University of Exeter funding: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship

Deconstructing the Falkland sediment drift – Implications for Patagonian Ice Sheet and Antarctic Circumpolar Current evolution during the Plio-Pleistocene. PhD in Geology (NERC GW4 + DTP) Ref: 3669

About the award


Lead Supervisor 

Dr. Ian Bailey, Camborne School of Mines, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors 

Dr. Sev Kender, Camborne School of Mines, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

Dr. Vicky Peck, British Antarctic Survey

Prof. Emrys Phillips, British Geological Survey

Dr. Dave McCarthy, British Geological Survey

Location: Penryn Campus, University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
  • Travel and accomodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events.
  • No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter


Students who are resident in EU countries are eligible for the full award on the same basis as UK residents.  Applicants resident outside of the EU (classed as International for tuition fee purposes) are not eligible for DTP funding. Residency rules are complex and if you have not been resident in the UK or EU for the 3 years prior to the start of the studentship, please apply and we will check eligibility upon shortlisting.

Project Background

The Southern Hemisphere plays an important role in Earth’s climate system. However, our understanding of the geological history of environmental change in this region remains notably incomplete. Situated in the Falkland Trough, the South Falkland Slope Drift (SFSD) is well placed to record past variations in two key, but poorly constrained, components of the climate system in this part of the world – the southern Patagonian Ice Sheet (PIS) and the largest current in the world, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC). Downstream of one of the largest glacial outwash plains in South America, SFSD accumulation is sensitive to both the evolution of the PIS and reworking of fine-grained sediments beneath the ACC. Sediment cores collected in March 2019 from the SFSD during International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 382, the first long records recovered from this region, provide an unparalleled opportunity to reconstruct the evolution of these two important variables over the past ~3 million years using the geochemistry and sedimentology of these new high-resolution (~10-40 cm/kyr) marine sequences.

Project Aims and Methods 

The consensus based on terrestrial tills is that the PIS was more laterally extensive prior to the late Pleistocene. Yet, glacial erosion and dating issues make this geological archive incomplete and challenging to interpret. The more continuous marine record of the SFSD can therefore provide new insights into the timing of PIS advance into southernmost South America over this time. Are PIS advances into this region more frequent during the “41 kyr world” of the late Pliocene and early Pleistocene than during the “100 kyr world” of the late Pleistocene? How does the history of PIS expansion at this time compare to that observed in the Northern Hemisphere? The SFSD is ideally placed to determine past variability in ACC strength. What does it reveal about ACC history during key past intervals such as the late Pliocene onset of Northern Hemisphere glaciation and recent warm interglacials (MIS 5e and 11) of the late Pleistocene?

This studentship will address these key questions and more by analysing sediments from IODP Sites U1534 and U1535 to determine the drift’s evolution over the past ~3 million years in terms of sediment delivery to the Falkland Trough and the strength of the ACC. The student will do this by deconstructing the drift from two perspectives: sediment supply and sediment reworking. A variety of provenance tools (including clay mineralogy, Sr, Pb and Nd isotopes and trace metals) will be used on the silt-sized terrigenous component of its sediments to provide the first marine perspective on how PIS variability controls the nature and supply rate of glaciogenic outwash sediment to the Falkland Trough. Grain size analysis of the sortable silt fraction (10-63 microns) will be used to reconstruct past variability in the strength of the current sorting the drift sediment. Benthic foraminiferal assemblages will also be determined to assess whether changes in benthic community structure can be used to evaluate bottom current speed. In taking on this project, the successful candidate will also work closely with the internationally leading Expedition 382 scientific team. The supervisors are happy to adapt or change the project to match the interests of the student better.


Candidate Requirements 

The student should have a background in geology, Earth science, oceanography, or (geo)chemistry at MESci/MSc level, with a broad interest in palaeoclimates.

CASE or Collaborative Partner 

The student will spend 6-8 months in Edinburgh over the course of the PhD studentship in partnership with the British Geological Survey. Here they will place their sedimentological data in the context of plausible models of drift evolution derived from their own interpretations of high resolution SFSD seismic profiles. 


The successful student will be fully trained in stratigraphic techniques, sediment processing, XRD clay mineralogy, benthic foraminifera taxonomy, radiogenic isotope sediment processing and analytical measurements. They will also receive training in academic writing, conference presentation and knowledge transfer. In addition, it is anticipated that the student will spend three months visiting Professors Sidney Hemming and Mike Kaplan at Lamont Earth Doherty Earth Observatory, New York, USA where they will generate their radiogenic isotope provenance datasets.

References / Background reading list 

Darvill, C.M. et al., 2017. Dynamics of former ice lobes of the southernmost Patagonian Ice Sheet based on a glacial landsystems approach. Journal of Quaternary Science 32(6), 857–876.

Kaplan, M.R., et al., 2009. Can glacial erosion limit the extent of glaciation? Geomorphology 103, 172–179.

Roberts, J. et al., 2017. Deglacial changes in flow and frontal structure through the Drake Passage. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 474. 397-408.

Singer, B.S., et al., 2004. 40Ar/39Ar and K–Ar chronology of Pleistocene glaciations in Patagonia. Geological Society of America Bulletin 116, 434–450.

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


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.

Reference information
You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process, however we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the, 7 days prior to the interview dates.  Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is 1600 hours GMT Monday 6 January 2020.  Interviews will be held between 10 and 21 February 2020.  For more information about the NERC GW4+ DPT please visit

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email  Project-specific queries should be directed to the lead supervisor.

Data Sharing
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.


Application deadline:6th January 2020
Value:£15,009 per annum for 2019-20
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries