Studying our Master of Research (MRes) Science allows you to focus your research interests on one or two areas of science and work towards translating your learning into research related outputs – such as a submission for a peer-reviewed publication; a peer reviewed research/knowledge transfer grant application, or a presentation.

MRes Science can be studied either full time (1-year) or part time (2-years). You will develop a wide variety of skills, experience and competence on this course, and the MRes will provide a thorough grounding for students moving towards Doctoral (PhD) studies, or pursuing research related activities as a career.

These Earth and environmental science projects are available for September 2019 or January 2020 start. Please note this list of projects is not exhaustive and you'll need to meet and discuss the project you're interested in with a member of research staff before you apply.

These projects have been divided into the relevant research groups that we have in SEES, which are:

  • Crustal Evolution Research Group (Dr Craig Storey, Prof Rob Strachan, Dr James Darling, Dr Mike Fowler, Prof Randy Parrish, Dr Dean Bullen, Dr Catherine Mottram, Dr Stephanie Lasalle)
  • Geomechanics and Environmental Hazards (Dr Andy Gibson, Dr Philip Benson, Dr Nick Koor, Dr Gareth Swift, Dr Malcolm Whitworth, Dr Derek Rust, Dr Carmen Solana)
  • Environmental Processes and Impacts (Prof Jim Smith, Dr Michelle Hale, Dr Gary Fones, Dr Michelle Bloor, Dr Sarah Reynolds, Dr Adil Bakir)
  • Palaeontology and Stratigraphy (Dr Nic Minter, Prof Andy Gale, Dr Tony Butcher, Dr David Martill, Dr David Loydell)
  • Physics / Applied Physics (Dr Melvin Vopson, Dr Aleksander Krupski, Dr Vincenzo Tamma, Dr Chris Dewdney, Dr David Franklin)

Projects available for September 2019/January 2020:

Crustal Evolution Research Group

Geomechanics and environmental hazards

Environmental processes and impacts 

Palaeontology and stratigraphy

Physics and applied physics

Exploring the exhumation history of the Cycladic Blueschist Unit, Greece using calcite U-Pb dating

Crustal Evolution Research Group

Supervisors: Dr Catherine Mottram, Prof Craig Storey and Dr Clare Bond (University of Aberdeen)

The Cycladic Blueschist unit exposed in the Greek islands is well-known for its spectacular high-pressure blueschist and eclogitic assemblages. These rocks preserve an exceptional record of the subduction and exhumation history of remnants of the Jurassic aged Tethys Ocean during the Eocene. These rocks are the perfect location to explore the deformation processes preserved within a fossilised subduction zone. The meta-sediments and meta-ophiolites exposed in the Cyclades, metamorphosed to blueschist and eclogite facies conditions, record both the early high pressure metamorphic and the later extensional exhumation history during Miocene mountain building events.

Brittle transpressional and transtensional deformation fabrics and structures have overprinted the earlier ductile fabrics since the Miocene, meaning the Cyclades preserve a complex structural history spanning both deep and shallow crustal processes. The retrograde overprinting and exhumation history of these complexly deformed rocks remains a topic of considerable debate. Emerging techniques have been developed for directly-dating structures using calcite, a mineral ubiquitous in many brittlely deformed rocks, and have opened up a whole new realm of tectonic investigation in the upper crust.

This project will utilise and help develop this cutting-edge technique in order to unravel timing of exhumation and brittle overprinting within the carbonate assemblages (perfect for calcite U-Pb dating) exposed in the Greek Cyclades. This project will involve fieldwork in the Greek islands to collect suitable calcite samples, which once characterised, will be analysed in the state-of-the-art geochronology laboratories at the University. This represents an exciting opportunity to apply a new method to better understand the timing and rates of exhumation of deep crustal rocks during mountain building.

Tracing lithosphere evolution on Earth, Moon and Mars with baddeleyite (ZrO) geochronology, chemistry and crystallography

Crustal Evolution Research Group

Supervisors: Dr James Darling, Dr Dean Bullen and Dr Desmond Moser (University of Western Ontario)

Understanding of the magmatic and metamorphic evolution of the crust has been revolutionized by petrological, chemical and isotopic studies of the robust accessory mineral zircon (ZrSiO). However, this phase is typically absent from mafic igneous rocks, making it difficult to directly connect these results with mantle evolution.

Zircon bearing rocks are also rare on the Moon and Mars, limiting our ability to understand the geological history of these planetary bodies from meteorites and Apollo samples. Another accessory mineral, baddeleyite (ZrO), provides tremendous opportunities in this regard. It is a common crystallisation product of primitive mafic magmas and shares many key characteristics with zircon, including robust U-Pb isotope systematics for geochronology and a resistance to metamorphic alteration. Despite this, understanding of baddeleyite mineral chemistry and microstructure is in its infancy.

This project will develop new understanding of this phase, by the application of state-of-the-art analytical techniques for chemical, petrological and microstructural analyses of baddeleyite grains from a wide-range of tectonic settings on Earth, as well as meteorites. These results can then be applied to better understand lithosphere evolution on Earth and other planetary bodies.

Geochronology of mid-crustal shear zones: insights from accessory minerals

Crustal Evolution Research Group

Supervisors: Dr James Darling and Prof Craig Story

Shear zones accommodate vast amounts of strain in the crust and are a focus for fluids, magmas and elemental transfer. The rates and timescales of shear zone motion, and timing of associated fluid flow, magmatic and mineralisation events, are critical for constraining large-scale tectonic processes, rheological behaviour of the lithosphere and the formation of economically important resources through geological time.

The accurate dating of these when these structures operated has long proven challenging, but recent advances in in-situgeochemical analysis has opened up new opportunities to generate radiometric ages from uranium and thorium bearing accessory minerals in shear zones, such as zircon, monazite and titanite. Despite this, when dated using the U-Th-Pb system each of these minerals typically only provide single-time snapshots into shear zone evolution: the “when” but not the “how fast” or “how long”.

