UCL Earth Sciences


Doctoral Studies

Available PhD topics, current PhD projects, open projects, NERC and other funding bodies

Although many people do a PhD in order to go into academia, it can also be very beneficial for careers in industry and the private sector. A PhD is hard work and takes at least 3 years to complete, so you need to find a suitable topic, which will engage your enthusiasm and interest for the long-haul.


If you are interested in applying to do a specific PhD project in our Department (self-initiated, self-funded or through a non-DTP studentship), you should direct your initial enquiry to the named supervisor (or co-supervisor) who can guide you further. In cases of uncertainty, you may also direct your enquiry to the Graduate Tutor. Once a supervisor has agreed in principle to supervise your project, or if you are applying for a specific funded studentship, you must complete a formal UCL PhD application.

STFC Funded PhD Studentship:  Melt layers in the Moon and the composition of its core

Supervisors:  Lidunka Vočadlo, John Brodholt and Andrew Thomson. 
Project Title:  Melt layers in the Moon and the composition of its core
Start date:     September 2024

Interested applicant please email Prof Lidunka Vočadlo at l.vocadlo@ucl.ac.uk 

Project Summary: 
Our solar system is composed of a rich variety of bodies, each with a complex and diverse evolutionary history; understanding their evolution presents one of the major challenges in Earth and planetary sciences. Critical understanding of the basic physical processes that govern planetary interiors is now possible because the solar system is accessible to highly detailed remote-sensing and in-situ measurements with ever-more detailed data being returned from current (and future) space missions. 

Despite being our nearest neighbour and the only solar system body except for the Earth that humans have stood on, the Moon’s interior is still surprisingly poorly understood. Re-examination of the data from the five seismometers left on the moon from the Apollo missions, together with other geodetic data, have suggested that there is a deep molten layer at the base of the lunar mantle above the moon (e.g. Khan et al, 2014, Walterova et al, 2023).  The existence of otherwise of such a layer has implication for the current conditions in the moon, as well as perhaps being a source of the early Moon’s dynamo and magnetic field (Hamid et al, 2023).

This project will use ab initio simulation methods, thermodynamic modelling and machine learning to determine the properties of silicate and iron melts under the conditions expected within the deep interior of the Moon. The aim of this project is constrain the composition of the moon’s core and possible deep melt layer by comparing to observational data. This is particularly appropriate now as there are a number of missions planned for the moon, including the Farside Seismic Suite (FSS) mission due to be launched to the moon in 2024/5 which will place two seismometers on the moon allowing a much more detailed and refined view of its interior.

The student will have a background in physical science with an aptitude for maths and physics. This is a funded STFC studentship (home student) to start September 2024. 


SE Asian-Australian Continental Shelves, Chemical Weathering, Vegetation and Impact on Miocene-Recent Climate Change

Enquiries: Prof Peter Clift (peter.clift@ucl.ac.uk)
Application Deadline: 31st May 2024
Start date: October 2024
Funding from the Royal Society is for UK domestic students only.

Tropical continental shelves may have a significant impact on global climate as a resulting of their exposure during glacial low stands. Wide areas of shelf in SE Asia and offshore northern Australia are exposed as sea level falls, resulting in enhanced chemical weathering that draws CO2 out of the atmosphere. At the same time forests may grow on the exposed shelf, sequestering more carbon and enhancing the glaciation.

This project aims to quantify the effects that low latitude shelves have on global climate. The project involves analysis of existing Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) cores using major element data both directly measured and from continuous scanning to assess the degree of alteration of the sediments. Clay minerals will also be used to constrain the intensity and style of chemical weathering on the shelf and interior of Australia. Combined Sr and Nd isotopes will be used to see if the sources of the sediments change through time. Biomarkers extracted from organic material in the core will be used to constrain the types of vegetation that grew on the shelf and immediate hinterland.

This work will be done in collaboration with colleagues at Bristol University. This data can be used to estimate how much carbon might be stored on the shelf during sea level low stands and inform what type of climate existed, whether seasonal or more tropical. The project will use volume calculations from offshore seismic reflection data to estimate the carbon budget of the shelf since the Mid Miocene. Correlations with global climate change will be assessed.

Finally, the student will undertake climatic and environmental numerical modelling. This will furthermore result in better predictions of the impacts of future global warming as it will establish a more rigorous baseline understanding of the role that weathering and forest growth/contraction have had on past climates change. Funding from the Royal Society is for UK domestic students only.

The London NERC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP).

