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Earth Sciences - Postgraduate research

Earth Sciences - Postgraduate research

Postgraduate Research

The Department of Earth Sciences is one of the leading centres of research in the UK. In the most recent national Research Excellence Framework (REF2021), 88% of our research outputs and 100% of our research environment were classified as world leading and internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour.

Our postgraduate research activities strengthen our vital links with a wide range of industrial and commercial partners within the energy, mineral, extraction, waste management and water industries. These links provide support for research, employment for graduates and work experience opportunities in industry.

Department research activity spans diverse topics designed to investigate the past, present and future of planet Earth and its resources. Our work ranges from ground-breaking blue-sky research, to very applied projects with high societal impact deliverables for industrial and government sponsors. PhD research opportunities span this range of activities and are supported by UKRI, the GeoNetZero CDT, industrial and College studentships.

Prospective students are invited to contact individual members of staff in the department in the first instance to discuss potential research projects.

Cadmium isotope signatures in marine sediments: Advancing the paleo-proxy

This 3.5 year fully funded studentship is part of the UKRI-supported ERC Consolidator project ‘Disentangling the role of organic feedbacks on the global carbon cycle (DISTILL),’ which aims to use inorganic isotope geochemistry to trace Earth’s ancient organic carbon cycle. You will investigate how the isotopic composition and distribution of Cd in modern marine sediments changes during burial.

Full details including application process and dates -  Downloadable PDF

The closing date for applications is 17:00 BST on the 28 th October 2022. Interviews are likely to be held
online during w/c 8 th November. The studentship is available to start from January 2023.

For an informal discussion about the project, please contact

This project is fully funded by Royal Holloway and Shell Research Ltd.

Monitoring of H2 and CO2 Subsurface Storage Using Reflected-Refraction Seismic Events

Low-cost monitoring of containment will be essential for economic storage of hydrogen or carbon dioxide in porous, subsurface reservoirs. Reflected-refraction events are a novel proposal for how to achieve this. The project aim is to determine whether this is a workable approach.
The successful applicant will have programming skills and/or knowledge of subsurface reservoirs as well as a degree in Earth Sciences or Physics.

Training will be given in subsurface storage and how this will contribute to achieving the UK’s target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

The studentship is for 4 years and covers stipend at UKRI rates and Home fees. Non-UK applicants will need to fund the difference between UK and OS tuition fees.

Project summary available to download(PDF)

The studentship includes a total of £6000 to support research costs.

Closing date for applications is July 31st 2022 at 23.59 GMT

Interviews will be held online August 15th 2022

Further information can be obtained from Professor David Waltham

Applications should be made via the Royal Holloway Direct website




The following four projects have been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2023.

The studentships cover fees, stipend and research expenses and include a full residential programme of skills training alongside the wider DTP cohort.

The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 11th January 2023.

Applications should be made via the Royal Holloway Direct website

Please contact the lead supervisor for further details about each project.

Title Supervisor Download

Primitive organics available to the early Earth

Dr Queenie Chan, Dr Alex Dickson, Dr Ashley King (Natural History Museum) PDF ⬇︎

Impact of Sedimentological Heterogeneity on CO2 Migration and Trapping Potential: HyNet North West project, Liverpool Bay, Offshore UK

Dr Domenico Chiarella, Dr Nicola Scarselli

PDF ⬇︎

Quantification of atmospheric particulate matter using dendrochemistry and its application to predicting long term public health outcomes

Dr Christina Manning, Dr Jennifer Cole, Dr Alex Dickson

PDF ⬇︎

Energy-critical metals: using global screening and plate reconstructions to model new exploration targets

Dr Ian Watkinson, Dr Graeme Nicoll (Halliburton), Dr Jean-Christophe Wrobel-Daveau (Halliburton) and Dr Paul Helps (Halliburton)

PDF ⬇︎

The following four projects have been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2022.

The studentships cover fees, stipend and research expenses and include a full residential programme of skills training alongside the wider DTP cohort.

The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2022.

Applications should be made via the Royal Holloway Direct website

Please contact the lead supervisor for further details about each project.

Further information about the ARIES DTP can be found at


Title Supervisor Download

Does the oxidation of organic material on atmospheric mineral aerosol change the solar radiative forcing of mineral aerosol?

Prof. Martin King (RHUL), Prof. David Waltham (RHUL), Dr Andy Ward (CASE partner, Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory) PDF ⬇︎
Quantification and upscaling of greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes from shallow waters, soils and trees in rural SE England

Dr David Lowry (RHUL), Dr Rebecca Fisher (RHUL), Dr James France (RHUL), Dr Mark Lee (RHUL), Dr Kevin Clemitshaw (RHUL), Dr Sirwan Yamulki (CASE partner: Forest Research)

PDF ⬇︎

Isotopic fractionation of cadmium during continental weathering

Dr Alex Dickson (RHUL), Dr Anirban Basu (RHUL), Prof. Robert Hilton (Oxford)

PDF ⬇︎

Sustainable cooling of the London Underground network

Dr Jonathan Paul (RHUL), Dr Ian Watkinson (RHUL), Prof. Adrian Butler (Imperial College London) PDF ⬇︎

The following two projects have been shortlisted for funding by the GeoNetZero CDT and will start on the 1st October 2022

The closing date for applications is 23:59 on the 11th February 2022.