This project will capitalize on our expertise in laser ablation ICP-MS geochronology to compare the age-record of accessory minerals with differing sensitivity to diffusion driven by heating or metasomatism. For example, mid-crustal shear zones from the Sudbury Ni-Cu-PGE mining region in Ontario and the Amorican Shear Zone, Brittany contain multiple accessory minerals as shear-fabric forming minerals, including titanite, allanite and apatite. Comparison of U-Th-Pb ages from these minerals will provide powerful new insights into the orogenic and metasomatic history of these important, but poorly understood structures.

Linking mineralization and tectonics in the Cornubian Ore Province: new chemical and isotopic approaches

Crustal Evolution Research Group

Supervisors: Dr James Darling, Dr Mike Fowler and Dr Dean Bullen

The Cornubian Orefield in Devon and Cornwall is the most intensely mineralised region in the British Isles, with mined ore-deposits including W, Sn, Cu, Fe, Pb, As, Mn, Zn, U and Ag. These include the world-class Drakelands W-mine, which began production in 2015. The opening of Drakelands Mine has highlighted a number of major gaps in understanding how ore-deposits in the region relate to tectonic and magmatic evolution.

A series of projects are available that will focus on applying new analytical tools for the dating and petrogenesis of ore-deposits, related intrusions and tectonic deformation in Devon and Cornwall. Many of these projects will involve working with mining industry partners. The projects will help to refine models for the geological development of this important terrane, and will inform future exploration models.

New approaches to understanding the growth and structure of kidney stones

Crustal Evolution Research Group

Supervisors: Dr James Darling, Prof. Craig Storey, Dr Phil Benson, Dr Ben Turney (Oxford Stone Group) and Mr Stephen Keoghane (Keoghane Urology)

Kidney stones form in the urinary tract and typically contain calcium, dominantly in the form of calcium oxalate with calcium phosphate being a minor but important constituent. Neither the chemical environment in which stones precipitate or their internal structure are well constrained, despite regular routine analysis of stones extracted by surgery. The common method for analysis is bulk measurement of powdered stones by fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR). However, this only provides a basic measurement of chemical composition and mineralogy and gives no information on the distribution of heterogeneity within the stone.

Advanced electron imaging techniques (scanning electron microscopy – SEM and X-ray microscopy) used routinely by mineralogists and geologists offer a way of providing new insight into the growth history of stones. Polished sections can be imaged using powerful range of electron interaction techniques and energy dispersive X-Ray spectrometry (EDS) can provide micron-scale data on the chemical composition. Furthermore, the growth history and structure can be further constrained by electron diffraction techniques (EBSD), which provide quantitative crystallographic orientation measurements. These datasets can then guide more precise measurements of a range of trace elements down to a few parts per million by laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICPMS). This is a routine technique for measuring trace elements in minerals found in rocks, including calcium phosphate (apatite), which is commonly studied. However, this approach has not been applied to kidney stones, despite it being an obvious method to provide much better constraints on chemistry and chemical heterogeneity.

This project will use our SEM and LA-ICPMS facilities in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. The work is in collaboration with an academic consultant urologist (Turney) and a consultant urological surgeon (Keoghane), who will provide samples and help to interpret the data. The assembled team provide an excellent opportunity to work with experts in method development and kidney stones and transform our understanding of kidney stone growth. This would suit an analytically-minded student with a desire to work in a new cross-disciplinary area.

The land-ice sources of Ice Rafted Debris within deep sea drill core and the fate of the Greenland Ice Sheet during the Mid Pliocene Warm Period

Crustal Evolution Research Group

Supervisors: Prof. Craig StoreyDr Phil BensonDr Clare Boston and Dr Harold Lovell

Ice rafted debris (IRD) represents grains of continental derived material that have been transported at the base of land-sourced ice sheets out to the deep ocean, where iceberg melting has resulted in deposition of these grains within the deep ocean sediments. They thus represent periods within the seafloor stratigraphy where continental ice was present and able to calve into the ocean and the individual grains come from point sources that may be tracked with appropriate methods.

Deep ocean drill core is available for a variety of areas in the north Atlantic but only certain cores penetrate deep enough to intersect the Mid Pliocene (3.3 to 3.0 Ma) and have been studied sufficiently that reliable age models are available. One such core, 907 (east of Greenland and north of Iceland), has already been sampled and we have a good record of IRD within various levels, including the Mid Pliocene. This is extremely important, since the Mid Pliocene represents a period of warm climate when the Earth last had global COlevels similar to today. It is considered by many, and reported as such in the 4th IPCC report, as being an ideal analogue for the potential future fate of our climate. The fact that IRD is present in this part of the stratigraphy already tells us that some ice was present on Greenland, but what would help to inform coupled General Circulation Models and Ice Sheet Models would be more precise details on where Greenland was glaciated.

We have developed such a method using Pb isotopes in feldspar grains forming part of the IRD and here an MRes student would have the opportunity of measuring these feldspar grains using our in-house analytical facilities. This would be the first analyses from the Mid Pliocene that would hope to provide the detail required on Greenland’s Ice Sheet and we envisage that a high profile paper would be the result in a journal such as Nature Geoscience or Nature Climate Change.

Provenance of Cambrian molasse-type successions in the Cadomian orogen of NW France and the Channel Islands

Crustal Evolution Research Group

Supervisors: Prof Rob StrachanProf. Craig Storey, Dr Nic Minter

The study of detrital mineral suites within molasse successions provides a powerful tool for characterising the geology of now-eroded or unexposed portions of an orogenic belt. In NW France and the Channel Islands, alluvial sedimentary rocks of probable Cambrian age were deposited on the eroded remnants of the Cadomian belt, a late Precambrian accretionary orogen developed around the edge of Gondwana.

Palaeocurrent studies suggest derivation from the west, north and south indicating that the rivers drained contrasting source regions (Went & Andrews 1990). This project will analyse detrital mineral suites from four separate molasse successions (Alderney and Jersey in the Channel Islands, and Erquy and Brehec in Brittany). This will enable a more comprehensive understanding of the Cadomian orogen, much of which is currently either submerged in the English Channel or obscured by Variscan reworking and/or younger Mesozoic cover. The project would suit an analytically-minded student interested in crustal evolution, geochronology and sedimentology.

