers;
  • Investigate the range of microbial diversity; and
  • Understand environmental controls on both microbial abundance and diversity.

The student, in collaboration with the project partner (Thames Water) and a range of other UK water utility companies, will collect samples from a representative range of public and private water supplies across the country. Groundwater samples will be analysed using flow cytometry to determine bacterial cell abundance and activity. High throughout sequencing of the 16S and 18S rRNA genes will be used to characterise the molecular diversity of archaea, bacteria and eukaryotic microbes. Linkages to environmental variables will be assessed using existing national groundwater hydrochemical datasets and analysis of new samples. Groundwater age will also be investigated as an environmental control as we have groundwater ranging from modern to many thousands of years old in the UK.

Researcher: Natalie Forrest
Area: Multi-hazards and resilience
Topic: Geotechnical & Geophysical Properties & Processes
BGS supervisor: Ekbal Hussain
University supervisor: Timothy Craig

Project description:
This project aims to understand the factors that control the behaviour of dip-slip faults across a range of timescales, from individual stages of earthquake cycles, to their geological evolution over millions of years. This project will draw on a wealth of new geological and geophysical observations and data, and produce new numerical geodynamic models aimed at understanding the evolution and behaviour of dip-slip faults. Through collaboration with the BGS, new research from this project may be incorporated into seismic hazard assessments for relevant regions.

This project builds on Natalie’s undergraduate MSci research at the University of Cambridge, where remote sensing techniques were utilised to characterise one whole earthquake deformation cycle, covering the entire coseismic, postseismic and interseismic periods. The study focused on a continental normal fault on the east coast of Japan, following the 2011 Tohoku-Oki Mw 9 earthquake and tsunami. Further details, and the implications of this research for seismic hazard, can be found in Natalie’s published BlueSci article from the February 2021 issue.

In this edition of BlueSci, https://issuu.com/bluesci/docs/issue51__2_/10 The Cambridge University Science Communications Society, Natalie discusses how satellite data can shed light on seismic processes.

Researcher: Megan Trusler
Area: Environmental change, adaptation and resilience
Topic: Inorganic Geochemistry
BGS supervisor: Christopher Vane
University supervisor: Sarah Cook
DTP: Non-DTP, Nottingham
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/megan-trusler-0533a219a/
Twitter: @meg_geographer
Instagram: @meg_the_geographer

Project description:
Microplastics are ubiquitous within our environment. Urban estuaries are recognised as major plastic transport corridors connecting terrestrial plastic sources to coastal and marine habitats. Intertidal areas (i.e. salt marshes and mudflats) accumulate a wide range of throughflow anthropogenic pollutants, including microplastics. As such, these intertidal habitats are likely to play an important role in the fate-transport pathways of microplastics yet, they remain understudied.

This project will explore the interaction between tidal waters-marsh vegetation-sediment grain size and plastic pollution in order to understand whether marshes act as short, intermediate or long-term stores of plastic. For example, the role played by vegetation as trapping sites for microplastics and their subsequent degradation and break down has only been recognised recently. Down-core variations in legacy and emerging organic pollutants underpin ecosystem health risk assessments but can, due to changes in formulations and input concentrations, also be used to date recent sediments. Similarly, analysis of microplastics, within saltmarsh cores, has the potential to act as a geochronological tool for identifying changes in both plastic depositional and accumulation rates and processes within the wider catchment, reflecting changes in both anthropogenic activity and potentially climate events.

This study will investigate and develop an accumulation record of microplastics in saltmarshes across the River Thames through time, investigating both changes in composition and abundance. Using state-of-the-art technology, a number of chemical, physical and imaging data-sets will be evaluated using multivariate statistics to explore connections and ultimately explain the key processes controlling accumulation and release of plastic in salt marshes in urban estuaries. This has the potential to offer new insights into plastic transport pathways and aid in environmental conservation efforts, including the use of saltmarshes as nature-based solutions to reduce the flow of microplastics into the ocean.

Researcher: Helen Innes
Area: Multi-hazards and resilience
Topic: Volcanology
BGS supervisor: Dr Samantha Engwell
University supervisor: Dr Andrea Burke
DTP: IPETUS, St Andrews

Researcher: Davide Festa
Area: Multi-hazards and resilience
Topic: Geodesy and Earth Observation
BGS supervisor: Alessandro Novellino
University supervisor: Federico Raspini
DTP: Non-DTP, University of Florence, Italy

2020 PhD cohort

Researcher:  Lauren Tuffield
Area: Decarbonisation and Resource Management
Team: Geochronology & Tracers Facility
BGS supervisor: Dr Jon Naden
BGS PhD type: Hosted
University supervisor: Dr Dan Smith
DTP: CENTA2, Leicester

Project description:
The UK has passed legislation to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This will require new geological resources to underpin non fossil fuel transport and energy generation. Porphyry copper deposits are the world’s major source of copper – a key raw material in electric motors and dynamos. They are also notable, in certain geodynamic environments, for their enrichment in a wide range of trace elements and minerals, including “critical” elements, such as Te, Pt, Pd, Bi and Sb, used in clean energy generation. Hence, in the drive for “net zero”, there will be a requirement for new porphyry-copper resources and consequently a better understanding of the key processes that result in their formation and the locations where they can be found.

Key research questions to be answered are:

  • How does the magmatism associated with porphyry copper deposits evolve with time in the Aegean?
  • Do porphyry copper deposits in post-subductions settings have distinctive fertility indicators compared with deposits in convergent settings?

Researcher: Ilaria Rucco
Area: Multihazards and Resilience
Team: Volcanology
BGS supervisor: Fabio Dioguardi
BGS PhD type: Collaborative
University supervisor: Raffaella Ocone
DTP: Non-DTP, Heriot-Watt University

Project description:
Debris flows are hazardous natural phenomena, which consist of mixture of water and loose sediment, at variable proportions, that move under the action of gravity. They are usually initiated by intense and/or prolonged rainfall on areas where significant amount of sediment can be potentially remobilized. This is the case, for example, of many regions in the tropical parts of the world where significant explosive volcanic activity has taken or takes place, since volcanic activity blanket the territory with unstable loose deposits.

Volcanoclastic debris flows (also known as lahars) can also be triggered by the eruption itself, i.e. when the crater is occupied by a crater lake or covered by a glacier. Due to their high density and velocity, they are capable of both exerting a destructive dynamic pressure and carry big boulders of rocks and debris. This, together with their ability to inundate large areas and blanket them with thick mud layers, make debris flows one of the main source of hazards.

To date, hazard mitigation studies couple the analysis of the deposits left by debris flows with more or less simplified numerical modelling. Different approaches of variable complexity are currently being used for simulating the runout and thickness of debris flows on real topography, from simple empirical models linking the remobilized volume to the maximum travelled distance to complex 3D unsteady models. Apart from the former, all the models directly solving for the conservation equations of the fluid dynamics require constitutive equations capturing the rheology of the flow.

In this project, we aim to investigate the complex rheology of debris flows/lahars by merging field studies and experiments. The selected case study is represented by the Campanian Plain, in which the repeated explosive activity of both Somma-Vesuvius and Phlegrean Fields has generated wide blankets of loose pyroclastic deposits covering both volcanic edifices and areas located downwind eastwards. Here, more than 300 sites have been analysed showing volcaniclastic debris flows deposits. From these sites, samples of the debris flow deposits will be collected and analysed in the laboratory for obtaining lithological and sedimentological properties like composition, grainsize, density, shape of the particles. Subsequently, each sample will be used for creating variable-concentration mixtures with water, whose rheological properties will be characterized by means of the Bohlin and FT4 Freeman rheometer available at Heriot-Watt University.

Researcher: Rosie Hodnett
Area: Multihazards and Resilience
Team: Geomagnetism
BGS supervisor: Dr Ciaran Beggan
BGS PhD type: Collaborative
University supervisor: Prof. Tim Yeoman
DTP: CENTA2, University of Leicester

Project description:
In June 2012, the BGS Geomagnetism team installed two high frequency (100 Hz sampling rate) induction coil magnetometers at Eskdalemuir, in the Scottish Borders, which permit us to measure the very rapid changes of the magnetic field. They are oriented orthogonal to each other in the horizontal plane. The spectrograms (power at each frequency versus time) show diffuse (vertical) band of peak power at 8, 14, 20 and 26 Hz are the Schumann resonances, while weaker signals at 1-25 Hz between 18:00 and 06:00 UT are due to the so-called Ionospheric Alfven Resonances (IAR). The Schumann Resonances (SR) are generated by the emission of broadband lightning strikes typically in the equatorial regions. Around 100 strikes per second ‘echoing’ around the earth-ionosphere cavity creates a fundamental frequency around 7.8 Hz, with the higher harmonic at 13.9, 21, 27 Hz though these vary over time. The IAR are generated by the vibration of magnetic field lines passing through the ionosphere up to 1000km in space and are found only at magnetically quiet periods (such as local night-time). The IAR structures typically arise with a frequency around 1Hz and fan out into discrete lines, increasing in frequency from late evening to midnight and then decrease during early morning. A thin line at 25 Hz is a sub-harmonic of the UK power grid.

The SR are sensitive to season, peaking in northern hemisphere summer, at a minimum in winter and are supposedly further modified by other quasi-periodic atmospheric oscillations such as the Madden-Julian Oscillation, though robust correlation with such atmospheric phenomena remains to be definitively proven. The IAR show a strong solar cycle modulation becoming more prominent at the (present-day) solar minimum. They disappear during strong geomagnetic activity and show unexplained behaviours which are presently not theoretically understood. For example, a debate is still on-going as to their excitations source. In addition, we often observe be up to 20 individual fringes extending out to 30 Hz as well as changes in frequency which remain unexplained.

The candidate will examine the two main resonances in the induction coil data, looking firstly at the longer term changes of the Schumann Resonances and their relation to solar, seasonal and atmospheric phenomenon. This includes examining the polarisation variations and comparison to other induction coil data from the northern hemisphere (Canada, Japan). For the IAR, we wish to investigate the source excitation (lightning?) and the theoretical generation and propagation mechanisms from the literature and compare to the observed IAR at Eskdalemuir. The candidate will extract the relevant IAR parameters (frequency, number of fringes, bandwidth, Q-factor) and use these to develop a theoretical framework for the influences and factors governing the development and evolution of IAR on any given day.

From the new understanding of how the ionosphere and magnetosphere parameters influence the SR and IAR, we will seek to invert for these parameters using the ground-based magnetic field data.

Researcher: Nathan Westwood
Area: Decarbonisation and Resource Management
Team: Geochronology & Tracers Facility
BGS supervisor: Dr Matt Horstwood
BGS PhD type: Collaborative
University supervisor: Dr Amy Managh
DTP: CENTA2, Loughborough

Project description:
Excimer and Nd:YAG laser ablation systems (193nm and 266nm) are available at BGS and Loughborough University where they will be coupled with a variety of ICP-MS instrumentation (single collector sector field (Loughborough), multiple collector and single collector sector-field (BGS), time-of-flight (Nu Instruments)) using low-dispersion sample transport systems. A range of materials (e.g. carbonates, phosphates, silicates) and applications will be studied to optimise U-series and U-Th-Pb geochronology and elemental and isotope geochemistry using this set-up, mapping the materials down to 1µm spatial resolution whilst maintaining the best possible precision. The extent and effect of matrix effects on data accuracy will be considered, along with full uncertainty quantification. New data handling methods will be developed, providing the researcher with proficiency in statistical packages using R, Matlab and/or similar platforms.

