Dynamic Earth & Planetary Evolution

Dynamic Earth & Planetary Evolution

We aim to advance fundamental, quantitative understanding of critical geological phenomena on Earth and across the Solar System to solve scientific, engineering, and societal challenges. Our combination of observational, experimental, and modelling expertise enables us to answer key questions including: a) How do deep Earth and crustal processes interact with surface processes to shape continental-scale topography? b) How does the reactive transport of magma and other fluids through the crust form resources? c) How do geological processes control the crustal-scale distribution and localization of natural hazards? d) How do planets form, differentiate, and evolve, and what determines their habitability? We take a cross-disciplinary approach, using a world-class analytical toolkit, custom-built computational models, and advanced field techniques including remote sensing. Life & its Interactions with Changing Environments and Global Landscape Change Themes, as well as, our links with SUERC and the School for Interdisciplinary Studies.

 

Keywords: thermochronology, tectonics, basin fill, volcanic and magmatic processes, sedimentary deposits, planetary differentiation & evolution, planetary volatiles & habitability, Mars, asteroids, faults, fractures, fluids, microanalysis, computational analysis

 

Please check our postgraduate research opportunities for 2019

 Dynamic Earth & Planetary Evolution Research at the 2016 Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

SOLVE Research

Theme members

Prof Martin Lee, Dr Jaime Toney, Dr Lydia Hallis, Dr Ben Cohen, Dr Luke Daly, Dr Damien McGrouther, Dr Daniel Koehn, Dr Tim Dempster, Dr John MacDonald, Prof Roderick Brown, Dr David Brown, Dr Cristina Persano, Dr Iain Neill, Dr Brian Bell, Dr Amanda Owen

PhD Students

Annemarie Pickersgill, Philippe Nauny, Rory PorteousNicola Mari, Aine O'Brien, Sammy Griffin, Enrica Bonato

 

Current MSc by Research Opportunities (non-funded)

Evolution of the western Carboniferous Midland Valley Basin, Scotland

Supervisors: Dr Cristina Persano (Cristina.Persano@glasgow.ac.uk), Dr Amanda Owen, Dr Iain Neill

 

 Figure 1: A polished zircon crystal from the western Midland Valley deposits under the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM)

 

Aim of the project

The aim of this project is to quantitatively reconstruct the source of Carboniferous sediments in the western portion of the Midland Valley and constrain the basin’s thermal evolution since its deposition. Data from this area will be integrated into a wider project based at the University of Glasgow to better understand the Carboniferous Midland Valley and its potential as an unconventional resource basin, including oil and geothermal energy.

 

Rationale of the project

To date, the Carboniferous of the Midland Valley of Scotland has received considerably less attention than its Devonian counterpart. Carboniferous sedimentation and associated volcanism occurred in response to crustal extension, and the nature and source of sedimentary materials represents a delicate balance between tectonic processes operating both locally and across NW Europe, and sea level change. The Midland Valley has provided important sources of coal, aggregate and limestone which fuelled Scotland’s industrial revolution, and is today the source of much interest for low-enthalpy geoenergy resources close to our main towns and cities (e.g. https://www.gov.scot/publications/study-potential-deep-geothermal-energy-scotland-volume-2/pages/9/).

Although a stratigraphic framework is in place, detailed sedimentological and geochronological data is generally lacking due to urbanisation and a lack of outcrops being present in the central portion of the Midland Valley leading to gaps in knowledge. However, access to unique core from drilling associated with the Dalmarnock UK Geoenergy Observatories programme (https://www.bgs.ac.uk/ukgeoenergyobs/home.html) will shed light onto this economically significant basin through new geochronological and sedimentological studies.

In this project, quantified facies mapping techniques, zircon U-Pb dating and apatite fission track analyses will help understand fundamental scientific questions of the Scottish Carboniferous: whether a dominantly axial or transverse sediment routing system was present, the key source areas for sediment supply, and the post-depositional thermal history. Our group have already commenced work on the eastern Midland Valley, but for the first time we have an opportunity to continue this work in the western part of the basin. All aspects of these questions are critically important for this basin due to its economic significance as it is currently being explored to assess its viability as a geothermal resource. The approaches taken within this study will not only serve to answer questions specific to this basin but also serve as a methodological approach to resource (i.e. coal, shale gas, geothermal) identification, reservoir connectivity, and prediction of the best targets for exploitation in other under-utilized basins across the world.

