PhD and potential Postdocs in Structural
Geology & Tectonics

The Institute of Geophysics and Tectonics (University of Leeds, UK) invites (1) applicants for the following PhD positions, and (2) enquiries for potential postdoctoral projects. For the latter, we are looking for exceptional candidates that are competitive for schemes such as:

NERC Independent Research Fellowship (
Newton International Fellowship (
University Research Fellowship (

Below current PhD projects on offer are provided, showing examples of our research areas.

Project 1: Magmatic mass transfer through deep crust: Field relationships, chemistry and rheology
(Supervisors: Prof. Piazolo, Dr. T. Mueller, A/Prof. Daczko (Macquarie University, Australia)
This exciting project aims to shed light on the long standing problem of how melt is transferred through the crust by a combination of field studies in Greenland and Ireland, combined with lab-based microstructural and geochemical analyses. Depending on student's interests investigations will be augmented by a choice of high temperature or analogue experiments and/or numerical modelling. The student will be part of an international research group involving partners and students based in Greenland, Australia and Italy. Throughout the studentship, the student will have the opportunity to visit partners

Project 2: How is deformation localised in continental crust?
(Supervisors: Prof. T. Wright, Prof. S. Piazolo, Prof. G. Houseman)
In this unique project you will develop an in-depth understanding how to best interpret present-day observations of crustal deformation in the India-Eurasia collision zone. You will use geological observations from now exposed deep roots of collisional orogens in Greenland to infer the geophysical signals that would be expected at the surface. Comparison with present day geodetic strain measurements in the India-Eurasian orogen will allow unprecedented understanding of the deformation behaviour of collisional orogens from orogenic roots to the surface. The student would be closely interacting with COMET scientists at Leeds ( is using InSAR observations.

Project 3: The relationship between short-term tectonics and mountain building: A case study from New Zealand
(Supervisors: Dr. J. Elliott, Prof. Wright, Prof. Piazolo, Dr. I. Hamling (GNS New Zealand))
This interdisciplinar project aims to improve our understanding of how mountains are built by combining high resolution geodetic (InSAR, GPS) measurements of present-day deformation in the South Island of New Zealand with geological data collected from the exhumed roots of the Alpine Fault. The student would be closely interacting with COMET scientists at Leeds ( is using InSAR observations.

Project 4: Reading Gold: Investigating the link between chemical composition, microstructure and geological history of gold
(Supervisors: Dr. D. Morgan, Prof. S. Piazolo, Prof. R. Chapman, Dr. T. Mueller) Contact:;
This novel project aims to shed light on the long standing problem of how we "read" gold. That is, how can we deduce from the chemistry, habit and microstructure of gold, its origin and geological history. This knowledge is urgently needed to improve our ability to understand how gold deposits from and therefore to find new gold deposits. You will benefit from the existing and unique suite of gold samples at SEE and supplement it with some targeted sampling. Much of the work will be lab-based microstructural and geochemical analyses. Depending on student's interests investigations will be augmented by a choice of in-situ real-time experiments, and/or nanoscale chemical and/or structural analysis. The student will be part of a vibrant group of researchers interested in ore forming processes and fluid rock interaction.

Project 5: The inner workings of the earthquake cycle: New insight from integrating geophysical observations and microstructures
(Supervisors: Dr. L. Gregory, Prof. S. Piazolo, Dr. J. Hawthorne (University of Oxford)) Contact:;
Slip behaviour at and around faults has been shown to be highly dynamic with viability in behaviour occurring both spatially and temporally. This exciting project explores the underlying physical processes that lie at the core of this observed dynamic slip behaviour by probing the rock record of fault slip. In this novel project, you will integrate knowledge obtained from seismology, Quaternary fault studies, and quantitative microstructural work to gain an in-depth understanding of the lifecycle of a fault and/or fault zone. Results will be far reaching in fundamental science with direct implications for applied science in terms of earthquake hazard evaluation and prediction.