Researcher: Daniel Matthews
Area: Environmental Change, Adaptation and Resilience
Team: Water Resources
BGS supervisor: Andy Farrant
BGS PhD type: Collaborative
University supervisor: Dr Jared West and Professor Simon Bottrell
DTP: PANORAMA, University of Leeds

Project description:
The Cretaceous Chalk aquifer represents the most important groundwater resource in the UK and is also important ecologically for chalk stream ecosystems. Similar aquifers exist in France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Israel. The extent to which chalk aquifers show development of karstic features (widened fractures and conduit development due to dissolution by groundwater flow) is of interest because where karstic features connect sources of contaminants directly to borehole abstractions, pollution might arise. Where flow is more distributed because karst features are less developed, water quality is generally better protected.

Karst is often associated with distinctive and often spectacular landforms, including caves, and results in rapid groundwater flow in subsurface streams and rivers, as well as flow through smaller solutional voids, although the latter are less well understood due to their inaccessibility. The Chalk is often not considered a karst aquifer because caves are rare, and surface karst features are small (ie micro-karst) and until recently not well documented. Recent work has highlighted the potential importance of micro-karst in the Chalk enabling rapid groundwater flow over long distances, but its nature and how it impacts groundwater flow and contaminant transport is not well understood.

Recent advances in tracer testing techniques offer the opportunity to study the smaller sized solutional voids in karst aquifers, both in classical karst aquifers and in the Chalk. The development of tracers such as bacteriophage (non-harmful virus particles small enough to pass through fractured aquifer systems) and in modelling the development of karst networks enable a new way forward via systematic investigation of the extent of micro-karst development in aquifers like the Cretaceous Chalk. Using these approaches we aim to identify key factors controlling development, the importance of different void types (widened fractures, conduits etc) in the Cretaceous Chalk, and the impact of these on contaminant transport and therefore water quality.


  1. To identify key controls on development of karstic flow paths in soluble rocks such as the Chalk.
  2. To identify extent of Chalk karst development in areas where karst swallow holes are absent, as well as where these are evident at the surface (i.e. rapid micro-karstic flow may still be occurring).
  3. To simulate evolution of micro-karstic features in the Chalk aquifer and their impact, and/or predict the pollution vulnerability of groundwater in chalk and karstic aquifers more widely.
  4. To investigate how degree of micro-karst development influences groundwater vulnerability and pollutant concentration characteristics in Chalk groundwater abstractions, and their response to extreme weather events.

The ultimate goal is to provide a coherent understanding of karst development in chalk aquifers, within the framework of previously-developed models for karst development in soluble rocks, and the impact of micro-karst development on contaminant transport, groundwater pollution vulnerability and therefore on the quality of abstracted groundwater and that of chalk-fed springs and streams.

Researcher: Daniel Shockley
Area: Environmental Change, Adaptation and Resilience
Team: Geo-environmental Pressure
BGS supervisor: Dr Daniel Lapworth
BGS PhD type: Hosted
University supervisor: Dr Tom Bond, Dr Monica Felipe-Sotelo and Dr Daniel S Read
DTP: SCENARIO, Surrey and UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

Project description:
It has been estimated there are between 5 and 50 trillion plastic particles on the surface of the ocean, and this is where research has focussed to date, however, relatively little reliable data from freshwater systems is available and almost no data on groundwater. Microplastics are typically defined as particles <5 mm in size. They can travel thousands of miles in both marine and freshwater systems. As such they are widely distributed in rivers, lakes, seas and the ocean. Ingestion of microplastics has been recorded in over 100 aquatic organisms, from zooplankton upwards in size. A diverse variety of pollutants, including metals, can adsorb onto and leach from microplastics, while substances of concern are widely used in plastics manufacturing. Thus, the impacts of aquatic plastic litter and plastic infrastructure are presumed to be widespread. This project will advance our scientific knowledge of the subject by investigating the following topics:

  1. Development of robust experimental methods for isolation and identification of plastics in freshwater systems. Method development with start with reviewing published methods and testing recently validated by CEH (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology) to assess their suitability for groundwater samples. By initially testing synthetic samples, before moving onto authentic freshwater samples (groundwater, surface waters, and then possibly river sediments), the project will validate the efficacy of selected isolation and detection steps. Importantly, the ability to spike and recover plastic particles from environmental samples, i.e. to determine the recovery of the analytical method, will be determined.
  2. Occurrence and fate of microplastics in freshwater systems. Using the previously developed and validated method, microplastics down to 25 μm will be identified and quantified in freshwater, in particular in groundwater systems using Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) microspectroscopy. These will include samples taken from the Thames river (surface samples and sediments), before riverbank infiltration, and groundwater wells following riverbank infiltration, and following groundwater treatment processes. This will build upon existing relationships with Affinity Water and a previous project, which assessed how a shallow aquifer riverbank filtration system impacted water quality (Ascott et al., 2016). Hence, the project will determine the extent by which microplastics are transported from river water to groundwater, the amounts that accumulate in river sediments and are removed by riverbank filtration and during water treatment. There is scope to extend this field based research further to look at microplastic contamination within India, again focussing on bank infiltration sites close to polluted watercourses.
  3. Uptake and leaching of hazardous pollutants to and from plastic particles and boreholes. Selected particles from part 2 of the project will be subjected to additional analyses to assess the capacity of the microplastics to transport and accumulate key pollutants. Metals will be detected using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and organic pollutants, including plasticiser additives introduced during manufacturing, will be targeted using gas chromatography with mass spectrometry (GC-MS). By comparing amounts of pollutants from plastic particles isolated from both river water and groundwater, the project will evaluate how environmental processing (e.g. biofilm formation, photochemical oxidation) affects concentrations of pollutants associated with plastic litter as the latter moves between different environmental compartments. Existing groundwater plasticiser data will be analysed from a UK national database of groundwater monitoring sites to assess the occurrence of this compounds in groundwater samples and its relationship to borehole construction.

Ascott, M J, Lapworth, D J, Gooddy, D C,  Sage, R C, Karapanos, I. 2016. Impacts of extreme flooding on riverbank filtration water quality. Science of the Total Environment (2016), 554–555, 89–101.

Researcher: Elizabeth Flint
Area: Environmental Change, Adaptation and Resilience
Team: Rural Land Use Adaptation
BGS supervisor: Matthew Ascott
BGS PhD type: Hosted
University supervisor: Dr Ben Surridge
DTP: ENVISION, Lancaster University

Project description:
The macronutrients Nitrogen (N) and Phosphorus (P) are essential for life, yet also represent threats to both ecosystem and drinking water quality in many parts of the world. Recent research by the supervisors [1-3] revealed that public water supply (PWS) processes are associated with significant fluxes of N and P, due to abstraction and mains water leakage alongside wastewater discharge. Beyond this research conducted in the UK, very little is known about how these processes currently influence macronutrient cycles around the world, nor about the likely impacts of future changes in climate and population on these processes. Addressing these issues lies at the heart of the proposed PhD. This work is particularly important because global variation in factors such as abstraction and leakage rates, N and P concentrations in raw waters, and the extent of environmental regulation will likely drive significant variation in the impacts of PWS on N and P cycles around the world. Countries undergoing rapid development are expected to see drastic changes in PWS infrastructure, with increases in abstraction and development of large-scale water transfers, which may result in significant impacts of PWS on N and P cycles.

Working between Lancaster University, BGS and key in-country partners, this multidisciplinary PhD has the overarching aim of developing improved conceptual understanding and quantification of the impact of PWS on macronutrient cycles in three contrasting settings: China; USA and globally. For each setting, specific objectives are to:

(1) Quantify current N and P fluxes associated with PWS processes;
(2) Model the impact of future changes in PWS (e.g. changes in abstraction, distribution, leakage, wastewater treatment and water transfers) on N and P fluxes; and
(3) Extend the work to complete objectives (1) and (2) to other macronutrients (e.g. carbon), alongside other elements of potential interest, e.g. silica.

1. Ascott et al. (2018). Sci. Total Environ. 636, 1321-1332. 2. Ascott et al. (2018). Environmental Science & Technology 52, 14050-14060. 3. Gooddy et al. (2017). Sci. Total Environ. 579, 702-708

Researcher: Narryn Thaman
Area: Multi-hazards and resilience
Team: Geophysical Tomography
BGS supervisor: Prof. Jonathan Chambers
BGS PhD type: Collaborative
University supervisor: Dr Ross Stirling
DTP: EPSRC, Newcastle University

Project description:
This PhD aims to improve our understanding of how vegetation influences soil-water dynamics in the built environment through the use of high spatial resolution sensing and geophysical tomography.

Planted areas are a much loved part of the built environment; however, rightly or wrongly, great value is often attributed to their ability to manage urban surface water. However, how much can we rely on trees, shrubs and grassed surfaces; how effective are they at maintaining the function of urban soils beneath our pavements to support load, store and attenuate water (and pollutant) flow? It is vital that our cities are resilient to the increasing frequency of high intensity rainfall events that can cause devastation to homes, businesses and lives. The inclusion of Green Infrastructure (GI) is increasingly recognised as a sustainable approach to mitigate the risk of flooding, while vegetated solutions to ground stability problems (e.g. subsidence/heave, slope stability and pavement design) are also gaining increasing attention among the engineering community. Yet, the root-water uptake behaviour of vascular plants (e.g. street trees) and the implications on soil hydrology are poorly understood in extremely heterogeneous urban soils and under ever more variable and extreme climatic conditions. Based at the recently completed National Green Infrastructure Facility (NGIF), part of the UKCRIC network of BEIS funded national research infrastructure facilities, and building on the University’s strategic theme of Cities, this project will use innovative geophysical tools to improve our understanding of how urban subsurface moisture dynamics are influenced by GI and the changing climate.

Researcher: Natasha Harris
Area: Environmental Change, Adaptation and Resilience
Team: Geo-environmental Pressure
BGS supervisor: Dr Daniel Lapworth and James Sorensen
BGS PhD type: Hosted
University supervisor: Dr Katherine Pond and Dr Tom Bond
DTP: SCENARIO, University of Surrey

Project description:
Pathogens contaminate raw water supplies globally necessitating costly treatment of drinking water supplies. Natural organic matter (NOM) can produce harmful by-products such as tri-halo methane (THM) as a result of chlorine treatment which is widely used to disinfect microbes. There is a need for real-time sensors to monitor these processes in-situ due to the time required for standard incubation methods, chemical analysis and the transient nature of pathogen contamination and NOM in raw water supplies. Better understanding of the dynamic nature of pathogen contamination, disinfection-by product production potential as well as treatment processes may enable more efficient use of treatment technology as well as better understanding of the hydrological processes that control pathogen contamination including those related to intense episodic rainfall events. This research is relevant for improved monitoring, protection and management of drinking water supplies with potential applications in water utilities in both developed and developing economies.

