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Microbes and fungi preserved in ancient soils

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  • Full or part time
    Dr A Brasier
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

This field and experimental project aims to reveal mechanisms by which early land plants and their symbiotic fungi influenced growth of limestone in ancient soils.

Modern formation of carbonate rocks in soils and the shallow subsurface are commonly be linked to biota. This is partly because soil zone organic matter contributes bicarbonate ions to soil waters and ground waters, imparting distinctive chemical signatures on the resulting rocks. Fungi and soil microbes can also stimulate calcite rock formation. Here we will examine some of their possible effects on calcite precipitation in laboratory experiments.

To see if products of our modern experiments have analogues in ancient Palaeozoic soils we will conduct a thorough field and microscopic assessment of Old Red Sandstone outcrops in the UK. These Silurian to Carboniferous rocks were deposited synchronously with major evolutionary changes in soil ecosystems. We will look for evidence of an evolution in carbonate rock fabrics from primarily chemically driven, primitive ancient forms to modern-like fungus and microbe-driven carbonate precipitation through time.

The student will learn skills in sedimentology, petrography, geochemistry and microbiology. They will undertake fieldwork in the UK and perform the lab work.

Essential Background: Equivalent of 2.1 Honours Degree in Geology, environmental science or a related subject

Knowledge of: Sedimentology

The other supervisors on this project are Professor G Paton (School of Biological Sciences), Dr S Bowden (School of Geosciences)

Funding Notes

The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for Tuition fees, living expenses and maintenance. Details of the cost of study can be found by visiting There is NO funding attached to this project. You can find details of living costs and the like by visiting


Brasier, A.T. (2011) Searching for travertines, calcretes and speleothems in deep time: processes, appearances, predictions, and the impact of plants. Earth-Science Reviews, v.104, p.213-239.

Brasier, A.T., Morris, J.L. and Hillier, R. Carbon isotopic evidence for organic matter oxidation in soils of the Old Red Sandstone (Silurian to Devonian, South Wales, UK). J Geol Soc London, v.171 p.621-634.

This project is advertised in relation to the research areas of the discipline of Geoscience. Formal applications can be completed online: You should apply for PhD in Geology, to ensure that your application is passed to the correct College for processing. Please ensure that you quote the project title and supervisor on the application form.

Informal inquiries can be made to Dr A Brasier ([email protected]) with a copy of your curriculum vitae and cover letter. All general enquiries should be directed to the Graduate School Admissions Unit ([email protected]).

How good is research at Aberdeen University in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 28.40

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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