BUFI current research projects

BUFI

Currently BUFI supports over 100 PhD studentships, from October 2014 these are largely funded via a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP), before this they were funded by direct collaboration with a university department. We do not fund applications from individuals. Available projects are advertised on our Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP) page. Below you can browse all our current research projects listed by 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.

2020 PhD cohort
2019 PhD cohort
2018 PhD cohort
2017 PhD cohort
2016 PhD cohort
2015 PhD cohort
2014 PhD cohort

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: Ahmed Mahmoud
Area: Multi-hazards and resilience
Team: Geodesy and Earth Observation
BGS supervisor: Alessandro Novellino
BUFI PhD type: Collaborative
University supervisor: Stuart Marsh
DTP: Non-DTP, University of Nottingham

Project description:
Sand movement is the main environmental issue in Sudan, leading to hazards such as the burial of cultural heritage sites. In this research, we will use remote sensing techniques (i.e. SAR and optical satellite images and aerial images) and land surveying techniques (i.e. GNSS, total station and levelling instruments) to understand and monitor sand movement changes, with respect to the influencing factors and its impact on urban areas, crop fields, forests, water bodies and archaeological sites. In addition, this research will focus on studying the effect of the various heights of sand dunes on the horizontal sand movement rate. Currently, sand movement is only understood in 2 dimensions and there is a need to understand the third dimension, the depth of sand, as this is crucial in knowing whether a cultural site or indeed a habitation is going to be buried. Satellite SAR offers a promising technique to study this phenomenon in three dimensions.

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.

Objectives:

  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.

Reference
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.


References

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.

References
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.

2019 PhD cohort

Researcher: Ruojie Xu
Area: Multi-hazard and resilience
BGS supervisor: Samantha Engwell
University supervisor: Gabriel Lord
DTP: Non-DTP, Heriot Watt

Project description:
Understanding volcanic eruptive behaviour is critical to managing risk to populations, infrastructure, critical systems and economy. The ash injected into and dispersed through the atmosphere during an explosive volcanic eruption has the potential to affect entire continents, with cascading secondary global impacts. Short-term forecasting of the onset of volcanic eruptions, changes during eruptions and volcanic hazards is possible due to diverse streams of monitoring data interpreted, modelled and reported by volcano monitoring institutions. This information is utilised by volcanic ash advisory centres (VAACs) to initiate numerical models to forecast the spread of volcanic ash in the atmosphere, and provide advisories to the aviation industry detailing affected areas. The project will use information contained within ash advisories, to develop novel statistical methodologies and tools, building on time series analysis, stochastic modelling, statistical pattern analysis and machine learning methods, to identify and understand patterns in eruptive behaviour both globally and on a volcano-by-volcano basis. Insights gained from analysis of the advisories will be compared to other streams of information (e.g. geological and observational data) to relate results to the physical processes governing eruptions.

Despite dissemination since the early 1990s these data have never been gathered and analysed within a research context as, until now, they have largely been considered only for operational purposes. However, analysis of these data, and their uncertainties, will help understand trends in volcanic behaviour and refine key inputs required for numerical modelling of ash dispersal and forecasting– key information required by the VAACs (Engwell et al. 2016). The proposed PhD project will directly address this need and we invite applications from suitably qualified candidates.

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
DTP: SPHERES, Leeds

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
DTP: PANORAMA, Leeds

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: Ellis Hammond
Area: Multi-hazard and resilience
BGS supervisor: Darren Beriro
University supervisor: Frederic Coulon
DTP: CENTA2, Cranfield

Project description:
This PhD studentship is intended to produce a major step forward for the sustainable reuse of brownfield land by developing innovative spatial decision-support tools using multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) methods. Tools will be trialled and developed to quantify sub-surface constraints including soil and groundwater contamination and land instability.

Currently disparate spatial datasets and data architecture support the land-use planning system. A range of formats, resolutions and types of data are held by various stakeholders, making unified and systematic geo-processing difficult. Gaining intelligence from large environmental datasets is a key challenge for modern society that underpins the UK Industrial Strategy (Infrastructure and AI & Data) (BEIS, 2017). Even more so when the challenge relates to building new homes and businesses on post-industrial brownfield land, another key UK Government policy (House of Commons, 2016; BEIS, 2017). The Government target is to build 300,000 new homes per year for the next 20 years, where brownfield land will be prioritised.

Innovation in digital planning is facilitating a step change in the planning system to speed up the delivery of new homes (Future Cities Catapult, 2016). This CASE PhD studentship is designed to provide the scientific knowledge and understanding needed to advance this area for risk-based brownfield land redevelopment.

