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Earth Sciences - Our research areas

Earth Sciences - Our research areas

Department research activity spans diverse topics designed to investigate the past, present and future of Planet Earth and its resources. Our research work ranges from ground-breaking blue-sky research, to very applied projects with high societal impact deliverables for industrial and government sponsors.

For convenience, our research activities have been divided into the three main themes highlighted below. As in any successful research environment, as well as the research done under these simple groupings, much research happens as internal collaborations between members of these groups and external collaborations at many other high-ranking research institutes globally.

Geodynamics and Sedimentary Systems

The Theme’s research is directed in four complementary strands:

Geological fault and fracture evolution: We study the formation of faults and rock fractures as pathways of fluid migration and energy storage and their role in geological hazards. 

Planetary remote sensing: Our research in this new area uses remote sensing data combined with fieldwork to understand the geological history and hazard potential of regions on Earth and the composition and geological history of planetary bodies such as Venus.

Sedimentology of marine systems: We study seafloor sediments to reconstruct ocean currents, sea-level and geological processes to reconstruct paleoceanographic currents and guide mineral exploration and deep-sea telecommunications.

Earth-structure and lithospheric dynamics: Research involves understanding deep Earth structure, past and future plate dynamics, and the geotectonic evolution of the Earth’s surface.

Physics and Chemistry of Earth Processes

The Theme’s research is directed in four complementary strands:

Modern atmospheric chemistry: We monitor atmospheric greenhouse gas compositions, the molecular chemistry of atmospheric aerosols, and the occurrence and management of industrial atmospheric pollutants.

Earth and oceanic geochemistry: We determine the chemical signatures of natural materials (rocks, sediments, water, air) as tools for tracing the evolution of the Earth System. 

Environmental chemistry of soils and waters: We trace and predict the spread of groundwater contamination using novel geochemical approaches that benefit communities and industry around the world.

Our MSc course in Environmental Management and Diagnosis provides a link between our research and industrial partners who provide advisory support, internships and secondments for students, and co-sponsor research projects.

Mineral resources: We characterize the environments and processes that form economically important mineral reserves using petrological and pressure-cell approaches.

Global Environment Change

Research is concerned with understanding the development and modification through time of terrestrial and marine life and ecosystems. We reconstruct continental palaeoenvironments and their vegetation with special focus on responses to, and evidence for, climate change and on the influence of fire.

Paleogene life and climate: we use fossil plants to evaluate vegetation-climate interactions. These data assist botanists to calibrate phylogenies of modern plants and quantify past climate variables.

Wildfires: We research the climatic and ecological impacts of modern wildfires and the future impact of wildfires as climate changes. This work is used to guide policy by the UK Government and national and international agencies.

Reconstructing ancient landscapes: this research places ancient vegetation in habitat contexts. Highlights include examining taphonomic bias to reassess the significance of drought tolerant vegetation in the early and mid-Carboniferous and the Carboniferous/Permian.

Marine bioturbation: We use digital image analysis to reconstruct sediment bioturbation in marine sediments – an important tool to trace water currents, nutrients and oxygen availability.

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