 

Methods

The work is organized into two parts which interact and feedback on each other. The rock core will be fully logged by the student, its sedimentary characteristics and structures will then be used to quantitatively characterise facies to generate robust palaeogeographic interpretations. The portions of the sedimentary core allotted to Glasgow will undergo extensive petrographic investigations, and those, coupled with the logs, will guide a sampling strategy for the recovery of zircon and apatite grains. Apatites will undergo U-Pb dating and fission track analysis at the University of Glasgow, whilst entire zircon populations will undergo U-Pb dating and trace element analysis using laser ablation mass spectrometry, again at the University of Glasgow. The U-Pb ages will provide insights onto the provenance of the sediments, whereas the fission track data will constrain the thermal evolution of the basin.

The student will then integrate the different datasets in combination with regional data to produce a paleogeographic model for the western portion of the Carboniferous Midland Valley, which will then be integrated into ongoing work in our group to build a robust understanding of the origins and thermal history of this economically significant sedimentary basin.

Please note that there is a £1000 programme cost due from the student. This cost partially covers the student’s expenses to visit Nottingham for core sampling, for laboratory preparation, sample analysis, and subsequent conference/workshop presentations.

 

Knowledge background of the student

Student with a 2:1 in a relevant Geoscience degree. They need to be enthusiastic about working in a laboratory and attentive to the Health and Safety procedures. They need to be able to work independently, effectively managing their project, but also be part of the research team and work alongside other lab users, including postgraduate students and research fellows, in a vibrant, international environment.

 

Career prospects

Due to the multidisciplinary aspects to this project the chosen student will gain a host of skills. Research based skills including scientific writing, presentation (poster and oral) and outreach skills will be gained as part of this project. Scientific skills include training in logging of sedimentary core, quantitative facies analyses, U/Pb analysis of zircons and apatite fission track analyses, involving training in sample preparation and laser ablation mass spectrometry. Such skill sets are relevant for a future career in both industry (such as geothermal, oil and gas and mining) and academia (PhD programmes).

The student will be eligible to attend a range of study- and career-enhancing workshops as part of their postgraduate training at the University of Glasgow.


Delivery of water to early Earth by the carbonaceous chondrite meteorites

Supervisors: Prof Martin Lee (Martin.Lee@Glasgow.ac.uk); Dr Ben Cohen, Dr Lydia Hallis

Aim

This project asks whether the Earth’s hydrosphere could have come from outer space via the impacts of water-rich meteorites. The focus of this work will be on analysing the abundance and hydrogen isotopic composition of water in Mighei-like carbonaceous chondrite meteorites. These rocks contain ~9% water, and come to Earth from outer parts of the asteroid belt. These meteorites are the focus of much current attention given that both NASA and the Japanese space agency have missions to collect and return samples of carbonaceous chondrite asteroids.

Rationale

The Mighei-like (CM) carbonaceous chondrite meteorites contain water that is hosted mainly within phyllosilicate minerals such as serpentine. These rocks could therefore be the mechanism by which extraterrestrial water was delivered to the surface of the early Earth (i.e., after it had cooled following its initial formation). However, not all CM carbonaceous chondrites contain the same amount of water, and this project focuses on those that have been heated prior to falling to Earth. This heating is believed to have taken place within their parent asteroid, and was responsible for driving off much of their original water. The nature and timing of this heating are both unknown, but are critical for understanding the potential flux of extraterrestrial water to Earth.

Methods

We have a large collection of CM carbonaceous chondrites, most loaned by NASA. The petrography, mineralogy and chemical composition of these rocks will be characterised by scanning electron microscopy, and their water content and hydrogen isotopic compositions will be measured by stepped pyrolysis at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre.

Knowledge background

The project is suitable for a graduate with a good honours degree in geology or Earth science.

Career prospects

This project will equip the student with skills in mineralogy and geochemistry, which could lead to employment in areas such as extractive industries or environmental management. There are also many opportunities for PhD research in planetary science in the UK and internationally.

Full details can be found here


Speleothems in Scottish sea caves: A new tool for determining the chronologies of climate change and isostatic rebound

Supervisors: Prof Martin Lee (Martin.Lee@Glasgow.ac.uk), Dr Derek Fabel, Dr Cristina Persano, Dr John Faithfull

Aim of the project

The aims of this project are to assess whether speleothems that have been recently discovered in sea caves on the west coast of Scotland are a new archive of information on regional tectonic and environmental histories. Specifically the project asks whether they can be used to determine: (i) when the caves formed; (ii) when the caves were isostatically lifted above sea level; (iii) whether the influx of meteoric water into the caves has changed in response to climatic fluctuations.