New approaches to spatial decision-making for brownfield redevelopment will be produced by working with end-users including WSP and Groundsure Ltd., (CASE partners) and Homes England (Industry Advisor). Example applications include estimating soil and groundwater remediation costs for large urban areas, site-based maps of the geotechnical properties of soil and their suitability for certain types of building foundations and multi-hazard constraints mapping. Common to each is the spatial data processing and which algorithms are selected to describe relationships between the datasets and the problem being evaluated – this is MCDA and where the scientific challenge lies.

The researcher will work with industry, government and academia to co-design, co-develop and co-deliver innovative spatial decision support tools to solve current challenges facing the widespread reuse of brownfield land. Project outputs will be directly applicable to the UK but also provide significant export opportunities, especially for official development assistance countries.

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

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: Alison Clayson
Area: Environmental change, adaptation and resilience
BGS supervisor: Christopher Vane and Darren Beriro
University supervisor: Matthew Jones
DTP: ENVISION, Nottingham

Project description:
This studentship is a crucial part of an ongoing programme of industry-led and funded research into human exposure to organic soil contaminants in former manufactured gasworks sites. The aim of the studentship is to optimize the measurement of the human dermal bioavailability of selected organic soil contaminants widely present on post-industrial brownfield sites in the UK using in vitro laboratory-based extractions and analyses. Although established methods exist for dermal bioavailability of active pharmaceutical, personal care and cosmetic products, innovative science is required to refine these methods to chemicals bound to natural and anthropogenic soil matrices. The studentship will involve detailed characterisation of physico-chemical soil properties responsible for the release of organic compounds from soil and transfer across the skin system. This will include a collaborative placement of up to 6 months with Professor Ravi Naidu of University of Newcastle, New South Wales and Managing Director of Australia’s CRC CARE. The relationship between the dermal bioavailability data and physico-chemical contaminants and soil properties will be explored using predictive numerical modelling, exploiting machine learning where data deem this appropriate.

The poor understanding of effects of soil on absorption, compared to comprehensive studies on dermal bioavailability of pure chemical compounds, results in overly conservative human health risk assessments and potentially unnecessary soil remediation at brownfield sites. The studentship will significantly progress research methods for public and occupational exposure closer to market readiness. The CASE partner support reflects the applied nature and industry need for this work. The proposed research is novel and relevant to numerous Government policies on science, research and innovation linked to infrastructure, housing and better regulation. This is important because brownfield land forms a critical global resource intrinsically linked to peoples’ homes and wellbeing, while urbanisation means more people are expected to be living on post-industrial land in the near future.

Researcher: Sophie Dowell
Area: Environmental change, adaptation and resilience
BGS supervisor: Michael Watts
University supervisor: William Blake
DTP: ARIES, Plymouth

Project description:
Subsistence farmers in Africa are often dependent on food grown within a limited area. Therefore, their health is often associated with geochemical factors that influence the soil-to-crop transfer of essential micronutrients (MN) for health (e.g. zinc). Food production and quality is compromised by soil erosion and downstream transport of sediments to waterbodies where sediment and associated nutrients/pollutants impact water security. Resources to manage soils sustainably can be limited, resulting in weathering and erosion of soil into waterways/catchments, such as Lake Victoria. Little is known about the loss of MN from weathering of soils and whether these are more prone to poor soil management (organic retention). Loss of fine soil particles may result in transfer of micronutrients or naturally occurring/anthropogenic potentially harmful elements (PHEs) into water courses/catchments with implications for ecological health. The Winam Gulf catchment of Lake Victoria is an exemplar of these processes as a regionally important source of food both from land and water.

This PhD proposal is important owing to the rapid development and environmental pressures in the Winam Gulf-Lake Victoria catchment (Kenya), compounded by poor coordination of environmental data (land-to-lake) to guide regulatory bodies. Road building, urbanisation around Kisumu supporting >1 million inhabitants and rapid conversion of scrub/natural environments to agricultural use, extractive industries (Gold, building materials), municipal waste, loss of soil into the shallow (<10m) Winam Gulf and limited Gulf-Lake Victoria exchange of water threaten the aquaculture industry (Gikuma-Njura 2005; Aura et al. 2013; Oyoo-Okoth et al 2013; Omwama et al 2014; Liema et al 2017). Equally, subsistence farmers require an understanding of the implications of poor soil management to minimise erosion/loss of soil nutrients and maintain conditions conducive to micronutrient soil-to-plant transfer (e.g. Se requires high pH: Hurst et al 2013; Joy et al. 2015) to maintain crop yield/food composition (micronutrient sufficiency).