The initial phase of the project would involve some limited fieldwork and sample collection. The main phase of the project would involve the U-Pb dating of detrital accessory minerals such as zircon and rutile in order to establish the crystallization history and metamorphic evolution of contrasting source regions both within, and potentially external to, the Cadomian orogen. The characterisation and dating of detrital rutile potentially derived from highpressure metamorphic rocks formed in subduction zones will be of particular interest as this may shed light on the location of otherwise cryptic sutures within the orogen. This would involve work in the analytical laboratories at Portsmouth, in particular using the laser ablation ICP-MS facility to measure U-Pb isotopes and trace element geochemistry.

The results of the project would be of wide interest to geologists interested in crustal growth and be suitable for publication in an international journal.

Linking mid-crustal migmatites to high-level granites in the Cadomian orogen, Brittany, NW France

Crustal Evolution Research Group

Supervisors: Prof Rob StrachanProf. Craig Storey, Dr Emilie Bruand and Dr Catherine Mottram

The means by which felsic melts generated at mid-crustal levels during orogeny might then be transported upwards to feed the growth of high-level plutons is a fundamental issue in understanding crustal growth and differentiation.

The late Precambrian Cadomian orogen of Brittany, NW France provided the basis for a conceptual model (D’Lemos et al. 1992; D’Lemos & Brown 1993) whereby felsic melts formed in the St Malo migmatite belt were channelled upwards along steep, strike-slip shear zones to amalgamate as the upper crustal plutons exposed further east in the Mancellian region. Although much-quoted, this conceptual model has thus far remained untested by modern geochronological techniques and more sophisticated geochemical modelling.

This project would suit an analytically-minded student interested in igneous petrogenesis, geochronology and structural geology.

The initial phase of the project would involve some limited fieldwork and collection of samples of: in situmigmatitic melt, syn-tectonic leucogranite sheets in strike-slip shear zones, and upper crustal granites. The main phase of the project would test the hypothesis that these melts derived from different crustal levels are broadly of the same age and genetically related. By carrying out U-Pb dating of accessory minerals such as zircon and monazite it will be possible to establish the crystallization ages of these felsic igneous rocks, and by examining their trace element geochemistry it will be possible to assess whether or not they could be genetically related. This would involve work in the analytical laboratories at Portsmouth, in particular using the laser ablation ICP-MS facility to measure U-Pb isotopes and trace element geochemistry. The results of the project would be of wide interest to geologists interested in crustal growth and be suitable for publication in an international journal.

Investigation into magma mixing in Shetland plutons

Crustal Evolution Research Group

Supervisors: Dr Dean Bullen and Dr Mike Fowler

Investigation into magma mixing in Shetland plutonsas determined from the trace element chemistry of accessory phases for example apatite inclusions in hornblende. Field evidence for mixing and mingling between magmas of contrasting compositions is abundant throughout the plutons west of the Walls Boundary Fault. Recent age determinations provide a protracted period of magmatism spanning some 40 Ma. The partitioning of trace elements into apatite can help to shed light on the mixing processes and ultimately the origins of these Caledonian-era plutons. This would utilise LA-ICP-MS on in situ phases in polished sections, and there are at least 2 or 3 projects available in this area related to the different plutons.

Major and trace element geochemistry of Shetland Island plutons: origin and relationship to the Caledonian Orogeny

Crustal Evolution Research Group

Supervisors: Dr Dean Bullen and Dr Mike Fowler

Recent age determinations provide a protracted period of magmatism spanning some 40 Ma further complicating the proposed origin of these Caledonian-era plutons. This project will utilise XRF and LA-ICP-MS to determine major and trace element concentrations respectively on a series of samples collected in 2016 to add to an existing database. Was slab-breakoff the cause of this magmatism, and does this model fit with the regional tectonic regime?

Investigation into occurrence in mine waste tailings from copper and tin mining at Devon Great Consols (DGC) Mine, SW England

Crustal Evolution Research Group

Supervisors: Dr Dean Bullen and Dr Mike Fowler

The toxic metalloid As occurs within the various tailings heaps at DGC in various proportions and in various forms from unprocessed primary sulphides and oxides to stromatolitic and colloidal precipitates. As is sensitive to changes in Redox conditions within the pore waters of the tailings and can be released into solution and become bio-accessible.

This project would use SEM with EDX and EBSD techniques to determine the mode of occurrence and concentrations of As-bearing minerals in mine waste tailings from the spoil heaps of DGC Mine.

Where is the As occurring within the tailings, in what form and is it accessible for bio-uptake in the environment? This is part of an ongoing study that seeks to understand the As flux within the various tailings heaps. There are at least two projects in this area that can run in parallel looking at different aspects of the same tailings.

Fault (re)activation via direct pore pressure injection

Geomechanics and Environmental Hazards

Supervisors: Dr Philip Benson, Dr Pete Rowley and Mrs Emily Butcher

The issue of fault activation (or re-activation) remains fundamental in Earth science whether in natural systems or due to human influence. In the case of fluid injection experiments, several well documented cases exist where previously dormant faults have been reactivated due to nearby fluid injection activities, especially in the case of geothermal exploration (e.g. the Basel hot dry rock experiment).

This project will use the latest in rock physics and rock deformation systems to conduct a new series of experiments whereby naturally failed and saw-cut samples, of varying angle, will be reactivated by direct pore fluid pressure (rather than effective pressure) by high speed fluid injection systems. The rate of change of the pore pressure rise will then be correlated to the stress and natural permeability of the rock system that otherwise seeks to carry away the pressure front.

