Earth Sciences

Find a programme
Awards available PhD, MSc by research
Programme length PhD: Three years full-time or part-time equivalent (minimum period of study)
MScR: One year full-time or part-time equivalent (minimum period of study)
Location of programme Clifton campus
Part-time study available Yes
Start date Not fixed

Programme overview

The School of Earth Sciences has strong international links and the presence of researchers from all over the world makes for an exciting and stimulating environment. Research involves the full breadth of the earth sciences and has benefited from major investment in new laboratories and equipment in the past few years. Important initiatives include experimental and theoretical studies of physical, chemical and biological processes of the Earth.

Please note: If you are applying for this programme, you need to select Geology as the programme choice when completing your online application form.

Fees for 2018/19

We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2018/19 are as follows:

UK/EU: full-time
£4,235
UK/EU: part-time
£2,118
Overseas: full-time
£20,700
Channel Islands/Isle of Man: full-time
£9,235

Bench fees: For postgraduate research students who are not funded by UK Research Councils or (specific) UK charities, it is usual to charge a bench fee. A bench fee covers the costs of laboratory consumables, specialist equipment and other relevant costs (e.g. training) for the duration of the programme. The bench fee charged can vary considerably depending on the nature of the programme being undertaken. Details of specific bench fee charges can be provided on request and will made clear in the offer letter sent to applicants.

Fees are subject to an annual review. For programmes that last longer than one year, please budget for up to a five per cent increase in fees each year. Find out more about tuition fees.

Alumni scholarship

University of Bristol students and graduates can benefit from a ten per cent reduction in tuition fees for postgraduate study. Check your eligibility for an alumni scholarship.

Funding for 2018/19

In recent years the school has been awarded between five and eight NERC and NERC CASE PhD studentships each year. Other sources of funding include industry sponsorship, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), and European Union and other scholarships. Applications from self-funding students are welcomed.

Further information on funding for prospective UK, EU and international postgraduate students.

Entry requirements

An upper second-class honours degree (or equivalent) in a discipline related to the PhD project for which you are applying, such as geology, biological sciences, environmental sciences, chemistry or mathematics.

See international equivalent qualifications on the International Office website.

English language requirements

If English is not your first language, you need to meet this profile level:
Profile E
Further information about English language requirements and profile levels.

Admissions statement

Read the programme admissions statement for important information on entry requirements, the application process and supporting documents required.

Admissions statement

Research groups

The research programme at Bristol is characterised by an expanding range of exciting subject areas. Research in the School of Earth Sciences encourages interdisciplinary collaboration between its five research groups, which in turn nurtures revolutionary research.

Geochemistry

The Geochemistry group uses fundamental chemical techniques to understand natural processes on a range of temporal and spatial scales. This can be from single atoms on mineral surfaces and the environmental geochemistry of the modern Earth to the large-scale chemical structure of planets and the birth of the solar system. The group has considerable expertise in isotopic measurements, spectroscopy and first-principles calculations.

Geophysics

Geophysics uses physical properties of the solid Earth to measure structure and processes on scales from the single crystal to the entire planet. Members of the Bristol Geophysics group use gravity, seismic and satellite data to image the Earth in a variety of different contexts. These include the Earth's core, mantle and tectonic processes, volcanoes, oil and gas reservoirs and mines.

Palaeobiology

The Palaeobiology group uses the fossil record to study the history of life. Research focuses on major diversifications, mass extinctions, dating the tree of life, phylogenomics and molecular palaeobiology, morphological innovation, biomechanics, and links between evolution and development; the organisms of interest range from foraminifera to dinosaurs.

Petrology

The Petrology group uses a combination of high-pressure and high-temperature experiments, petrology, geochemistry and mineral physics to attack a wide range of problems in the solid Earth - from the core to the surface.

Volcanology 

The Volcanology group at Bristol aims to understand the physical processes underlying volcanic phenomena and develop methods of hazard and risk assessment that can be applied to volcanoes worldwide.

Recent case studies and collaborators include the Met Office, Montserrat Volcano Observatory, Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland and INGEOMINAS in Columbia.

