Oceanographic and Biotic Changes in Australia During Oceanic Anoxic Events - Environmental Science - NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship Ref: 2802

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. For further details about the programme please see http://nercgw4plus.ac.uk/

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018, research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.


Lead supervisor: Dr Sev Kender
Co-Supervisor: Dr Kara Bogus
Co-Supervisor: Dr Kate Littler
Co-Supervisor: Prof Steve Hesselbo
Co-Supervisor: Dr Jim Riding

Location: Penryn Campus, Cornwall

Project description:

During the Mesozoic era, Earth experienced a rare series of abrupt and short-lived episodes of Ocean Anoxic Events (OAEs), characterised by severe global warming and possibly triggered by volcanic degassing of CO2. Despite their importance for understanding the Earth-ocean-atmosphere system, the environmental impacts and causal mechanisms of OAEs have yet to be fully resolved, and are particularly poorly understood in the southern hemisphere where records are extremely limited. One of the largest such events, OAE2 at the Cenomanian–Turonian boundary (~94 Ma), has been associated with volcanism, abrupt warming, an increased hydrological cycle, nutrient supply to the oceans, high productivity, and mass extinctions in marine biota. This project aims to reconstruct palaeoceanography and vegetation of SW Australia before, during and after OAE2 for the first time, with exclusive access to new core material collected during International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 369.

Image 1: Pollen of Callialasporites sp. (image by James Riding)

Project Aims and Methods

The aims of this project are to investigate both the short and long term impacts of global climate change on Cretaceous palaeoceanography, palaeoclimate and biotic evolution of SW Australia. The student will reconstruct changes during the Cretaceous with a specific focus on OAE2 using sedimentary organic geochemistry GDGTs, including the TEX86 sea surface temperature proxy. Data from southern high latitudes are currently lacking (Jenkyns et al. 2012), so this project will test the extent of OAE2 high latitude warming and look for evidence of short term changes, such as the enigmatic “Plenus Cold Event” that occurs within OAE2 in the northern hemisphere (Zheng et al. 2013). Local changes in productivity will be reconstructed using dinoflagellate cyst assemblages, to investigate oceanic upwelling and terrigenous nutrient delivery over OAE2 and the longer term Cretaceous. The project will also assess regional vegetation changes linked to the hydrological cycle by generating pollen grain and spore records over the late Cretaceous, and in high resolution over OAE2. Pristine new sediment cores recently collected during IODP Expedition 369 offshore SW Australia (Hobbs et al. 2016) are ideal for organic geochemical and palynological analyses as they are thermally immature and have a low burial depth.


This project will suit those interested in reconstructing past climates by using micropalaeontological, geochemical and sedimentological techniques. It will also suit students interested in travelling to the IODP core repository in Japan, and in attending international conferences.


Case Award Description

CASE Award pending from the British Geological Survey, including £3500 RTSG and £3,500 towards travel and subsistence at the British Geological Survey for isotope and palynology training.


The student will gain training in micropalaeontology (palynology), sediment geochemistry and sedimentology, and organic geochemistry from the world-leading supervisory support team. It is anticipated there will be the opportunity for the student to attend at least one conference in Australia.


Hobbs, R., Huber, B., Bogus, K.A., 2016. Expedition 369 Scientific Prospectus: Australia Cretaceous Climate and Tectonics. International Ocean Discovery Program. http://dx.doi.org/10.14379/iodp.sp.369.2016
Zheng, X.-Y., Jenkyns, H.C., Gale, A.S., Ward, D.J., Henderson, G.M., 2013. Changing ocean circulation and hydrothermal inputs during oceanic anoxic Event 2 (Cenomanian–Turonian): evidence from Nd-isotopes in the European shelf sea. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 375: 338–348.
Jenkyns, H.C., Schouten-Huibers, L., Schouten, S., Sinninghe Damsté, J.S., 2012. Warm Middle Jurassic–Early Cretaceous high-latitude sea-surface temperatures from the Southern Ocean. Climate of the Past, 8(1): 215–226.

Entry requirements:        

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 Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project http://www.exeter.ac.uk/postgraduate/apply/english/.

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.


Application deadline:7th January 2018
Value:£14,553 per annum for 2017-18
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Recruitment Officepgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk

How 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 current
        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 7 January 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter between 5 - 16 February 2018.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email pgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;

• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.