Rationale of the project

Caves formed by the dissolution of limestone commonly contain calcite speleothems, which are very important archives of information on climate change. Speleothems would not be expected to occur in caves within rocks other than limestone, but recently we have found stalactites in a cave on Iona, which has formed by marine erosion of metamorphic rocks. This discovery in itself needs an explanation, including the source of calcium to produce the speleothem. The Iona discovery also however shows that speleothems are not restricted to areas containing limestone, and so this climate proxy can be used far more widely than previously thought. Intriguingly, the speleothems in sea caves on Iona and elsewhere along the west coast of Scotland may also be used to constrain the timescale of isostatic rebound because they can only have started to form when the caves were sufficiently far above sea level.

Methods

Speleothems have been collected from the Iona cave, but additional fieldwork will be required to find other examples. The growth histories of the speleothems will be determined by studying thin sections using light and scanning electron microscopy, and X-ray microanalysis. Various layers within them will then be dated by laser ablation ICP-MS.

Knowledge background of the student

The project is suitable for a graduate with a good honours degree in geology, Earth science or physical geography.

Career prospects

This project will equip the student with skills in mineralogy, geochemistry and environmental science, which could lead to employment in areas such as extractive industries or environmental management, or a PhD position.

Further details can be found here


A multi-proxy palaeothermometry approach for improved thermal histories in mixed siliciclastic-carbonate basins

Supervisors: Dr. John MacDonald (john.macdonald.3@glasgow.ac.uk), Dr. Cristina Persano

Aim of the project

This project investigate whether different palaeothermometry techniques (clumped isotopes, apatite fission tracks, fluid inclusions) record similar thermal histories in mixed carbonate-siliciclastic sedimentary basins.

Rationale of the project

Understanding the thermal history of sedimentary successions is key in hydrocarbon exploration. There are various palaeothermometric methods which can be used to constrain thermal histories. However, individual methods tend to be restricted to a single rock, e.g. apatite fission track analysis in sandstones, and clumped isotopes in carbonates. Many sedimentary basins contain successions with both siliciclastic and carbonate rocks and so utilisation of only one palaeothermometry technique may not necessarily give a full picture of the thermal history. This project will compare different techniques in carbonate and siliciclastic rocks to determine if the they are recording the same thermal histories.

Methods

There will be fieldwork to log and sample mixed siliciclastic-carbonate successions, possibly the Ballagan Beds Formation, north of Glasgow. This will provide context I which to interpret the palaeothermometry analysis. Apatites will be mechanically separated from sandstone samples. Apatite fission track determination will be performed at the fission track laboratory hosted at GES, including the newly acquired LA-ICPMS. Oxygen and clumped isotope analyses will be performed on the carbonate samples. Fluid inclusion microthermometry (hosted in GES) will be performed on both siliciclastic and carbonate samples. Results from all these techniques will be compared and combined to build a detailed picture of the sedimentary succession analysed.

Knowledge background of the student

The student should have a geology background with an interest in sedimentology and stratigraphy, and hydrocarbon exploration. Laboratory experience is desirable although not essential but a willingness to learn new techniques in a laboratory environment is vital. A competent ability in scientific writing, gained through an undergraduate mapping or research project, is expected.

Career prospects

Understanding the thermal history of sedimentary successions is key in hydrocarbon exploration and this project and its combination of techniques will set prospective students up well for a career in hydrocarbon exploration or associated academic research.


A comparison of the isotope systematics in natural and anthropogenic travertines

Supervisor: Dr. John MacDonald (john.macdonald.3@glasgow.ac.uk)

Aim of the project

This project will investigate whether natural and anthropogenic (formed from the breakdown of man-made materials) in similar environments have similar isotopic responses in carbon and oxygen isotope systematics.

Rationale of the project

Natural travertines precipitate due to CO2 degassing in turbulent flowing meteoric water. Carbon isotope signatures can be used to trace the source of the carbon in the carbonate (e.g. biogenic) while oxygen isotopes can be used to determine the precipitation temperature if a water δ18O value is assumed (e.g. Epstein et al. 1951; Kele et al. 2015). Δ47 values can be used to determine precipitation temperatures without knowing water δ18O (Kele et al. 2015). Natural travertines are therefore good paleothermometers for past climate.