This research project will focus on the application of novel in-situ fluorescence sensors for monitoring protein and humic signatures, which can be used as proxies for pathogens and disinfection by-product production e.g. tri-halo methane, in drinking water supplies and the down-stream treatment and water supply network (e.g. Sorensen et al 2015; Yang et al., 2015). Groundwater, the most abundant drinking water source globally, is the focus of this PhD. A network of sensors including high frequency in-situ measurements of raw water supplies using telemetry will be undertaken as well as roaming spot checking within the supply network to understand downstream processes to understand. Laboratory batch experiments will be undertaken to better understand the sensor detection capability and differentiate between different sources of fluorescence signal. Flow cytometry will be used to understand microbiological dynamics and discriminate between viable and non-viable organisms. In partnership with water supply utilities in the UK the novel application of new technology will be tested. Opportunities for deploying and using this technology for understanding pathogen contamination in municipal drinking water supplies in India and Africa will be explored as part of this research.

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

Yang, L, Kim, D, Uzun, H, Karanfil, T, & Hur, J. 2015. Assessing trihalomethanes (THMs) and N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) formation potentials in drinking water treatment plants using fluorescence spectroscopy and parallel factor analysis. Chemosphere, 121, 84-91.

Researcher: Daniela Cuba
Area: Digital
Team: Environmental Statistics
BGS supervisor: Dr Ben Marchant and Dr Andrew Tye
BGS type: Hosted
University supervisor: Dr Daniela Castro Camilo and Professor Marian Scott
DTP: Non- DTP, University of Glasgow

Project description:
Understanding the geochemical composition of soil across the landscape is key to determine where land is suitable to support crop growth, flood management and the provision of raw materials, and in particular whether risks to human-health and the environment arise through contamination by toxic constituents (Fordyce et al., 2017). However, there are major statistical challenges in obtaining this information. The geochemical composition of soil is complex and spatially heterogeneous reflecting the multiple natural and anthropogenic sources of various elements, the different pressures and erosional processes which apply locally and the interactions between the components of the soil matrix. Heterogeneity is particularly marked in urban areas where soil could be imported or impacted by historical and recent transport, construction and industrial activities.

Soil information is generally obtained through expensive and time consuming spatial surveys requiring collection of soil samples and laboratory analyses. Novel multivariate (Gelfand et al., 2010), geostatistical and machine learning models (Hengl et al., 2018) are required to efficiently interpret such data. Extreme value theory (Coles, 2001) is required to predict the occurrences of toxic elements exceeding a harmful threshold. Further challenges result from the compositional nature of the geochemical data (i.e. the need for the concentrations of each element to sum to the whole of each sample). The majority of samples might contain a substantial proportion of silica but this could be diluted through processes such as erosion leading to larger concentrations of other elements. Thus standard correlation measures might indicate a misleading link between these erosion-resistant elements and compositional analyses (McKinley, 2016) must be applied. This project will address such challenges with reference to the Geochemical Baseline Survey of the Environment (G-BASE) for the Clyde Basin (Fordyce et al., 2017). This survey consists of almost 3000 measurements of 50 chemical parameters in soil samples from urban Glasgow and the peri-urban and rural surrounds. Therefore the researcher will:

  • Identify the soil geochemical information required by land managers to enable decisions regarding land use and potential remediation
  • Develop the statistical tools required to integrate the G-BASE measurements with other environmental information needed to provide this information and to quantify the uncertainty in these predictions
  • Identify the interactions between different measured chemical parameters and then assess whether these might be more easily inferred by analysing the composition of each soil sample as a whole rather than treating the parameters as a set of correlated variables
  • Assess the spatially-varying risk of the concentrations of parameters exceeding regulatory thresholds and the tendency for such exceedances in different parameters to coincide.
  • Examine the relevance of the developed methodology to other G-BASE and international soil surveys.


Coles, S G. 2001. An Introduction to the Statistical Modeling of Extreme Values. Springer.
Fordyce, F et al. 2017. Soil geochemical atlas of the Clyde Basin. Edinburgh, UK, British Geological Survey, 126pp. (OR/14/032)
Gelfand, A E et al. 2010. Handbook of spatial statistics. CRC press.
Hengl, T, et al. 2018. Random forest as a generic framework for predictive modelling of spatial and spatio-temporal variables. PeerJ 6:e5518.
McKinley, M, et al. 2016. The single component geochemical map: Fact or fiction? Journal of Geochemical Exploration, 162, 16-28.

Researcher: Loris Wacquier
Area: Multi-hazards and resilience
Team: Geophysical Tomography
BGS supervisor: Prof. Jonathan Chambers and Dr. David Gunn
BUFI PhD type: Collaborative
University supervisor: Dr Shane Donohue
DTP: Non-DTP, University College Dublin

Project description:
This overall aim of the project is to develop a geophysical approach for characterising the temporal and spatial stability of an active landslide (Hollin Hill Landslide Observatory, UK). In particular, the project will investigate the use of seismic methods for better understanding climate effects on the mechanical properties of the landslide. The project will focus on the surface wave seismic approach and data will be acquired from active seismic surveys as well as passive surveys using distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) of fibre optic cables that will be installed at the site. Data will be acquired over a 2-2.5 year period, to account for seasonal variability and will be interpreted with respect to the 3D strain field measured using DAS. The project will also involve a comprehensive laboratory calibration programme, in order to establish relationships between seismic velocities and key geotechnical properties, and ultimately aims to develop geophysical thresholds representing slope stability.

Researcher: David Clarke
Area: Digital
Team: Environmental Statistics
BGS supervisor: Benjamin Marchant
BUFI PhD type: Collaborative
University supervisor: Stephen Hallett

Project description:
Yield mapping in combinable crops has made identifying spatial variation in yield across fields and farms easier. Mapped soil information, (typical profile, sub-soil properties, mineralogy water-holding capacity, trafficability etc.) is available, at 1:250,000 scale, which is not sufficiently detailed to allow in-field variation to be considered effectively. Crop yields also vary markedly in time, with variation in weather (Wreford and Adger, 2010), pest and disease pressure (Madgwick et al., 2011), and seasonal management impacts including cultivations, rotations and fertiliser and pesticide use. Analysing and quantifying relationships between heterogeneous soil conditions and crop growth and yield has often been constrained by a lack of data due to high costs and time demands associated with the sampling (Heil and Schmidhalter, 2012). In the limited number of studies where both temporal and spatial variation are investigated, the patterns often interact i.e. high yielding areas one year might be low yielding the next (Blackmore et al., 2003).

There is limited work exploring how season/spatial trends interact with crop rotation and how existing information can be used together with soil/ crop sampling to support more effective on-farm decision-making e.g. to consider crop suitability within a farm and/or to plan crop management interventions e.g. to adjust seed rate or fertiliser management. Key questions for any farm are typically:

  • Do areas of the field perform differently for different crops?
  • What are the impacts of different preceding crops such as sugar beet or peas on spatial variation in crop growth and productivity?
  • To what extent is the spatial pattern fixed i.e. determined by inherent soil properties/ topography etc.? Can spatial yield potential be mapped in advance?
  •  Which soil / site measures are needed for a farm-specific map to support cost-effective soil management?
  • Can management practices ‘smooth’ out the inter-year variability’?
  • Can a farm model based on underlying soil properties be calibrated and validated to guide on farm decision making within season?

This four-year project will address these questions, by building on the existing long-term experiments, farm records and a new intensive soil and agronomic monitoring study at Morley Farms, Morley St Botolph, Norfolk.

Researcher: Daniela Cuba
Area: Digital
Team: Environmental Statistics
BGS supervisor: Dr Ben Marchant and Dr Andrew Tye
BGS type: Hosted
University supervisor: Dr Daniela Castro Camilo and Professor Marian Scott
DTP: Non- DTP, University of Glasgow

Project description:
Understanding the geochemical composition of soil across the landscape is key to determine where land is suitable to support crop growth, flood management and the provision of raw materials, and in particular whether risks to human-health and the environment arise through contamination by toxic constituents (Fordyce et al., 2017). However, there are major statistical challenges in obtaining this information. The geochemical composition of soil is complex and spatially heterogeneous reflecting the multiple natural and anthropogenic sources of various elements, the different pressures and erosional processes which apply locally and the interactions between the components of the soil matrix. Heterogeneity is particularly marked in urban areas where soil could be imported or impacted by historical and recent transport, construction and industrial activities.

Soil information is generally obtained through expensive and time consuming spatial surveys requiring collection of soil samples and laboratory analyses. Novel multivariate (Gelfand et al., 2010), geostatistical and machine learning models (Hengl et al., 2018) are required to efficiently interpret such data. Extreme value theory (Coles, 2001) is required to predict the occurrences of toxic elements exceeding a harmful threshold. Further challenges result from the compositional nature of the geochemical data (i.e. the need for the concentrations of each element to sum to the whole of each sample). The majority of samples might contain a substantial proportion of silica but this could be diluted through processes such as erosion leading to larger concentrations of other elements. Thus standard correlation measures might indicate a misleading link between these erosion-resistant elements and compositional analyses (McKinley, 2016) must be applied. This project will address such challenges with reference to the Geochemical Baseline Survey of the Environment (G-BASE) for the Clyde Basin (Fordyce et al., 2017). This survey consists of almost 3000 measurements of 50 chemical parameters in soil samples from urban Glasgow and the peri-urban and rural surrounds. Therefore the researcher will:

  • Identify the soil geochemical information required by land managers to enable decisions regarding land use and potential remediation
  • Develop the statistical tools required to integrate the G-BASE measurements with other environmental information needed to provide this information and to quantify the uncertainty in these predictions
  • Identify the interactions between different measured chemical parameters and then assess whether these might be more easily inferred by analysing the composition of each soil sample as a whole rather than treating the parameters as a set of correlated variables
  • Assess the spatially-varying risk of the concentrations of parameters exceeding regulatory thresholds and the tendency for such exceedances in different parameters to coincide.
    • Examine the relevance of the developed methodology to other G-BASE and international soil surveys.

Coles, S G. 2001. An Introduction to the Statistical Modeling of Extreme Values. Springer.
Fordyce F et al. 2017. Soil geochemical atlas of the Clyde Basin. Edinburgh, UK, British Geological Survey, 126pp. (OR/14/032)
Gelfand, A E. et al., 2010. Handbook of spatial statistics. CRC press.
Hengl T, et al. 2018. Random forest as a generic framework for predictive modelling of spatial and spatio-temporal variables. PeerJ 6:e5518.
McKinley, M. et al. 2016. The single component geochemical map: Fact or fiction? Journal of Geochemical Exploration, 162, 16-28.