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: Katie Devenish
Area: Decarbonisation and resource management
BGS supervisor: Kathryn Goodenough
University supervisor: Simon Willcock
DTP: ENVISION, Bangor

Project description:
Historically nations have traded-off environmental degradation to achieve economic development. However, a turning point is sometimes observed above a certain level of wealth where countries invest in pro-environmental efforts. This inverted U-shape relationship between environmental degradation and a country’s GDP is the environmental Kuznets curve (EKC). If the Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved by 2030, then mechanisms by which nations can ‘skip’ to the EKC turning point (whilst avoiding outsourcing degradation) need to be identified. Mining can be environmentally destructive but generate huge economic value from relatively small areas of land (in contrast to, for example, extensive agriculture). Can mining allow poorer nations rich in biodiversity to minimise the environmental trade-offs faced during development?

The project will use technological innovation (e.g. remote sensing and mobile phone data to quantify the spread of illegal mining) combined with knowledge of mineral resources and ecosystem services science to advance our understanding of sustainable development. The aim is to understand the net environmental impacts of different trajectories involving mining and conservation (e.g. continued proliferation of artisanal mines in protected areas, strict control and regulation of mining sector including in protected areas).

The project will use the case study of mining in Madagascar – an extremely poor country rich in mineral resources, whose government and citizens are highly committed to rapid development but also to conserving the country’s unique biodiversity. This research has high impact potential – Madagascar needs to benefit from its mineral wealth but faces huge challenges particularly around mineral deposits underlying protected areas.

The study builds on two recent NERC funded projects: one which has explored how rare earth minerals can be responsibly exploited in northern Madagascar (https://www.bgs.ac.uk/sosRare/home.html) and another major interdisciplinary project in an area affected by gem pit mining in a protected area in the east of the country (http://www.p4ges.org/).

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?

Background:
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.

Methods:
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?

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.

References:
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: Amy Lewis
Area: Groundwater
BGS supervisor: Simon Kemp
University supervisor: David Beerling
DTP: ACCE, University of Sheffield

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

Researcher: Rose Clarke
Area: Minerals and Waste
BGS supervisor: Jon Naden
University supervisor: Dan Smith
DTP: CENTA, University of Leicester

Project description:
Post-subduction magmatism is a common phenomenon in former volcanic arcs and is increasingly recognised as an important control on the formation of exceptional ore deposits. Some of the world’s largest and/or highest grade copper and gold deposits are associated with arc magmatic systems that were active after subduction ceased. These post-subduction ore deposits are also notable for their enrichment in a wide range of trace elements and minerals, including “critical” elements such as Te, Pt, Pd, Bi and Sb.
The project will investigate Lion One Metals’ Tuvatu project, Viti Levu, Fiji. Tuvatu is an epithermal gold deposit that represents one of a number of mines and prospects (e.g. Vatukoula, Mt Kasi) associated with post-subduction volcanism in Fiji. These deposits occur along a trend referred to as the Viti Levu lineament.

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

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

Key research questions include:

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

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: Stefan Horn
Area: Minerals and Waste
BGS supervisor: Evi Petavratzi
University supervisor: Frances Wall
DTP: GW4Plus, University of Exeter Camborne School of Mines

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

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

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

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

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

Researcher: Manny Zarate
Area: Groundwater
BGS supervisor: Alan MacDonald
University supervisor: Mark Cuthbert
DTP: GW4Plus, Cardiff University

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

Researcher: Katherine Neate
Area: Groundwater
BGS supervisor: Barbara Palumbo-Roe
University supervisor: Adam Jarvis
DTP: IAPETUS, Newcastle University

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

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

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.

References:

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: Olivia Sears
Area: Geoanalytics and modelling
BGS supervisor: Kate Royse
University supervisor: Iris Moeller
DTP: ESS, University of Cambridge

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

Researcher: Susie Goodall
Area: Hazards & Observatories
BGS supervisor: Colm Jordan
University supervisor: Tom Dijkstra
DTP: CENTA, Loughborough University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: Holly Unwin
Area: Hazards & Observatories
BGS supervisor: Emrys Phillips
University supervisor: Hugh Tuffen
DTP: ENVISION, Lancaster University

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

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

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

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

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: Jenny Shadrick
Area: Marine Geosciences
BGS supervisor: Mike Ellis
University supervisor: Dylan Rood
DTP: SCCP, Imperial College London

Project description:
Coastal zones and associated populations and industry infrastructure are particularly vulnerable to future climate change. Current NERC-funded research (iCoasst) endeavours to predict the evolution of coastal environments under scenarios of future climate change.

Such models need to be both informed and trained by antecedent conditions. Historical records of cliff retreat rates are typically limited to a few decades. This period may often be shorter than the return frequency of coastal landslides and therefore such observations have limited use in establishing baseline conditions against which to assess the impact of environmental change. Additionally it is unclear the extent to which human intervention at the coast may have influenced rates of coastal change, with large-scale coastal engineering and the onset of historic record collection coinciding.