Project 6: How do magmatic mush zones deform?
(Supervisors: Dr. S. Ebmeier, Dr. D. Morgan, Prof. A. Hooper) Contact:;;
Magma spends the majority of its time stored in the Earth's crust in mush zones - complex regions of non-eruptible crystal-rich magma thought to be interspersed with lenses of melt and volatiles [1]. Evidence for such mush zones comes from the crystal cargo of erupted rocks, laboratory experiments and modelling. We know that melt and volatile phases separate out from, and move through, crystal-rich mushes [2]. Both thermal modelling [3] and diffusion chronometry [4] have also demonstrated that reservoirs of eruptible magma assemble relatively rapidly. Detecting this happening in real time would have great and immediate benefit for volcanic monitoring and assessment of volcanic hazard. Changes within a mush zone are challenging to detect while they are happening, i.e. with geophysical methods. It is generally assumed that many processes, including melt migration and phase changes, can take place in a mush zone without causing any deformation at the Earth's surface. However, volcanic deformation signals are prevalent [5], including at mature volcanoes and calderas where we would explain magma storage to involve mush zones. This studentship will address the question of why these deformation signals occur, using a range of observational and modelling approaches.

Project 7: Explosive basaltic volcanism in the Ethiopian rift
(Supervisors: Dr. D. Ferguson, Dr. D. Morgan, Prof. G. Yirgu (Addis Ababa), Dr. M. Edmonds (Cambridge)) Contact:
The Ethiopian rift valley is one of the most volcanically active regions on Earth and provides an exceptional natural laboratory to study the interplay between magmatism and rift zone tectonics. Explosive mafic volcanism involves magmas that rapidly transit through the lithosphere, preserving geochemical signatures from the sub-rift mantle. The alignment of basaltic volcanic cones along faults at the surface of the Ethiopian rift implies a close relationship between magma ascent and lithospheric tectonics (e.g. Rooney et al., 2011), which may include a feedback between tectonic extension and weakening of lithosphere via magma intrusion. This project will combine field sampling of basaltic volcanoes in Ethiopia with state-of-the-art geochemical analysis to investigate the processes associated with the generation and eruption of these magmas, and to evaluate the interplay between volcanism and rift tectonics. It will take a source-to-surface approach, seeking to understand the initial generation of magma in the mantle, melt ascent through the lithosphere, and finally, eruption at the surface.

Project 8: What do pallasite meteorites tell us about processes deep in the interior of differentiated planet(essimal)s?
(Supervisors: Dr. J. Harvey, Dr. A. Walker, Dr. C. Davies, Dr. J. Mound, Dr. T. Mueller) Contact:;;;;
Theoretical and numerical studies indicate that chemical heterogeneity in the outer core region profoundly influences the dynamics and evolution of Earth's core and mantle, and the behaviour of the geomagnetic field. However, we presently don't know much about this heterogeneity. Atomistic modelling provides some constraints on what chemical composition could be expected in the deepest portions of the mantle and geophysical modelling techniques can be used to predict geochemical heterogeneity within the outermost core. Pallasite meteorites (Figure 1) may be derived from differentiated planetesimals, subsequently smashed into fragments by collisions with large bolides early in the history of the solar system. These meteorites may provide indirect evidence with which processes deep within the Earth can be tested. This project will use a combination of geochemical investigations of pallasite meteorites, geophysical modelling of the composition of the Earth's outermost core and atomistic modelling of equilibrium metal / silicate compositions to investigate the nature and origin of pallasite meteorites and what information they contain regarding differentiation processes in planetary bodies.

Project 9: Understanding caldera collapse at volcanoes in the Galapagos Islands using satellite remote sensing and gravity measurement
(Supervisors: Prof. A. Hooper, Dr. S. Ebmeier, Dr. M. Bagnardi) Contact:;;
Volcanic calderas are surface depressions that form by collapse of overburden into a subterranean magma reservoir during volcanic eruptions. They exist on the scale of kilometres to tens of kilometres and are associated with the largest eruptions ever to have occurred on Earth. Collapses are rare, with only seven cases having been instrumentally recorded. However, we can learn much about the current state of magma chambers beneath calderas systems by measuring deformation at the surface; pressure changes within magmatic systems lead to displacements of the surface, which can be measured using techniques such as GPS and radar interferometry (InSAR) (Pinel et al, 2014). In this project you will test the hypothesis that magma reservoirs in the Galapagos may be deeper than currently thought using a combination of deformation measurements and gravity measurements.