Researcher: Loris Wacquier
Area: Multi-hazards and resilience
Team: Geophysical Tomography
BGS supervisor: Prof. Jonathan Chambers and Dr. David Gunn
BUFI PhD type: Collaborative
University supervisor: Dr Shane Donohue
DTP: Non-DTP, University College Dublin

Project description:
This overall aim of the project is to develop a geophysical approach for characterising the temporal and spatial stability of an active landslide (Hollin Hill Landslide Observatory, UK). In particular, the project will investigate the use of seismic methods for better understanding climate effects on the mechanical properties of the landslide. The project will focus on the surface wave seismic approach and data will be acquired from active seismic surveys as well as passive surveys using distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) of fibre optic cables that will be installed at the site. Data will be acquired over a 2-2.5 year period, to account for seasonal variability and will be interpreted with respect to the 3D strain field measured using DAS. The project will also involve a comprehensive laboratory calibration programme, in order to establish relationships between seismic velocities and key geotechnical properties, and ultimately aims to develop geophysical thresholds representing slope stability.

Researcher: David Clarke
Area: Digital
Team: Environmental Statistics
BGS supervisor: Benjamin Marchant
BUFI PhD type: Collaborative
University supervisor: Stephen Hallett

Project description:
Yield mapping in combinable crops has made identifying spatial variation in yield across fields and farms easier. Mapped soil information, (typical profile, sub-soil properties, mineralogy water-holding capacity, trafficability etc.) is available, at 1:250,000 scale, which is not sufficiently detailed to allow in-field variation to be considered effectively. Crop yields also vary markedly in time, with variation in weather (Wreford and Adger, 2010), pest and disease pressure (Madgwick et al., 2011), and seasonal management impacts including cultivations, rotations and fertiliser and pesticide use. Analysing and quantifying relationships between heterogeneous soil conditions and crop growth and yield has often been constrained by a lack of data due to high costs and time demands associated with the sampling (Heil and Schmidhalter, 2012). In the limited number of studies where both temporal and spatial variation are investigated, the patterns often interact i.e. high yielding areas one year might be low yielding the next (Blackmore et al., 2003).

There is limited work exploring how season/spatial trends interact with crop rotation and how existing information can be used together with soil/ crop sampling to support more effective on-farm decision-making e.g. to consider crop suitability within a farm and/or to plan crop management interventions e.g. to adjust seed rate or fertiliser management. Key questions for any farm are typically:

  • Do areas of the field perform differently for different crops?
  • What are the impacts of different preceding crops such as sugar beet or peas on spatial variation in crop growth and productivity?
  • To what extent is the spatial pattern fixed i.e. determined by inherent soil properties/ topography etc.? Can spatial yield potential be mapped in advance?
  • Which soil / site measures are needed for a farm-specific map to support cost-effective soil management?
  • Can management practices ‘smooth’ out the inter-year variability’?
  • Can a farm model based on underlying soil properties be calibrated and validated to guide on farm decision making within season?

This four-year project will address these questions, by building on the existing long-term experiments, farm records and a new intensive soil and agronomic monitoring study at Morley Farms, Morley St Botolph, Norfolk.

Researcher: Samuel Kersley
Area: Decarbonisation and Resource Management
Team: Earth Resources
BGS supervisor: Dr Nick Roberts
BGS PhD type: Collaborative
University supervisor: Dr Clare Warren
DTP: CENTA, The Open University

Project description:
Geochronology fundamentally underpins our knowledge of how the continental crust forms and evolves by providing the rates and timescales of burial, metamorphism and deformation. High spatial resolution in-situ analyses (via laser ablation) allow for the precise and accurate measurement of isotope ratios from individual geochronometer minerals within thin sections. These isotope ratios provide tightly constrained ages that can be linked to petrographic observations and mineral chemical analyses, all of which underpin the modern field of ‘petrochronology’ [1]. There is a still considerable debate about the importance and role of changing metamorphic conditions, bulk rock chemistry, deformation and fluid infiltration in determining when the geological clock starts ticking in deformed and metamorphosed rocks that have experienced a lengthy and protracted geological history.

In-situ U-Th-Pb geochronology datasets from metamorphosed and deformed rocks commonly yield a range of dates that spans more time than the analytical uncertainty of a single “age” would suggest. This span of ages therefore suggests either that: (1) protracted crystallization took place over a range of pressure, temperature and deformation (P-T-d) conditions, (2) there was incomplete isotopic resetting during cooling and exhumation, or (3) there has been analytical mixing of mineral domains of different age. Recent studies have demonstrated that individual samples that have undergone similar P-T-d conditions, i.e. from the same outcrop, can yield strikingly varied mineral dates [2], indicating that the rock’s bulk chemical composition exhibits a strong control on the reactions that allow the geochronometer minerals to crystallise or dissolve [3]. It is also well known that different geochronometer minerals within the same rock respond differently to pressure, temperature and deformation [4,5].

The major aim of this project is to develop new U-Th-Pb petrochronological tools and workflows to help constrain how and when time is recorded in deformed rocks during burial and exhumation of the continental crust. This will be achieved by: (1) analysing different samples that are closely spatially associated (e.g. on the sub-metre scale) but which have different bulk chemical compositions, and (2) analysing rocks of similar bulk composition in less strained versus more strained localities. A suite of analytical datasets using the petrochronology approach will be applied to each rock unit, encompassing imaging techniques, petrography, microstructural analysis, in-situ U-Th-Pb geochronology, and modelling of metamorphic conditions. Integration of these data will inform how different geochronometers respond during the deformation and metamorphism of a rock unit.

Researcher: David King
Area: Environmental Change, Adaptation and Resilience
Team: Inorganic Geochemistry
BGS supervisor: Michael Watts
University supervisor: Marcello Di Bonito
DTP: Non-DTP, Nottingham Trent

Project description:
Artisanal gold mining in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa still widely employs the use of Hg (Hg). Whilst many studies have reported the fate of ‘total’ Hg in the environment and potential human exposure, analytical methods, particularly field methods for the preservation of chemical species of Hg are not established for a developing country setting. Such method development will enable the generation of Hg speciation data to better inform toxicological limits, environmental pathways and mitigation strategies. This project will join a BGS-Kenyan network and compliment a policy-mitigation Kenyan PhD associated with Hg usage in gold mining. Method development for field preservation of Hg in sample matrices have relevance to collaborative Hg-gold mining projects in Senegal and Nigeria where field preservation methods will enable the development of African technical capacity for Hg analyses with less sensitive analytical equipment (compared to ICP-MS, available in most UK universities). This approach will strengthen evidence for methodologies to demonstrate pathways-to-impact.

Researcher: Alistair Black
Area: National Geosciences
Team: Survey and Regional Geology
BGS supervisor: Mark Woods and Andy Farrant
University supervisor: Geoffrey Parkin
DTP: IAPETUS2, Newcastle

Project description:
The UK is in the process of a paradigm shift in groundwater modelling with the need for models to be redeveloped in the coming years. Prior to this, the Environment Agency, alongside key stakeholders including water companies, are revising the modelling strategies and methods of model centric decision support.

The theme of this project is reduction of prediction uncertainty through geological realism and anthropogenic stress realism. Three areas of international groundwater community weakness are identified above. These three strands are intertwined and collectively are the core of this PhD proposal.

This PhD is therefore to research, develop and demonstrate improved methods to facilitate better usage of geological data and anthropogenic process detail – prior to national model redevelopment.

The Anglian-Essex area is proposed as the focus of this PhD as it has: extreme reliance on groundwater, contentious groundwater pressures – including drought susceptibility and climatic pressure, is a varied ensemble of hydrogeological environments; and, has quality datasets. The remit of the PhD however is not locally specific to this area and outcomes are required to be transferable.

Groundwater abstraction is dynamically linked with groundwater and river levels in reality, either through human reactive operation or natural constraint. Simulations however are currently unable to represent this implicit feedback. Models are principally developed for decision support in times of groundwater stress. Abstraction well licences include constraints based on local conditions, for example a reduction in pumping is directed when river flows are below set criteria such that abstraction related impacts are minimised. Models are used to help develop such operational rules and constraints. Yet models currently cannot directly represent the implicit ‘event driven’ processes that they are used to design. Related to this, there is a growing need for assessing abstraction yield under variable groundwater level conditions, this is the core of abstraction sustainability and climate change assessment. Research and innovation into these fundamental aspects of groundwater anthropogenic representation will permit substantial improvement of impact and sustainability representation at the key (dry) times that models are built to inform. It will further permit stochastic and probabilistic styles of modelling which are not practical with the current explicitly defined scenario approaches which cannot feedback the effects of linked environmental and anthropogenic factors.

Improved hydrogeological constraint on flow systems could be possible through fuller and more detailed use of geological data. Lithological, structural, glacial history and geomorphological derived alteration of geology control natural groundwater flow and interaction with surface water in a wide range of aquifers. Such data can be incorporated into geological models. The gap however is in how to translate these geological data into a hydrogeological framework and model. Research and software innovation is required to more fully utilise pertinent geological data. Specifically this would include enhanced geology controlled flow conceptualisation and the means to utilise unstructured meshes (models with spatial refinement where it matters) as opposed to standard simple course rectangular grids. Complexity arises in 3D polygonal cell connectivity. Through this innovation geological models can be applied without retrograde simplification as currently applies.

Large general purpose models do not lend themselves to uncertainty analysis, yet the predictions are becoming increasingly challenged. A credible and practical method in prediction likelihood and confidence is required. Models are a repository for everything we know about a system; and, potentially could be used to quantify the effect of what we don’t know has on predictions. Probabilistic modelling is desired however not undertaken in Water Resource decision support. The research required is to trial methods which can be practically applied to models which are not built for specific water management predictions but a collection of water management drivers. Candidate approaches include calibration-constrained Null Space Monte Carlo and Evolutionary Markov Chain, not an exclusive list. I have additional past experience in parallelisation and scalability, including cloud application. This would be part of the scheme research.

All three strands are relevant and transferable to groundwater models nationally and internationally and aimed to guide and facilitate the next generation of groundwater studies.
Research and innovation will incorporate hydrogeological interpretation, modelling, climate analysis and software development.

Researcher: : Cindy Lim Shin Yee
Area: Multi-hazards and resilience
Team: Induced Seismicity
BGS supervisor: Margarita Segou
University supervisor: Maximilian Werner
DTP: Non-DTP, Bristol

Project description:
Human-induced earthquakes pose a growing global threat to lives, the natural and built environment and economies as societies increasingly turn to subsurface fluid-injections for geo-energy extraction. These operations include unconventional shale gas development, geothermal heat extraction, and carbon capture and storage (CCS). Dense seismic monitoring of geo-energy reservoirs is transforming our understanding of and ability to predict seismic risks, but the physical mechanisms that generate induced earthquakes remain controversial. Major barriers to progress include: a lack of efficient computational algorithms to detect and characterise small earthquake events in the increasingly vast datasets recorded in real-time; the uneven azimuthal coverage of borehole seismic instruments and low signal-to-noise ratios that affect studies of source parameters; and the difficulty to constrain the physical mechanisms that lead to induced events.

This project aims to overcome these barriers by incorporating Artificial Intelligence (AI) in seismic monitoring to detect more seismic events and to fingerprint underlying processes by data analysis and numerical modelling. The research will exploit the unique dataset recently recorded at the Preston New Road (UK) shale gas development site.

2019 PhD cohort

Researcher: Morgan Hetherington
Area: Multi-hazard and resilience
BGS supervisor: Fabio Dioguardi
University supervisor: Alan Cuthbertson
DTP: EPSRC, Dundee

Project description:
Understanding the environmental impacts of wastewater discharges into oceans, dredged material disposal in coastal waters and atmospheric emissions from industrial stacks and volcanoes, requires detailed knowledge of how the multiphase behaviour of buoyant jets and plumes is controlled by source conditions (e.g. momentum fluxes, plume geometry, etc.). Obtaining reliable source measurements can, however, prove difficult due to their inaccessibility (e.g. discharges from deep ocean outfalls, oil spills from seabed pipe fractures and/or eruptions from volcanic vents). As such, well-established theories for buoyant jet/plume behaviour typically assume time-averaged source conditions, thus disconnecting any inherent source unsteadiness from more accessible measurements of downstream plume behaviour (e.g. entrainment characteristics; rise and spreading heights; umbrella cloud formation and collapse mechanisms; particle fallout and deposition patterns). This project aims to address this disconnect through an inverse modelling approach that will utilise new datasets covering a wide range of unsteady discharge environments, with a spectrum of frequencies and magnitudes to mimic relevant source conditions (e.g. ocean outfalls, volcanic vents). It will combine scaled, parametric experiments in existing laboratory facilities that permit a wide range of environmentally-relevant conditions to be tested, and detailed CFD modelling to enhance links between these analogue laboratory data and field-scale volcanic plume data provided by BGS. The study will also focus on identifying (and optimising) the number, location and period of sensor measurements of particle-laden plume dynamics, at lab and field scales, to ascertain the extent to which the spectrum of unsteady source conditions can be recovered from these downstream plume measurements. The overall goals of the study will therefore be to:

(i) improve the dynamic links between plume evolution, particulate fall out characteristics and the temporal variability in source conditions, and
(ii) implement this new knowledge to improve integral plume models, currently utilised in relevant fields (e.g. ocean engineering, volcanology).

1 Cuthbertson, A J S., and Davies, P A. 2008. Deposition from particle-laden, round, turbulent, horizontal, buoyant jets in stationary and coflowing receiving fluids. Journal of Hydraulic Engineering, 134(4), 390-402.
2 Cuthbertson, A J S and Samsami, F and Dong, P. 2018. Model Studies for Flocculation of Sand-Clay Mixtures. Coastal Engineering, 132(2), 13-32. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.coastaleng.2017.11.006.

Researcher: Connor O’Keeffe
Area: Decarbonisation and resource management
BGS supervisor: Jim Riding
University supervisor: Crispin Little

Project description:
One of the many detrimental effects of future climate warming will be the expansion of oxygen minimum ‘dead zones’ in shallow marine areas, leading to the loss of commercially important fish and invertebrate stocks. General circulation models predict that climate change will directly deplete oceanic dissolved oxygen levels by increasing stratification and warming, as well as indirectly by causing changes in rainfall patterns, nutrient run-off and shelf eutrophication; all of which will increase marine areas affected by hypoxia and anoxia. Hypoxia can occur at a variety of temporal and spatial scales. Only the smallest temporal and spatial scales may be readily observed or recreated experimentally, and it is unclear whether these results are applicable at larger scales. Data from the largest temporal, spatial and ecological scales can, however, be sourced from the fossil record, which provides an archive of natural data from a number of past episodes of climatic and environmental change. A detailed fossil record with good temporal resolution that spans past climate change events can help in forecasting future ecosystem changes, especially if predicted climate changes move outside the parameters experienced by modern ecosystems and into regimes known only from the deeper geological record. Sedimentary rocks of Pliensbachian–Toarcian (Early Jurassic) age (185–181 Ma) are an archive of natural data from one of these past episodes of global warming and anoxia. Temperatures are estimated to have increased by 2–3.5°C in subtropical areas and 6–8°C at higher latitudes, values which are similar to the increases forecast for the end of the 21st century. In many early Toarcian shallow, epicontinental basins worldwide, laminated, organic-rich, black shales, which formed under reduced oxygen conditions, were deposited, and so this event is widely referred to as the Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event (TOAE). In some localities, there is evidence that anoxia temporarily spread into the lower photic zone, together with euxinia, as indicated by the presence of biomarkers of green sulphur bacteria in some black shales. Marine ecosystems were adversely affected by these climate driven environmental changes, and lower Toarcian strata record a major extinction of marine organisms, particularly amongst the infaunal benthos. However, for the TOAE (as for many Oceanic Anoxic Events) there are significant discrepancies in the estimation of water column and sediment oxygenation using palaeontological and geochemical data. For example, prior to the main TOAE laminated black shale event there are several shorter intervals of laminated black shale deposition, which are not associated with basin-wide extinction events, and within the main thickness of Toarcian black shales containing the geochemical evidence for greatest oxygen reduction, including photic zone euxinia, are numerous shell beds of epifaunal benthic bivalves (usually mono-specific).

Researcher: Sara Osman
Area: Multi-hazard and resilience
BGS supervisor: Julia Crummy
University supervisor: Mark Thomas

Project description:
The loading that results from ash fall following volcanic eruptions can pose a significant problem to the structural integrity of buildings. Damage to buildings due to volcanic ash fall is frequently reported yet poorly studied. This is largely because damage data needs to be collected as soon after an eruption as possible before clean-up and repair, or erosion by wind and rain. This involves entering areas where there is a danger of further eruptions, and there are often sensitivities with local communities, science agencies and disaster emergency managers. As a result, there is a need for focused experimental studies on the impacts of ash loading on buildings. Given that over 800 million people are now estimated to live near active volcanoes, the evaluation of the vulnerability of buildings to ash loading is essential for disaster risk reduction.

The ability to assess the risk to buildings from loading caused by air fall deposits is a routine procedure within the fields of structural engineering, and such procedures are outlined in codes of practice or standards such as the Structural Eurocodes: a set of ten standards that govern the design of building and civil engineering works. However, these codes deal almost explicitly with snow and there is no consideration of ash loading as a potential problem. There are significant differences between snow and ash ranging from the physical properties to the way in which it is produced and distributed which mean that assessing ash fall hazard is not as simple as adopting the current procedures for snow. Based on the Eurocode guidance on snow loading, this project will develop a methodology for assessing the ash loading on roofs and the hazard posed.
Roof collapse is a complex interaction of the loading caused by the ash, the design and condition of the structure and the weather, and as such there are three main objectives in this project:

  1. Defining a “characteristic” amount of ash
  2. Defining the relevant properties of the ash under different conditions and seasonal controls
  3. Evaluating the vulnerability of buildings and the hazard posed.

Researcher: Caitlin Lewis
Area: Environmental change, adaptation and resilience
BGS supervisor: Matthew Ascott
University supervisor: Martin Lukac

Project description:
Despite large UK reductions in nitrogen (N) emissions since 1970, recent total N deposition was unchanged. Nutrient models indicate that N loads in most broadleaf and conifer systems in the UK exceed critical limits. Forest ecosystems are efficient atmospheric nitrogen scavengers and can accumulate more nitrogen than other land uses, particularly near woodland edges and where habitat fragmentation has occurred. Data collected by Forest Research suggest that large amounts of nitrogen and carbon (C) have accumulated in forest soils and in particular in the upper organic soil horizons. Increased leaching of N and C species has been detected at a number of sites.

Nitrogen stored in forest soils presents a risk to water quality if N stores are mineralized and released as a result of changes in forest management. Nitrogen losses to aquatic systems cost billions of pounds per year globally in water treatment and environmental damage from eutrophication. Despite this risk, the potential impact of changes in forest management on N leaching from forests to aquatic systems is poorly understood. Current government policy proposes more afforestation, but also changes to tree species which are more suitable for future climates, and converting some conifer systems to native broadleaves. In addition, productive forests are associated with intensive forest management processes which all can disturb the soils before tree planting, during forest development and harvest. Changes in forest due to pests and diseases could also have profound impact on nitrate inputs and leaching in forest ecosystems. In summary, we are expecting significant change of forest cover which is likely to alter established N leaching regimes which we know little about, thus creating a major research need.

This PhD will quantify the impacts of changes in forest management practices on nitrogen fate and transport beneath forested areas in the UK. The PhD will use monitoring and modelling approaches to quantify N fluxes to aquatic systems at a range of scales. The PhD will achieve this through the following tasks:

  1. Detailed quantitative analysis of long term (>15 years) monitoring data of soil and soil solution nitrogen (total, nitrate, ammonium, dissolved organic nitrogen) measured at 10 Forest Research monitoring sites across the UK. Additional monitoring data collection and lab analysis will be carried out (soil N leaching, groundwater nitrate concentrations, pore water profiles)
  2. Development of conceptual and process-based models of N leaching to aquatic systems parameterised at each site, and a number of generalised scenarios describing N leaching from forests, to be used in large scale modelling.
  3. Upscaling of site-specific models to national scale by exploiting national scale datasets from Forest Research and CEH, e.g. BioSoil (220 sites) and soil survey and hydrogeological data.
  4.  Application of developed models (site and national scales) to predict impacts of changes in forest management on N fluxes from forests, and resultant impacts on aquatic system N concentrations.

Researcher: Adrian White
Area: Multi-hazard and resilience
BGS supervisor: Jon Chambers
University supervisor: Michael Kendall
DTP: GW4Plus, Bristol

Project description:
There are many thousands of kilometres of earth embankments within the UK flood defence and canal networks, much of which is aging and displaying increasing levels of failure in response to extreme weather events. The failure of these embankments can have severe social and economic impacts in terms of disruption, damage to property, and even loss of life. Conventional approaches to managing these structures are heavily reliant on walkover inspections or remotely sensed information. However, they cannot provide subsurface information; instead they only detect failure once it has begun, by which time it is often too late to undertake remedial action.

This project seeks to develop emerging non-invasive geophysical imaging technologies as a means of rapidly assessing the internal condition of safety critical water retaining structures. The advantage of these techniques is that they have the potential to provide detailed volumetric subsurface information related to, for example, lithology, strength, cavitation and moisture content – thereby greatly assisting in the condition assessment of these structures and early warning of failure.

Aims & Objectives

The overarching objective of the project is to develop new integrated geophysical approaches for condition assessment of flood defence earthworks. Specific aims include:

  • Developing optimised survey design solutions for both rapid (2D) characterisation and detailed (3D) assessments.
  • Joint interpretation of geophysical and environmental data to develop robust ground models.
  • Assessment of the sensitivity of new geophysical approaches to a range of embankment internal erosion scenarios validated through synthetic modelling and field trials.
  • Knowledge exchange & dissemination activities to inform good-practice in geophysical characterisation amongst stakeholders in the end-user and academic communities.

Researcher: Callum Ramage
Area: Environmental change, adaptation and resilience
BGS supervisor: Christopher Vane
University supervisor: Lisa Yon
DTP: ENVISION, Nottingham

Project description:
Kruger National Park (KNP) is a ~2 million hectare protected area, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, inhabited by hundreds of mammalian species (including lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos) and avian species (including numerous vulture, eagle and stork species), with many species of conservation importance. However, while national legislation protects the terrestrial boundaries of the park, environmental pollutants can enter by a number of rivers. The Olifants River is the largest of rivers flowing through the park, but also the most polluted. This river collects contaminants from numerous mines, agricultural areas and settlements before entering KNP and flowing through to Mozambique. Contaminant sources include: coal and metal mining (adding acid wastewater and heavy metals), areas of irrigated agriculture (with runoff, containing pesticides and fertilisers), and several towns and cities (adding untreated wastewater). Significant contamination occurs on the boundary of KNP, where the river flows past the Phalaborwa industrial mining complex (PIC). This location facilitates a study exploring the health of the ecosystem and the animals living in these contrasting landscapes, which have been variably influenced by anthropogenic activities.

In 2008 and 2009, and sporadically since then, die-offs of Nile crocodiles and African sharptoothed catfish occurred at a number of sites along the Olifants. Pansteatitis, an inflammatory condition of fat tissue, was identified in both species as the cause of death. A definitive cause has not been determined, but the most plausible explanation is that an accumulation of organic and/or inorganic contaminants in the river system (mostly likely originating from the PIC) depleted free oxygen radical scavengers in these animals, reducing their ability to metabolise dietary fatty acids, resulting in pansteatitis.

The proposed study involves assessing levels of organic and inorganic contaminants in sediment, water and invertebrates, fish and crocodiles at sites along the Olifants River system within and outside KNP, and health of the fish and crocodiles. This will enable assessment of the distribution and bioavailability of contaminants throughout multiple trophic levels, and their potential impact on animal health.

Researcher: Timothy Webster
Area: Decarbonisation and resource management
BGS supervisor: Kathryn Goodenough
University supervisor: Tom Argles
DTP: CENTA2, The Open University

Project description:
A recent study(1) proposes a critical role for both the composition of the starting materials and the melting conditions in determining whether granites are enriched in critical elements or not. Unmineralised Himalayan leucogranites represent a rare example of granites formed from a known, accessible single source: pelitic metasediments (e.g. 2). This situation offers an opportunity to investigate the partitioning of critical elements by key mineral phases (e.g. feldspar, micas, tourmaline, titanite, magnetite, rutile) through metamorphism and low temperature (<750°C) anatexis by muscovite breakdown. By contrast, studies of mineralised granites suggest that critical elements may only be released into the melt as their host minerals break down at the higher temperatures of biotite dehydration melting (>750°C)1,3.

This project will exploit recent advances in laser ablation in situ analytical methods4 to determine element concentrations in minerals from mineralised and unmineralised granites and their corresponding source rocks. Existing samples of granites and source rocks from the Himalaya (OU) and Africa (BGS) will be supplemented by field sampling in Europe. The elemental data will constrain the budgets of critical elements at the mineral species level and investigate potential enrichment processes from protolith to melt formation. The results will test a recent model1 that links Sn-W granite mineralisation to high-temperature anatexis of an intensely weathered protolith.

We can test the hypothesis by 1) modelling element concentrations in high-T (>750°C) melts that would theoretically be formed by biotite breakdown in Himalayan samples; 2) comparing these model results with Variscan metalliferous high-T melts to assess the role of temperature in causing mineralisation of economic proportions during granite formation.

(1) Romer & Kroner, 2016, Gondwana Res. 31: 60–95

Researcher: Tom Hambley
Area: Decarbonisation and resource management
BGS supervisor: Hazel Napier
University supervisor: Melanie Rohse
DTP: Non-DTP, Anglia Ruskin

Project description:
This PhD project is a collaboration between the Global Sustainability Institute (GSI) at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and the British Geological Survey (BGS).

This PhD will explore how, and how effectively, different user engagement theories are being applied in local and integrated renewable energy projects. It will use a range of case studies to investigate how user engagement is implemented by energy scientists in the context of a low-carbon energy transition and make recommendations for future projects, particularly in terms of bringing social user engagement understandings to technical project leads.

The design and delivery of new energy systems for a low-carbon economy depend on end-user engagement with new technologies. Whilst a growing body of energy social science explores technology use and acceptance, little work has been done on how energy project leads may utilise this to inform and qualitatively engage with end users and how effective their efforts are. Practical applications remain dominated by theories of behaviour change narrowly emphasising individuals’ behaviours and by quantitative surveys measuring attitudes and opinions on renewable energy technologies.

In contrast, this innovative PhD will focus on questions surrounding 1/ what user engagement theories are mobilised by technical project leads (and how they are chosen), 2/ how they are then used in specific socio-economic contexts, including social aspects of engagement and communication with end users, and 3/ how effective they are. Multiple case studies will enable comparison across different renewable energy technologies, chosen in collaboration with BGS.

Dr Rohse (proposed ARU supervisor) is a co-investigator on the £8m EnergyREV consortium funded under the government’s Industrial Strategy ‘Prospering from the energy revolution’ theme. Via her involvement, the PhD researcher will benefit from affiliation with the ‘User engagement, Preferences and Behaviours’ work package of EnergyREV. The researcher will benefit from additional academic mentoring, events and training.

Researcher: Rory Downham
Area: Environmental change, adaptation and resilience
BGS supervisor: Christopher Vane
University supervisor: Mark Barrow
DTP: CENTA2, Warwick

Project description:
This project investigates organic compounds including hydrocarbons from both a resource and contaminant perspective using state of the art instrumentation (ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry). The effect of anthropogenic contaminants on the environment is of increasing concern. However, our ability to assess the risk posed to humans and local fauna and flora is usually limited by the analytical tools used to characterise them. For example, it is now widely recognised that whilst separation-identification based instruments such as Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (LC/MS) and Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) are excellent tools for quantification of certain compound classes there selectivity risks a myopic vision of the organic geochemical world. Consequently GC/MS and LC/MS studies typically only report 10 to 1,000 out of 100,000s of compounds that are actually present in a typical soil, sediment or rock. This means that we cannot truly assess the liquid hydrocarbon resource in shale rocks (oil) or conversely ever truly realise the full range of organic pollutants in soils or sediments.

Ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry, particularly Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FTICR) mass spectrometry, has been playing a leading role in the modern characterization of petroleum and environmental samples. It differs from traditional GC-MS and LC-MS in that the FTICR instrument’s resolving power is typically 10-100x greater, leading to observation of a greater number of components. This leads to very comprehensive and yet complex data sets which subsequently serve as “profiles” or “fingerprints” of the organic components (e.g. molecular van-Krevelen bi-plots). This project will provide new inventories of organic compounds and compound classes. We will assess organic compounds in Carboniferous UK mudrocks deemed prospective for unconventional hydrocarbons in order to assess their potential as hydrocarbon resource and within this question identify their source, environment of deposition as well as the effect of post burial alteration. Secondly, the project will also characterise non-standard pollutants in soils collected from the UK GEO Observatories (Thornton and Clyde) as well as estuarine and river sediments from Thames, Clyde and possibly Red River Delta (Hanoi, Vietnam) using FTICR-MS.

Researcher: Junhao Cheng
Area: Multi-hazard and resilience
BGS supervisor: Margarita Segou
University supervisor: John McCloskey
DTP: Non-DTP, Edinburgh

Project description:
More than one hundred and seventy million people in Europe— almost a quarter of the total population—are exposed to significant earthquake hazard. One out of three people in the world is exposed to a substantial earthquake risk, and this number has almost doubled over the past 40 years. Five of the 10 largest natural disasters in the last 20 years have been earthquakes that killed nearly 700,000 people. Europe is considered a global hotspot of increased seismic risk, largely owning to the tectonic situation, high population density, business value, and existing building stock with advanced average age that is especially difficult and costly to strengthen against strong shaking. The key objective of RISE is therefore to markedly advance real-time earthquake risk reduction capabilities for a resilient Europe, limiting the negative impact of future earthquakes.

Earthquakes show clustering in space and time, as illustrated by the aftershocks triggered by large events. Statistical descriptions of clustering explain many features observed in seismicity catalogues, and they can be used to construct forecasts that indicate how earthquake probabilities change over the short term. However, these statistical approaches do not offer significant improvement for the physical triggering mechanisms that govern earthquake occurrence. The theory of static stress transfer combined with the rate-and-state theory that describes the seismicity response to a stress perturbation is able to describe the stress-mediated fault interactions within a testable framework. The challenge behind the operational value of statistical and physics-based forecasts lies largely in their interpretation since short-term earthquake probabilities for future large magnitude events remain low in an absolute sense (< 1% per day).

This project will develop a new operational earthquake model based on physics-based simulations aiming to improve our process-based understanding of earthquake triggering. These new method provides comparable results to the statistical counterparts when realistic complexity of the earthquake source and the fault system is considered. Theoretical advances in physics together with computational breakthroughs will be required in key two areas; to model nucleation of earthquakes in heterogeneous networks that are characterized by different failure thresholds, or frictional conditions, and to address uncertainty derived from imperfect observations. The framework will generate, evaluate, optimize and discriminate earthquake forecasts based on robust statistical modelling, with full quantification of uncertainty.

Researcher: Caroline Lancaster
Area: Decarbonisation and resource management
BGS supervisor: Katie Whitbread
University supervisor: Heidi Burdett
DTP: IAPETUS, Heriot Watt

Project description:
Interest in geodiversity has recently begun to increase due to the realisation that it may be critical in understanding the monetary and cultural value of a given ecosystem. Indeed, geodiversity itself may be considered a supporting ecosystem service in a similar manner to nutrient cycling and primary production, but its quantification is challenging. The lack of quantitative metrics to describe geodiversity means that effective incorporation of geodiversity within landscape management remains difficult. This project will develop geodiversity indicator metric(s) for application across a suite of environments including both terrestrial and marine settings. These metrics will facilitate the integration of geodiversity into landscape and environmental management processes and practices. Three major research objectives within the PhD will be to:

  1. Develop conceptual models for describing and quantifying geodiversity from terrestrial, aquatic and marine environments.
  2. Develop suitable indicators for describing and quantifying geodiversity.
  3. Test the indicator(s)’ robustness in terrestrial and marine environments in the context of existing geology.

Researcher: Maureen Ondayo
Area: ODA Programme
Team: Integrated Resource Management East Africa
BGS supervisor: Dr Michael Watts
BGS PhD type: Collaborative
University supervisor: Professor Odipo Osana
DTP: Non-DTP University of Eldoret, Kenya

Project description:
Migori and Kakamega Counties are gold rush areas in Western Kenya. Artisanal small-scale gold miners dig several feet underground to bring to the surface arsenic and lead-contaminated ores for processing. The ore is crushed, and ground to powder using dry mills in residential villages and along rivers within Migori and Kakamega Counties. In order to extract gold, liquid mercury is added to form a gold amalgam. The amalgam is then heated in an open flame, from which mercury vapours escape to nearby environs leaving behind gold. The study assumes a high external arsenic, lead and mercury burden on the local population. Levels of arsenic, lead and mercury will be determined in environmental (soil, interior house dust, mine tailings, sediments, staple food crops grown locally, fish tissues and water) samples. In order to evaluate the potential exposure of the local population and the extent of possible negative health impacts. Recruitment of ~600 volunteers from artisanal small-scale gold mining (ASGM) areas within Migori and Kakamega Counties will be examined through questionnaires, neuro-psychological tests and neurological examinations. Blood, hair and urine samples will be taken from each participant for multi-element analysis. The volunteers will comprise of workers (occupationally exposed miners, ore millers, and amalgam processors and smelters), local inhabitants who do not participate in artisanal gold mining activities (‘only’ exposed from the environment), people living downstream rivers Migori, Kuja and Igukhu, and, inhabitants of Ugenya Masiro in Siaya County who will serve as controls. Bias factors such as alcohol consumption and previous illness will be excluded. In addition, the study will assess local communities’ knowledge, attitudes and practices on arsenic, lead and mercury exposures resulting from artisanal small-scale gold mining activities, subsequent toxicities and poisoning.

