Ocean-atmosphere coupling and the dynamics of the global climate system across the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary

   Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

This project is no longer listed on FindAPhD.com and may not be available.

Click here to search FindAPhD.com for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr Rhodri Jerrett, Dr B Van Dongen, Dr I Kane, Prof Gregory Price, Dr Tyler Lyson  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary was a critical period in the history of life on Earth. On land, the dinosaurs became extinct, yielding to the age of the mammals, who radiated and increased in taxonomic diversity and size rapidly in the Palaeogene [1, 2]. Climatic perturbations caused by meteor impact and Deccan volcanism are implicated in extinction and ecosystem recovery [2, 4]. The latest Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) was characterised by long-term cooling, and the Paleogene by long-term warming [2, 5, 6]. This picture, though, comes by combining a variety of different air- and sea-temperature proxies that yield a large range of estimates, assume the ocean-atmosphere system behaved in a coupled manner, and come from stratigraphically and spatially disparate sections. Recent work by the supervisory team show that shorter-term climatic perturbations were superimposed on to these longer-term trends [2, 7], and suggest a divergence in the magnitudes and rates of terrestrial and sea surface temperature change at this time [7]. Such data imply the ocean-atmosphere system was decoupled, and hint at an explanation for the greater severity of extinction, and slower rate of recovery in the surface ocean compared to land [3].

 Generating discrete, high-resolution and directly comparable terrestrial and sea surface temperature records provides the means of reconstructing the causes and effects of climate change in the atmosphere-ocean system at this critical period. The student will approach this problem by undertaking sampling at several well-constrained terrestrial (Western Interior Basin, North America) and marine (Baja California, Mexico; Basque Country, Spain) Maastrichtian to Palaeogene successions. In the laboratory, the student will reconstruct temperatures by applying the organic MBT’ [8] and TEX86 [9] indices to tetraether lipids extracted from the samples collected. Results will be contextualized within existing debates about latest Cretaceous and earliest Paleogene climates, the K­–Pg mass extinction, and interrelations between the couple atmosphere-ocean climate system.

 The student will be based in DEES and supervised mainly by the primary supervisor, with regular meetings at least fortnightly to discuss progress and technical issues. Group meetings with all supervisors are set monthly, at which more strategic discussions can be taken and progress discussed in the context of experimental work. The University of Manchester implements a programme of Performance and Development Reviews. The advanced e-prog system helps formal monitoring of progress through monthly reports, quarterly planning and major annual reviews. Training needs for the student form an important part of the programme and a wide range of courses relevant to the student will be offered. A skills audit in the first weeks of the project will be undertaken to produce a training plan for the student. Transferable, specialised and career skills will be delivered in such a way that students interact with students from a wide range of disciplines, helping to develop a wider perspective to their own research. The faculty generic programme has the essential components of project management, communication (including paper and report writing), development of research leadership and management and career development. The student will undertake the Work life balance toolkit, ensuring productive and happy researchers.

 The student working on this cross-disciplinary project will gain a wide breadth of in-depth specialist training in sedimentology, and organic and isotope geochemistry techniques (including liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, (pyrolysis) gas chromatography mass spectrometry and elemental (isotope) analyses). They will have access to world-class facilities in the Williamson Research Centre for Molecular Environmental Science at the University of Manchester and the Centre for Research in Earth Science at the University of Plymouth. This project brings together a team of supervisors with complementary experience in the fields mentioned above and collective experience of paleo climate reconstruction related projects worldwide. This will mean that the student will get an in-depth training, which combined with the access to world-class facilities will provide a basis for a future career in Earth and Environmental science, in the industrial, government or academic sectors, in a rapidly expanding research area of international importance.

Rhodri Jerrett:


 Bart van Dongen:


 Ian Kane:


 Gregory Price:


Tyler Lyson:


To apply - How to apply for postgraduate research at The University of Manchester

Please search and select PhD Earth Science (academic programme) and PhD Earth Science (academic plan)

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester and is at the heart of all of our activities.

We know that diversity strengthens our research community, leading to enhanced research creativity, productivity and quality, and societal and economic impact.

We actively encourage applicants from diverse career paths and backgrounds and from all sections of the community, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and transgender status.

We also support applications from those returning from a career break or other roles. We consider offering flexible study arrangements (including part-time: 50%, 60% or 80%, depending on the project/funder), carer support funds for conferences, and peer support networks for parents and carers.

All appointments are made on merit.

The University of Manchester and our external partners are fully committed to equality, diversity and inclusion

Biological Sciences (4) Chemistry (6) Geology (18)

Funding Notes

Fees and stipend provided at the current UKRI rate. Start date of July 2023


[1] Schulte et al. (2010) Science 327, 1214-1218. [2] Lyson et al. (2019) Science 366, 977-983. [3] Gilabert et al. (2022) Geology 50, 21–25. [4] Tabor et al. (2016) Geology, 44, 963–966. [5] Hull et al. (2020) Science 367, 266-272. [6] O’Connor et al. (in press) Geology. [7] Henehan et al. (2019) PNAS 116, 22500–22504. [8] Naafs et al. (2017) Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 208, 285-301. [9] Schouten et al. (2013) Org. Geochem. 54, 19-61.

How good is research at The University of Manchester in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities