NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship: Geological controls on upper crustal heat flow for deep geothermal energy in Cornwall Ref: 2653

About the award

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science.

Applications are now being accepted for 3 fully-funded studentships on projects that cover the breadth of earth and environmental sciences commencing September 2017. Studentships will provide funding for stipend and fees (currently £14,553 and £4,195 per annum respectively) a Research and Training Support Grant of £11,000 and a training budget of £4,000 for 42 months (3.5 years).  All projects will be CASE projects with input into project development from key end-user communities.


Camborne School of Mines, Penryn Campus, University of Exeter

Academic Supervisors:

Dr Robin Shail, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter

Prof Frances Wall, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter

Prof Mark Smethurst, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter

Dr Tony Batchelor, GeoScience Ltd

Project Description:

SW England has locally high surface heat flows associated with elevated levels of radiogenic elements within the Cornubian Batholith. Previous investigations into the regional potential for high temperature geothermal energy production included the £42m geothermal ‘Hot Dry Rock’ research programme, undertaken by Camborne School of Mines (1975-1991). Renewed strategic impetus in Cornwall has facilitated drilling, scheduled to commence in late 2017, of a new 4.5 km deep borehole in the Carnmenellis Granite (Figure 1). However, uncertainties remain regarding heat production and conduction models: (i) U, Th and K are not present in sufficiently high quantities within the previously investigated upper parts of the granite to account for heat flow data, (ii) 4He production from historical deep wells is higher than anticipated, (iii) geophysical modelling has progressively reduced the interpreted volume of the granites. These inconsistences imply substantive heat source(s) may occur within, or below, the deeper parts of the batholith.

Project Aims and Methods: The project will develop further understanding of the controls on upper crustal temperatures and deep geothermal energy exploitation in Cornwall and how this might relate to: (i) heterogeneous radiogenic heat production within the composite Cornubian Batholith (presently unsampled below 2.6 km), (ii) heat contributions from mid/lower crustal and mantle sources, and (iii) modification by fracture-controlled deep groundwater circulation. Drill chip sampling of the Carnmenellis Granite will occur over a depth below surface of approximately 1.5-4.5 km. These samples will permit mineralogical and whole rock geochemical characterisation of the granites, including U, Th, K budget and mineralogical hosts and evidence for high-temperature alteration and leaching. These data will be complemented by those obtained during downhole logging (gamma ray, formation fluid composition / temperature). Radiogenic heat production will be modelled from these data and compared with measured heat flow data.  Discrepancies will be evaluated in terms of the potential role of upper crustal convective fluid flow and/or mid / lower crustal and mantle heat contributions (using existing deep geophysical data and an understanding of admissible scenarios during the post-Variscan tectonic evolution of SW England). Confirmation of deeper heat sources would have profound implications for geothermal and geological models across the region.

Candidate: The project would suit a student with a first degree in geological or Earth Sciences who has a strong interest in crustal evolution and granite magmatism/mineralisation together with experience/knowledge of analytical techniques including mineralogy (petrological microscope, XRD, SEM, QEMSCAN), whole-rock geochemistry (XRF, ICP-MS) mineral chemistry (electron microprobe) and geophysics.

Case Award description:  This is a CASE award. The student will work closely with the CASE Partner, GeoScience Limited (located 15 minutes from the Penryn Campus), who are involved with Geothermal Engineering Ltd in drilling the UK’s deepest onshore geothermal borehole in the Carnmenellis Granite. Dr Tony Batchelor is the Chairman and Wellbore Rock Mechanics Group Lead of GeoScience Limited and instigated modern geothermal research in Cornwall. He was Project Manager for the Camborne School of Mines ‘Hot Dry Rock’ geothermal programme (1972-1986).

Training:  The student will receive training at Camborne School of Mines in: (i) mineralogical and geochemical analytical and interpretation skills, (ii) petrological and heat flow modelling skills, and (iii) regional crustal evolution. Training in downhole log interpretation and fracture-controlled fluid flow models will be provided by GeoScience Limited. The candidate will benefit from collaboration with an industrial partner in a high-profile applied science and engineering energy project. On successful completion, the student will have acquired advanced laboratory analytical and modelling skills, and transferable skills such as numeracy, written and spoken presentational skills and experience of working in a multidisciplinary team.

References / Background reading list

This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free stipend.  For students who pay UK/EU tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £14,553 per year tax-free stipend. 

The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 3.5 years of full-time study to commence in September 2017.

Entry requirements:

Studentships are open to UK resident students and applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have a Master’s degree. Applicants with a minimum Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable, see


Application deadline:25th June 2017
Duration of award:per year
Contact: CLES PGR Admin phone 01392 725150/

How to apply

Click here to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”. 

  • CV
  • Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)
  • If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.

You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process however we will not contact these people until the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 25th June 2017.  Interviews will need to be held on the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus before July 7th 2017.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone +44 (0)1392 725150/723706.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor Robin Shail