Uncertainty of the extent to which recent observations of cliff retreat may reflect long term average rates in the face of stochastic coastal processes, sea level rise, climate change and human modification of the coastline, motivate alternative approaches to quantifying long-term (centennial to millennial) rates of coastal erosion. This project will combine numerical modelling and the use of cosmogenic radionuclides (CRNs) to achieve this goal.

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

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

Researcher: Victoria Hussey
Area: Groundwater
BGS supervisor: Daren Gooddy
University supervisor: Penny Johnes
DTP: GW4 FRESH, University of Bristol

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

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

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

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

Researcher: Blaine Hancock
Area: Centre for Environmental Geochemistry
BGS supervisor: Dr Jack Lacey
University supervisor: Dr Katherine Selby
DTP: Non-DTP, University of York

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

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: Charles Maxson
Area: Centre for Environmental Geochemistry
BGS supervisor: Professor Melanie Leng
University supervisor: John Tibby (University of Nottingham)
DTP: Non-DTP, University of Nottingham

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

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

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

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

Researcher: Daniel Teeling
Area: Centre for Environmental Geochemistry
BGS supervisor: Dr Christopher Vane
University supervisor: Dr Stuart Black
DTP: SCENARIO, University of Reading

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

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

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

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

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

Researcher: Nicholas R. Patton
Area: Centre for Environmental Geochemistry
BGS supervisor: Professor Melanie Leng
University supervisor: Professor Jamie Shulmeister
DTP: Non-DTP, University of Canterbury (New Zealand) and The University of Queensland (Australia)

Project description:
The project here is comprised of two parts aimed to understand environmental changes (climatic, topographic and biologic) within Southeast Queensland, Australia. Project 1 will focus on a set of records from two adjacent crater lakes in subtropical Coalstoun Lakes National Park. The lakes cover a minimum period of two complete glacial interglacial cycles (MIS1–7: 243,000 years). The goals of Project 1: 1) Provide a climate history of the last two glacial cycles from the (Eastern) Australian subtropics with a focus on deriving high quality records of water balance; 2) determine the frequency and scale of droughts in subtropical eastern Australia over multidecadal to millennial timescales; 3) test whether human modification was significant enough to alter vegetation structure in the latter part of the last glaciation by comparing records from the penultimate glacial cycle (no human presence) to the last glacial cycle (humans present); and 4) test whether pre-European human modification of the landscape affected hydrological systems by examining whether changes in local vegetation structure lead or lag changes in hydrology.

Project 2 is focused at Cooloola Sand Mass (CSM), Queensland (100 km from Project 1). This study will use the information gained in Project 1 to enhance our understanding of soil movement, formation, and landscape evolution. The CSM contains a series of coastal dune formations that extend back in age nearly 800 ka. The dune field comprises of >150 large parabolic dunes, many of which have been dated. The on-lapping parabolic dunes provide a chronosequence through the Holocene. The outcome is a landscape increasing in age and soil development while decreasing in topographic variability moving inland from the coast. During its development, large volumes of (180-250 µm) quartz sand have been provided by the longshore drift system, and the CSM is tectonically inactive with only minor eustatic/hydro-isostatic changes in local elevation (sea-level) of between +2 to -0.5 m. The goals of Project 2): 1) Determine regional estimates of erosion and its relationship with climate variability; 2) test whether human modification increased landscape change; 3) and determine long-term effects of carbon sequestration in a rapidly evolving landscape.

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

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: James Dinsley
Area:
Minerals and Waste
BGS supervisor: Lorraine Field
University supervisor: Jon Pittman, Clare Robinson, Sam Shaw and Katie Moore (University of Manchester)
DTP: Manchester and Liverpool (EAO)
Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-dinsley-073b84120/

Project description
Environmental contamination by inorganic pollutants is a major challenge to biodiversity and can be a cause of significant organism toxicity. The transfer of pollutants into plants is important as plants underpin all terrestrial food chains. There is also interest in investigating whether bioaccumulation of pollutants into plants has bioremediation potential. Radionuclides, such as uranium and radium, can be a potential risk to ecosystem health because of radioactivity and chemotoxic effects. Understanding the behaviour, mobility and transfer of radionuclides is critical for the development of management strategies for contaminated sites, and is relevant to applications such as nuclear site remediation and disposal of radioactive waste. It is also unclear whether plants can tolerate radionuclide contaminated environments and if so, whether they have adapted tolerance or have constitutive tolerance. The mechanisms underlying the ecological distribution of plant communities in environments contaminated by uranium and radium are poorly studied. In particular, the role of plant-beneficial fungal communities such as arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) on controlling uranium absorption and tolerance are poorly understood, despite AMF being able to colonise 80-90% of the world’s plant species.