Research centres

The School of Earth Sciences is involved in a number of collaborative research groups on an international level. Inter-faculty research centres such as the Biogeochemistry Research Centre and the Cabot Institute involve collaboration across several departments and faculties.

  • Centre for Environmental and Geophysical Flows
    This interdisciplinary research centre brings together expertise from the Schools of Earth Sciences, Geographical Sciences, Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics. This creates diverse research activities and interests, from traffic flow to explosive volcanic flows, meteorology to oceanography.

  • Biogeochemistry Research Centre
    The Biogeochemistry Research Centre involves staff from the Schools of Earth Sciences, Geographical Sciences and Chemistry. The research aims to develop our understanding of the biogeochemistry of modern-day and ancient environments and the way that it is affected by natural processes and the actions of mankind.

  • Bristol Isotope Group
    The Bristol Isotope Group is a world-class research facility for isotope measurements directed at understanding natural processes, from the formation of the solar system and the origin of Earth - its deep structure and atmosphere, through to the evolution of that atmosphere and contemporary climate change.

  • Interface Analysis Centre
    The Interface Analysis Centre specialises in the application of a wide range of analytical techniques and is used by the Schools of Chemistry, Earth Sciences and Physics.

  • The Cabot Institute
    The Cabot Institute carries out fundamental and responsive research on risks and uncertainty in a changing environment. Interests include climate change, natural hazards, food and energy security, resilience and governance, and human impacts on the environment.

  • Coral Reef Research at Bristol (CRAB)
    The research group reflects the interdisciplinary nature of coral reef science and strives to understand these beautiful, complex and highly important ecosystems, combining perspectives from biology, chemistry, geology and geography. Members of the group span the Faculty of Science, coming from the Schools of Biological Sciences, Earth Sciences and Geographical Sciences.

  • Bristol Oceans Past and Present (BOPP)
    BOPP’s main focus is to further understand the chemical and physical conditions of the oceans, both past and present. Our study of the oceans is made possible through the use of a diverse range geochemical techniques applied to geological, biological and oceanographic samples.

Careers

A large proportion of our graduating PhD students continue to postdoctoral research and an academic career. Recently, students have taken up postdoctoral positions in national and international laboratories, for example in New Zealand, Switzerland, Germany, the US and China. A number of recent alumni now have permanent lectureship positions in institutions including the University of St Andrews, University of Liverpool and Harvard University.

Some of our students embark on industrial careers in an area that relates to their PhD studies. Other careers include teaching, publishing and management consultancy.

Staff profiles

Professor Michael Benton, (Professor), Systematics, cladistics and large-scale phylogeny reconstruction; vertebrate palaeontology, macroevolution, mass extinctions, biotic replacements.

Dr Juliet Biggs, (Reader), Arc volcanism; continental rift formation; earthquake cycle; measuring and modelling active tectonic processes using geodetic techniques.

Professor Jonathan Blundy, (Professorial Research Fellow), The generation and evolution of magma and magmatic rocks.

Dr Heather Buss, (Senior Lecturer), Biogeochemistry of soils; mineral nutrient cycling; rates and mechanisms of chemical and physical weathering.

Professor Katharine Cashman, (Professor), Crystallisation and vesiculation kinetics; geologic hazards; igneous petrology; lava flow emplacement; volcanology.

Dr Christopher Coath, (Senior Research Fellow), Inorganic mass spectrometry technique and instrument development; ion optics.

Dr Frances Cooper, (Senior Lecturer), Geochronology; isotope geochemistry; large-scale continental deformation and the evolution of orogenic systems; paleomagnetism; petrology; satellite remote sensing; structural geology; thermal modelling.; thermochronology.

Professor Philip Donoghue, (Professor), Establishment of animal bodyplans; evolution and development; molecular clocks; origin and radiation of vertebrates.

Professor Tim Elliott, (Professor), Applications of geochemical ' tools' from major elements to radiogenic isotopes; chemical structure of the Earth and its evolution.

Dr Joachim Gottsman, (Reader), Volcano geophysics.