Permeability of Hot-Dry-Rock geothermal systems exposed to cyclical pore fluid changes

Geomechanics and Environmental Hazards

Supervisors: Dr Philip Benson, Dr Nick Koor and Mr Stephan Gehne

This project is designed to investigate permeability hysteresis and permeability anisotropy with respect to stress and pore fluid cycles. Early work suggests that pore fluid pressure cycles has an adverse effect on the bulk permeability - however this effect is poorly known, especially with respect to the inherent anisotropy of the rock mass and how this is influenced by macroscopic fracture processes. The improved understanding of such systems had broad implications to applied geosciences that seek to use pore fluids either actively (e.g. gas shale extraction) or passively (e.g. geothermal energy).

Establishing the glacial history of the Drac Valley, Grenoble France, using glacial sedimentology and stratigraphy

Geomechanics and Environmental Hazards

Supervisors: Dr Malcolm Whitworth, Dr Harold Lovell, Dr Clare Boston and Dr Mark Hardiman

The Sinard area, within the Drac Valley, is predominantly underlain by thick and extensive sequences of glaciofluvial outwash and glaciolacustrine deposits, that have subsequently been incised by fluvial channels. These sediments are believed to have been deposited during the Würm glaciation (last glacial period), by the Isère Glacier, and document the formation of a large ice-dammed lake.

Very little research has been undertaken into the glacial history of the area, and knowledge is limited on how the stratigraphy relates to the sequence of glacial events, i.e. fluctuations of the ice margin in the Sinard area and the length of time that the lake was in existence. The focus of this project is establish a detailed Quaternary stratigraphy across this region in order to form a better understanding of the landscape history of the area during the last glacial. Detailed sedimentology will be carried out at key sections, using stratigraphic principles to establish a sequence of events.

This sedimentological work will focus on detailed logging, i.e. structural analysis, combined with sedimentological analysis, i.e., particle size, clast shape and roundness, to better understand the depositional processes involved in the emplacement of the sediments. In addition, visible volcanic ash layers which may have been produced from the Massif Central volcanic centre will also be searched for. If present these may be used as key isochrons for determining the local sequence of events, as well as adding to our understanding of the volcanic activity of the Massif Central during the last glacial.

VNIR Spectroscopy for the rapid analyses of fugitive dust

Geomechanics and Environmental Hazards

Supervisors: Dr Mike Fowler and Dr Andy Gibson

Visible Near-InfraRed (VNIR) spectroscopy is a non-destructive technique used for the determination of sample concentration and mineralogy in a wide range of industries including mineral exploration and pharmacy. This project will develop techniques to aid the characterization of natural and human derived dusts - an important element in forensic and indusrial monitoring. Working from our new NIR laboratory, the project will examine a wide range of existing samples and develop models to measure compositional characteristics of dusts from VNIR spectra and evaluate their effectiveness as industrial standards. There will be potential for fieldwork to collect new dust samples and carry out field NIR measurement.

Mixing zones in Debris Flows

Geomechanics and Environmental Hazards

Supervisors: Dr Andy Gibson, Dr Malcolm Whitworth and Dr Pete Rowley

Using field and laboratory measurement of Visible Near-InfraRed (VNIR) spectra and geotechnical indices, the project will explore the relationship between source materials, surface topography and debris flow deposits to improve understanding of how debris moves, mixes and is deposited in different debris flows. Test sites will be drawn from locations in the UK and China.

Analysis of a deep-seated inland landslide on the Wight-Purbeck chalk ridge, SW Isle of Wight

Geomechanics and Environmental Hazards

Supervisors: Dr Andy Gibson and Dr Derek Rust

Deep-seated landsliding in chalk is unexpected, even in coastal settings, making the subject of this MRes research possibly unique in Britain. The work entails detailed field mapping and reconstructions, with volume estimates and comparisons between the source area and associated debris apron, as well as study and logging of available exposures at the margin of the apron and, if possible, collection of any available organic material for 14C dating.

A desk study to identify the possibility of other similar occurrences on inland chalk escarpments in southern England and northern France should also be undertaken, mainly in the published literature, although a visual analysis using Google Earth may also prove useful. The overall aim is to critically evaluate and document the landslide, and offer well-supported conclusions that may help explain this unexpected feature.

The unusualness, and possible uniqueness, of this feature indicates that a research publication should be an outcome from this work.

Modelling strain partitioning across compressional mountain belts

Geomechanics and Environmental Hazards

Supervisors: Dr Derek RustDr Philip Benson and Dr Tom Mitchell (UCL).

Geological studies in compressional mountain belts such as the Tien Shan and Caucasus identify both active thrust faulting and active strike slip faulting. In the Tien Shan strike slip faulting appears concentrated on a single structure, the Talas-Fergana fault, that obliquely transects the mountain belt, at an angle that possibly conforms to that predicted by failure planes in rock samples compressed in rock mechanics experiments. In the Caucasus strain appears more distributed, with strike slip faults being shorter and more numerous, perhaps acting as conjugate structures, some with tear fault affinities.

Such geological observations are increasingly compared to a growing body of GPS data, particularly in the Tien Shan, although the comparison, involving vastly different time scales, raises many questions.

This project aims to shed light on strain accommodation in such mountain belts, particularly its distribution between structures with differing orientations and possible affinities, and to suggest ways in which geological and GPS data may be reconciled. The project will involve designing, constructing and running a series of appropriately constrained model experiments, using rock mechanics equipment and analogue materials such as Plexiglas.

Active three-armed rifting in ocean-island volcanoes

Geomechanics and Environmental Hazards

Supervisors: Dr Derek Rust and Dr Carmen Solana

Three-armed rifts are a common response to updoming at volcanic centres, and several examples occur in ocean-island volcanoes, such as Tenerife and El Hierro in the Canary chain. Derek Rust and Carmen Solana have field data on the rifting in El Hierro and the MRes project would examine these results in the context of such rifting worldwide. The project aim would be to identify common patterns and mechanisms associated with this style of rifting.

This project would involve an extensive desk study of such islands around the world, coupled with remote-sensing investigations, using Google Earth where higher resolution imagery is not readily available.

It is hoped the MRes student would be interested in collaborating, as first author, to produce a journal article from this project.

