PhD Studentship & Secondment in China under
the SEW-REAP Programme

Developing isotope techniques for investigating the role of groundwater in
geological sequestration of carbon dioxide

Supervisors: Dr Zheng Zhou1, Dr Greg Holland2, Professor Yunpeng Wang3, Dr Ben Surridge1 and Dr Peter Wynn1

  • 1 Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, UK
  • 2 School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Manchester, UK
  • 3 Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China


Why we want to do this science

Anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2), derived from the combustion of fossil fuels, is understood to be the key driving force behind the enhanced global warming effect. It is a serious issue facing the global community in the 21st century. One promising avenue of research for ameliorating the problem is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), which is the process by which CO2 emissions from power stations and other industries can potentially be captured and pumped underground into naturally occurring fluid traps. By 2050, it is hoped that at least 40% of all annually produced anthropogenic CO2 can be stored in this way. Once pumped underground, CO2 can interact with the ground water, primarily via dissolution and remineralisation. These interactions are the key to validating (or otherwise) a site for use in CCS because the ultimate fate of CO2 and the timescale over which the processes operate determine whether it is safe to inject CO2 into natural reservoir systems. However, the role of groundwater and its capacity to store CO2 remain an open question. This project aims to develop isotope techniques to trace and model processes between CO2 and groundwater - critical information for the development of CCS as a CO2 storage technique.

Both stable C/O isotopes and noble gas isotopes will be applied in this project for quantifying the extent, both temporally and geographically, of CO2-groundwater interaction. A sampling campaign will be conducted in natural CO2 deposits in Sanshui basin, China. In addition, samples will be collected from geothermal groundwater systems in Weinan basin in China as well. All samples will be analysed at GIG-CAS or other institutes of Chinese Academy of Sciences for stable isotopes. Noble gas isotopes will be analysed at Lancaster University and Manchester University. The isotope data will be used to model CO2 and groundwater interaction. The work proposed here will provide novel and original scientific data that will enhance our understanding of geological sequestration of CO2 and its environmental impact to groundwater systems.

What's in it for you?

Become an expert in isotope analysis. You will use a range of analytical methods, including standard and novel approaches, to understand CO2 and groundwater interaction. You will receive training in cutting edge analytical techniques and instrumentation in Lancaster University, Manchester University and Chinese Academy of Sciences. Environmental management is a key priority for both governments and industry worldwide and therefore you will be well-placed to enter the job market at the end of your studies.

Develop links with external organisations. This project benefits from linkages with different research institutes and industry. You will be able to network and liaise with overseas partners. This is an excellent opportunity for you to gain an appreciation of scientific attitudes and working methods of different cultures.

Join an exciting research environment. You will benefit from the research training programmes offered by the Faculty of Science and Technology at Lancaster University and Chinese Academy of Sciences, by being part of the large and vibrant Lancaster Environment Centre and accessing the extensive research facilities at GIG-CAS.

Be part of the EU SEW-REAP studentship community. This studentship is one of 6 PhD studentships within the framework of the Europe Aid-funded SEW-REAP ("Addressing food Security, Environmental stress and Water by promoting multidisciplinary Research EU And China Partnerships in science and business") project which aims to provide solutions to the Agri-Food-Water-Environment Nexus within China through collaborative research.

Who should apply?

We are seeking applications from graduates or those who expect to graduate in 2016 with a good BSc or Masters degree. You would ideally have a strong background in geosciences, natural sciences, environmental sciences, chemistry, physics and mathematics. You should be interested in lab based technique development using world-class instrumentation. You must have demonstrable potential for creative, high-quality PhD research. You must also be a UK or EU citizen, in order to be eligible for the SEW-REAP funding.

Additional details

This project requires the PhD student to carry out a major part of the research for a minimum of 24 months in China at the Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guangzhou. Secondees are expected to take Mandarin lessons, before heading to China and/or once there, such that they can achieve to pass HSK level 3. The Lancaster Confucius Institute can readily cater for the study of this level.

The small print

Studentship funding: The studentship provides a monthly stipend at an average of ~1100 (tax free) per month funded by EU and GIG-CAS for 36 months. Lancaster Environment Centre waives your tuition fee for 3 years. You will be responsible for your own writing up fees (currently 230 (2016/17) and living costs if you require a fourth year of study. Successful applicants will also be encouraged to apply for further CAS funding, which is available through CAS University scholarships. Unfortunately studentships are not available to non-UK/EU applicants.

Academic requirements: First-class or 2.1 (Hons) degree or Masters degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate subject.

Start Date: As soon as possible or before July 2017.

For further information or informal discussion about the position, please contact Dr. Zheng Zhou (

Application process: Please upload a completed application form and a covering letter outlining your background and suitability for this project at LEC Postgraduate Research Applications,

You also require two references, please send the reference form (download from to your two referees and ask them to email it to Andy Harrod (, Postgraduate Research (PGR) Co-ordinator, Lancaster Environment Centre by the deadline.

Due to the limited time between the closing date and the interview date, it is essential that you ensure references are submitted by the closing date or as soon as possible.

posted: 15 March 2017     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.