Project 10: Unseen but not unfelt: building resilience to air pollution from volcanoes
(Supervisors: Dr. E. Ilyinskaya, Dr. A. Schmidt, Dr. R. Burton (NCAS), Dr. C. Witham (Met Office), Dr. W. Strauch (INETER))
The last decade has been inundated with reports of environmental disasters impacting the lives of billions of people around the world. While news coverage of floods, hurricanes, earthquakes or wildfires are always accompanied with spectacular images of destruction that emphasise the speed at which they strike, a myriad of slow and latent hazards have been left in the shadow of the public attention. One of those overshadowed and underestimated hazards is environmental pollution caused by persistent volcanic emissions (PVE). The aim of this PhD project is to increase our understanding of how PVE spreads and impacts the environment, and to optimise a forecasting model to help create a public advisory system for the local communities. The project will focus on Masaya volcano in Nicaragua and you will work in close collaboration with an ongoing interdisciplinary Global Challenges Research Fund project UNRESP. You will undertake fieldwork on active volcanoes in Nicaragua.

Project 11: Improved mapping Earth's internal magnetic field from space
(Supervisors: Dr. P. Livermore, Dr. C. Davies, Dr. W. Brown (British Geological Survey), Dr. C Beggan (British Geological Survey)
Observations of Earth's magnetic field, both from the ground and from space, provide information on processes inside the Earth's core all the way to the near-Earth environment in which spacecraft operate, and provides us with a means to navigate above and below Earth's surface. To create a map of the internally generated field, measurements of the magnetic field must be compiled into a geomagnetic field model, whose accuracy is crucial in making scientific inferences about the Earth's interior. These models describe the shape and strength of the geomagnetic field, and its variations in space and time. Data for these models currently come from ground observatories and the ongoing European Space Agency (ESA) Swarm satellite mission. This project is focused on improving the modelling capability at high-latitude, which will result in a step-change in our ability to fit globally the available data.

Project 12: Making wealth: precipitation of gold from synthetic hydrothermal solutions
(Supervisors: Dr. R. Chapman, Dr. T. Mueller, Dr. D. Morgan, Dr. S. Piazolo, Dr. D. Banks)
This project provides you with the opportunity to produce some seminal work on an area that is surprisingly under researched. All previous studies on metallic gold have focussed on metal generated through a smelting process. We now know that the textures and compositional variations in gold precipitated form hydrothermal solutions are completely different. This is the first study which seeks to grow gold from synthetic solutions and to compare the resulting textures to those observed in samples from Leeds' unique collection of natural gold. You will gain field expertise in specialist field skills for gold collection whilst developing new experimental procedures to generate synthetic gold for study in our state of the art electron optics suite. This new understanding of the controls on gold alloy heterogeneity will underpin increasingly sophisticated approaches to the use of detrital gold as an indicator mineral in exploration.

Project 13: The rise and fall of the lower mantle: modelling thermal conductivity in Earth's interior
(Supervisors: Dr. S. Stackhouse, Dr. A. Walker, Dr. J. Mound)
The Earth's lower mantle is convecting, with cold slabs subducting and hot plumes rising. Surface expressions of this large-scale convection include earthquakes, volcanism, oceanic trenches, mid-ocean ridges and island arc chains. The key role of heat transport means that thermal conductivity is a fundamental parameter in controlling mantle processes. In addition, as the thermal conductivity of the mantle mediates heat-loss from the core, it will also have significant implications for the thermoevolution of the Earth (Lay et al., 2008) and magnetic field generation (Gubbins et al. 2011). The aim of the project is to determine the thermal conductivity of mantle phases involved in subduction of slabs and plume generation, and their geophysical implications. This will be achieved using atomic scale simulations.

