University of Exeter funding: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship

Fractionation of iron-titanium oxide minerals in mafic-ultramafic magmatic systems: Case studies from Greenland and South Africa. PhD in Geology (NERC GW4 + DTP) Ref: 3671

About the award


Lead Supervisor 

Prof Jens C. Andersen, Camborne School of Mines, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors 

Prof Wolfgang Maier, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University

Prof Marian Holness, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge

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:

  • A 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

Layered mafic-ultramafic intrusions host important resources of energy-critical raw materials. These include V, Ga, Cr, Ni, Co and the PGE. Chromite is the source of Cr, while Ni, Co and the platinum-group elements typically associates with sulphide minerals. Economic resources of these typically formed in response to magma replenishment and mixing. In contrast, there is no consistent model for the occurrence of V and Ga in iron-titanium oxides.

The Skaergaard intrusion (Greenland) is the prime example of closed system crystallisation of tholeiitic magma. However, the crystallisation process remains controversial. A particular issue relates to whether the magma followed silica or iron enrichment during fractionation, and therefore, what conditions might govern the crystallisation of iron-titanium oxides. The Bushveld Complex (South Africa), in contrast, involved multiple magma injections and host economic oxides in the evolved parts of the intrusion (the Upper Zone). 

Indeed, the formation of iron-titanium oxide rich layers is enigmatic. How is it possible to create layers of substantial thickness that carry 80-90% oxides from the magmas that (at the same time) would crystallize more than 90% silicates? If they formed by equilibrium crystallisation, the sorting during the accumulation would have to be extremely efficient. However, unlike chromitite layers that require disequilibrium crystallisation and are commonly explained by magma mixing, the oxide rich layers display no evidence for magma recharge. So how did they form? 

Project Aims and Methods

During the project, you will explore the evidence for silicate-silicate liquid immiscibility during the formation of iron-titanium oxide rich successions in mafic-ultramafic intrusions. You will be working on an extensive collection of legacy samples from the Skaergaard intrusion and the Bushveld complex, but the project team will pursue opportunities for field work and sampling during the project. The principal methods will be detailed examinations using reflected and transmitted light optical microscopy, QEMSCAN, EPMA and LA-ICP-MS. 

The crystallisation of cumulate rocks involves the following stages: 1. the crystallisation of minerals in a magma; 2. selective fractionation of these crystals into a semi-solid cumulate; and 3. migration and crystallisation of magma that became trapped between the crystals. This progressive crystallisation may be interrupted when new magmas replenish the magma chamber leading to reversals within the cumulate succession. Such events are critical for the deposition of chromite, sulphides and the PGE. 

Recent research suggests that the evolution of many mafic-ultramafic magmas leads to exsolution of conjugate Fe-rich (with up to 40 wt% FeO) and Si-rich liquids. Because of specific gravity differences, the Fe-rich liquids accumulate at the base of the magma chamber, while the Si-rich liquid rises into the roof zone. The physical evidence for this process is retained in interstitial symplectites and reaction rims within the cumulate, as well as trapped inclusions of conjugate melt fractions in cumulus crystals. 

We wish to learn how widespread this process may be, and how the ore constituents partition during immiscibility. We also wish to explore if these liquids may offer a linkage between the processes in mafic-ultramafic intrusions and formation of the enigmatic Nelsonite ores.


Dark layers anomalously rich in ilmenite and titanomagnetite in the Skaergaard intrusion, Greenland


QEMSCAN mineral map of reactive symplectites in the Skaergaard cumulates – evidence for disequilibrium during crystallisation

Candidate Requirements

The successful candidate will need a strong background in the mineralogy, petrology and geochemistry of igneous rocks. Previous experience with the use of reflected light microscopy, the electron-probe microanalyser and Laser Ablation ICP-MS will be an advantage.


The student will be embedded within the thriving Ore Deposits and Critical Metals research group at Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter, with exposure to cutting-edge exploration geology and geochemistry research in a supportive atmosphere. Advanced in-house bespoke training will be provided in the relevant chemical and analytical techniques at Camborne School of Mines, Cardiff and Cambridge Universities. The student will be encouraged to engage in national and international training opportunities as well as develop presentation skills through national and international conferences (e.g., the Mineral Deposit Studies Group and European Geosciences Union). The student will be enrolled in the University of Exeter Doctoral College and follow the University of Exeter Learning and Teaching in Higher Education programme leading to associateship or fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. The student will have opportunities to participate in undergraduate teaching at the Camborne School of Mines including on fieldtrips. Further training opportunities will be available through the GW4+ DTP.

Background reading list 

Charlier B et al. (2011) Large-scale silicate liquid immiscibility during differentiation of tholeiitic basalt to granite and the origin of the Daly gap. Geology 39(10), 907-910.

Holness MB et al. (2007) A textural record of solidification and cooling in the Skaergaard intrusion, East Greenland. J. Petrol. 48, 2359– 2377.

Holness MB et al. (2017) The Skaergaard intrusion of East Greenland: paradigms, problems and new perspectives. Elements. 13, 391–396.

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