Funded PhD opportunities

Timing of brittle deformation of the Alps revealed by direct U-Pb dating of calcite.

  • Application end date: 11th February 2018
  • Funding Availability: Funded PhD project (EU/UK students only)
  • Department: School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
  • PhD Supervisor: Dr Catherine Mottram, Professor Randall Parrish, Dr James Darling

Project code: SEES4020218

Project description

Continental collision causes the build-up of large amounts of stress in the buckling crust. The stress causes rocks to deform on a range of timescales; slowly, over millions of years in the ductile deep roots of mountain belts, and rapidly, over seconds during seismic events in the shallow brittle crust.These rapid, low temperature upper crustal processes are notoriously difficult to date as the minerals usually used to record geological time (such as zircon) typically do not crystallise or record any deformation under these conditions. Emerging techniques have recently been developed for directly-dating brittle structures using calcite, a mineral ubiquitous in many brittlely deformed rocks (i.e. Roberts and Walker, 2016, Geology; Nuriel et al., 2017, Geology). This has opened up a whole new realm of tectonic investigation in the upper crust. This project will develop and use the new calcite U-Pb dating technique to study how orogenic stress is spatially and temporally accommodated along continental-scale faults and fold belts in the upper crust of the Alps, the largest mountain belt in Europe. The carbonate rocks of the Helvetic Nappes, Molasse Basin, and Jura Mountains of the northern Alps provide an excellent natural laboratory to study the Miocene- recent deformation of the upper crust.

The overall aim of the project is to develop and implement the new U-Pb calcite dating technique and use it to directly-date (recent and on-going) tectonic processes within the Helvetic-Jura section of the northern Alps. The student will conduct geological fieldwork in the Swiss and French Alps where structurallycharacterised calcite slickenfibres, veins in fractures, and fill in deformed fossils and tension gashes will be collected. Samples will be carefully characterised and dated at the University of Portsmouth’s state-of- the-art petrological and geochronological laboratory facilities using Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), Cathodoluminescence, laser mapping, and U-Pb dating using cutting-edge Laser Ablation-InductivelyCoupled- Plasma-Mass- Spectrometry (LA-ICP- MS) facilities. The student will be embedded within the Crustal Evolution Group under the supervision of Dr Catherine Mottram, Professor Randy Parrish, and Dr James Darling. This project will provide an excellent opportunity for outstanding training in analytical geochemistry and field geology alongside a supervisory team of world-leading geochronologists.

The results of this innovative study will provide detailed quantitative data on the rates and timing of brittle upper crustal deformation within the northern Alps for the first time. This has wider implications for how stress associated with mountain building is accommodated by folding and faulting. This is particularly relevant, as major seismic hazards are often caused by upper crustal faulting processes in many orogenic systems

Supervisor profiles

Dr Catherine Mottram

Professor Randall Parrish

Dr James Darling

Admissions criteria

You’ll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (depending upon chosen course, minimum second class or equivalent) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. Exceptionally, equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications will be considered. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.  


Informal enquiries are encouraged and can be made to Dr Catherine Mottram at (02392 842300) or Professor Randall Parrish at (02392 842294).

For administrative and admissions enquiries please contact

How to Apply

You can apply online at  You are required to create an account which gives you the flexibility to save the form, log out and return to it at any time convenient to you.

A link to the online application form and comprehensive guidance notes can be found at

When applying, please quote project code: SEES4020218.

Interview date: TBC

Start date: October 2018.

Funding notes

The fully-funded, full-time three-year studentship provides a stipend that is in line with that offered by Research Councils UK of £14,553 per annum.

The above applies for Home/EU students only.

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