This project will focus on uranium because of its abundance, its presence at former mining and ore processing sites, and because of the dependency of its environmental mobility on chemical oxidation state, but will also consider lead (Pb) as a toxic, stable U daughter and non-essential plant element. This project builds upon previous data collected from an abandoned UK uranium mine (now SSSI), which investigated whether native plants such as Primula vulgaris (common primrose) are tolerant to radionuclide contamination or could act as bioremediation hyper-accumulator species. This project provides a series of controlled, mechanistic and field-relevant plant trials to better understand plant uranium dynamics, cellular distribution and speciation at the micro-scale.

Research Aims and objectives:

  1. The first aim of the project is to identify the mechanisms for uranium and lead absorption through the (i) plant root and (ii) AMF hyphae pathways. This will be done through controlled, growth-chamber plant trials and the incorporation of a suite of microscale and spectroscopic techniques such as scanning and transmission electron microscopy (SEM-EDX, TEM-EDS), synchrotron x-ray fluorescence (Synch XRF), nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry (Nano-SIMS) and x-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS: XANES and EXAFS). Plantago lanceolata(ribwort plantain) and Rhizophagus irregulariswill be used as a model plant host and AMF species respectively. These results will indicate the distribution and chemical forms of U and Pb present in plant roots, alongside the potential role of AMF in controlling U and Pb bioavailability and speciation.
  1. The second aim of the project is to investigate the independent role of native AMF species on uranium and lead absorption within a field-relevant system with soil mesocosms. Mesocosms will be collected via a transect at an abandoned UK uranium mine site. Bulk elemental analysis by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and gamma spectrometry, PCR and DNA sequencing, and dye stained microscopy will be used to assess the significance of spatial variations in elemental uptake and fungal presence and distribution.

Researcher: Ryan Payton
Area: Decarbonisation and resource management
BGS supervisor: Andrew Kingdom
University supervisor: Saswata Hier-Majumder
DTP: London NERC, London Royal Holloway

Project description:
This project aims to use a combination of digital rock physics (DRP) and high performance computational modelling to characterise and asses a variety of siliciclastic reservoir rocks for their suitability for subsurface carbon storage. Core material from a number of locations including the North Sea, English Channel, Irish Sea and the UK Geoenergy Observatories (UKGEOS) will be sampled and imaged using micro computed tomography (μCT) at voxel resolutions of around 2 μm3. The acquired images will be processed and measurements made to characterise the physical rock properties in terms of porosity and permeability with other features measured which influence and control these important parameters for carbon storage. The microstructures of the sampled material will be at the centre of the development of a new reactive transport model describing advection, diffusion and reaction under different porous flow regimes. The model will allow for different pore structures to be assessed for their efficacy for carbonate precipitation under conditions suitable for geological carbon storage (GCS). The model will focus on identifying favourable conditions for greater carbon mineralisation and any factors which inhibit mineralisation. This will therefore allow for recommendations to be made about the microscale requirements of a reservoir rock to be suitable for GCS. The techniques developed in this project will be developed with the goal in mind of making them applicable to a wide range of materials so that such analyses can be carried out on any reservoir under consideration for carbon capture and storage (CCS). Close collaboration with the BGS as a project partner and their UKGEOS projects will enable this work to have strong impacts on our understanding of the viability of CCS at new sites in the UK the achieve the goal of carbon net neutrality by 2050. Consequently, this work also has the opportunity to influence policy decisions concerning effective use of CCS in newly developing CCS projects.

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: Hannah Buckland
Area: Earth hazards and observatories
BGS supervisor: Samantha Engwell
University supervisor: Kathy Cashman and Alison Rust
DTP: GW4Plus, University of Bristol

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

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

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

For each deposit, the textural (grain size and shape) and physical (density and settling velocity) characteristics of ash will be determined as a function of time (stratigraphic location) and distance [2]. These data will be used to address fundamental questions regarding ash generation (both primary and secondary fragmentation), ash transport and post-emplacement remobilization (in conjunction with S. Engwell, BGS). This project will require a student with a degree in geology; a background in volcanology would be helpful, as would some programming skills (including Matlab). Good communication skills will be an asset as will field skills, as the project will involve fieldwork. The student will receive training in field-based physical volcanology, electron microscopy, laboratory experiments (measurements of settling velocities) and ash transport modelling. This diverse set of skills will be useful for both academia and hazard analysis. The student will be expected to present their research at leading international conferences and to publish results in leading scientific journals.

References
[1] Cashman, K V, Rust, A C, Volcanic ash – generation and spatial variations. In: Mackie, S, Ricketts, H, Watson, M, Cashman, K V, Rust, A C. (eds.). 2016. Volcanic ash – Hazard Observations. Elsevier.
[2] Bacon, C R. 1983. Eruptive history of Mount Mazama and Crater Lake caldera, Cascade Range, USA. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 18, 57-115.
[3] Engwell,S L, Sparks, R S J, Carey, S. 2014. Physical characteristics of tephra layers in the deep sea realm: the Campanian lgnimbrite eruption.Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 398, 47-64.
[4] De Rita, D, Giordano, G, Esposito, A, Fabbri, M, Rodani, S. 2002. Large volume phreatomagmatic ignimbrites from the Colli Albani volcano (Middle Pleistocene, Italy). Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 118, 77-98.

