Coupling of Late Pliocene Indian Monsoon Variability and Global Climate - Environmental Science - NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship Ref: 2803

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

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 Kate Littler
Co-Supervisor: Dr Ian Bailey  - primary contact for project related enquiries
Co-Supervisor: Prof Melanie Leng
Co-Supervisor: Dr Pallavi Anand
Co-Supervisor: Dr Marci Robinson

Location: Penryn Campus, Cornwall

Project description:

The Indian monsoon is one of the most powerful meteorological phenomena on the planet, affecting the lives of over a billion people. However, its behaviour in the near future under the influence of anthropogenic climate change is uncertain, particularly in terms of the intensity and amount of seasonal precipitation. The Pliocene (2.58–5.33 Ma) is the most recent period in Earth’s history with similar elevated global temperatures and CO2 levels to those predicted for the coming century, and may serve as a useful analogue for future climate and monsoon behaviour. The late Pliocene (~3.3–2.5 Ma) was a time of great global change, witnessing the descent into Northern Hemisphere glaciation concurrent with a significant drop in CO2. Understanding the response of the monsoon system during this time of changing boundary conditions will further enhance our mechanistic understanding.


Image 1: The JOIDES Resolution during Exp. 353 in the Andaman Sea. Image 2: Location of sites drilled during IODP Exp. 353, including U1448 and U1445.

Project Aims and Methods

This project will utilise new deep-sea sediments recovered during IODP Expedition 353 from the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, to reconstruct the past behaviour of the Indian Monsoon during the Late Pliocene for the first time. We will generate coupled Mg/Ca and d18O records from surface and thermocline-dwelling planktic foraminifera to reconstruct temperature and d18O seawater (salinity) variability at orbital resolution. These records will be compared to pollen, charcoal, biomarker, and microfossil assemblage data from the same samples, generated by international research partners, which will allow a holistic picture of orbitally-paced climate change in the region to be constructed.

The student will be embedded within the Deep Time Global Change group at the UoE under the supervision of Drs Littler and Bailey, where facilities for foraminifera processing and trace element analysis are available. The student will benefit from significant involvement with the British Geological Survey, where the majority of the stable isotope data will be generated under the supervision of Prof. Leng. Close collaboration with Dr Anand at the Open University, and Dr Robinson at the United States Geological Survey, will ensure full integration of these new data with complementary data from other contemporaneous Exp. 353 sites.


The ideal person to carry out this project would have a background in geology, earth science, or oceanography at MESci/MSc level, with a broad interest in paleoclimate reconstruction, and preferably research experience working with marine sediments and microfossil geochemistry.


During the project the student would be fully trained in: IODP protocols, stratigraphic techniques, sediment processing, species-specific picking of planktic (and benthic) foraminifera, SEM examination of foraminiferal preservation, as well as the subsequent generation of trace element and stable isotope data based on these microfossils. Additionally, they would receive broader training on academic writing, conference presentation, and the integration of multi-proxy datasets in the context of late Cenozoic paleoclimate theory.


Clemens, S.C., Kuhnt, W., LeVay, L.J., and the Expedition 353 Scientists (2016). Proceedings of the International Ocean Discovery Program, Volume 353, Indian Monsoon Rainfall, (

Clemens, S.C., et al. (2008). Southern Hemisphere forcing of Pliocene d18O and the evolution of
Indo-Asian monsoons. Paleoceanography, Volume 23, PA4210, doi:10.1029/2008PA001638

Turner, A.G. & Annamalai, H. (2012) Climate change and the South Asian summer monsoon. Nature Climate Change, Volume 2, 587– 595, doi:10.1038/nclimate1495

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

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

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  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.