Travertine accumulations can also form from the breakdown of man-made materials. Mayes et al. (2008) documented travertine formation from the breakdown of steel slag at a former steelworks while travertines are commonly found on concrete structures. Assuming the equilibrium isotope behaviour in the anthropogenic travertines, those travertines can be used to fingerprint the conditions of the breakdown of concrete structures or of the steel slag. Both have implications for the environment and for structural integrity. However, the isotope systematics of these anthropogenic travertines has yet to be studied in detail. This project will compare anthropogenic and natural travertines.

Methods

There will be fieldwork to collect travertine samples from a range of locations around Scotland. Oxygen and clumped isotope analyses will be performed on the carbonate samples. Results from the different travertines will be compared to understand the isotopic behaviour of anthropogenic travertines relative to natural ones.

Knowledge background of the student

The student should have a geology background with an interest in geochemistry and the environment. Laboratory experience is desirable although not essential but a willingness to learn new techniques in a laboratory environment is vital. A competent ability in scientific writing, gained through an undergraduate mapping or research project, is expected.

Career prospects

While this project focuses on blue-skies science, the improved understanding of the breakdown of man-made materials such as steel slag and concrete structures could lead to careers in environmental monitoring of building control.

 

References

Epstein, S., Buchsbaum, R., Lowenstam, H. & Urey, H. 1951. Carbonate-Water Isotopic Temperature Scale. Bulletin Of The Geological Society Of America, 62, 417-426.

Kele, S., Breitenbach, S.F.M., Capezzuoli, E., Meckler, A.N., Ziegler, M., Millan, I.M., Kluge, T., Deak, J., Hanselmann, K., John, C.M., Yan, H., Liu, Z.H. & Bernasconi, S.M. 2015. Temperature dependence of oxygen- and clumped isotope fractionation in carbonates: A study of travertines and tufas in the 6-95 degrees C temperature range. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 168, 172-192.

Mayes, W.M., Younger, P.L. & Aumonier, J. 2008. Hydrogeochemistry of alkaline steel slag leachates in the UK. Water Air and Soil Pollution, 195, 35-50.


The composition and pollution implications of waste materials from historic paper making

Supervisor: Dr. John MacDonald (john.macdonald.3@glasgow.ac.uk)

Aim of the project:

This project will investigate the composition and pollution implications of waste materials from historic paper making, using a case study site at Milngavie, Scotland.

Rationale of the project:

Modern papermaking adheres to strict environmental regulations but historical papermaking processes led to dumping of waste by-products which have implications for environmental pollution. Paper mill sludge, as the main waste product is referred to, is a water-saturated fine material which was dumped in heaps or ponds and dried out over time leaving a fine powdery deposit. This material can increase alkalinity in surrounding soils and watercourses, while ecotoxic metals can be liberated to the wider environment through leaching. One such historical paper mill where this paper mill sludge is still extant is located at Milngavie, northwest of Glasgow. This site is a good case study for investigating the composition of the paper mill sludge and potential pollution to surrounding watercourses.

Methods:

Field survey including construction of a DEM of the sludge’s upper surface will map out the distribution of the paper mill sludge on the former paper mill site and give context to the subsequent analysis. Excavation and/or coring of sections through the waste heap will allow determination of any internal structure or variation, and the lead (Pb) content of the sediments will be used to construct a chronology of sludge deposition (by comparison with a well-dated industrial pollution chronology from nearby Loch Lomond). Samples of paper mill sludge obtained from the stratigraphic sections will then be analysed using XRD and ICP-MS to determine their chemical composition and their variability across the site. Microscopy will enable textural characterisation of the waste powder. Water samples will be obtained from the adjacent Allander Water and a pond which was formerly used to power the paper mill. These will be analysed by ICP-OES/ICP-MS to determine the extent of pollution with ecotoxic metals. All datasets will be integrated to build a picture of the history of waste production at the site and any potential pollution concerns.

Knowledge background of the student:

The student should have a background in geosciences, environmental science, or analytical chemistry. Laboratory experience is desirable although not essential but a willingness to learn new techniques in a laboratory environment is vital. A competent ability in scientific writing, gained through an undergraduate mapping or research project, is expected.

Career prospects:

This project will equip the student with knowledge and skills that are appropriate for a career in environmental monitoring/management.

