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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Supervisors: Nick Rawlinson (Earth Sciences) and Keith Priestley (Earth Sciences

Importance of the area of research:

The subduction of one tectonic plate beneath another is a fundamental Earth process that is integral to the growth of continents, accommodates the emergence of new oceanic crust, plays an important role in long term climate regulation, and is the principal source of volcanic and seismic hazard around the globe. An important part of the subduction cycle is the termination phase, where subduction ceases and both plates adjust to a changing stress environment. Magmatism, exhumation, rapid uplift and subsidence may follow, but the mechanisms that drive these processes are unclear, and the relationship between surface and mantle dynamics is poorly understood. North Borneo offers a unique opportunity to study post-subduction tectonics, having experienced subduction termination twice in the past 20 million years, and current evidence pointing to anomalous processes occurring in the crust and upper mantle.

Project summary:

A new collaborative project between the University of Cambridge, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Chinese Academy of Sciences and State Ocean Administration of China will see the deployment of a large on-shore and off-shore seismic array in North Borneo and southern South China Sea in early 2018. A range of new active and passive seismic data will be collected, with the aim of understanding  the cycle of continental collision, subduction termination and orogen collapse. Ambient noise tomography, body wave tomography, shear wave splitting and a variety of other techniques will be applied to elucidate the crust and upper mantle structure beneath the combined array.

What the student will do:

The student will undertake fieldwork in North Borneo (Sabah) in order to collect seismic data and service recording equipment. This will include visiting islands in the South China Sea, and hiking into the Maliau Basin reserve, otherwise known as Sabah's  €œLost World €. The student will also be responsible for preprocessing and arching the data on University of Cambridge IT infrastructure. The project will involve the application of recently developed seismic imaging methods to data collected in the field in order to obtain a clearer picture of the crust and upper mantle beneath the study area. This will be done in collaboration with staff and students at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and State Ocean Administration of China. Results will be written up and published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Attendance at national and international conferences will also be used to disseminate results.

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.


Hall, R. 2013. Contraction and extension in northern Borneo driven by subduction rollback. Journal of Asian Earth Sciences, vol 76, pp. 399-411.

Magni, V., Allen, V. M. B., van Hunen J. and Bouilhol P. 2017. Continental underplating after slab break-off. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, vol 474, pp. 59-67.

Rawlinson, N. Pozgay, S. And Fishwick, S. 2010. Seismic tomography: A window into deep Earth. Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, vol 178, pp. 101-135

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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