The study also aims at developing a safe ASGM technology that combines the use of wet milling machines and the use of borax to minimize metal exposures and increase gold recovery. The efficiency and safety of the new ASGM technology will be compared against the old method and awareness creation for ASGM workers. This study will characterise the environmental health problem in Migori and Kakamega counties as a result of unregulated ASGM. Study results will demonstrate the need for coordinated efforts towards eliminating metal exposures from ASGM and guide future interventions in the studied areas including policy interventions.

This project builds on existing research experience of Professors Raburu & Osano in the region for inter-disciplinary exposure studies, as well as linking with BGS experience in this field of research and on mining practices.

Researcher: Guglielmo Persiani
Area: BGS Wales
Team: Geothermal energy
BGS supervisor: Gareth Farr and Alan Holden
BGS PhD type: Collaborative
University supervisor: Dr Andy Mitchell and Dr Henrik Sass
DTP: Non-DTP, Aberystwyth University and Cardiff University

Project description:
Ground source heating technology can be used to recover and store low enthalpy heat in abandoned coal mines, helping to decarbonise space heating in buildings. However very little is known about the impacts of temperature changes on biogeochemical reactions mediated by microbial activity. For example can bio-stimulation of subsurface microbial communities offer a potential mechanism to accelerate the rate and magnitude of heat generation?

Low enthalpy geothermal heat, using open-loop ground source technology to recover and store heat from abandoned flooded coal mines is important to decarbonise heating and energy systems (Verhoeven et al., 2014; Banks et al., 2009; Bailey et al., 2013; Yesiller et al., 2015) . Studies in the South Wales Coalfield (SWC) have shown that mine waters discharges can have variable temperatures between 10.3 and 18.6 C (Farr et al., 2016), and are considered suitable for low enthalpy heat recovery (Farr et al., 2016). However, the mechanisms that control the magnitude of heating in flooded coal mines are complex. Mine hydrology and water routing plays an important role, as well as the local geothermal gradient, the rate of increasing temperature with depth (Banks et al., 2017). However, such physical processes alone cannot explain the heterogeneity of mine water temperatures at specific depths (Farr et al., 2016).

Exothermic heat generating reactions between water, aqueous and gaseous phases, and mineral surfaces exposed in subsurface mine settings are likely to play a critical role, though thus far such reactions have only been considered in surface mine wastes (Rohwerder et al., 1998; Sand et al., 1993; Schippers et al., 2017). Many of these reactions are often mediated by and accelerated due to microbial activity, since chemotropic organisms use chemical species from these reactions as an energy source in dark subsurface environments where photosynthetic energy is absent (Mitchell et al., 2013). Specific reactions that may be of particular importance for heat generation include commonly dominant reactions in low oxygen or anoxic environments common to coal mine settings, particularly sulphide oxidation (Percak-Dennett, 2017), methanogenesis and methane oxidation (Ritter et al., 2015; Strapoc et al., 2011). Of the energy released by these biogeochemical reactions, some is released directly as heat, while some is conserved by microorganisms via the formation of high energy bio-chemical compounds such as Adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

Microorganisms use ATP as an energy source for cell maintenance and growth, but about 70% of that ATP energy is also released as heat (Konhauser, 2007). In addition, the products of these biogeochemical processes, including microbial biomass, biofilms and mineral precipitates such as Fe-oxyhydroxides, have the potential to cause significant biofouling issues for open-loop ground source heat recovery facilities (Banks et al., 2004), akin to those observed in oil and gas fields (Sanders and Sturman, 2005) and high grade geothermal operations (Lerm et al., 2013).
Aims: Biogeochemical reactions mediated by microbial activity are therefore likely to be critical for managing heat recovery and storage in abandoned coal mines, however little is known of the specific mechanisms. Here, we aim to investigate these mechanisms, including impacts of biofouling, in the SWC. The British Geological Survey (BGS) as industrial partners for this work are major stakeholders in the development of mine water geothermal in the UK which drives their support of this KESS2 initiative.

Specifically we will:

  1. Provide fundamental understanding of the biogeochemical mechanisms of heat production.
  2. Assess the mechanisms and potential role of biofouling in heat recovery system.
  3. Assess if bio-stimulation of subsurface microbial communities offers a potential mechanism to accelerate the rate and magnitude of heat generation and the potential for Microbially Enhanced Mine Water Geothermal Energy.

We will utilise a combination of field based monitoring and laboratory based experiments with field collected samples, based upon our existing work at a number of sites in the SWC, facilitated by The Coal Authority who are associated partners on this project. We will utilise a range of state-of-the-art molecular microbiology, geochemical and calorimetric techniques and associated thermodynamic modelling.

Researcher: Charlie Rex
Area: Environmental change, adaptation and resilience
Team: Geochemistry
BGS supervisor: Professor Melanie Leng
BGS PhD type: Collaborative
University supervisor: Dr Richard Staff
DTP: IAPETUS2, University of Glasgow

Project description:
In light of 21st century anthropogenically-influenced climatic change, one of the main scientific endeavours of our generation is to gain a fundamental understanding of the earth’s climate system. This is essential for the identification of the underlying drivers of global climate, as well as our understanding of the patterns of differential geographical responses to those drivers. Contemporary climate data lack the range of extremes and length of records needed to achieve this fundamental understanding and, for this reason, the study of long, high-resolution palaeoclimate records has become an international scientific priority.

Arguably, the best and most-widely cited record of palaeoclimatic change – the key global reference ‘type site’ – is that provided by the Greenland ice-cores, due to their highly precise suite of multi-proxy palaeoenvironmental data (NGRIP members, 2004), and their annual resolution, layer-counted chronology. However, similarly high quality palaeoenvironmental archives from elsewhere in the world remain scarce. Here, we have the opportunity to obtain such high quality, multi-proxy palaeoenvironmental data from a sediment core extracted from Lake Suigetsu, central Japan, supported by an annual precision varve chronology (spanning ~10,000 to 50,000 years before present) akin to that of the annually-layered Greenland ice-cores (Nakagawa et al., 2012; Schlolaut et al., 2018).

The global importance of the site for palaeoclimatic research was demonstrated by its recognition by Walker et al., (2009) as an auxiliary stratotype for the onset of the current interglacial, the Holocene. Moreover, >800 radiocarbon dates of terrestrial plant macrofossils picked from the Lake Suigetsu sedimentary archive, combined with the independent varve chronology, have provided the central archive for the ‘IntCal’ international consensus radiocarbon calibration curve (Bronk Ramsey et al., 2012; Reimer et al., 2013), and thus, implicitly, radiocarbon data from Suigetsu are applied by all users of radiocarbon dating, since calibration is an integral stage of the method.

The PhD research proposed here will take advantage of this exceptional chronological control to produce high resolution, cutting edge palaeoenvironmental proxy data of truly world leading quality.

Researcher: Adam Beresford-Browne
Area: Geological Survey of Northern Ireland
Team: Energy, minerals and water
BGS supervisor: Rob Raine
BGS PhD type: Collaborative
University supervisor: Dr Carl Stevenson
DTP: CENTA, University of Birmingham

Project description:
The Antrim lavas were erupted during continental rifting that led to the opening of the North Atlantic ca. 56 Ma and now form a basalt plateau in NE Ireland including the iconic UNESCO World Heritage site the Giant’s Causeway. Much work to date has focused on the petrology and geochemistry of the basalt, resulting in a sophisticated understanding of the genesis and evolution of the basalt magma; however, relatively little is known about the internal stratigraphy of the lava sequence. This project aims to determine the stratigraphy of the Antrim Lavas from a series of cores drilled across the plateau that penetrate the basalt sequence, complemented by field sampling. In addition to stratigraphic analysis of cores and outcrop data using basalt petrology, the project will use magnetic analyses to aid stratigraphic interpretation, including anisotropy of magnetic susceptibility (AMS), which can provide fabric data that can help to interpret flow direction. This will enable us to develop the most detailed model for the stratigraphy and emplacement of the Antrim lavas to date, developing our understanding of the volcanism that accompanied the rifting of the N. Atlantic.

Researcher: Emma McAllister
Area: Multi-hazards and resilience
Team: Geodesy and earth observation
BGS supervisor: Alessandro Novellino
University supervisor: Medina-Lopez Medina-Lopez
DTP: Non-DTP, University of Edinburgh

Project description:
This project is investigating the changes to coastal dynamics and morphology (erosion, deposition and flooding). Satellite data and machine learning are used to map and quantify affected areas.
At present, about 40% of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometres of the coast. This figure is expected to increase in the next 50 years [1]. The sea level rise caused by severe storms at present days, and predicted rise in the future are serious hazards to the coastal community and infrastructure. In order to plan, manage and mitigate future issues in coastal populations, the characterisation of the maritime boundaries is essential. Different techniques have been typically used for this purpose; some examples of these techniques are in situ measurement of coastal recession, and coastal monitoring using local recording methods. However, innovative methodologies have arisen in the past decades, such as remote sensing. The definition of the coastline from satellite data has been developed in the past, however, the obtained data are not accurate enough to be useful for short-term analyses or predictions. The resolution in many cases is in the range of kilometres, providing a poor source of information for local applications. Moreover, the correct estimation of the coastline is still a source of uncertainties. Hence, it becomes necessary to use high-resolution satellite data for evaluating coastline evolution and morphology, which is the key objective of this project.

Key research questions

  • How well can the coastal dynamics and related spatial and temporal scales be quantified by using satellite data?
  • What is the best methodology to capture coastal processes over time using satellite data?
  • How to quantify future coastline changes due to climate induced water level rise and weather scenarios?
  • How can the coastal zone development process be optimised using the information extracted from previous research questions?

