What lies beneath the surface of Mars? Advanced Numerical Modelling and Data Intensive Processing for Large and Complex Ground Penetrating Radar Data (Ref: NUDATA24/EE/MCE/WARREN)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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  Dr Craig Warren  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Overview of the CDT

This project is being offered as part of the STFC Centre for Doctoral Training in Data Intensive Science, called NUdata, which is a collaboration between Northumbria and Newcastle Universities, STFC, and a portfolio of over 40 industrial partners, including SMEs, large/multinational companies, Government and not-for profit organisations, and international humanitarian organisations. Please visit https://research.northumbria.ac.uk/nudata/ for full information.

Project Description

Planetary subsurface exploration is a rapidly growing international scientific endeavour and a key part of the UK’s Space Science Programme. The primary tool for surface and subsurface planetary exploration is the autonomous instrumented rover, with 3 currently active on Mars - Curiosity (NASA, 2012), Perseverance (NASA, 2021), and Zhurong (CNSA, 2021) - and Rosalind Franklin (ESA) to deploy in 2028. The operational lifespan and distances surveyed by the rovers mean that large volumes of scientific data are being generated, e.g. Opportunity (NASA, 2003) holds the record for the longest distance driven on another planet (45km).

The most recently deployed (and planned) Mars rovers include Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) as part of their scientific instrumentation. GPR is well-suited for imaging the subsurface of Mars because it provides high resolution continuous measurements, and can operate in dry, low-conductivity environments with minimum operational input. It is capable of accurately mapping the dielectric properties of the Martian subsurface up to depths of tens of metres, which can then be used to infer mineralogical and mechanical properties and reveal the both the stratigraphy and structure of the area.

Vast quantities (tens of kilometres) of GPR data are being generated by Perseverance, and similar data are expected from the GPR on Rosalind Franklin. Current GPR data processing techniques are inadequate for two key reasons: 1) they are based on a conventional workflow, i.e. time-varying gain, background removal, and simplistic hyperbola fitting, which is not suitable for the unique Martian subsurface environment; and 2) they do not provide automated interpretation at scales to manage the large volume of GPR data being acquired.

The fundamental aim of this project is to develop a new generation of open-source numerical modelling and data intensive processing tools for planetary GPR surveying. This will enable new knowledge of subsurface material properties and structures, such as the detection of liquid water on Mars, the study of habitability in Martian caves, and allow planning for the construction of future planetary infrastructure. The project will develop and utilise gprMax (http://www.gprmax.com/), which is open-source EM modelling software already used by the RIMFAX project team (NASA) and China National Space Administration (CNSA) for Mars and Lunar GPR investigations. The research will focus on large volume, multi-offset GPR data and amplitude versus offset (AVO) analysis, as well as the development of an EM digital twin of the GPR/lander system which will allow its characteristics and performance to be investigated, and be a significant step forward for model-based processing.

The project is multi-disciplinary involving planetary science, research software engineering, machine learning, high-performance computing, geophysics, and electrical engineering.

Academic Enquiries

This project is supervised by Dr Craig Warren. For informal queries, contact [Email Address Removed]. For all other enquiries relating to eligibility or application process contact Admissions at [Email Address Removed]. 

Recruitment Event

You will join a strong and supportive research team. To help better understand the aims of the CDT and to meet the PhD supervisors, we are hosting a day-long event on campus on Monday 15th January 2024. At that event, there will be an opportunity to discuss your research ideas, meet potential PhD supervisors, as well as hear from speakers from a variety of backgrounds (academia, industry, government, charity) discussing both STFC and data science as well as their personal paths and backgrounds. Click here for details.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Academic excellence i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities with preference for 1st class honours); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above);
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

To be classed as a Home student, candidates must:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have settled status, or
  • have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have indefinite leave to remain or enter.

If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an International student. 

Applicants will need to be in the UK and fully enrolled before stipend payments can commence and be aware of the following additional costs that may be incurred, as these are not covered by the studentship.

For further details on how to apply see


You must include the relevant advert reference (e.g. NUDATA24/…) in your application.

If you are interested in more than one of the Northumbria-hosted NUdata research projects, then you can say this in the cover letter of your application and you can rank all the projects you are interested in (e.g. first choice, second choice, third choice). You are strongly encouraged to do this, since some projects are more popular than others. You only need to submit one application even if you are interested in multiple projects (we recommend you submit your application to your first choice).

Deadline for applications: 31st January 2024

Start date of course:  23rd September 2024

Northumbria University is committed to creating an inclusive culture where we take pride in, and value, the diversity of our postgraduate research students. We encourage and welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds a bronze Athena Swan award in recognition of our commitment to advancing gender equality, we are a Disability Confident Leader, a member of the Race Equality Charter and are participating in the Stonewall Diversity Champion Programme. We also hold the HR Excellence in Research award for implementing the concordat supporting the career Development of Researchers and are members of the Euraxess initiative to deliver information and support to professional researchers.

Computer Science (8) Geography (17) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

The 4-year studentship is available to Home and international (including EU) students and includes a full stipend at UKRI rates (for 2023/24 full-time study this was £18,622 per year) and full tuition fees. Studentships are also available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis in combination with work or personal responsibilities.


• Sam, L. & et. al. Small lava caves as possible exploratory targets on Mars: Analogies draw from UAV imaging of an Icelandic lava field. Remote Sensing (2020).
• Giannakis, I., Giannopoulos, A. et al. Realistic FDTD GPR Antenna Models Optimized Using a Novel Linear/Nonlinear Full-Waveform Inversion. IEEE Trans. Geoscience & Remote Sensing (2019).
• Warren, C. & Giannopoulos, A. Creating Finite-Difference Time-Domain Models of Commercial Ground- Penetrating Radar Antennas Using Taguchi’s Optimisation Method. Geophysics (2011).
• Warren, C., Giannopoulos, A. et al. gprMax: Open source software to simulate electromagnetic wave propagation for GPR. Comp. Physics Comms. (2016).

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