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How do Large Igneous Provinces cause environmental catastrophes?

   NERC Doctoral Training Centre Studentships with CENTA

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  Dr J M Hilton, Dr S Jones, Dr S Greene, Prof Pam Vervoort  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


C-FORCE: Carbon-Cycle Feedbacks from Response to Carbon Emissions is a major international project led by the University of Birmingham. We will measure how Earth responded to greenhouse gas emissions throughout a past global climate change event akin our current "anthropogenic experiment" to answer how the climate evolved and eventually recovered after the initial warming. C-FORCE will focus on the link between the North Atlantic Large Igneous Province (NAIP) and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). Over 5 years beginning November 2022, C-FORCE will make a new accurate reconstruction of carbon emissions through time from the NAIP (the 'forcing function') as well as an independent record of the total carbon emissions (the 'response function'). The 'feedback function' will eventually be determined as the difference between the response and forcing functions. We aim to find out whether the climatic response is closely tied to the volcanic forcing function, or whether potentially dangerous tipping points acted to decouple the climatic response from the initial forcing. 

In this CENTA project, we want to roll out techniques and exploit results of C-FORCE to probe the causative relationship between other Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs) and coeval environmental catastrophes. These include the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP)/end Triassic mass extinction, the Siberian Traps/end Permian mass extinction, the Karoo LIP/Toarcian ocean anoxia event, the Wrangellia LIP/Carnian Pluvial Episode, the Deccan Traps/end-Cretaceous mass extinction. Whilst an increasing amount of quality data on volcanism and environmental consequences exists for these and other pairs, no dataset can yet match the detailed records available for the NAIP/PETM pair. By viewing all these LIP / environmental change pairs through the prism of C-FORCE, we aim to develop a unifying model for the link between large igneous provinces and environmental catastrophes.  In this model we wish to move beyond simple correlations, and towards a full physical model for how magma is generated rapidly at the base of the plate, how it is emplaced rapidly in the upper plate, how it generates and releases greenhouse gases, and how these forcing gases and feedbacks within the ocean-atmosphere system cause environmental catastrophes. 

Training and skills

Students will be awarded CENTA2 Training Credits (CTCs) for participation in CENTA2-provided and ‘free choice’ external training.  One CTC equates to 1⁄2 day session and students must accrue 100 CTCs across the three years of their PhD.

The project would suit a graduate from any earth science field including (but not limited to) Geology, Physical Geography or Palaeontology. Training is available for the full range of skills required. Jason Hilton has considerable experience of sedimentary environmental response records for biotic events linked to LIPs in the Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian and Triassic. The wider C-FORCE consortium offers experience in yet more LIP/environmental catastrophe pairs. Steve Jones developed stochastic carbon emissions modelling that we will use to estimate the volcanic source function.  Sarah Greene and Pam Vervoort are experts in global carbon cycle modelling.  

Further details

Prospective applicants are positively encouraged to contact Jason Hilton ([Email Address Removed]), Stephen Jones ([Email Address Removed]) or Sarah Greene ([Email Address Removed]) in advance of applying to ask questions about the project, discuss whether working with us on this project at the University of Birmingham is a good fit for you, or to ask questions about putting together a strong application. We are also happy to put you in contact with current and former students to ask questions about their experiences.  See CENTA web page for information on how to apply and general information.  

If you wish to apply to the project, applications should include:

  • A CENTA application form, downloadable from: CENTA application
  • A CV with the names of at least two referees (preferably three and who can comment on your academic abilities)
  • The application should please completed via: https://sits.bham.ac.uk/lpages/LES068.htm. Please select Apply Now in the PhD Geography and Environmental Science (CENTA) section. Please quote CENTA23_B9 when completing the application form.

For further information on how to apply please visit https://centa.ac.uk/apply/how-to-apply/.

Funding Notes

Different support is available for “home-fees-eligible” and “international” students.
Successful home-fees-eligible candidates will receive:
• An annual stipend, set at £17,688 for 2022/23, paid directly to the student in monthly increments
• A research training support grant (RTSG) of £8,000, held at their host institution
• CASE studentships attract an additional £3500 contribution to the RTSG, held at their host institution
Successful international candidates will receive the above as well as a contribution to the university fees at the level of support for Home-fee-eligible students.
Successful home candidates will receive full university fees paid directly to the university.


SM Jones, M Hoggett, S Greene, T Dunkley Jones. Large igneous province thermogenic greenhouse gas flux could have initiated Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum climate change. Nature Communications 10 (2019) 10 (2019) 5547, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-12957-1.
J Lu, P Zhang, J Dal Corso, M Yang, PB Wignall, SE Greene, L Shao, D Lyu, J Hilton. Volcanically driven lacustrine ecosystem changes during the Carnian Pluvial Episode (Late Triassic). PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 118 (2021), https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2109895118
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