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Isotopic fractionation of cadmium during continental weathering

   Earth Sciences

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  Dr Alexander Dickson, Dr Anirban Basu, Prof Robert Hilton  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Egham United Kingdom Climate Science Environmental Chemistry Geochemistry Geoscience Hydrogeology Mathematical Modelling Pollution

About the Project

The burial of organic matter in the ocean is a major component of the global carbon cycle, which impacts on global climate. Recent work has indicated that the isotopic composition of the trace element cadmium may be capable of recording variations in marine organic matter burial in the past. However, for these signals to be accurately interpreted we must first understand how continental weathering processes control the composition of cadmium entering the oceans. This is a major challenge and requires the study of rivers and hydrothermal fluids draining a range of host lithologies from around the globe.

Research methodology

In this project you will undertake a major assessment of the cadmium isotope composition of river and hydrothermal waters from around the world. You will use these data to model the isotopic composition of cadmium entering the oceans, and to predict how changes weathering activity might alter this composition. Your findings will have a major impact on the use of cadmium isotopes as a palaeo-oceanographic tracer.


You will receive advanced training in water sampling, the preparation of isotopic samples in ultra-clean laboratory conditions, the measurement of isotope samples using Multi-Collector Inductively Coupled Mass Spectrometry (MC-ICP-MS), as well as advanced data processing and modelling techniques. You will also benefit from the advanced research skills training courses offered by ARIES and Royal Holloway. You will be embedded in the new Royal Holloway Centre of Climate, Ocean and Atmosphere with the chance to interact and learn from researchers studying in related fields. You will also have the chance to spend time with wider supervisory team at Oxford University.

Person specification

You should be interested in isotope geochemistry with a strong desire to understand the causes and consequences of environmental change. Enthusiasm is most important, but a background in Chemistry, Earth Sciences or Physical Geography would help as well!

Funding Notes

Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,609 p.a. for 2021-22) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK. ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences.


Bryan, A.L., Dickson, A.J., Dowdall, F., Homoky, W.B., Porcelli, D. and Henderson, G.M. (2021), Controls on the cadmium isotope composition of modern marine sediments. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 116946.
Dickson, A.J., Idiz, E., Porcelli, D. and van den Boorn, S.H.J.M. (2020), The influence of thermal maturity on the stable isotope compositions and concentrations of molybdenum, zinc and cadmium in organic-rich marine mudrocks. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 287, 205–220.
Sweere, T.C., Dickson, A.J., Jenkyns, H.C., Porcelli, D. and Henderson, G.M. (2020), Zinc- and cadmium- isotope evidence for redox-driven perturbations to global micronutrient cycles during Oceanic Anoxic Event 2 (Late Cretaceous). Earth and Planetary Science Letters 546, 116427, doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2020.116427.
Hilton, R.G. and West, A.J. (2020), Mountains, erosion and the carbon cycle. Nature Reviews Earth and Environment 1, 284–299.
Lambelet, M., Rehkämper, M., van de Flierdt, T., Xue, Z., Kreissig, K., Coles, B., Porcelli, D. and Andersson, P. (2013), Isotopic analysis of Cd in the mixing zone of Siberian rivers with the Arctic Ocean – New constraints on marine Cd cycling and the isotopic composition of riverine Cd. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 361, 64–73.
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