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PhD in Geographical and Earth Sciences - Understanding the lifespan of impact-induced hydrothermal systems from X-ray tomography and numerical modelling

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  • Full or part time
    Dr t Keller
    Dr A Macente
    Dr A Pickersgill
    Prof Martin Lee
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Project Description

Hydrothermal systems likely played an essential role in the origin of life, both on Earth and potentially on other planets [1–4]. They form where heated wall rock and pore fluid interact [5], including within hypervelocity impact structures [1,6–8]. These structures are, therefore, a critical target for astrobiology research. They have the potential to provide long-lived heat sources on otherwise cold planetary surfaces, thus creating habitable environments for heat-loving microorganisms [3] and ‘cradles’ for prebiotic chemical reactions [4]. Robust empirical constraints on the lifespan of such hydrothermal systems are therefore key to understanding the origin of life. Our present understanding derives from limited numerical simulations and a small number of radioisotope studies. Theory and simulations indicate that duration of a hydrothermal system largely depends on the permeability of the host rock. That key parameter, however, is poorly constrained by observations; it results from the combination of inter-granular porosity and impact-induced macroscopic fracture networks. Characterising this multi-scale permeability in natural samples and representing it in numerical simulations has proved challenging.
This project will focus on obtaining robust physical measurements of granular permeability and fracture density in drill cores obtained from the Chicxulub impact structure. Granular-scale physical properties will be measured using X-Ray computed micro-tomography (mXCT), whereas fractures will be mapped throughout large-scale CT scan data of an 800 m drill core from Chicxulub. The measurements will be combined with small-scale Lattice-Boltzmann fluid flow modelling with the aim of constraining a multi-scale permeability model for these rocks. That model will then be incorporated into a system-scale computer simulation using custom-built software to test how multi-scale permeability affects the estimated lifespan of the hydrothermal system at the Chicxulub impact structure.
The student will work within a dynamic team of planetary scientists at the University of Glasgow where they will gain a suite of skills focused on x-ray imaging and numerical modelling, but also including mineralogy, petrology, machine learning, big data, planetary science, astrobiology, and science

communication. The mentoring team includes leading experts in multi-phase reactive transport modelling (Keller), micro-X-Ray tomography (Macente), impact crater studies (Pickersgill), and planetary sciences (Lee). The student will become embedded in a vibrant planetary science research community in the UK and internationally and will have the opportunity to travel widely in order to pursue research collaborations and present results at conferences.

This project is one of 5 advertised projects that are eligible to receive 3.5 years of funding available through an award from the Science and Technology Facilities Council to the University of Glasgow (note: only a single scholarship is available). Please apply by sending the following documents to Prof Deborah Dixon, [Email Address Removed]

Degree transcripts.
One reference (sent directly by the referee to [Email Address Removed]).
A two page CV.
A statement of interest that indicates how your skill sets and research experience fit with the project, and how you plan on taking the project forward as an independent researcher (maximum of 1000 words excluding references).

The application deadline is April 3rd, 2020 (5pm), and a shortlisting for interview will take place by April 10th. The funded PhD will start in October 2020.

Funding Notes

This is one of five projects in competition for one fully funded studentship awarded to the University of Glasgow by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). Full funding is available for UK students.


References: [1] Osinski G.R., et al. (2013) Icarus, 224, 347-363.
[2] Farmer J.D. (2000) GSA Today, 10, 1-9.
[3] Cockell C.S. and Lee P. (2002) Biol. Rev. Camb. Philos. Soc., 77, 279-310.
[4] Cockell C.S. (2006) Philos. Trans. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci., 361, 1845-1855.
[5] Pirajno F. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg; 1992.
[6] Naumov M. V. (2005) Geofluids, 5, 165-184.
[7] Kring D.A. and Boynton W. V (1992) Nature, 358, 141-144.
[8] Kring D.A. (2003) Astrobiology, 3, 133-152.

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