Project 14: Did the early Earth have plate tectonics?
(Supervisors: Dr. T. Mueller, Dr. S. Piazolo, Dr. J. Harvey)
This exciting, interdisciplinary project aims to take a new look at an old problem: When did Plate tectonics as we know it start on Earth? Answering this question has significant impact on how we interpret the evolution of our and other planets. In this project you will be part of an international research team applying modern state-of the art techniques of metamorphic petrology, structural geology, geochemistry and petrochronology to decipher the workings of Earth using field data from unique outcrops and sample suites.

Project 15: Tracking water in the Earth's transition zone with seismology and mineral physics
(Supervisors: Dr. A. Nowacki, Dr. A. Walker)
The Earth's water cycle includes the silicate mantle: subducting tectonic plates carry hydrogen down as they sink, in the form of hydrous minerals. Much of the water is released in the upper mantle (~100 km depth), leading to volcanism at arcs, but it is thought that some remains present in slabs to much greater depths-within the mantle transition zone (410-660 km) and perhaps beyond. It likely does so bound in high-pressure hydrous phases such as antigorite and 'phase D'. These mineral phases are highly elastically anisotropic, meaning their seismic velocities vary strongly with propagation direction, which may explain the presence of strong seismic anisotropy which has been observed around slabs in the transition zone (Nowacki et al., 2015; Chang et al., 2015). Despite these key indicators for the presence of water in the transition zone, however, no-one has yet been able to quantify just how much might be cycled. In this project you will test the hypothesis that anisotropy around slabs is due to the alignment of hydrous crystals, and by doing so constrain the amount of water which reaches the top of the lower mantle (>660 km).

Project 16: Martian volcanic systems: using surface strain indicators to investigate magmatically driven stress in the Tharsis region, Mars
(Supervisors: Dr. E. Bramham, Dr. M. Thomas, Dr. S. Piazolo, Prof. D. Paton, Dr. P. Byrne (NCSU)
This project aims to decipher the geological history of Mars utilising the large dataset collected by spacecraft over the last decade. Its novelty lies in using the surface expressions of volcanic systems of Mars to infer the planet's inner workings through time. Scientific outcomes and technique development undertaken as part of the project will be not only important for our understanding of Mars, but will also be transferable to other planetary bodies - including Earth.

Project 17: Imaging the Earth's Core Mantle Boundary Structure
(Supervisors: Dr. S. Rost, Dr. A. Nowacki, Dr. T. Nissen-Meyer (Oxford), Dr. M. Thorne (Utah)
The Earth's core-mantle boundary (CMB) separates the iron alloy of the core from the silicate rocks of the mantle. It represents the boundary of the different convection cells of the core and the mantle and controls the heat flow out of the core, driving mantle convection and plate tectonics. Over the last three decades seismologists have discovered a wide variety of structures at the CMB that contradict the picture of a simple and sharp contact between iron and silicates (Figure 1). These discoveries span a wide range of scales from global anisotropy and discontinuities, to low velocity degree-two structures (called Large Low Shear Velocity Provinces, LLSVPs), and Ultra-Low Velocity Zones (ULVZs) with scales of a few ten to a few hundred kilometres but large reduction (on the order of more than 10%) in velocities. This project aims to improve our imaging of Ultra-Low Velocity Zones (ULVZs) in Earth's deep mantle and to use a multi-disciplinary approach to develop models of ULVZ origin, composition and evolution.