The PhD topics shown here are representative examples of projects offered by our department that are eligible for funding through the London NERC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP). The London DTP offers studentships  covering all aspects of earth and environmental science, hosted by different London-based academic institutions including UCL.


Postgraduate Tutor: Prof Phil Mannion | Deputy Postgraduate: Tutor:  Prof Graham Shields
NERC DTP Lead: Dr Susan Little | PDRA/Research Fellows Tutor: Prof Graham Shields

Past Life and Environments
Project TitleSupervisor(s):
Using the Past to Improve Predictions of the Future of Vertebrate Biodiversity. DetailsProf Phil Mannion; Dr Alex Pigot
Integrating past archives of crocodylians into diversity baselines and future projections. DetailsProf Phil Mannion; Dr Samuel Turvey
Neuroanatomical insights into the early evolution and biogeographic history of alligatoroid crocodylians. DetailsProf Phil Mannion; Prof Paul Upchurch
Signs of life in Paleoarchean chemical sedimentary rocks: a strategy to search for extra-terrestrial life. DetailsProf Dominic Papineau; Dr Matthew Powner
The Cambrian explosion: causes and consequences. DetailsProf Graham Shields; Dr Nick Lane
The Evolutionary and biogeographic impact of the break up of Gondwana during the Cretaceous and Cenozoic DetailsProf Paul Upchurch; Dr Julia Day
Size control on extinction dynamics in Cenozoic planktonic foraminifera. DetailsProf Bridget Wade; Dr Andy Purvis
Quantifying temperature changes in the Oligocene icehouse. DetailsProf Bridget Wade
Giants and dwarfs: body size, climate and extinction. DetailsRichard Twitchett, NHM  & Prof Bridget Wade


Solid Earth Dynamics
Project Title:Supervisor(s):
The initial condition for the long-term evolution of terrestrial planets. DetailsDr Maxim Ballmer; Prof John Brodholt
The seismic signals of the heterogeneous Earth mantle. DetailsDr Maxim Ballmer; Dr Paula Koelemeijer
The dynamics of mantle plumes, and their geophysical and geochemical expressions. DetailsDr Maxim Ballmer; Prof Ana Ferreira
Role of fluids during faulting. DetailsProf Nicolas Brantut; Prof Phil Meredith
The deep nitrogen cycle – nitrogen storage in the subduction system. DetailsProf John Brodholt;  Dr Andrew Thomson
Glacial erosion in the tropics: The Santa Marta Range, southern Caribbean. Details Dr Matthew Fox; Prof Andrew Carter
Rates of drainage network evolution measured with detrital data and inverse methods. Details.Dr Matthew Fox; Prof Pieter Vermeesch
Illuminate intra-crustal magma/gas transport beneath active volcanoes with very long-period tremors (VLP). DetailsDr Teh-Ru Alex Song; Prof Chris Kilburn
Mapping Core-mantle boundary anisotropy with core-reflected P waves. DetailsDr Teh-Ru Alex Song
The viscosity of the Earth’s inner core. DetailsProf Lidunka Vočadlo; Prof John Brodholt
Understanding the Earth’s cores: benchmarking the ELASTIC toolkit for core-forming materials. DetailsProf Lidunka Vočadlo; Prof John Brodholt
The structure, dynamics and composition of the Earth’s core. DetailsProf Lidunka Vočadlo; Prof Ian Wood


Earth, Atmosphere & Ocean Processes
Project Title:Supervisor(s):
The aridity, drought and biodiversity impacts of Solar Geoengineering. DetailsDr Peter Irvine
Defining the source parameters for operational models of ash resuspension. DetailsDr Emma Liu; Prof Tom Mitchell 
Data fusion of 20 years of polar remote sensing data: emerging climate trends? DetailsDr Michel Tsamados; Prof Julienne Stroeve
Deep Learning for radar altimetry echo classification and sea ice surface image recognition. DetailsDr Michel Tsamados; Prof Julienne Stroeve
Testing Earth’s thermostat with novel isotope tracers. DetailsDr David Wilson; Dr Susan Little
Ice sheet-ocean-climate interactions during the Pleistocene Ice Ages. Details Dr David Wilson; Dr Heather Ford


If you are interested in any of these topics, please contact the named supervisor for more information in the first instance. To apply for a DTP studentship, please do not apply to UCL directly but instead follow the DTP instructions. Whilst the topics illustrate a cross-section of active research within our Department, the list is not exhaustive and we also welcome enquiries from students who wish to formulate their own topics.