Applications should be made via the Royal Holloway Direct website

Please contact the lead supervisor for further details about each project.

Further information about the GeoNetZero CDT can be found here:

Title Supervisor Download
The use of mineral-chemical stratigraphy to assess the environmental impact of sediment capture behind hydroelectric power plants Amy Gough (RHUL), Domenico Chiarella (RHUL), Alfend Rudyawan (Institute of Technology, Bandung, Indonesia), Tom Dodd (British Geological Survey) PDF ⬇︎
Testing geochemical feasibility of subsurface electrolyte storage for flow batteries Dr Anirban Basu (RHUL), Prof. Dave Waltham (RHUL) PDF ⬇︎


PhD research studies are supported by Research Council, industrial and College studentships, and projects cover the wide range of departmental research interests. Our postgraduate teaching and research activities strengthen links with a wide range of industrial and commercial partners within the oil, mineral, extraction, waste management and water industries. These links provide support for research, employment for graduates and work experience for undergraduates.

Open Competition, at least one studentship fully funded by Royal Holloway

The Royal Holloway studentship is for 3.5 years.

The studentship covers stipend at UKRI rates and Home fees. The studentship also includes a total of £1,500 to support research costs.

If essential for the project the student may be able to apply to Royal Holloway School of Life Sciences and the Environment for a maximum of an additional £1,500 to support research costs.

An EU student fee scholarship reduction covers 60% of the difference between home and international fees and will apply for the duration of your course.

Closing date for applications is Monday January 31st 2022 at 23.59 GMT.

Interviews will be on February 9th.

Title Supervisor Download

From monsoons to volcanoes - correlating the East Asian Monsoon to an increase in Sumatran subduction rates

Amy Gough, Max Webb, and Paola Vannucchi (UNIFI) PDF ⬇︎

Harnessing groundwater resources for sustainable development in east Africa

Jonathan Paul

PDF ⬇︎

Geological processes active on Venus

 Richard Ghail PDF ⬇︎

Topographic and structural evolution of central Sulawesi

Dr Ian Watkinson PDF ⬇︎ 

Tectonostratigraphic evolution of the Inle pull-apart basin, eastern Myanmar

Dr Ian Watkinson PDF ⬇︎ 

Identifying best practice methodology for location, characterisation and emission estimation of methane fluxes using a range of ground-based mobile measurement instrumentation.