Project 18: Petrological & geochemical insights into subduction initiation the case of Izu-Bonin-Mariana volcanic arc
(Supervisors: Dr. I. Savov, Dr. D. Ferguson)
Convergent margins mark sites of plate destruction and are unique to Earth among the terrestrial planets. However, currently we lack clear understanding of why and how they are initiated. Among a number of hypotheses that have been proposed, the so-called "spontaneous subduction initiation" model appears particularly relevant (Stern, 2004; Arculus et al, 2015) to the initiation of one of the largest, nominally intra-oceanic subduction zones in the W. Pacific-the Izu-Bonin-Mariana (IBM) system. Spontaneous subduction initiation occurs when a change in plate motion allows the gravitationally unstable lithosphere to founder along an existing plate boundary. In detail, the PhD student will construct geochemical profiles across the entire Cenozoic, with emphasis on the Paleogene volcaniclastics. The student will analyse the volcanic ash and the most unaltered volcaniclasts for Sr, Nd, Pb and B isotopes in the TIMS Lab at the Univ. Leeds.

Project 19: Relating large scale volcanic flank mass movements to the possible role and existence of water on Mars
(Supervisors: Dr. M. Thomas, Dr. E. Bramham, Dr. P. Byrne (NCSU)
There is a long recorded history of large terrestrial volcanoes exhibiting flank instability and collapse (McGuire et al, 1996). Simply put, volcanoes can only grow so large before they become unstable and collapse. There are a wide variety of causal mechanisms cited for these collapses but many involve the role of water, eg., changing sea levels (e.g. Carracedo et al., 1999), increases in pore pressures (e.g. Day, 1996), or the role of water in creating weak, deformable substrates (e.g. Van Wyk De Vries and Borgia, 1996). On Mars, there are also volcanic edifices, some of which have undergone flank collapse (Figure 1), but, their scale is quite different. The large Martian edifices have heights that dwarf their terrestrial counterparts. The Tharsis region contains the most clustered volcanic activity on Mars, formed mainly by the products of five volcanoes. The main objectives of this project are i) to analyse whether there is any relationship between sites of large-scale volcanic instability on Mars and areas of suspected historical ground or surface water, and ii) to account for the role of groundwater, where present, on the structural stability and evolution of large Martian shields.

Project 20: Establishing the 'play' concept in lode gold exploration
(Supervisors: Dr. T. Torvela, Dr. R. Chapman) Contact:;
This project addresses this fundamental problem of the location of gold deposits within orogenic belts through a novel synthesis of regional structural geology with gold mineralogy to develop the first framework focusing on detailed variations in metallogeny for regional gold mineralization.

Project 21: How hot is the bottom of the Earth's mantle?
(Supervisors: Dr. A. Walker, Dr. C. Davies, Dr. A. Nowacki)
The thermal structure of the lowermost mantle is a poorly known yet crucial property of the whole Earth system that underpins the behaviour of both the core and mantle. Can you combine geophysics, fluid dynamics and mineralogy to construct a deep-Earth thermometer in order to better constrain Earth's energy budget? Convection in Earth's rocky mantle controls the long-term evolution of the planet, drives surface tectonics and is intimately linked to planetary habitability. It also permits magnetic field generation by cooling the liquid iron outer core. At first sight the fluid dynamics of mantle convection appears quite simple as the high viscosity implies that flow is not turbulent, although it may be chaotic. The rich and complex dynamics exhibited by Earth, and the other terrestrial planets, arise because the physical properties that characterise mantle materials, and in particular the rheology, are enormously sensitive to small changes in temperature, pressure and composition. The complex feedbacks between mantle physical properties and mantle flow are most prevalent in the uppermost and lowermost boundary layers of the mantle, and it is the rheology in these regions that is largely responsible for the diversity of planetary behaviour and evolution. In this project you will make use of a range of geophysical observations and models to constrain the thickness, lateral variability and temperature of the lower boundary layer of the mantle. You will then use this information to probe the evolution of the planet.


To individual supervisors mentioned

Applications: (open now)

PhD: For UK/EU nationals there are a range of projects available under the Spheres DTP scheme ( (deadline 8 Jan. 2018). - NOW CLOSED
For international students there are several international scholarships available across the university (deadline 9 March 2018).
Other possibilities are outlined on (variety of schemes)

Postdoctoral fellows: Early Career researchers interested in the research topics of the Department are welcome to contact potential mentors to discuss possibilities to gain scholarships and potential projects.

posted: 21 December 2017     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.