From Sink to Source: Using Stream Sediment Geochemistry for Element Concentration Maps for Indonesia

   School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr Amy Gough  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Fully funded PhD position available to UK and international students! Apply by 12 noon, 5 January 2024 (international applicants must have contacted supervisor by 11 December 2023).

The energy transition has seen the demand for low-carbon technologies increase. As such, there is a growing need for Energy Critical Elements (ECEs) which are used prominently in these low-carbon technologies (e.g., wind turbines, electric cars) for both energy generation and storage. Whilst recent research has focused on the potential global distribution of mineral resources (Dushyantha et al., 2020), the key ECEs (e.g., Cu, Nd, Dy, Li, Co, Ni, and Ag) are produced from limited sources. For example, 70% of global cobalt is produced from the Democratic Republic of Congo (e.g., Sun et al., 2019). The UK Government ‘Resilience for the Future’ Critical Minerals Strategy (2023) highlights the importance of collaborating with international partners and ensuring a sustainable pipeline of these resources from the source to the final production of low-carbon technologies. One area that could be key for diversifying the pipeline of ECEs is Indonesia, which has an enormous unmapped geological potential for ECE enrichment (Wang et al., 2023).

Indonesia has an intricate tectonic framework that has undergone multiple phases of subduction, arc-formation, and collision between a series of separate continental fragments that separated from the supercontinent Gondwana during the Phanerozoic era (Hall, 2012). These fragments then moved northward until they sequentially amalgamated to form modern-day Indonesia. During this, certain regions along the margins of these fragments, for example near the remains of the ancient volcanic arcs (e.g., Webb et al., 2020), have become enriched in mineral resources (Zaw et al., 2014). These areas have the potential to host deposits of ECEs, including a) volcanic arc related Cu-Au porphyry skarn deposits, epithermal deposits, and Au, Ag, Pb, and Zn, b) mafic to ultramafic rock related chromite, Rare Earth Elements (REEs), and Ni, c) intraplate sedimentary exhalative deposits (SEDEX), and d) granitic intrusion related volcanic massive sulphides (VMS) alongside W, Sn, Pb, Cu, Au, Pb, and Zn. Even though Indonesia has known occurrences of base metal deposits typically associated with ECEs, such as copper and gold, it is noteworthy that it reports some of the lowest documented reserves of ECEs.

To gain a deeper insight into the regional distribution of potential ECE accumulations in Indonesia, this project will utilise stream sediment geochemistry data to create maps that pinpoint areas of high ECE potential (e.g., Eskdale et al., 2023). The data for this stream sediment geochemistry will primarily be sourced from existing literature, but to enhance and verify the precision of the maps in regions with limited data, a field season will be conducted to collect additional stream sediment samples. Subsequently, this geochemical dataset will be interrogated in both ESRI ArcGIS and ioGAS to generate maps highlighting the concentration of elements. These maps will reveal regions with elevated ECE content in stream sediments, thereby indicating the likely presence of ore bodies in the surrounding geological formations. If successful, this workflow will be further developed such that the generated models of enrichment can be applied elsewhere (e.g., North Africa), especially those that have similarly complex geological histories.

The primary objectives of this PhD project are:

1. Curate a Stream Sediment Geochemical Database: Compile existing published data on stream sediment geochemistry and perform additional geochemical analysis on stream sediment samples.

2. Identify Data Gaps: Utilise ArcGIS to generate distribution maps of geochemical data. Use this to identify regions lacking sufficient data and plan targeted field campaigns to collect missing data.

3. Modelling Geochemical Signatures for ECE Concentration Maps: Use ioGAS to develop predictive models based on geochemical signatures and generate concentration maps for Economically Critical Elements (ECEs) from these models.

4. Model Validation through Host Rock Analysis: Analyse potential host rocks as indicated in the ECE concentration maps to verify the accuracy of the models and refine them if necessary.

Full project details can be found on the IPAETUS website


Eligibility is under UKRI Terms and Conditions, which means that UK and International candidates may apply. For International Students, UKRI only pay the equivalent of home fees. The differential between home and international fees will likely need to be self-funded. International applicants need to contact the primary supervisor (Dr Amy Gough, [Email Address Removed]) of the project by no later than Monday 11th December 2023 in order to be considered for shortlisting.

How to Apply

All prospective students need to complete the online IAPETUS2 form (link here). Before completing this form, please read the DTP privacy policy as you will need to tick that you have read and understood this.

Both parts of the application must be made by Friday 5th January 2023 at 12pm (GMT), which is the public deadline for applications that will apply across all of the Partnership. 

If you are shortlisted you will be contacted by IAPETUS2 by 19th January 2024 and invited to submit a full application to Heriot Watt University by 9th February 2024.

Engineering (12) Geology (18)

Funding Notes

IAPETUS2’s postgraduate scholarships are tenable for up to 3.5 years and provide the following package of financial support:
A tax-free maintenance grant set at the UK Research Council’s national rate, which in 2023/24 is £18,622;
Payment of tuition fees at the Home rate*;
Access to extensive research support funding; &
Support for an external placement of up to six months.
Part-time award-holders are funded for seven years and receive a maintenance grant at 50% of the full-time rate.
*Eligibility is under UKRI terms and conditions. International Students can apply but it is expected that the differential between home and international fees will likely be self-funded.


Dushyantha, N., Batapola, N., Ilankoon, I.M.S.K., Rohitha, S., Premasiri, R., Abeysinghe, B., Ratnayake, N. and Dissanayake, K., 2020. The story of rare earth elements (REEs): Occurrences, global distribution, genesis, geology, mineralogy and global production. Ore Geology Reviews, 122, p.103521.
Eskdale, A., Johnson, S.C. and Gough, A., 2023. The applicability of G-BASE stream sediment geochemistry as a combined geological mapping, and prospective exploration tool for As-Co-Cu-Ni mineralisation across Cumbria, UK. Journal of Geochemical Exploration, 253, p.107297.
Hall, R., 2012. Late Jurassic–Cenozoic reconstructions of the Indonesian region and the Indian Ocean. Tectonophysics, 570, pp.1-41.
Sun, X., Hao, H., Liu, Z., Zhao, F. and Song, J., 2019. Tracing global cobalt flow: 1995–2015. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 149, pp.45-55.
UK Critical Minerals Strategy:
Wang, D., Lin, F., Shi, M., Wang, H. and Yang, X., 2023. Geological setting, tectonic evolution and spatio-temporal distributions of main mineral resources in South East Asia: A comprehensive review. Solid Earth Sciences.
Webb, M., White, L.T., Manning, C.J., Jost, B.M. and Tiranda, H., 2020. Isotopic mapping reveals the location of crustal fragments along a long-lived convergent plate boundary. Lithos, 372, p.105687.
Zaw, K., Meffre, S., Lai, C.K., Burrett, C., Santosh, M., Graham, I., Manaka, T., Salam, A., Kamvong, T. and Cromie, P., 2014. Tectonics and metallogeny of mainland Southeast Asia—a review and contribution. Gondwana Research, 26(1), pp.5-30.