Dr Dave Lowry, Dr James France, Dr Rebecca Fisher PDF ⬇︎


  • Prof Jürgen Adam (email)  – Geomechanics of brittle continental deformation, Coupled tectonic and sedimentary processes, Salt tectonics, Physical modelling of fault-fracture processes, Development of physical modelling and strain monitoring techniques, Tectono-stratigraphic analysis of Atlantic margin basins, Subsurface energy storage.
  • Dr Anirban Basu (email) Isotope geochemistry, Bio-geochemical metal cycling, Contaminant transport and remediation, Environmental geochemistry and microbiology, Redox-sensitive isotopic tracers.
  • Dr Queenie Hoi Shan Chan (email) - Meteorites; planetary science; space exploration missions; cosmochemistry; organic geochemistry; analytical chemistry; origin of life; astrobiology.
  • Dr Domenico Chiarella (email) Sedimentology. Tidal deposits, mixed siliclastic-bioclastic sediments, sedimentary petrography and provenance analysis, tectonic and sedimentation of coarse-grained deltas, seismic interpretation and attribute analysis, reservoir characterisation. 
  • Dr Kevin (Clem) Clemitshaw (email) – Sources, sinks and trends of air pollutants with health and climate impacts; fluxes of greenhouse gases from soils and surface waters; soil biodiversity
  • Prof Margaret Collinson (email)Cenozoic floras, vegetation and climate; floras of the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary event; evolution of wetland communities; fossil history of mammal/plant interactions; megaspore ultrastructure and the evolution of heterosporous plants; palynofacies; experimental charcoalfication; organic chemistry and plant-derived biomarkers for environmental change.
  • Dr Alex Dickson (email)Trace metal geochemistry and isotope geochemistry of marine sedimentary deposits, palaeoclimate and palaeocenaography, environmental change during the Cenozoic and Mesozoic climate events. 
  • Prof Howard Falcon-Lang (email)The evolution of terrestrial ecosystems and palaeoclimates. Current projects include the origin and early evolution of reptiles in mid-carboniferous, the collapse of the first rainforests in Late Pennsylvanian times and the explosive appearance of flowering plants in Cretaceous Period.
  • Dr Rebecca Fisher (email)Modern climate change, measurement of greenhouse gases in atmosphere, emissions calculations, stable isotope analysis of methane for source identification. 
  • Dr Richard Ghail (email)Radar investigations of tectonic processes on Venus and Earth's continental areas, especially the London platform, applied to Civil Engineering activities. Lead Scientist on EnVision, an ESA/NASA mission to use radar to determine rates of geological activity on Venus and learn why it has evolved so differently to Earth.
  • Dr Amy Gough (email)Understanding the evolution of sedimentary basins and basin full using applied clastic sedimentology and provenance studies. Southeast Asian Geology, specifically looking at sedimentary source identification and routing pathways in terrestrial to deltaic systems through petrographic and single grain analysis. 
  • Dr Nathalie Grassineau (email)Early life and the rise of oxygen in the Archaean, be determining microbial activity using carbon and sulphur isotopes. Volcanic activity and hydrothermal vents in spreading ridges, using stable isotopes. Director of the Wet Geochemistry laboratory, analysing geological, environmental and archaeological materials for major and trace elements. 
  • Prof Agust Gudmundsson (email) Volcanotectonics: dyke emplacement, caldera formation, and volcanic eruptions. Seismotectonics: fault-zone development and earthquakes. Fluids in the earth's crust. Geothermal energy and solar energy. 
  • Dr Javier Hernandez-Molina (email) Marine Geology. Sedimentary processes, seismic stratigraphy and basin analysis. Deep water sedimentation. Bottom currents: process and products. Oceanic circulation patterns.
  • Prof Martin King (email)Snow, ice and atmospheric chemistry and physics; the effect of atmospheric aerosol on modern climate change; the calibration of Earth observing satellites using sea ice and desert dust.
  • Dr Dave Lowry (email) Use of stable isotopes to understand geological, environmental and atmospheric problems, including sources of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, formation of mineral deposits and intrusions and development of the Neoproterozoic rocks of Scotland. Development of new instrumentation for greenhouse gas analysis. 
  • Dr Christina Manning (email)Application of whole rock and mineral geochemistry to better understand open system processes occurring in shallow level magma storage systems and they effect eruptive behaviour.
  • Dr Jonathan Paul (email) - Sustainable groundwater resources, tectonic geomorphology, surficial manifestations of mantle convection (e.g. dynamic topography), integration of social science techniques (e.g. citizen science), natural hazard risk reduction and resilience building, development of new sensing technologies for water resource management.

  • Dr Nicola Scarselli (email) Seismic geomorphology, structural geology and subsurface evaluation.

  • Prof David Waltham (email) Mathematical and computer modelling of Earth-science relevant processes ranging from sand-grains to planetary systems
  • Dr Ian Watkinson (email) Structural geology, particularly active tectonics, ductile shear zones, exhumation of metamorphic rocks and the major strike-slip faults of SE Asia. Geohazards and urban seismic vulnerability.


This programme is offered to prospective students who wish to pursue research in a selected field of the Earth Sciences for a period of one calendar year full time or two calendar years part time and be awarded a Masters degree.

The main focus of the degree programme is an independent research project, chosen by the student, developed into a project proposal through discussion with a chosen supervisor at Royal Holloway. It may be possible to arrange co-supervisors from other Universities, Research Institutes or Industry, to benefit from their specialist expertise. Students will receive training in research skills, including data collection, data handling and analytical techniques as well as transferable and presentation skills.

During your studies you may attend taught courses if they are relevant to your training needs. Students will have access to the wide range of other training opportunities available in the college including the Researcher Development Programme (RDP).

Students may be employed as postgraduate demonstrators if there are opportunities available. In this situation they may attend the course 'Skills of Teaching to Inspire Learning' (inSTIL) which, on successful completion, results in accreditation as an Associate of the Higher Education Academy.

The main outcome of the degree programme is a piece of independent research presented in the form of a dissertation. Upon completion of the programme students will have gained experience of research and presentation of material in the earth sciences which equips them to publish work in international scientific journals.

Prospective students should contact individual members of staff in the department in the first instance to discuss potential research projects. (See staff research interests above)

General questions may be directed to the Doctoral School -

Find out more about fees and funding.

It should be noted that there are no funded places available for this degree programme but prospective students resident in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and International (including EU) students, may be eligible for a government loan.

Find out more about loans.

The cost of your research needs should be discussed in advance with your supervisor and appropriate sources for this funding should be identified.
For more information please email the project supervisor.

Applications will require you to give the name and contact details of one referee, plus a cover letter and CV. The departmental policy is to offer all available studentships to the best applicants across the range of PhD topics on offer.

Applicants are requested to send an additional copy of their CV directly to the lead supervisor of the project in which they are interested. Please also contact the supervisor if you have any questions about the project itself.

Applications are welcome at any time from students with sources of sponsorship.

Applications should be made via the Royal Holloway Direct website




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