Researcher: Alice Fugagnoli
Area: Environmental Change, Adaptation and Resilience
Team: Geochemistry
BGS supervisor: Dr Charles Gowing
University supervisor: Sarah Gabbott, Arnoud Boom, Will Norton and Catherine Russell
DTP: CENTA, Leicester

Project description:
Plastic pollution is now recognised as one of the major threats to the environment. My project is investigating three main aspects of plastic pollution: How it gets degraded when entering the environment, the effects of microplastic properties on biota ingestion and environmental pollution levels as well as temporal record of plastic pollution. Firstly, I am studying if fish have preferences of ingestion for some specific polymers, to have a better understanding of how microplastic properties can influence uptake from Zebrafish. Secondly, I am investigating plastic degradation and testing if microplastic fragments can be generated by abrasion only through a set of tumbling experiments. The aim is to create a database of plastic abrasion textures which will allow future researchers to “fingerprint” each polymer and understand what kind of degradation pathways the fragment went through. For the third project, I am doing fieldwork in Leicestershire, to analyse plastic pollution through time (looking at sediment cores and plastic fragments through time) and plastic pollution in the environment, measuring microplastic pollution levels in air and water. This last environmental sampling will be carried out for 12 months, to investigate potential seasonal variability as well.


2018 PhD cohort

Researcher: Jack Hemingway
Area: Groundwater
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:
The overarching research question is 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 include:

  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?

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).

Researcher: Chloe Walker-Trivett
Area: Energy Sytems and Basin Analysis
BGS supervisor: Jim Riding
University supervisor: Sev Kender, Kate Littler, Kara Bogus and Stephen Hesselbo (Exeter, Camborne School of Mines)
DTP: GW4Plus
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chloe-walker-trivett-872339a6/

Project description

During the Mesozoic, Earth experienced a rare series of abrupt and short-lived episodes of Ocean Anoxic Events (OAEs), characterised by severe global warming and possibly triggered by volcanic degassing of CO2. Despite their importance for understanding the Earth-ocean-atmosphere system, the environmental impacts and causal mechanisms of OAEs have yet to be fully resolved, and are particularly poorly understood in the southern hemisphere where records are extremely limited. One of the largest such events, OAE2 at the Cenomanian–Turonian boundary (~94 Ma), has been associated with volcanism, abrupt warming, an increased hydrological cycle, nutrient supply to the oceans, high productivity, and mass extinctions in marine biota. This project aims to reconstruct palaeoceanography and vegetation of southwest Australia before, during and after OAE2 for the first time, with exclusive access to new core material collected during International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 369.

The aims of this project are to investigate both the short and long term impacts of global climate change on Cretaceous palaeoceanography, palaeoclimate and biotic evolution of southwest Australia. The student will reconstruct changes during the Cretaceous with a specific focus on OAE2 using sedimentary organic geochemistry GDGTs, including the TEX86 sea surface temperature proxy. Data from southern high latitudes is currently lacking (Jenkyns et al. 2012), so this project will test the extent of OAE2 high latitude warming and look for evidence of short term changes, such as the “Plenus cold event” that occurs within OAE2 in the northern hemisphere (Zheng et al. 2013). Local changes in productivity will be reconstructed using dinoflagellate cyst assemblages, to investigate oceanic upwelling and terrigenous nutrient delivery over OAE2 and the longer term Cretaceous. The project will also assess regional vegetation changes linked to the hydrological cycle by generating pollen grain and spore records over the late Cretaceous, and in high resolution over OAE2. Pristine new sediment cores recently collected during IODP Expedition 369 offshore SW Australia (Hobbs et al. 2016) are ideal for organic geochemical and palynological analyses as they are thermally immature and have a low burial depth.

Hobbs, R., Huber, B., Bogus, K.A., 2016. Expedition 369 Scientific Prospectus: Australia Cretaceous Climate and Tectonics. International Ocean Discovery Program. http://dx.doi.org/10.14379/iodp.sp.369.2016

Zheng, X.-Y., Jenkyns, H.C., Gale, A.S., Ward, D.J., Henderson, G.M., 2013. Changing ocean circulation and hydrothermal inputs during oceanic anoxic Event 2 (Cenomanian–Turonian): evidence from Nd-isotopes in the European shelf sea. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 375: 338–348.

Jenkyns, H.C., Schouten-Huibers, L., Schouten, S., Sinninghe Damsté, J.S., 2012. Warm Middle Jurassic–Early Cretaceous high-latitude sea-surface temperatures from the Southern Ocean. Climate of the Past, 8(1): 215–226.


Researcher: Inja Thijssen
Area: Geochronology & tracers
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.

Researcher: Katherine Neate
Area: Groundwater
BGS supervisor: Barbara Palumbo-Roe
University supervisor: Adam Jarvis
DTP: IAPETUS, Newcastle University
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katherine-neate-717bba6b/

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).

Researcher: Alex Colyer
Area: Groundwater
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

Researcher: Susie Goodall
Area: Hazards & Observatories
BGS supervisor: Colm Jordan
University supervisor: Alessandro Novellino
DTP: CENTA, Loughborough University
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/susie-goodall-02741139/

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.

Researcher: Alistair Langmuir
Area: Hazards & Observatories
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.

Researcher: Laura Hunt
Area: ODA Programme
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 action), 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.

Researcher: Victoria Hussey
Area: Groundwater
BGS supervisor: Daren Gooddy
University supervisor: Penny Johnes
DTP: GW4 FRESH, University of Bristol
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/victoria-hussey-46790711b/

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.

Researcher: Pham Din Rinh
Area: Centre for Environmental Geochemistry
BGS supervisor: Dr Christopher 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).

Researcher: Gabriella Williams
Area: Engineering Geology and Infrastructure
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

Researcher: Russell Swift
Area: Engineering Geology and Infrastructure
BGS supervisor: Prof Jonathan Chambers, Dr Paul Wilkinson
University supervisor: Prof Frédéric Nguyen
DTP: Non-DTP, Université de Liège
Blog: https://www.bgs.ac.uk/news/can-geophysics-help-feed-people-in-a-changing-climate/

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?

Researcher: John Ball
Area: Multi-hazards and resilience
Team: Geotechnical & Geophysical Properties & Processes
BGS supervisor: Dr Jon Chambers
University supervisor: Professor Andrew Binley
DTP: EPSRC, Lancaster University

Project description:
Conventional approaches to monitoring water retaining geotechnical assets (e.g. flood embankments and dams) are often inadequate for predicting failure events. They are heavily dependent on either surface observations, which can only address failures that have already begun, or point sensors, which sample a very small volume of ground and are therefore inadequate as a means of detecting localized deterioration. In contrast, geophysical approaches provide the potential to ‘see inside’ dams or flood embankments. This can enable volumetric tracking of structural changes associated with deterioration, motion of fluids, flow pathways and ground movement, thereby helping to prevent catastrophic failure by identifying problems at a much earlier stage. However, geophysical approaches (such as geoelectrical methods, which are particularly sensitive to moisture driven changes in the subsurface) are under-developed for this application. In this project we aim to bring together expertise at Lancaster and the British Geological Survey (BGS) in order to develop new approaches for monitoring the integrity of water-retaining earth structures.

Research questions:

  • How sensitive are geoelectrical methods to specific deterioration and hydraulic processes (e.g. piping, overtopping, cavitation, perched water levels etc.) occurring in dams and flood embankment?
  • How can we optimise survey/monitoring array design for these type of assets?
  • How can we use information derived from geophysical measurement to support modelling of embankment stability?
  • How can information on deterioration processes be enhanced through the use of multi-method geophysical investigations and the combination of hydrological process modelling?

We aim to focus on active source electrical methods, such as electrical resistivity tomography and electromagnetic induction but also assess the viability of passive electrical methods, such as self-potential. Electrical current source imaging approaches, such as those developed by Binley and colleagues for landfill barrier assessment, will also be investigated.

Research questions are to be addressed through synthetic modelling studies, tanks scale experimentation, field scale trials. We will exploit established industrial links developed by BGS, our joint pool of modern geophysical equipment and our collective expertise in modelling of geophysical and hydrogeological processes.

BGS has several current sites and historic data sets that could be utilised in the studentship, these include: current monitoring of a flood embankment on the Thames (Environment Agency link) and an impoundment reservoir in Wales (water company/ITM Monitoring link). BGS have approximately three years of historic monitoring data from a leaking canal embankment (Canals and River Trust) and are currently in discussion the EA to undertake monitoring on a flood embankment on the Humber.

Researcher: Elaine Halliday
Area: Centre for environmental geochemistry
Team: Inorganic chemistry
BGS supervisor: Dr David MJ Macdonald
University supervisor: Professor Joanna Clark
DTP: SCENARIO, University of Reading

Project description:
Healthy, well-functioning natural wetlands are critical to human livelihoods and sustainable development, yet the world is losing wetlands three times faster than natural forests (Ramsar Convention on Wetlands 2018). Alkaline fens in agricultural lowlands have particularly suffered, with two of the most common pressures being groundwater abstraction and increased evapotranspiration following tree encroachment within the fen. Hydro-ecological models that are commonly used to quantify these impacts are inadequate for resolving fine-scale hydrological patterns that drive hydro-chemical and ecological processes. Specifically:

  • they are generally calibrated and validated on observations of groundwater level and streamflow only, and may not adequately represent groundwater seepage;
  • parameterisation of evapotranspiration processes suffer from a lack of available data on semi-natural vegetation types;
  • the highly variable superficial sediments, which control subsurface water flow, are rarely well enough characterised.

Located in Hampshire, Greywell Fen is a nationally important alkaline fen, the condition of which is currently assessed as unfavourable due to tree encroachment and to the hydrological impacts of a nearby groundwater abstraction plant operated by South East Water (SEW). As part of its commitment to sustainability, SEW will soon cease abstraction to restore groundwater inflows to the fen. However the tools are not available to assess the long term implications of this intervention and the complementary measures needed, through collaboration with the local Wildlife Trust, to restore the habitat.

The main aims of this project are to:

  • assess the respective importance of groundwater abstraction and tree encroachment on fine-scale hydrological patterns at Greywell Fen using historical and current field observations and appropriate hydrological modelling;
  • assess the hydrological effects of a range of abstraction mitigation and vegetation management scenarios; and
  • investigate the value of using non-standard datasets such as seepage, sub-daily groundwater levels and soil temperature to calibrate hydrological models in groundwater-dependent wetlands.

2017 PhD cohort

Researcher: Louisa Oldham (née Peaver)
Area: Groundwater
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.

Researcher: Bryony Rogers
Area: NIGL
BGS supervisor: Jane Evans and Matt Horstwood
University supervisor: Janet Montgomery, Peter Rowley-Conwy and Geoff Norwell
DTP: IAPETUS, Durham University
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bryony-rogers-b3b892b1/

Project description:
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.

Researcher: James Boyd
Area: Engineering geology
BGS supervisor: Dr Jon Chambers
University supervisor: Andrew Binley
DTP: ENVISION, Lancaster University
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-boyd94/

Project description:
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 aim of this work is, 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.

2014 PhD cohort

Researcher: Eimear Deady
Area: Minerals and waste
BGS supervisor: Dr Kathryn Goodenough and Mr Paul Lusty
University Supervisors: Dr Kathryn Moore and Dr Frances Wall, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter

Project description
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.

Contacts for further information

Jon Naden
BGS University Funding Initiative
British Geological Survey
NG12 5GG
E-mail: BUFI

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iGeology is widely used in fieldwork as a teaching tool for geology and geography students. iGeology includes bedrock and superficial geology, borehole locations and geological features including faults, folds and mineral veins. BGS © UKRI.


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