Active tectonics of intermontane basins, with examples from the Tien Shan mountains, central Asia

Geomechanics and Environmental Hazards

Supervisor: Dr Derek Rust

Large actively deforming basins may be unexpected within compressional mountain belts such as the Alpine-Himalayan and undoubtedly have multiple origins. The MRes project will focus on two such basins within the Tien Shan mountains, the Ketman-Tyube basin and the Issyk-Kul basin.

Derek Rust has field data from these basins, including an unexpectedly young 14C date from part of a thrust duplex now inactive and superseded by the presently active thrusting, a logged section through the duplex, and some 1:40000 stereo aerial photograph coverage. The MRes project would integrate these field results with a remote sensing analysis and map of evidence for active tectonic deformation, both within the basins and around their margins, with the aim of identifying the structural regime in operation.

Further useful insights may be gained from comparisons with other intermontane basins worldwide, analysed through a desk study, as well as from another intermontane basin studied by Derek Rust, the Pasinler basin in eastern Turkey.

It is hoped the MRes student would be interested in collaborating, as first author, to produce a journal article from this project.

Tectonic and volcanological comparisons between the world’s two subaerial ridge-transform triple junctions, Iceland

Geomechanics and Environmental Hazards

Supervisors: Dr Derek Rust and Dr Malcolm Whitworth

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is uniquely exposed above sea level as it transects Iceland, where it displays two ridge-transform triple junctions, one in the north and the other in the south of the country. Derek Rust and Malcolm Whitworth have very detailed drone imagery and field structural data from the northern triple junction and the MRes project would involve comparing these results, possibly augmented with additional volcanological information, with the southern triple junction.

The project aim is to identify possible similarities and contrasts between the two triple junctions that would contribute to understanding these features, which, in the submarine realm, are commonplace but inaccessible. Much of the project can be completed by a desk study and remote sensing investigation, although some fieldwork would undoubtedly be helpful. 

It is hoped the MRes student would be interested in collaborating, as first author, to produce a journal article from this project.

Breached landslide - lacustrine deposit assemblages in the central Tien Shan mountains, including the Kara-Su valley, Kyrgyzstan

Geomechanics and Environmental Hazards

Supervisors: Dr Derek RustDr Richard Teeuw and Prof Jim Smith

The 2008 Mw 7.9 Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan, China, on the eastern margin of the Tibetan plateau, was remarkable for the very large number of landslides it triggered, producing innumerable landslide-dammed lakes. As an index, 32 of these lakes were considered sufficiently threatening, to communities downstream, that the Chinese authorities mobilised army engineers to prematurely breach the landslide dams using explosives. This event can serve as a model for the consequences of a large earthquake in the Tien Shan mountain range, an area of strong contractional GPS rates (~20 mm a-1) and uplift associated with India-Eurasia collision. On the ground in the central Tien Shan there is ample evidence for both current and past landslide-dammed lakes, notably in the Kara-Su valley. This valley is developed along the Talas-Fergana fault, a major strike-slip structure transecting the mountain range, and displays several examples of breached landslides, each preserving lacustrine deposits upstream that were deposited during the time period the lake dammed by the landslides were in existence. Derek Rust has field data from this valley, including a logged section through one lacustrine sequence, together with associated 14C dates.

The MRes project would incorporate these field results in a wider study of these distinctive breached landslide – lacustrine deposit assemblages in this seismically active region, with the aim of documenting and analysing their occurrence, and shedding light on the controlling factors. This work would be based on a remote-sensing analysis of satellite imagery using algorithms designed to recognise the characteristic landscape elements produced by these assemblages.

One final aspect of this work concerns radioactive waste dumps, a legacy from the Soviet era when this region supplied and processed uranium ores used in the Cold War. The hazard posed by these poorly sited and unmaintained dumps is widely recognised and some remediation efforts have been conducted using World Health Organisation and World Bank money. The MRes project could contribute to the prioritisation of these scarce financial resources by identifying, on a catchment-by-catchment basis, where data on naturally occurring radionuclide levels could be obtained from the sedimentary records of suitably sited lacustrine deposits.

It is hoped the MRes student would be interested in collaborating, as first author, to produce a journal article from this project.

Characteristics and evolution of former landslide-dammed lakes in tectonically active terrains

Geomechanics and Environmental Hazards

Supervisor: Dr Derek Rust

Landslides in tectonically active regions can block valleys creating landslide-dammed lakes. There are many examples of such lakes worldwide, the largest being in the Pamir mountains where a lake of >16 km3 is impounded by landslide debris over 560 metres high that resulted from an earthquake in 1911. Such lakes are typically temporary, with breaching of the landslide dam resulting in catastrophic downstream flooding, potentially devastating downstream towns and villages.

The MRes project focuses on the geological evidence left behind by breached and drained landslide-dammed lakes, including lacustrine deposits laid down in the former lake, some displaying seismites, as well as the landslide itself. The aim is to better understand the characteristics and history of these features so that the hazard posed by landslide-dammed lakes presently in existence may be better evaluated.

The research would incorporate and build on field data gathered by Derek Rust from former landslide-dammed lakes along the San Andreas fault zone in southern California and the Talas-Fergana fault in the Tien-Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan, and would involve remote sensing analyses and a desk study to identify traits that may have general applicability, and as a result lead to a research paper in a high-profile international journal.

Application of 3D printing in the investigation of the shearing behaviour of rock discontinuities

Geomechanics and Environmental Hazards

Supervisor: Dr Gareth Swift

In order to undertake stability analysis in rock mechanics, an understanding of the shearing behaviour and strength of pre-existing discontinuities within the rock mass is a key requirement, in order to establish whether sliding will or will not occur. It is well known that this resistance and behaviour will be strongly influenced by the surface characteristics, including roughness caused by the presence of asperities at a range of scales. The shear strength can be measured directly in the field or in the laboratory on representative samples or, it can be estimated based on empirical correlations founded on the work of Barton (1973), for example.

