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Dusting down the climate of the early Earth (JOSHIU16SF)

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  • Full or part time
    Dr M Joshi
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

How has the Earth remained in a habitable state for life for the last 4 billion years when the sun has been getting brighter? This is a key question for Earth system scientists. In early Earth history the sun was much fainter and model studies suggest that atmospheric CO2 should have been much higher in the past to compensate. However geochemical evidence suggests that levels of CO2 may not have been so high, so we must look for other explanations to the “faint young sun paradox”. One such process is atmospheric dust.

In the contemporary Earth-system airborne dust plays an important role in climate. Winds blow dust into the atmosphere, where it absorbs solar radiation, heating the atmosphere, while cooling the surface underneath it, significantly altering climate and weather on continental scales. When deposited in the ocean the iron that it contains can stimulate the growth of marine life, which can then reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, cooling the climate globally.

In the Precambrian (>700 million years ago), before the colonisation of Earth’s land surface by plants and forests, much more of the land surface could have produced airborne dust, so it is very likely that wind-borne dust was far more prevalent over large parts of the surface compared to the present day. However, in the deep past of the Archean (3-4 billion years ago), when continental land mass was much smaller in area, there may have been considerably less dust in the atmosphere than now. We currently have very little understanding of how dusty the planet was in the deep past, or what role this may have played in controlling climate.

Using numerical models and geochemical proxy data the successful applicant will investigate the possible role of dust on the atmosphere, the ocean geochemistry and the climate of the Precambrian. Models include an intermediate-complexity climate model of the atmosphere for investigating how dust changes climate directly, and a so-called “Earth-System model” for investigating the effect of changing dust levels on marine chemistry, and hence on atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. The range of disciplines involved means that a student will gain experience in the physical, geochemical and computational approaches needed to answer not just the big questions of Earth’s past history, but also contemporary questions of direct relevance to Earth’s immediate future.

Person specification
At least a 2:1 honours degree in physical or mathematical sciences

Funding Notes

This PhD project is offered on a self-funding basis. It is open to applicants with funding or those applying to funding sources. Details of tuition fees can be found at

A bench fee is also payable on top of the tuition fee to cover specialist equipment or laboratory costs required for the research. The amount charged annually will vary considerably depending on the nature of the project and applicants should contact the primary supervisor for further information about the fee associated with the project.

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