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: Olivia Walker
Area: Energy systems and basin analysis
BGS supervisor: Tim Pharaoh
University supervisor: Tiago Alves
DTP: CDT – UK Oil & Gas, Cardiff University

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

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

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

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

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).

References
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: Alex Priestley
Area: Engineering geology
BGS supervisor: Oliver Kuras
University supervisor: Richard Essery
DTP: E3, University of Edinburgh

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

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

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

Researcher: Roxana-Mihaela Stanca
Area: Energy systems and basin analysis
BGS supervisor: David McCarthy
University supervisor: Douglas Paton, Estelle Mortimer and Dave Hodgson
DTP: SPHERES, University of Leeds
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/roxana-stanca-55a67438/

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

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

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

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

Researcher: Hannah Rogers
Area: Earth hazards and observatories
BGS supervisor: Ciaran Beggan
University supervisor: Kathy Whaler
DTP: E3, University of Edinburgh

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

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

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

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

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

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

Researcher: Rebecca Couchman-Crook
Area: Earth hazards and observatories
BGS supervisor: Julia Crummy
University supervisor: Geoff Wadge
DTP: Non-DTP, University of Reading
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rebeccacouchmancrook/

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

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

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

Researcher: Louis Howell
Area: Energy systems and basin analysis
BGS supervisor: Graham Leslie
University supervisor: Stuart Clarke
DTP: UK Oil & Gas, Keele University
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/louis-howell-306885100/

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

Researcher: Jack Lee
Area: NIGL
BGS supervisor: Nick Roberts and Richard Haslam
University supervisor: Jonathan Imber
DTP: CDT – UK Oil & Gas, Durham University

Project description:
The recently developed method of LA-ICP-MS U-Pb geochronology on calcite fault and vein fills (Roberts & Walker, 2016) provides a new opportunity to place absolute age constraints on the structural and mineralisation histories of sedimentary basins. The aim of this studentship is to apply the Roberts & Walker method to determine the absolute ages of syn-kinematic calcite mineralisation along previously well-characterised faults and fractures from across the Cleveland Basin (Imber et al., 2014), and adjacent offshore areas. Using the Cleveland Basin as a case study, the student will develop a structural and isotopic “toolkit” that can be used to determine the absolute chronology of fracturing, fluid-flow, burial and exhumation within sedimentary basins.

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

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

Researcher: Kirstin Johnson
Area: Marine geoscience
BGS supervisor: Emrys Phillips and Carol Cotterill
University supervisor: Dave Hodgson
DTP: Non-DTP, University of Leeds
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kirstin-johnson-08bbb151/

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

Researcher: Alexandra Tamas
Area: Energy systems and basin analysis
BGS supervisor: David McCarthy
University supervisor: R E Holdsworth and John Underhill
DTP: CDT – UK Oil & Gas, Durham University and Heriot Watt University
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexandra-t%C4%83ma%C8%99-8686bb90/

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

Researcher: Morten Lunde Nielsen
Area: Energy systems and basin analysis
BGS supervisor: Phil Wilby
University supervisor: Jakob Vinther
DTP: GW4Plus, University of Bristol
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mortenlundenielsen/

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Ineson, J R, Peel, J S. 2011. Geological and depositional setting of the Sirius Passet Lagerstätte (Early Cambrian), North Greenland. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 48, 1259-1281.
  2. Vinther, J, Stein, M, Longrich, N R, Harper, D A. 2014. A suspension-feeding anomalocarid from the Early Cambrian. Nature 507, 496-499
  3. Vinther, J, Eibye-Jacobsen, D, Harper, D. 2011. An Early Cambrian stem polychaete with pygidial cirri. Biol Letters 7, 929-932.

Vinther, J, Smith, M P, Harper, D A T. 2011. Vetulicolians from the Lower Cambrian Sirius Passet Lagerstätte, North Greenland, and the polarity of morphological characters in basal deuterostomes. Palaentology 54, 711-719.

