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New North Atlantic Palaeo-Temperature Reconstruction from Terrestrial Sedimentary Archives: Implications for the Influence of the Icelandic Plume on Oceanic Circulation and Climate

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 10, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The Icelandic Plume is the most vigorous mantle convection cell currently within Earth’s mantle. The Greenland-Scotland Ridge (GSR) is the hotspot track of the Icelandic Plume and forms one of the most important gateways in the global circulation system. Relatively small (c. 100 m) changes in GSR elevation have a strong influence on oceanic circulation. Pulsing behaviour of the Icelandic Plume has driven 100 m-scale changes in GSR elevation on a million-year timeframe throughout Cenozoic time, resulting in variations in oceanic circulation. North Atlantic palaeo-temperature records are required to ask how these circulation changes influence climate. Surprisingly, there is relatively little high quality palaeo-temperature information in the vicinity of the GSR itself.

The few available North Atlantic palaeo-temperature reconstructions are predominantly based on marine sedimentary archives, for which temperature proxies are well established. Recent advances in organic geochemistry have developed the use of branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (br-GDGTs) in organic-rich terrestrial sediments as a proxy for air temperature. Such new tools open the possibility of significantly increasing the number of North Atlantic Cenozoic palaeo-temperature records by analysing lignite-bearing sedimentary packages.

A pilot study of the thick, Pliocene, lignite-bearing Tjörnes sedimentary succession of northern Iceland shows that original palaeo-temperature information is overprinted, but not destroyed, by burial. Several geographically localised palaeo-temperature calibrations currently exist for br-GDGTs. This project aims to produce a single, widely applicable calibration that accounts for a range of burial conditions by combining lab-based experiments and fieldwork. The new Icelandic Pliocene palaeo-temperature record will then be extended back to the Oligocene using lignites from Northern Ireland, Norway and Greenland, with access aided by project partners.

The new Cenozoic palaeotemperature record will be interpreted in the light of an ongoing Birmingham-based General Circulation Model (GCM) study of the effect of GSR elevation on oceanic circulation. This analysis will work alongside and benefit from anticipated IODP drilling in the North Atlantic south of Iceland. Building a more complete understanding of climate change through the Cenozoic will help better predict how anthropogenic climate change might affect the world in the next century.

Funding Notes

CENTA studentships are for 3.5 years and are funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). In addition to the full payment of their tuition fees, successful candidates will receive the following financial support.
• Annual stipend, set at £15,009 for 2019/20
• Research training support grant (RTSG) of £8,000


Denk, T., Grimsson, F., Zetter, R. and Símonarson, L.A., 2011. Late Cainozoic floras of Iceland: 15 million years of vegetation and climate history in the northern North Atlantic (Vol. 35). Springer Science & Business Media.
IODP (2017) IODP-892: Mantle Dynamic, Paleoceanography and Climate Evolution in the North Atlantic. Available at: (Accessed: 28 October 2018).
Parnell‐Turner, R., White, N.J., McCave, I.N., Henstock, T.J., Murton, B. and Jones, S.M., 2015. Architecture of North Atlantic contourite drifts modified by transient circulation of the Icelandic mantle plume. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 16(10), 3414–3435.
Schouten, S., Hopmans, E.C. and Damsté, J.S.S., 2013. The organic geochemistry of glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraether lipids: a review. Organic geochemistry 54, 19–61.
Strauch, F., 1963. Zur Geologie von Tjörnes: (Nordisland). Sonderveröffentlichungen des Geologischen Instituts der Universität Köln 7, 129.

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