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Iron Snow in Planetary Cores

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Planetary magnetic fields exhibit remarkable variability in both strength and structure. These fields are generated in metallic cores and thus provide a unique probe into the dynamics and evolution of planetary interiors. Earth’s liquid core is currently freezing from the bottom upwards as the planet cools, releasing the heat and light material that power the geomagnetic field. In contrast, recent mineralogical studies suggest that the cores of the smaller terrestrial bodies Mercury, Mars and Ganymede freeze from the top down with solid iron particles “snowing” into the deeper core. It has even been suggested that the top of Earth’s core may have once done something similar. The evolution and dynamics of bodies in this “iron snow” regime will be profoundly different to those of present-day Earth; however, the ramifications are presently unknown. Since the iron snow regime is a recent discovery, fundamental questions remain: can iron snow generate a global magnetic field? If so, is the generated field compatible with available observations? Will planets in the iron snow regime ever grow a solid inner core like Earth?

We have recently developed the first self-consistent dynamical model for studying iron snow, including its role in magnetic field generation, and applied it in reduced form to Mars’ core. In this project you will further develop this model so that it can be applied to the cores of Mercury, Mars and Ganymede to evaluate, for the first time, whether iron snow can generate the magnetism observed on these bodies. The analysis will make new predictions regarding the interior structure and evolution of these bodies, constrained by and informing existing and forthcoming observational data. Additionally you will investigate whether iron snow could have occurred in Earth’s core.

You will join a team within the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds that is currently leading large NERC- and NSF-funded projects on the non-equilibrium dynamics of freezing in planetary cores in collaboration with University College London and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The School also hosts one of the largest deep Earth research groups in the world and has strong links to the astrophysical research group in the School of Mathematics. Within this environment you will be trained in the skills that will enable you to develop the next generation of core crystallization models.

More details on the project can be found here:


Davies, C.J. and Pommier, A., 2018. Iron snow in the Martian core?. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 481, pp.189-200.

Wong, J., Davies, C.J. and Jones, C.A., 2018. A Boussinesq slurry model of the F–layer at the base of Earth’s outer core. Geophysical Journal International. 214, 2236-2249.

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