Self-funded PhD opportunities

High-resolution palynology of the London clay formation, and calibration of near infrared (NIR) data

  • Application end date: All year round
  • Funding Availability: Self-funded PhD students only
  • Department: School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
  • PhD Supervisor: Anthony Butcher and 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 PGRS Moodle).

Funding Notes:

This PhD opportunity is available to self-funded students. Bench fees may apply. For more information please contact the project supervisor.

How to apply:

To apply or make an enquiry, please visit postgraduate research: Earth and Environmental Sciences

All applications should use our standard application forms and follow the instructions given under the ‘Research Degrees’ heading on the following webpages:

When applying please note the project code - SEES3180217