 

Cement Waste Carbonation for Carbon Capture

Supervisor: Dr. John MacDonald (john.macdonald.3@glasgow.ac.uk)

Figure 1. Section through a waste cement deposit (left) and a close-up of calcite precipitated on the cement clinker (right).

Aim:

This project will investigate the natural capture of carbon dioxide by a legacy cement waste heap.

‌Rationale of the project:

Cement manufacture involves smelting raw materials (predominantly limestone and clay) in a furnace at ~2000 °C which produces gravel- to cobble-sized cement clinker, which is subsequently ground up to become cement powder. Some clinker may be discarded for quality-control reasons and has historically been dumped in heaps around cement works. The clinker is composed of highly reactive minerals (this is what gives cement its desired properties), which are far from equilibrium in the natural environment and, similar to other industrial smelting products like steel slag, react with atmospheric CO2 to precipitate calcium carbonate (calcite). This reaction, which draws down atmospheric CO2, merits further investigation as it may present an opportunity to limit or reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations which are increasing global temperatures. In order to address the feasibility of this, various questions need to be addressed such as how much CO2 could waste cement clinker sequester, and what are the mechanics of the calcite precipitation.

Methods:

Samples of cement clinker have been collected from a former cement works near Wishaw in Scotland. A small cliff section through a bank of partially ground discarded clinker shows irregular layering and a range of textures. Photography and logging of this cliff will provide context to subsequent petrographic and XRD analysis to determine the mineralogy. μCT analysis will be conducted on samples to determine the spatial distribution and volume of calcite which has precipitated on the clinker.

Knowledge background of the student:

The student should have a geoscience or chemistry background with a strong interest in climate change and its mitigation. Laboratory experience is desirable and a willingness to learn new techniques in a laboratory environment is vital. A competent ability in scientific writing, gained through an undergraduate mapping or research project, is expected.

Career prospects:

This MSc by Research project will give the student experience in advanced SEM techniques and familiarity with industrial residues and the opportunities they present. These skills will equip them for further research through a PhD or a career in a discipline relevant to climate change or environmental management.

If interested, please contact Dr. John MacDonald at: John.MacDonald.3@glasgow.ac.uk


Geological history of an unknown protoplanet: The Ureilite meteorites

Supervisors: Dr Luke Daly (uke.daly@glasgow.ac.uk), and Prof. Martin Lee

 

Aim: This project aims to determine the geological history of the Ureilite meteorites to aid in the search for their parent body/bodies. The focus of this work will be to undertake a full quantitative characterisation of the geochemistry, mineralogy and deformation micro-structures of a suite of Ureilite meteorites using modern analytical techniques. The Ureilites are an enigma as we do not know what parent planet they originated from, if it even still exists or if they are even from the same parent body.

Rationale: The Ureilite meteorites are an anomalous type of achondrite meteorite. They represent igneous rocks from a differentiated planetesimal, one that was large enough to separate into a core, mantle and crust, potentially as large as Mercury or Mars. There are however, no good candidates in our solar system for the source of the Ureilite meteorites and it is not clear that they come from the same body at all. The Ureilite meteorites are interesting as they are rich in carbon that is concentrated in diamonds, that could have formed during intense shock metamorphism during planetary break up or during long-lived high pressure metamorphism in a planetary mantle. A comparative study of the petrography and deformation histories of these meteorites is vital to understand the formation evolution and destruction of planetesimals in our Solar System

Methods: Urelite meteorites will be requested from the Smithsonian Institute, NASA, the National Institute of Polar Research and the Natural History Museum London. The petrography, mineralogy and chemical composition of meteorite samples will be characterised by scanning electron microscopy techniques in particular electron backscatter diffraction to unpick their deformation history/histories derived from thermal and shock metamorphism.

Knowledge background of the Student: The project is suitable for a graduate with a good honours degree in geology, Earth science or materials science. Laboratory experience is desirable - particularly use of SEM - and a willingness to learn new techniques in a laboratory environment is vital. A competent ability in scientific writing, gained through an undergraduate mapping or research project, is expected.

Career Prospects: This MSc by research project will equip the student with skills in mineralogy, crystallography and geochemistry. Additionally this MSc by research project will give the student experience in advanced SEM techniques and handling big datasets. These skills could lead to employment in areas such as extractive industries or environmental management. There are also many opportunities for PhD research in planetary science in the UK and internationally.

Application procedure: This project is available as a one/two year MSc, but can be extended to a PhD. Please contact the principal supervisor with any questions (luke.daly@glasgow.ac.uk)