The aim of this project is to:

  • establish whether 3D printing technology (additive manufacturing) is a viable method of reproducing discontinuities in a controlled manner which allows the surface features of discontinuities present at a range of scales, to be effectively controlled and isolated, such that their influence on behaviour and strength can be quantified.
  • examine whether scanning and printing can be integrated to allow discontinuities in the field to be replicated in the laboratory for testing, without the need for direct sampling.

A key challenge within this research relates to the printed material strength and deformability. For example, intact rock strength has an important influence on the shearing characteristics of a discontinuity, especially at high normal stresses, where asperities may be ‘sheared’ directly, whereas rock stiffness has less influence. However, if material stiffness is low, significant deformation could occur, leading to unrealistic shearing behaviour.

Investigation into the origin, fate and impact of microplastics in the Solent region

Environmental Processes and Impacts

Supervisors: Dr Adil Bakir and Prof Gary Fones

Plastics are extraordinarily useful materials due to their high malleability and durability together with being both lightweight and inexpensive. However, their longevity is resulting in substantial accumulation of plastic in the aquatic environment. Microplastic fragments (200-250 µm) are now one of the most abundant types of debris. The sources of microplastics include direct inputs of microplastic sized particles, such as microbeads used in cosmetics and pre-production pellets (primary sources) and fragmentation of larger items (secondary sources).

This project aims to investigate occurrence of microplastics in sediments and surface waters for some selected rivers and estuaries in the Solent region and investigate sorption and desorption rates of selected metals and organic pollutants onto and from microplastic particles.

Ecotoxicological impact of sildenafil (Viagra) on the freshwater environment

Environmental Processes and Impacts

Supervisors: Dr Michelle Bloor

Use of sildenafil (Viagra) supplied illicitly prevails over use of legitimately prescribed drug in the Netherlands, researchers warn in a letter to TheBMJ [1]. The team measured levels of sildenafil, used to treat erectile dysfunction and pulmonary hypertension, and its metabolites in wastewater at sewage treatment plants serving Amsterdam, Eindhoven and Utrecht and compared these data to dispensing behaviour in the catchment area. Between 61% and 79% of the drug contained in wastewater could not be explained by legitimate dispensing and is primarily illicit. The consumption of illicit erectile dysfunction drugs might dwarf the consumption of the legitimately dispensed versions, say the authors, and call for further action against the thousands of “rogue online pharmacies”.

This MRes project will investigate the ecotoxicological impacts of sildenafil on the freshwater environment. An acute and sub-lethal toxicology testing regime will be deployed, in order to determine the environmentally safe concentrations of the drug that will not impact the long-term integrity of a freshwater ecosystem.

[1] B. J. Venhuis, P. de Voogt, E. Emke, A. Causanilles, P. H. J. Keizers. Success of rogue online pharmacies: sewage study of sildenafil in the Netherlands. BMJ,2014; 349 (jul01 9): g4317 DOI:10.1136/bmj.g4317

Ecotoxicological impact of generic and branded pharmaceuticals on the freshwater environment

Environmental Processes and Impacts

Supervisors: Dr Michelle Bloor

Pharmaceutical research mainly investigates the efficiency of the active ingredients, however the excipients are what holds the compound into a desired form and influence the product’s function, such as release rate, stability or absorption rate. Pharmaceuticals are available as branded and generic drugs. Generic drugs are bioequivalent to the branded version, but are cheaper in price. The main difference is that the generic drugs are packed with different types of excipients.

This MRes project will investigate the ecotoxicological impacts of branded and generic pharmaceuticals on the freshwater environment. An acute and sub-lethal toxicology testing regime will be deployed, in order to determine the environmentally safe concentrations of the drugs that will not impact the long-term integrity of a freshwater ecosystem.

Using Fast Repetition Rate Fluorometry to better understand algal response to light and nutrients

Environmental Processes and Impacts

Supervisors: Dr Michelle Hale and Prof Jim Smith

UK rivers regularly suffer problems associated with water stress and algal blooms. It is estimated that eutrophication costs the UK £114 million per year, and problems of excessive algal growth and increasing cyanobacterial dominance are predicted to get worse under future climate change scenarios.

The University of Portsmouth and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) have developed a Fast Repetition Rate Fluorometry (Frrf) technique for measuring photosynthetic stress in chlorophytes – the first ever application to rivers. To understand the controls on cyanobacterial blooms and their associated toxins, there is a need to monitor how photosynthetic efficiency is affected under different environmental conditions, including under changing levels of nutrients (particularly nitrogen and phosphorous).

In the proposed project, in collaboration with Southern Water, we aim to deploy a Frrf in the River Itchen to better understand the controls on both algal and cyanobacterial blooms in the river (timing, duration and magnitude). Our aim is not only to improve knowledge of this key issue for water resources, but to develop an “early-warning system” for water companies and regulators to better manage problematic algal blooms.

How long will the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone remain contaminated?

Environmental Processes and Impacts

Supervisors: Prof Jim Smith

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) covers approximately 2000 km2 of land in Ukraine (and a similar extent in Belarus). The level of radioactive contamination reaches > 10 MBq m-2 within the near zone which is also contaminated with 90Sr and transuranium isotopes. However, the contamination level varies widely and very significant areas are much less contaminated, at levels below 500 kBq m-2. With appropriate monitoring and countermeasures, it is it is possible that some parts of the CEZ could possibly be returned to agricultural use.

The aim of the proposed project is to develop a GIS system to evaluate the potential for future agricultural use of contaminated lands in Ukraine. Digital maps of land use and contamination are currently available for the Ukrainian sector of the Exclusion Zone. In the proposed project, these would be updated to account for physical decay and removal of radionuclides, and soil-plant transfer models would be applied to predict potential radioactive contamination of crops grown in different parts of the Zone. This research would support collaborative work between UoP, the Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute and the Chernobyl Ecocentre on this issue.

