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Geochemical measurements of triple oxygen isotopes across key intervals in Earth History

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Mark Claire
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Atmospheric oxygen is fundamental to life as we know it, but its concentration has changed dramatically over Earth’s 4.5 billion year history. An amazing qualitative story has emerged, in which Earth’s atmosphere was devoid of free oxygen for the first 2 billion years of planetary history, with two significant increases in concentration at ~2.4 and ~0.55 billion years ago. Both oxygenation events were accompanied by extreme climatic effects – the “snowball earth” episodes – and paved the way for massive reorganization of biogeochemical cycles such as the Cambrian radiation of macroscopic life. Despite these profound influences on the Earth system, we currently lack fundamental quantitative constraints on Earth’s atmospheric evolution.

In 2016, St Andrews plans to start three related PhD projects spanning a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, offered via Mark’s recent 5 year ~£1.3M European Research Council award entitled “Constraining the evolution of Earth’s atmosphere using novel isotopes and modelling” All projects require a 1st class (or equivalent) undergraduate degree or masters. Additional information detailing the projects is available at

This lab and field based geochemistry project starts with a methods-development theme utilizing cutting-edge equipment (Cavity Ringdown Spectroscopy) to develop a new method for measuring triple oxygen isotopes in geologic samples. You will gain a full working knowledge of experimental and analytical isotope geochemistry, including the classical EA-IRMS technique for triple oxygen isotope measurements. Field work in Chile, Namibia, Italy and the United States will expand the global database of triple oxygen isotopes measurements which will constrain atmospheric chemistry during Snowball Earth episodes, the Cambrian oxidation, and the Permian-Triassic mass extinction.

Suitable Backgrounds for this project include Geology and Geochemistry. Previous experience with laboratory methods and field work are strongly desired.

Funding Notes

Full Funding (tuition + stipend) is only guaranteed for UK/EU students, although exceptional candidates worldwide are encouraged to apply, and any offers would be made at full funding.


More information (and links to references) are available via the above link to

How good is research at University of St Andrews in Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 36.50

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

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