Physical landscape characteristics can induce strong variations on environmental conditions, such as vegetation cover, water availability and temperature. Geological archives often capture respective variations with the molecular remains of flora and microorganisms – so-called biomarkers – that pass from source to sediment through the Earth system via water or wind. Not only do biomarkers resolve the occurrence of different biomass source(s) during past times, they also encode molecular isotopic signatures that support quantitative ecohydrological reconstructions, even millions of years ago. There is also large potential by coupling δ2H–δ18O hydrological reconstructions to track hydrology processes, including recharge or evaporative enrichment through time.

You will join the Lyell Centre, a research focussed centre of the British Geological Survey (BGS) and HWU in Edinburgh, Scotland. You will engage in a multi-proxy project with external research at NERC/SUERC Radiocarbon facilities at East Kilbride that focuses on understanding groundwater dynamics in East Africa via complementary geochemical (biomarker) and dual-isotopic analyses of the region’s contemporary groundwater, vegetation, and freshwater carbonate. Respective “modern” signatures will be used to construct an interpretive framework for reconstructing patterns in regional hydrologic change, especially groundwater recharge, amid human evolutionary junctures and the emergence of direct human ancestors (Homo erectus), about 2 million years ago.

This project has an ambitious scope, providing potential for important breakthroughs in developing quantitative maps of African water resources and the influence of these resources during past human evolutionary junctures.


This is a full scholarship which will cover full tuition fees and provide an annual stipend of £14,777.


This project is available to ALL students, whether home, EU or overseas. The successful candidate should have a strong interest in applied research and biogeochemistry, and possess at minimum a masters and undergraduate degree in geography, earth sciences, hydrology or a similar field. Organic geochemistry skills are an essential requirement of this project, whilst some experience in hydrology and good fieldwork skills is highly desirable. Experience working in industry is an advantage but not a necessity.

How to apply

Please complete our online application form. Please select PhD programme Geoscience and include the project reference, title and supervisor on your application. Please also provide a supporting statement (upload this in the 'project proposal' field), a CV, a copy of your degree certificates and relevant detailed transcripts and at least one academic or technical reference. You must also provide proof of your ability in the English language (if English is not your mother tongue or if you have not already studied for a degree that was taught in English). We require an IELTS certificate showing an overall score of at least 6.5 with no component scoring less than 6.0 or a TOEFL certificate with a minimum score of 90 points.

Please contact Dr Clayton Magill ( or Prof Alan MacDonald ( for informal information.


The closing date for applications is 31 May 2018. Applicants must be available to start the PhD by September 2018.