Phosphorus speciation in shelf sea sediments

Environmental Processes and Impacts

Supervisors: Dr Sarah Reynolds and Prof Gary Fones

Using sediment samples collected during the UK led NERC funded Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry (SSB) programme, this project will focus on examining the phosphorus speciation of differing sediment types across a seasonal cycle. Using the SEDEX method following Ruttenberg et al. (1992) and Anderson and Delaney (1999), the samples will be analysed using ICP-OES. This project will allow for greater insight into the dynamics that govern sediment biogeochemistry and will compliment the already vast data set of the SSB programme. The student will gain a strong grounding in analytical chemistry techniques with access to the UPGEL facilities and training by Dr. Sarah Reynolds.

Small-scale variability of microzooplankton grazing

Environmental Processes and Impacts

Supervisors: Dr Michelle Hale

Microzooplankton are major grazers of phytoplankton biomass, grazing on up to 77% of primary production in marine systems. However, little is known about the small-scale spatial and temporal variability of microzooplankton grazing, with values obtained from single experiments often integrated over time and space. The aim of the proposed project is to use dilution assays to determine the small-scale temporal and spatial variability of microzooplankton grazing in a coastal system.

Anti-microbial resistance in metal-polluted sediments

Environmental Processes and Impacts

Supervisors: Dr Michelle Hale and Dr Joy Watts

Since their industrial production for therapeutic use in the 1930s, antibiotics have been first-line treatments for bacterial infections, saving millions of lives. However, through antibiotic use and misuse, and waste water contamination, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) genes are now ubiquitous in the environment, although little is known about the prevalence of AMR in the marine environment. Heavy metals such as Cu, Cd, Zn, Cr, Ni and Co, often found in industrialised harbours, are known co-selective factors for AMR in bacteria in soils, water and sediments, and promote horizontal transfer of AMR genes and increased antimicrobial resistance. The aim of this project is to investigate the occurrence of AMR bacteria in sediments in Portsmouth Harbour, where high concentrations of heavy metals such as Cu (154 – 1212 mg kg-1) and Zn (77 – 330 mg kg-1) have been routinely measured.

Laser-stimulated fluorescence in palaeontology

Palaeontology and Stratigraphy

Supervisors: Dr Anthony Butcher, Dr Esmaeil Namvar and Dr David Loydell

A newly-published technique has provided proof-of-concept case studies for the application of laser-stimulated fluorescence (LSF) in the fields of palaeontology and archaeology. LSF has allowed for features of specimens to be revealed that were not previously visible through traditional ultraviolet fluorescence. The relatively low cost of the technique, relying primarily on short-wavelength lasers and photographic filters, means that it has great potential to be employed as a routine tool for fossil analysis. The project will involve working closely with palaeontological research staff to identify and analyse exceptional specimens within our collections, trialling different combinations of lasers and filters - there is great potential for revealing previously unseen detail on these specimens, leading to interesting and potentially high-profile publications.

This project dependent on equipment purchase.

The preservation of fossil fishes in the Akrabou Formation (Turonian, Early Cretaceous) fossil Konservat Lagerstätte of south Morocco

Palaeontology and Stratigraphy

Supervisors: Prof David M. Martill

A diverse Late Cretaceous marine fossil assemblage in early diagenetic concretions of the Akrabou Formation (Turonian) of the Asfla oasis of southern Morocco includes 3D preserved fossil fishes, sometimes with phosphatised soft tissues and stomach contents. Many of the taphonomic features appear comparable to those of the famous, and better known Albian Santana Formation of Brazil, which might be a comparable model for the Akrabou Lagerstätte.

This project will examine the mode of preservation of both the articulated skeletal remains of the fishes and the preservation and fidelity of the soft tissues. The sedimentological and diagenetic pathways to exceptional preservation will be examined by the collection of field data, and lab-based methods including thin section petrography and a variety of analytical techniques (SEM, EDAX etc). The taphonomic pathways will be determined from specimen based studies, including sectioning of 3D specimens in concretions. Soft tissue preservation will be studied using scanning electron microscopy.

The small theropod fauna of the Kem Kem beds (mid Cretaceous) of southern Morocco

Palaeontology and Stratigraphy

Supervisors: Prof David M. Martill and Dr Nizar Ibrahim

Small theropods were an important component of Mesozoic fossil assemblages, but their role in ancient ecosystems is often overlooked, or overshadowed by their gigantic cousins. Although the mid Cretaceous (Albian-Early Cenomanian) Kem Kem beds of the Tafilalt of southern Morocco are famed for their gigantic theropods, including Spinosaurusand Carcharodontosaurus,the assemblage also includes many considerably smaller vertebrates. Among these smaller remains are crocodilians, turtles, snakes and a number of theropods, including possibly avian theropods. This study aims to determine the affinities and diversity of the small theropod assemblage based on the collection of new material, and analysis of previously collected material obtained between 2005 and 2017. Methods include bulk processing for small vertebrates, traditional comparative anatomy and morphometrics and imaging using scanning electron microscopy.

Development of an optical non-contact magneto-resistance testing instrument

Physics / Applied Physics

Supervisors: Dr Melvin Vopson

Spintronic devices are a special class of multi-functional materials in which both the charge and the spin state of the electron affect device functionality. When spintronic materials are combined with thin film nano-fabrication technologies, complex spintronic sensors, logic components and digital memory elements can be created. There are a few different types of spintronic materials: giant magneto-resistive (GMR), anisotropic magneto-resistive (AMR) and tunnelling magneto-resistive (TMR). These all exhibit a common property, magnetoresistance (MR), which is traditionally measured using an electrical 4-point probe instrument. However, electrical contact measurements are not always suitable as the electrical probe contacts can damage or contaminate the sample surface. Measurements can also be difficult to perform in situ and require additional preparation steps. An optical non-contact measurement of magneto-resistance is therefore highly desirable.

Infrared (IR) measurements of the magneto-resistance have been previously reported and they are based on the IR magneto-refractive effect (MRE) first proposed in 1995. The first measurements were made using an IR Fourier Transform Spectrometer in reflection geometry to study a range of spin valve and GMR systems. Single wavelength experiments using IR CO laser more closely mimicked an electrical GMR measurement. The aim of this project is to experimentally design, build and test an MRE optical system for noncontact magneto-resistance testing of spintronic materials using an infrared CO laser as optical source.