Dr Kate Hendry, (Royal Society Research Fellow, Proleptic Lectureship), Investigation of modern biogeochemical cycling and past ocean processes, focusing on biogenic opal and silicon cycling in seawater.

Dr Erica Hendy, (Lecturer), High-resolution palaeoclimate records in corals and speleothems.

Dr Stuart Kearns, (Senior Lecturer), Electron beam interactions with geological materials.

Professor Michael Kendall, (Professor), Application of global, theoretical and exploration seismology to studying a wide range of geological settings.

Dr Simon Kohn, (Reader), Experimental mineralogy; silicate melts; volatile components in the Earth' s mantle.

Professor Heidy Mader, (Professor), Geophysical fluid dynamics with particular emphasis on volcanic and glaciological flows and multiphase phenomena.

Dr Ian Parkinson, (Reader), Climate change and the evolution of oxygen in the atmosphere; evolution of seawater chemistry; geochemistry; isotopes; mantle geochemistry; petrology.

Dr Jeremy Phillips, (Reader), Dynamics of geophysical two-phase flows and granular flow; experimental volcanology; theoretical modelling of volcanic processes.

Professor Davide Pisani, (Professor), Molecular methods for resolving the Tree of Life; molecular palaeobiology; phylogenomics.

Professor Emily Rayfield, (Professor), Biomechanics and evolution of fossil vertebrates; finite element analysis, CT scanning and 3D reconstruction of fossils.

Professor Laura Robinson, (Professor), Chemical oceanography and palaeoclimate; low-temperature geochemistry to earth surface processes.

Dr Alison Rust, (Reader), Physical volcanology and fluid dynamics.

Professor Daniela Schmidt, (Professor), Biological influences on climate; effects of climate change on plankton ecology and evolution; micropalaeontology.

Professor David Sherman, (Professor), Applications to aqueous environmental chemistry and hydrothermal ore deposits; physical chemistry of aqueous solutions, minerals and the mineral-water interface.

Dr Nicholas Teanby, (Senior Research Fellow), Geophysical and planetary processes.

Dr Jakob Vinther, (Senior Lecturer), Cambrian explosion; evolution; invertebrates; macroevolution; melanin; melanosomes; molecular clocks; taphonomy; Tree of Life.

Professor Michael Walter, (Professor, Head of School of Earth Sciences), Physics and chemistry of the deep Earth; planetary melting and differentiation.

Dr Matthew Watson, (Reader), Satellite and ground-based detection of volcanic gases and aerosols.

Dr Maximilian Werner, (Senior Lecturer), Earthquakes; evolution of the crust; geophysics; natural hazards; risk.

Dr Fiona Whitaker, (Reader), Hydrogeological, diagenetic, sedimentary evolution of carbonate rocks; numerical modelling; process-based field and experimental studies of modern carbonates.

Dr James Wookey, (Reader), Linking mineral physics to seismic observations; seismic observations and modelling of the deep Earth.

How to apply
Application deadline:

Self-funded applicants: no fixed deadline.

Please check the school website for details of funding application deadlines.

International students

Find out more about becoming a student at Bristol, applying for a visa and the support we offer to international students.

I chose Bristol because of its outstanding academic reputation. It's reassuring to be taught by people who truly love their subject - their passion becomes contagious.

Joyce

REF 2014 results

  • 36% of research is world-leading (4 star)
  • 62% of research is internationally excellent (3 star)
  • 2% of research is recognised internationally (2 star)
  • 0% of research is recognised nationally (1 star)

Results are from the most recent UK-wide assessment of research quality, conducted by HEFCE. More about REF 2014 results.

Bristol Doctoral College

The Bristol Doctoral College facilitates and supports doctoral training and researcher development across the University.

Get in touch

Postgraduate Administrator Phone: +44 (0) 117 954 5400 Email: earth-postgrad@bristol.ac.uk

Postgraduate Admissions
School of Earth Sciences
University of Bristol
Wills Memorial Building
Queens Road
Bristol BS8 1RJ http://www.bristol.ac.uk/earthsciences

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