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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Supervisors: James Jackson (Earth Sciences) and Alex Copley (Earth Sciences

Importance of the area of research:

Within the continents we are now able to image and map dramatic variations in present-day lithosphere thickness.  These are thought to have had profound influence on the geological evolution of the continents, and are often associated with variations in crustal thickness, composition, rheology and tectonic behaviour. Questions remain as to the origin of these lithosphere thickness variations and their consequences, particularly within and on the edge of the ancient Precambrian regions that make up the interiors of most continents.  A better understanding of these phenomena, and of the links between them, has implications in many subject areas, from the distribution of sediments and sedimentary systems, to the accumulation of natural resources and the intensity of natural hazards such as earthquakes.  One way  to approach this subject is by studying the response of the lithosphere today to forces acting upon it from the sides as well as from below, with a view to linking a wide suite of observations together into a coherent view of lithosphere behaviour and evolution.

Project summary:

This project will use new geological and geomorphological fieldwork, remote sensing, geodesy, and seismological observations on the continents and integrate them with other observations from petrology, geochemistry and geological history to look for patterns that reveal the principal controls on continental tectonic behaviour. These observations will all be related to our current knowledge of lithosphere thickness variations, which is global and has recently been upgraded at improved resolution. Most of the deformation signals we envisage focussing on can also be modelled, providing further insights into the nature and distribution of the forces and processes responsible for them. There will be a constant emphasis on integrating all forms of observation and modelling into a consistent coherent vision of the continental lithosphere and the variations in its geological behaviour.

What the student will do:

The project will mostly concentrate on parts of the great continental earthquake belt that occupies Mediterranean, the Middle East and Asia, but is likely to also involve other active regions including Africa, New Zealand and South America. The student will need to become familiar with the active tectonics and geological history of several different areas in order to make worthwhile comparisons between them. They will learn to make field and remote-sensing observations of the relevant geology and geomorphology, and to relate earthquake source mechanisms to observations from InSAR and GPS. They will also manipulate gravity and topographic data and examine relations between those and the thicknesses of the lithosphere and crust. This will in turn lead to an involvement in developing dynamic models to investigate the nature and distribution of the forces involved in the observed deformation processes, and their relations to variations in lithosphere rheology and structure.

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.


Jackson, J., McKenzie, D., Priestley, K. & Emmerson, B. (2008)  New views on the structure and rheology of the lithosphere. J. Geol. Soc. Lond., 165, 453-465.

Craig, T.J., Jackson, J.A., Priestley, K. & McKenzie, D.  (2011) Earthquake distribution patterns in Africa: their relationship to variations in lithospheric and geological structure, and their rheological implications, Geophys. J. Int., 185, 403-434.

Sloan, R.A., Jackson, J.A., McKenzie, D. & Priestley, K.  (2011) Earthquake depth distributions in central Asia, and their relations with lithosphere thickness, shortening and extension,  Geophys. J. Int., 185, 1-29.

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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