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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Supervisor: Nicky White (Earth Sciences)  

Importance of the area of research:

It has become clear, especially at well-imaged continental margins, that ancient ephemeral landscapes occur during periods of thermal subsidence. These landscapes appear to grow and decay by many hundreds of metres over geologically short (i.e. 1-3 Myrs) timescales. They cannot be caused by glacio-eustatic sea-level variations and instead are likely to reflect transient convective circulation patterns beneath the lithospheric plate. To date, the best examples occur in the North Atlantic region where palaeolandscapes have been mapped in the field and interpreted on three-dimensional (3D) seismic reflection surveys (e.g. western Greenland, Faroe-Shetland trough. Here, the growth and decay of these landscapes can be quantitatively linked to the transient behaviour of the Icelandic plume which is a major convective upwelling from 60 Myrs.

Project summary:

A combination of present-day and ancient landscapes will be analyzed. We will start by modelling present-day landscapes in regions of interest. Drainage analysis and source-to-sink calculations will be carried out using existing inverse modelling algorithms. These predictions will be tested using solid sedimentary flux estimates from major deltas. We will then analyze a selection of palaeolandscapes throughout the Phanerozoic record in regions which are associated with mantle plume activity. There will be opportunities to analyse 3D seismic volumes from the North Atlantic margins, from West Africa, from NW Shelf of Australia. An important part of the project will also be the mapping and analysis of ancient landscapes in SW Australia and North America in order to provide field analogues.

What the student will do:

He/she will exploit sets of tools for analyzing landscape development. He/she will reconstruct drainage patterns on present-day and ancient landscapes using ;flow-routing algorithms. These patterns will be then be modelling to determine regional histories of vertical motions which will be combined with a global understanding of dynamic topography. This project will depend upon access to seismic volumes from the contracting industry, with whom Cambridge has strong and fruitful links.

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Hartley, R.A., Roberts, G.G., White, N.J., & Richardson, C., 2011. Transient convective uplift of an ancient buried landscape. Nature Geoscience, 4, 562-565.

Winterbourne, J., Crosby, A., & White, N., 2009. Depth, age and dynamic topography of oceanic lithosphere beneath heavily sedimented Atlantic margins. Earth Planet. Sci. letters., 287, 137-151.

Al-Hajri, Y., White, N., & Fishwick, S., 2009. Scales of transient convective support beneath Africa. Geology, 37, 883-886.

Follow this link to find out about applying for this project.

Other projects available from the Lead Supervisor can be viewed here.

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