Project code



School of the Environment, Geography, and Geosciences

Start dates

February and October

Application deadline

Applications accepted all year round

Applications are invited for a self-funded PhD to commence in October or February.

The PhD will be based in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and will be supervised by Dr Anthony Butcher and Dr Andy Gibson.

The Eocene London Clay Formation (LCF) underlies large areas of south-east England (in particular underlying much of London itself), and as such is encountered regularly during geotechnical engineering projects.

A detailed understanding of both the engineering properties and precise stratigraphical positioning of the formation (often to the centimetre scale) are required to ensure the safe and efficient completion of such projects. Due to the largely monotonous lithological nature of the LCF, and lateral variation within, it is extremely difficult to be confident that the geotechnical properties at one site can be applied to different locations (see De Freitas & Mannion, 2007, Géotechnique 57, for a useful summary).

A PhD project is already underway at the University of Portsmouth to assess the feasibility of high-resolution NIR spectral scanning as a tool for stratigraphical positioning within the LCF, based upon both borehole and field data. The aim of the new project advertised here is to sample known horizons through key parts of the NIR spectrum produced in the parallel project, in order to provide biostratigraphical data from palynomorphs (organic-walled microfossils) with which to calibrate/ground-truth the NIR data.

Well-preserved palynomorphs, in particular dinoflagellates, have been recorded previously within the LCF by several authors (e.g. Bujak et al., 1980, Sp. Papers in Palaeo. 24), and consequently Knox (1996, GSL Sp. Pub. 101) indicated that dinoflagellates provide the best biostratigraphical means with which to correlate across varying facies within the Palaeogene of NW Europe. As such, this project creates an interesting collaboration between micropalaeontology and engineering geology, with an applied industrial impact in terms of streamlining geotechnical projects by the potential reduction of costly and problematic difficulties associated with working in the LCF (e.g. the Heathrow Tunnel Collapse, see Hight et al. 2003, Charact. & Eng. Prop. of Nat. Soils, 2).

You will gain experience in palynological processing/acid digestion, and both scanning electron and light microscopy for the identification and interpretation of the taxa recovered. The skills and experience gained during this project would prime the applicant for either an academic career, or one as an industrial palynologist.

This project requires a candidate with a background in micropalaeontology, in particular Palaeogene palynology, and previous experience of sample preparation would be advantageous. Full laboratory and analytical training will be provided. The University has an active Graduate School offering general postgraduate training alongside the more specialist subject specific training (via Postgraduate research degree student Moodle site)

Fees and funding

Visit the research subject area page for fees and funding information for this project.

Funding availability: Self-funded PhD students only. 

PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the UK Government Doctoral Loan (UK and EU students only).

Bench fees

Some PhD projects may include additional fees – known as bench fees – for equipment and other consumables, and these will be added to your standard tuition fee. Speak to the supervisory team during your interview about any additional fees you may have to pay. Please note, bench fees are not eligible for discounts and are non-refundable.

Entry requirements

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in a relevant subject area. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or Qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

How to apply

We’d encourage you to contact Anthony Butcher ( to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code SEES3180217.

When you are ready to apply, please follow the 'Apply now' link on the Earth and Environmental Sciences PhD subject area page and select the link for the relevant intake. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.