StudyQA — PhD: Earth Sciences — University of Bristol


Earth Sciences

Study mode:On campus Study type:Full-time Languages: English
91 place StudyQA ranking:2927 Duration:36 months

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The School of Earth Sciences has strong international links, and the presence of researchers from all over the world makes for an exciting and stimulating environment. Research involves the full breadth of the earth sciences and has benefited from major investment in new laboratories and equipment in the past few years. Important initiatives include experimental and theoretical studies of physical, chemical and biological processes of the Earth.

NB: If you are applying for this programme, please select "Geology" when completing your online application form.

Research groups:

An expanding range of exciting subject areas characterise the research programme at Bristol. Research in the School also encourages interdisciplinary collaboration between its six research groups, which in turn nurtures revolutionary research.

Bristol Experimental Earth Studies (BEEST)

The BEEST Group utilise a wide range of state-of-the-art experimental and analytical techniques to investigate a diverse set of topics ranging from degassing in volcanic systems to crystallisation of the Earth's core.


Geophysics uses physical properties of the solid Earth to measure structure and processes on scales from the single crystal to the entire planet. Members of the Bristol Geophysics group use gravity, seismic and satellite data to image the Earth in a variety of different contexts. These include the Earth's core, mantle and tectonic processes, volcanoes, oil and gas reservoirs and mines.


The Geochemistry group uses fundamental chemical techniques to understand natural processes on a range of temporal and spatial scales. This can be from single atoms on mineral surfaces and the environmental geochemistry of the modern Earth to the large-scale chemical structure of planets and the birth of the solar system. The group has considerable expertise in isotopic measurements, spectroscopy and firstprinciples calculations.

Climate and Environmental Change

The Climate and Environmental Change group blends fundamental and applied science including expertise in palaeoclimate, biogeochemistry and ecosystem change as well as science communication. Research interests in the group range from local observations to global biogeochemical cycles and include areas such as sea-level change past and future, chemical and physical weathering and methane, CO2 and organic carbon and particle reactive element cycling.

Volcanology and Geological Fluid Dynamics

The Volcanology and Geological Fluid Dynamic (VGFD) group at Bristol aims to understand the physical processes underlying volcanic phenomena and develop methods of hazard assessment. We integrate observations from these different approaches to provide a broad perspective on volcanological and sedimentological problems, and provide research training in these disciplines. The research group is involved in research into the crisis at Montserrat, the hazards of sedimentladen flows and applied research related to diamond exploration and mining (with De Beers) and to nuclear waste disposal in regions of active volcanism (Japan and USA), and with regard to oil exploration with a consortium of companies.

Palaeontology and Biodiversity

The Palaeontology and Biodiversity group (PBRG) uses the fossil record to study the history of life. Research focuses on major diversifications, mass extinctions, dating the tree of life, phylogenomics and molecular palaeobiology, morphological innovation, biomechanics, and links between evolution and development, and the organisms of interest range from foraminifera to dinosaurs.

Research Centres: The School of Earth Sciences is involved in a number of collaborative research groups on an international level. Inter-faculty research centres such as the Biogeochemistry Research Centre and the Cabot Institute involve collaboration across several departments and faculties.

Centre for Environmental and Geophysical Flows

This interdisciplinary research centre brings together expertise from the Schools of Earth Sciences, Geographical Sciences, Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics. This creates diverse research activities and interests, from traffic flow to explosive volcanic flows, meteorology to oceanography.

Biogeochemistry Research Centre

The Biogeochemistry Research Centre involves staff from the Schools of Earth Sciences, Geographical Sciences and Chemistry. The research aims to develop our understanding of the biogeochemistry of modern-day and ancient environments and the way that it is affected by natural processes and the actions of mankind.

Bristol Isotope Group

The Bristol Isotope Group is a world class research facility for isotope measurements directed at understanding natural processes, from the formation of the solar system, the origin of Earth - its deep structure and atmosphere, through to the evolution of that atmosphere and contemporary climate change.

Interface Analysis Centre

The Interface Analysis Centre specialises in the application of a wide range of analytical techniques and is used by the School of Chemistry, Earth Sciences and Physics.

Bristol Glaciology Centre

The School of Earth Sciences contributes alongside the Schools of Geographical Sciences, Applied Mathematics and Physics to increase our understanding of glaciers and ice sheets and the links between the cryosphere, oceans and atmosphere under changing climatic conditions.

The Cabot Institute

The Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol carries out fundamental and responsive research on risks and uncertainty in a changing environment. Interests include climate change, natural hazards, food and energy security, resilience and governance, and human impacts on the environment.


