Earth Sciences

Our School of Earth and Ocean Sciences' postgraduate research degrees are based on independent full-time research work, with an academic supervisor to guide you in discovering new and exciting areas.

Underpinned by substantial external funding, the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences vibrant research environment provides our PhD and MPhil students with opportunities to work with world experts and use high-quality research equipment.

Each year approximately 15 students are recruited for PhD degrees, who benefit from participating in teaching exercises, School activities and essential skills-training experiences. In the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014), 94% of our School of Earth and Ocean Science’s research outputs were deemed ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’.

Distinctive features

Our facilities and equipment underpin research in all branches of Earth and Ocean Sciences.

From the latest analytical techniques to a coastal research vessel, our facilities support research and teaching activities within the School. These include –

  • 3D seismic laboratory - We use high-resolution, industry-sourced seismic data and cutting-edge analytical and interpretive techniques to address a wide ranging of research questions.
  • Electron microbeam facility- Our microscope can be used to image objects such as minerals and microfossils at a magnification far exceeding the capabilities of an optical microscope.
  • Terrestrial laser scanner- Offering superior measurement capability in adverse atmospheric conditions.
  • RV Guiding Light - Our coastal research vessel enables us to better understand marine issues, from sea level rise through coastal erosion and management.
  • Palaeoclimate and climate systems facility- Our Palaeoclimate and climate systems facility can offer high precision trace element and stable isotope analyses in a range of natural materials.

Key facts

Mode of study Full-time, part-time
Qualification PhD, MPhil
Full-time duration PhD 3.5 years; MPhil 1 year
Part-time duration PhD 5-7 years; MPhil: 2-4 years
Start dates January, April, July, October

From deep within the Earth, through the crust, into the oceans and onto the land, the international quality of our research output is highlighted by our ranking of 4th in the UK within our discipline (REF 2014).

Our  researchers are broadly divided into three research groups:

  • Solid: Earth and Ocean Science investigates magmatic and hydrothermal processes, subsurface and mantle geodynamics, and the development and sedimentology of sedimentary basins.
  • Living: Earth and Ocean Science considers the processes on the Earth's surface, including in and under its oceans, where life has evolved and profoundly affected environments over billions of years.
  • Changing: Earth and Ocean Science considers the causes and consequences of changes in the Earth system, in the ocean, atmosphere and on land, from the geological past into the present and future.

Differentiating taphonomic from evolutionary effects in early Palaeozoic carbonate systems

Two related hypotheses are proposed for testing through field studies on Cambro-Ordovician successions complemented by comparison of seafloor heterogeneity in modern carbonate settings.

Atmospheric CO2 variability during the Plio-Pleistocene

This project will produce reconstructions of atmospheric CO2 variability during key intervals in the past.

New constraints on CO2 using the boron isotope proxy

This project will explore the sensitivity to seawater pH and boron isotope composition in a range of biogenic calcite, including molluscs and fish otoliths.

Carbon negative electricity generation through mineral reactions

This project will directly address this knowledge gap by working across the engineering-earth science disciplinary boundary to provide an optimised design for the lime/limestone recycle system.

Bacterial endospores – shuttles to and from the deep biosphere?

Although spores are accumulating in the environment, their environmental significance is not understood.

Climatic controls on landscape evolution

This project will investigate how landscapes evolve in response to climate forcing.

How did Earth’s earliest continents form? Novel isotopic window into the formation of the Pilbara and Yilgarn cratons (Western Australia)

The aim of this PhD project is to use a set of novel isotopic tools to gain new insights into processes leading to continental crust formation.

Understanding post-earthquake landslide hazard mechanisms, Kaikoura, New Zealand

This project aims to understand the debris flow hazards caused by earthquakes.

Characterisation of volcanic emergence of the Panama Isthmus

This project will test the hypothesis that volcanic growth played a significant role in the emergence of the Isthmus of Panama.

Constraining mantle dynamics with geochemical observations

This project aims to constrain mantle dynamic models using the spatial distribution of observations of geochemical isotope anomalies.

Isotopic heterogeneity of the oceanic upper mantle: the crystal record

This project aims to provide new constraints on the extent and length scale of heterogeneity of the mantle, using a novel approach of in-situ isotopic analysis of lower oceanic crustal cumulates and MORB phenocrysts.

From watershed to reef: Reconstructing the history of land use change and coral reef health in Fiji

Coral reef systems are essential in Fiji for income generation through food and tourism, subsistence living, and coastal protection.

Assessing the potential of the marine bivalve Glycymeris glycymeris for providing novel geochemical baseline records from the Northeast Atlantic region

This project seeks to address current gaps in our understanding surrounding the influence the shell biology plays in moderating the geochemical signatures from the ambient seawater chemistry.

Source or sink? Seismic observations of mass and water transport to and from the mantle transition zone

This project aims to seismically characterise the manifestation of variable composition and material flux between the upper and lower mantle.

Developing frameworks for calibrating hydrological models using satellite gravity and altimetry data

This project aims to design calibration frameworks to use satellite derived terrestrial water storage (TWS) and surface water level (SWL) data for calibrating hydrological models.

A template for the structural interpretation of heterogeneous subsurface units using advanced seismic attributes

This PhD project will focus on the quantitative analysis of high-quality seismic data from southeast Brazil, Norway, New Zealand, and the southern North Sea, all of which comprise hydrocarbon prospects and associated carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) sites.

Rocky coast geomorphology: the key to unlocking our archaeological heritage

Archaeological coastal sites play a crucial role in the cultural heritage of our country.

Structural controls on gold mineralization in the Palaeoproterozoic Mako Volcanic Belt, Senegal

The aim of this project is to use the Mako Belt to improve our understanding of structural controls on gold deposits in four dimensions.

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

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.

Constraining the petrogenesis and timing of the late magmatic events in the British Palaeogene Igneous Province

This PhD will extend your knowledge of the temporal geochemical evolution of the British Palaeogene Igneous Province by comparing earlier lava geochemistry with later magma compositions recorded by cross-cutting dykes.

Our graduates go on to undertake a wide variety of employment routes. Some take up post-doctoral positions in the UK and overseas, whilst others take up positions in the oil and minerals industries throughout many parts of the world.


We have two types of PhD studentship:

  • Studentships with guarantted funding
  • Projects eligible for NERC funding are awarded through the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership.
Name Deadline
NERC GW4 Doctoral Training Partnership PhD projects in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences 7 January 2018
PhD in Earth and Ocean Science: Detection of forest water stress due to climate change in drought-prone regions of the Southwestern USA 7 January 2018
PhD in Earth and Ocean Sciences: New insights into Earth’s Greenhouse-Icehouse Transition 21 January 2018

Tuition fees

UK and EU students

Get the latest information on postgraduate fees.

Students from outside the EU

Get the latest information on postgraduate fees.

Where applications are not in response to any advertised topic, research proposals are welcomed but not essential, informal enquiries with potential supervisors are also encouraged. The inclusion of a CV and any available funding information should be included with a preliminary enquiry.

Graduates in appropriate science subject such as Geology or Environmental Science, with at least a First Class or 2:1 Honours degree, or a master's.

English language requirements

Applicants whose first language is not English are normally expected to meet the minimum University requirements (e.g. 6.5 IELTS). Please see our English Language Requirements guidance for more details.


Administrative contact(s)


Mrs Christine Williams

Administrative Officer

+44 (0)29 2087 5772

Academic contact(s)

Andrew Kerr

Dr Andrew Kerr

Reader in Petrology & Director of Postgraduate Research

+44 (0)29 2087 4578


Apply now
Meet us at our Information Fair on 22 February 2018.

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