Rocks for lunch: Do microbes drive the weathering of
organic matter in rocks? (PhD project)

The global carbon cycle controls Earth's climate by the emission and drawdown of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. One of the major CO2 sources happens when organic carbon within sedimentary rocks is oxidised during weathering. Since the industrial revolution, this flux has been accelerated by burning fossil fuels. However, the natural rates of this CO2 emission remain poorly constrained.

The 3 year PhD project will provide key insight into this process by assessing the role of microbial communities in the breakdown of organic matter in rocks. The student will use a combination of field and laboratory approaches, including controlled experiments in which the temperature and the role of microbiology on reactions will be assessed. Geochemical methods will include the use of carbon isotopes (14C, 13C, 12C) in trapped CO2 and biomarkers to track organic matter evolution in the solid residue. S/he will use samples collected from the ROC-CO2 catchments around the world.

The PhD project is fully-funded (£15,000 per year, pending confirmation) as part of the European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant "ROC-CO2: Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by rock-derived organic carbon oxidation" led by Dr Robert Hilton, Department of Geography, Durham University, UK. S/he will receive specialist training in geochemical methods applied in the field, and in the laboratory. The student will also be enrolled in a graduate training programme at Durham, gaining transferable skills, attending international conferences and networking events. The student will join the ERC-funded ROC-CO2 team (2 PDRAs and 1 PhD student) and work with international collaborators. The Department of Geography, Durham University, was ranked 1st in the UK based on Research Power (REF 2014) and has a large and vibrant postgraduate community, regular seminars and paper discussion groups. Durham is a wonderful historical city, within easy reach of regions of outstanding natural beauty including the North York Moors, Northumberland National Park and Hadrian's Wall.

Start date before 1st March 2018.

For more details on requirements and how to apply, please see

published: 15 September 2017     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.