Key research interests: Professor Michael Benton, Vertebrate palaeontology, macroevolution, mass extinctions, biotic replacements; systematics, cladistics and large-scale phylogeny reconstruction.

Dr Juliet Biggs, Measuring and modelling active tectonic processes using geodetic techniques; earthquake cycle; continental rift formation; arc volcanism.

Professor Jonathan Blundy (FRS), The generation and evolution of magma and magmatic rocks.

Dr Heather Buss, Biogeochemistry of soils, rates and mechanisms of chemical and physical weathering, mineral nutrient cycling.

Professor Katherine Cashman, Volcanology; igneous petrology; crystallisation and vesiculation kinetics; lava flow emplacement; geologic hazards.

Dr Christopher Coath, Ion optics; inorganic mass spectrometry technique and instrument development.

Professor Philip Donoghue, Evolution and development; origin and radiation of vertebrates; establishment of animal bodyplans; molecular clocks.

Professor Tim Elliott, Chemical structure of the Earth and its evolution; applications of geochemical 'tools' from major elements to radiogenic isotopes.

Dr Joachim Gottsman, Volcano geophysics

Professor George Helffrich, Seismology; mineral physics; tectonophysics; geophysics.

Dr Erica Hendy, High-resolution palaeoclimate records in corals and speleothems.

Dr Edward Hornibrook, Atmosphere-biosphere-geosphere trace gas exchange.

Dr Stuart Kearns, Electron beam interactions with geological materials.

Professor Michael Kendall, Application of global, theoretical and exploration seismology to studying a wide range of geological settings.

Dr Simon Kohn, Experimental mineralogy; volatile components in the Earth's mantle; silicate melts.

Dr Heidy Mader, Geophysical fluid dynamics with particular emphasis on volcanic and glaciological flows and multiphase phenomena.

Dr Jeremy Phillips, Dynamics of geophysical two-phase flows and granular flow; experimental volcanology; theoretical modelling of volcanic processes.

Dr Davide Pisani, Molecular palaebiology; phylogenomics; molecular methods for resolving the Tree of Life.

Dr Emily Rayfield, Biomechanics and evolution of fossil vertebrates; finite element analysis, CT scanning and 3D reconstruction of fossils.

Dr Laura Robinson, Low temperature geochemistry to earth surface processes; chemical oceanography and palaeoclimate.

Dr Alison Rust, Physical volcanology and fluid dynamics.

Dr Daniela Schmidt, Micropalaeontology; effects of climate change on plankton ecology and evolution; biological influences on climate.

Dr John Schumacher, Metamorphic petrology; mineralogy; field geology; geochemistry.

Dr Tom Scott, Geochemistry and metallurgy of uranium; oxidation/corrosion behaviour and environmental remediation; geochemistry of iron and iron-bearing minerals for the uptake and environmental remediation of heavy metals and radionuclides.

Professor David Sherman, Physical chemistry of aqueous solutions, minerals and the mineral-water interface; applications to aqueous environmental chemistry and hydrothermal ore deposits.

Professor Stephen Sparks (FRS), Fluid dynamics of geological flows; volcanology; geohazards; sedimentology.

Dr Nicholas Teanby, Geophysical and planetary processes.

Dr Jakob Vinther, Taphonomy; molecular clocks; macroevolution; evolution; melanosomes; melanin; Tree of Life; invertebrates, Cambrian Explosion.

Professor Michael Walter, Physics and chemistry of the deep Earth; planetary melting and differentiation.

Dr Matthew Watson, Satellite and ground-based detection of volcanic gases and aerosols.

Dr Fiona Whitaker, Hydrogeological, diagenetic, sedimentary evolution of carbonate rocks; process-based field and experimental studies of modern carbonates; numerical modelling.

Dr James Wookey, Seismic observations and modelling of the Deep Earth; linking mineral physics to seismic observations.


An upper second class honours degree (or international equivalent) in a discipline related to the PhD project for which you are applying, such as geology, biological sciences, environmental sciences, chemistry, or mathematics.

English Language Requirements

IELTS band: 6.5

IMPORTANT NOTE: Since April 2014 the ETS tests (including TOEFL and TOEIC) are no longer accepted for Tier 4 visa applications to the United Kingdom. The university might still accept these tests to admit you to the university, but if you require a Tier 4 visa to enter the UK and begin your degree programme, these tests will not be sufficient to obtain your Visa.

The IELTS test is most widely accepted by universities and is also accepted for Tier 4 visas to the UK- learn more.


In recent years the School has been awarded 5 - 8 NERC and NERC CASE PhD studentships each year. Other sources include industry sponsorship, EU, and other scholarships. Further information on funding for prospective UK, EU and international postgraduate students is available from the Student Funding Office website.

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