Quantum Tunneling: An investigation of the numerical solution of the Schroedinger equation with time dependent potentials

Physics / Applied Physics

Supervisors: Dr Chris Dewdney and Dr Melvin Vopson

The method of numerical solution of the time-dependent Schroedinger equation is well known. The first step will be to implement the solution in MATLAB. Given a successful implementation the program will then be used to study the time evolution of a variety of quantum systems under the influence of time-dependent potentials. The results will be compared with the predictions of the time-dependent perturbation theory for the same systems. Having established the computational techniques the work will be applied to the study of the propagation of electrons in nanomaterials subject to barrier tunneling with a time dependent potential barrier. Quantum tunnelling magneto-resistance (TMR) effect is a well-known quantum effect that has been demonstrated experimentally and theoretically. The effect is currently applied to advanced magnetic field sensors and it is an essential component of the magnetic recording read head in hard disc drives. The effect hinges on the fact that quantum tunnelling probabilities of conduction degree of freedom to the TMR effect, because the quantum tunnelling takes place through a time dependent dynamic tunnelling barrier and is strongly dependent on the physics of the tunnelling barrier and the electrodes. (Melvin Vopson will advise on the TMR effect.)

Weak measurements of momentum on cold atoms in an atom interferometer: the de Broglie-Bohm approach

Physics / Applied Physics

Supervisors: Dr Chris Dewdney and Prof Basil Hiley (Birkbeck College)

The concept of weak measurements in quantum systems was introduced by Aharonov, Albert and Vaidman, to explore fundamental quantum processes and for quantum metrology. Weak measurements provide information about a quantum system but are very different to the strong (usual) projective measurements. Kocsis et al. used weak measurements of photon momentum to reconstruct average trajectories of photons. Generally, one should not talk in this instance in terms of photon trajectories as the results have a straightforward interpretation in terms of classical optics and energy flows.

This project will explore the theory of truly quantum mechanical matter-wave interferometers that may be used to perform weak measurements of the momentum of atoms in order to construct the trajectories first calculated for this system by Philippidis, Dewdney and Hiley in 1979 and subsequently confirmed experimentally for photons by Kocsis et al in 2011. The project will link with the experimental work currently undertaken at University College London. The project will also search for other suitable quantum systems for implementation and investigation of weak measurements.

Linear optics quantum metrology

Physics / Applied Physics

Supervisors: Dr Vincenzo Tamma

Multi-photon interference is one of the most intriguing phenomena in quantum physics, at the very heart of quantum computing and sensing technologies. In conventional phase-estimation interferometers the measurement process ignores the information about the physical parameters describing the state of the input bosons (e.g. photons) which need to be experimentally identical. This theoretical project aims to overcome this key challenge with a totally innovative approach based on the use of optimal multi-photon linear interferometers and “ad hoc” correlated measurements in the photonic parameters (time, position, frequency, etc.) depending on the state of the input bosons. This has the potential to enable enhanced quantum metrological sensitivity in scalable linear optics schemes with non-identical bosons. A completely novel versatile platform of highprecision phase-estimation interferometers will boost quantum imaging and sensing technologies with realistic photonic sources.

Synthesis and characterization of Quantum Dots for photodetector applications

Physics / Applied Physics

Supervisors: Dr Esmaeil Namvar 

Quantum Dots (QDs) are semiconductor nanocrystals that behaving interesting quantum properties like confinement and discrete energy levels very similar to atoms. The difference between energy levels of confined carriers/exitons depends on the physical size of nanocrystals (typically ~2-7 nm for colloidal CdSe QDs) which makes it possible to tune the optical transitions of emission and absorption lines and customize them for a wide range of applications in nanotechnology and nanoscience. Therefore experimental and theoretical studies on the optical and electronic properties of QDs have been attracted great research interest in recent years. The trend of such research will continue to bring more advantages of QD nanotechnology because of its usefulness and various application capabilities.

In this project, synthesis and characterization of QDs for photodetector applications will be investigated. CdSe based colloidal QDs have been successfully synthesized at the University of Portsmouth Applied Physics group in the recent years. The photo detection properties of QDs will be investigated in this project to develop further the technology. Photodetectors are used primarily as an optical receiver to convert light into electricity. The principle that applies to photodetectors is the photoelectric effect. The photoelectric effect is the effect of light on a surface of metallic materials that resulted in ejection of electrons from the surface. The result of the absorption of photons is the creation of electron-hole pairs in the materials. This explains the principle theory of light energy that allows photodetectors to operate. Therefore a photodetector operates by converting light signals that hit the materials surface to a voltage or current. In this project we aim to increase and optimize carrier mobility in QDs which has a key role in photodetector’s performance. Theoretical studies, simulation and modelling are considered as a complimentary approach due to their crucial role in understanding the physics behind the process.

How long will the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone remain contaminated?

Physics / Applied Physics

Supervisors: Prof Jim Smith

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) covers approximately 2000 km2 of land in Ukraine (and a similar extent in Belarus). The level of radioactive contamination reaches > 10 MBq m-2 within the near zone which is also contaminated with 90Sr and transuranium isotopes. However, the contamination level varies widely and very significant areas are much less contaminated, at levels below 500 kBq m-2. With appropriate monitoring and countermeasures, it is it is possible that some parts of the CEZ could possibly be returned to agricultural use.

The aim of the proposed project is to develop a GIS system to evaluate the potential for future agricultural use of contaminated lands in Ukraine. Digital maps of land use and contamination are currently available for the Ukrainian sector of the Exclusion Zone. In the proposed project, these would be updated to account for physical decay and removal of radionuclides, and soil-plant transfer models would be applied to predict potential radioactive contamination of crops grown in different parts of the Zone. This research would support collaborative work between UoP, the Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute and the Chernobyl Ecocentre on this issue.

Other Research Projects

Discover the current research projects available in each of our schools and departments: 

Please note, this list is not exhaustive and you'll need to meet and discuss the project you're interested in with a member of research staff before you apply.