Researcher: Tom Bott
Area: Groundwater
BGS supervisor: Simon Gregory
University supervisor: George Shaw
DTP: CDT – STARS, The University of Nottingham
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tom-bott-a8827794/

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

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

Researcher: Coleen Murty
Area: Centre for Environmental Geochemistry
BGS supervisor: Christopher Vane
University supervisor: Geoff Abbott
DTP: Non-DTP, Newcastle University
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/coleen-murty/

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

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

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

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

This project will combine paleogeochemical analyses with environmental observation to unpick the processes which control SOM preservation in peatlands. The paleogeochemical analyses are needed to understand the processes of physical and chemical diagenesis of peat SOM; the current environment characterisation is needed to understand better environmental controls and sensitivities on the drivers of peat decomposition and OM preservation. Intra-site homogeneity is rarely considered and to address this we will focus on one site. The chosen field site is Butterburn Flow a 450 ha blanket bog which straddles the border between Cumbria and Northumberland. It is one of only four peat bogs in the UK which is transitional between an ombrotrophic raised bog and a patterned mire (extensive lawns and hummocks), providing a clear transect from bog plateau through the bog margin and fen lagg, comprising of hummocks and hollows at each of these locations along the gradient. As such it is a crucial field site because it comprises peatland sub-habitats that are representative of a wide range of peatlands, but with homogeneity in meteorological conditions.

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.

Researcher: Clifford Richardson
Area: Informatics
BGS supervisor: Patrick Bell
University supervisor: Stuart Marsh
DTP: CDT – HORIZON, The University of Nottingham
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/clifford-richardson-15201972/

Researcher: Erica Mariani
Area: Energy systems and basin analysis
BGS supervisor: Jim Riding and Melanie Leng
University supervisor: Sev Kender and Stephen Hesselbo
DTP: GW4Plus, University of Exeter, Camborne School of Mines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Researcher: Jack Lort
Area: Centre for Environmental Geochemistry
BGS supervisor: Christopher Vane and Darren Beriro
University supervisor: Paul Nathanail
DTP: CDT – STARS, The University of Nottingham

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

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

Researcher: Lewis Banks
Area: NIGL
BGS supervisor: Simon Tapster and Matt Horstwood
University supervisor: Dan Smith
DTP: CENTA, University of Leicester
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lewis-banks-6ba792113/

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

Researcher: Daniel Stubbs
Area: NIGL
BGS supervisor: Matt Horstwood
University supervisor: Tim Elliott
DTP: GW4Plus, University of Bristol
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daniel-stubbs-42532013b/

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

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

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

Researcher: Francesco Neglia
BGS supervisor: Fabio Dioguardi
University supervisor: Roberto Sulpizio
DTP: Non-DTP, University of Bari

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

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

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

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

Researcher: Christopher Lloyd
Area: Decarbonisation and resource management
BGS supervisor: Dr Margaret Stewart
University supervisor: Professor Mads Huuse
DTP: CDT UK Oil & Gas, Manchester

Project description:
Carbon capture and storage is crucial for reduction of the climate impact of fossil fuel consumption and the only way for the UK to retain energy security without breaching CO2 quotas. The Utsira sandstone is one of the largest and most widespread sand bodies in the North Sea basin and is identified as a prime target for carbon sequestration due to its large pore volume and ideal subsurface distribution some 800-1200 m beneath the North Sea. However, its reservoir properties are relatively poorly documented and its top seal capacity to withhold a gas column over human or geological time scales is unknown beyond the immediate vicinity of the successful Sleipner CO2 injection site. Until 2015, thousands of wells drilled in the North Sea had not encountered any hydrocarbons in the Utsira sandstone raising doubts over its top seal integrity, also questioned by recent (local) studies of seal bypass systems and sand injectites that affect both the reservoir and its topseal. Existing models for the Utsira sandstone range from deep- to shallow marine and its environment is likely to vary across the basin. The North Sea has been explored for hydrocarbons for over 50 years resulting in a vast legacy database comprising thousands of wells and almost complete 3D seismic coverage allowing unprecedented insights into both reservoir architecture and facies and overburden properties and plumbing systems providing possible pathways for fluid escape into shallower aquifers and eventually to the seabed. This study will leverage state of the art 3D seismic technology calibrated by wells to provide the first basinwide characterization of the Utsira sandstone and its overburden in order to provide a comprehensive inventory of viable carbon injection sites and top seal risk, which will be key to successful implementation of carbon storage for both UK and Norwegian carbon sources. Generic insights regarding the links between deeper structures, reservoir architecture and overburden leakage paths will be extracted to provide insights into the formation of seal bypass systems in general. Shallow gas reservoirs will be examined to avoid misinterpreting imaging artifacts as leakage paths. The methods and insights developed will have general applicability to basin analysis, petroleum exploration and carbon storage, and will yield crucial insights to inform future policy and implementation of carbon storage strategies. in the UK and Norway.

2016 PhD cohort

Researcher: Jamie Price
Area: Centre for Environmental Geochemistry
BGS supervisor: Dr Kathryn Goodenough
University supervisor: Dr Andrew Kerr
DTP: GW4Plus, Cardiff University
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamie-price-28242483

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

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

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

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

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

Researcher: Ryan Dick
Area: Energy and marine geoscience
BGS supervisor: Dr Dave Tappin
University supervisor: Dr Stuart Dunning
DTP: IAPETUS, Newcastle University
LinkedIn:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Researcher: Alex Hudson
Area: Energy systems and basin analysis
BGS supervisor: Dr Jim Riding and Dr Dan Condon
University supervisor: Prof Stephen Hesselbo
DTP: GW4Plus, Exeter Camborne School of Mines

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

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

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

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

Researcher: Katherine Ascott (née Harris)
Area: Engineering geology
BGS supervisor: Steph Bricker
University supervisor: Prof Jon Coaffee
DTP: CENTA, University of Warwick
LinkedIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katherine-ascott-5867a95b/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Researcher: Helen Brookes
Area: Geoanalytics and modelling
BGS supervisor: Dr Kate Royse
University supervisor: Dr Iris Moeller
DTP: ESS, University of Cambridge

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

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

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

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

Researcher: Charlotte Priddy
Area: Marine geoscience
BGS supervisor: Dr Thomas Randles
University supervisor: Dr Stuart M Clarke
CDT: UK Oil and Gas, Keele University

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

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

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

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

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

Researcher: Ailsa Guild
Area: Marine geoscience
BGS supervisor: Emrys Phillips and Kay Smith
University supervisor: Prof David Evans
DTP: Durham University
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ailsa-guild-9406b1a7

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

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

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

Recent structural glaciological studies have focused on the structures established within different glacier types from a wide range of settings. This research has not only contributed to our understanding of the pasts and structural evolution of these glaciers, but has also outlined the mechanisms controlling their forward movement and highlighted the importance of deformation structures in controlling sediment distribution within a glacier.

However, structural studies of the deformation occurring within the ice during stagnation and collapse are, in contrast, relatively rare. The proposed study aims to address this knowledge gap.

Researcher: Sarah Howarth
Area: Minerals and waste
BGS supervisor: Paul Lusty
University supervisor: Rachael James
DTP: SPITFIRE, University of Southampton/ National Oceanography Centre
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-a-howarth/

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

Researcher: Vlad Victor Ene
Area: Minerals and waste
BGS supervisor: Dr Jon Naden
University supervisor: Dr Daniel Smith
DTP: CENTA, University of Leicester

Project Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Researcher: Chris Kneale
Area: NIGL
BGS supervisor: Dr Ian Millar
University supervisor: Dr Y Najman
DTP: ENVISION, Lancaster
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopher-kneale-b570b039

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

2015 PhD cohort

Researcher: Rebecca Draper
Area: Centre for Environmental Geochemistry
BGS supervisor: Andy Tye
University supervisor: L Bailey, Nottingham

Researcher: Philip Green
Area: Energy and marine geoscience
BGS supervisor: Dr Joana Gafeira
University supervisor: Prof Dorrik Stow
CDT: UK Oil and Gas, Heriot-Watt University
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/phillip-green-67b280115

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

Researcher: Faye Walker
BGS supervisor: Dr Margaret Stewart
University supervisor: Dr Nick Schofield
CDT: UK Oil and Gas, University of Aberdeen
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/faye-walker-68270796

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

Researcher: James Foey
BGS supervisor: Thomas Randles
University supervisor: Dr Ian Stimpton
CDT: UK Oil and Gas, Keele University
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-foey-56709466

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

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

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

Researcher: Luke Sibbett
Area: Engineering geology
BGS supervisor: Jon Chambers
University supervisor: L Bai, Nottingham

Researcher: Sarah Donoghue
Area: Environmental modelling
BGS supervisor: Fiona Fordyce
University supervisor: M Graham (Edinburgh)

2014 PhD cohort

Researcher: Catherine Gallagher
Area: Hazards & Observatories
Team: Volcanology
BGS supervisor: Charlotte Vye-Brown
University supervisor: Kevin Burton (Durham University, Earth Sciences)
DTP: Iapetus, Durham University and University of Iceland

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
DTP: Non-DTP

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
Keyworth
Nottingham
NG12 5GG
E-mail: BUFI

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PhD research with BGS

Studying for your PhD at BGS.

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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.

BUFI

BUFI is the home of doctoral research at the BGS, which is one of the UK’s largest providers of postgraduate research training in geoscience.

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BUFI science festival

BUFI Science Festival

The BUFI Science Festival is an annual competitive event to showcase the science undertaken by BGS PhD students.

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BUFI publications

The British Geological Survey University Funding Initiative (BUFI) supports numerous PhD students through funding and/or supervision. Here is a list of ISI publications arising from these collaborations.

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Laboratory technician. Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/laboratory-analysis-chemistry-2815641/

BUFI alumni

Browse our list of past PhD researchers, listed by the year they completed their PhD.

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