Applied Geoscience

Heriot Watt University (HWU) has an active and growing capacity in Applied Geoscience which sits alongside and complements its Petroleum Engineering capabilities and research. At present, the main focuses of activity are the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience which was opened in 2013 on our Edinburgh Campus and the NERC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas which the group leads on behalf of a consortium of 17 UK universities, 2 NERC research centres (The British Geological Survey and the National Oceanography Centre) and 9 industry sponsors. Both the CDT and the Shell Centre are embedded within the Applied Geoscience Unit, a component part of the Institute of GeoEnergy Engineering (IGE) in the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure & Society (EGIS).

NERC Centre for Doctoral Training in Oil and Gas

The NERC CDT in Oil & Gas is an £11M investment by NERC, 17 UK Higher Education Institutes and 9 industry partners. It offers a unique combination of PhD research projects across the UK partnership and bespoke industry-relevant cohort training to around 30 PhD students per annual entry cohort from earth, marine and mathematical disciplines, 3 of whom are based at Heriot-Watt each year. The CDT aims to equip students not only with the skills needed to explore for and sustainably extract hydrocarbons, but also an understanding of the need for, and techniques to undertake, responsible environmental management of such activities.

The CDT is a truly game-changing initiative, which represents the most exciting development in the provision of training the energy industry in the UK that has occurred in my career.

Keith Gerdes, Chair of NERC's Advisory Board and previous American Association of Petroleum Geologists' European Region President

This unique collaborative venture is creating a network of highly skilled scientists who will become the thought leaders of the future and innovations that will enhance the opportunities available for the industry and help to support energy security in the spirit of MER UK

Colin Oswald, Head of Research Partnerships at Total Exploration & Production UK

The Shell Centre

The Shell Centre was inaugurated in 2013 and represents a 5-year £3M investment by the company and is administered under a joint agreement between the University and Royal Dutch Shell. The Centre is housed within the Wouter Hoogeveen Lab and currently supports 3 PhD and 2 PDRA positions in Applied Geoscience. The Centre's main research themes are in regional geology, the structural development and evolution of sedimentary basins, subsurface mapping and field geology. It benefits from state-of the art seismic interpretation facilities and access to high-fidelity regional subsurface datasets which are calibrated and supplemented by additional data from boreholes, gravity and magnetics, geochemistry, sedimentology, biostratigraphy, apatite fission track analysis etc. The research undertaken in the Centre provides a key input to both academia, through publication and presentation of results, and industry by enhancing the understanding of prospective basins currently under exploration for oil and gas.


  • Tectonostratigraphic evolution of the Eastern Mediterranean
  • Formation and Development of the Tanzanian passive continental margin
  • Temporal Evolution of the Peri-Adriatic region
  • The Tectono-stratigraphic evolution of the Central Mediterranean
  • Stratigraphic Traps in Extensional Systems
  • Field and Subsurface Geology in Compressional Systems
  • Use of 3D seismic volumes to evaluate the nature, timing and implications of structural deformation in the Inner Moray Firth
  • Geophysical detection of dyke and sill complexes: implications for prospectivity
  • Unravelling the structural controls and consequent feedbacks on Permian and Mesozoic depositional systems in the Southern North Sea
  • Evaluating the role that structural inheritance and crustal heterogeneity plays in controlling the evolution of prospective basins of the North Sea
  • Controls on and consequences of punctuated subsidence and structural inversion along passive margins
  • The Structure and Petroleum Systems of the Dreki Area, Jan Mayen Microcontinent, offshore Iceland
  • Evaluating the Geological Structure and Hydrocarbon Prospectivity of the Western Platform and Mid North Sea High areas of the Central North Sea
  • Development and Evolution of the Flamborough Head Disturbance
  • Ogilvie Gordon 3D Audio-Visualisation (OGA) Suite

Areas of Expertise

  • Structural development and evolution of sedimentary basins
  • Subsurface mapping
  • Field geology
  • Seismic and Sequence Stratigraphy
  • Extending the Life of Mature Basins (e.g. North Sea)
  • Exploration in Frontier Basins and Challenging Environments
  • Near Field Exploration (NFE)
  • Forensic geoscience for carbon storage site investigations

Research Impact

The NERC CDT addresses the current energy and hydrocarbon challenges facing the world's populations in the 21st century as well as preparing the next generation of scientists by creating a highly skilled workforce with expertise that can be used across the wider energy and environmental sectors, be that in industry, academia and public organisations. Colin Oswald, Head of Research Partnerships at Total Exploration & Production UK commented after the CDT's 2nd Annual Conference in November 2016 "The 2nd Annual Conference was an excellent opportunity to see all the CDT students together. The student presentations and posters testified to the quality of the leading edge research and the energy and enthusiasm of the students, academic partners and industrial sponsors. This unique collaborative venture is creating a network of highly skilled scientists who will become the thought leaders of the future and innovations that will enhance the opportunities available for the industry and help to support energy security in the spirit of MER UK".

The research undertaken in Applied Geoscience at Heriot Watt achieves academic and business impact through publication/presentation and input into industry/government policies. The Shell Centre has produced several conference presentations and regular technical reviews. Several projects such as in offshore Northern Tanzania, the Croatian Adriatic, offshore Namibia and the SE Mediterranean, represent underexplored regions and some of the first large scale, data-rich studies to be performed in these regions.


Professor John R. Underhill, Shell Professor of Exploration Geoscience

John has over 30 years of experience working on exploration projects, many of which have been undertaken in the UKCS. During his career, John has worked as an exploration geoscientist with Shell (1985-89), worked on sabbatical at BP (1992-94), where he contributed to the development of the classic North Sea J-sequence stratigraphy still in use today and with Norsk Hydro (1997-99), where he helped open exploration of new plays in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea. His applied geoscience research focus has been on seismic and sequence stratigraphy, basin analysis, petroleum systems and prospectivity of sedimentary basins. His expertise has been recognised through various awards including the EAGE Alfred Wegener Prize, AAPG's Distinguished Educator Award, the Edinburgh Geological Society's Clough Medal, the Geological Society's Petroleum Group Silver Medal for services to North Sea exploration and their Lyell Medal for 2016. He convenes and delivers the PESGB North Sea petroleum systems course, having taken this on from Ken Glennie and has recently instigated the PESGB's Atlantic margins workshop. John has published extensively and is a regular contributor to conferences and was a keynote speaker at last year's PGC.

John is also a member of the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC)'s Earth Science Advisory Group (ESAG) and sits on the UK Energy Minister's Technology Leadership Board (TLB). He also leads the Ogilvie Gordon 3D Audio-Visualisation (OGA) Suite project, funded through a £700k Capital Grant Award by the Oil & Gas Authority. The facility is a custom-built 3D visualisation facility housed in the neighbouring Lyell Building, which also houses the Centre for Earth and Marine Science & Technology (CEMT) collaboration centre funded by HWU, NERC and the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council housing the Scottish division of the British Geological Survey (BGS) as well as Heriot-Watt academic staff.

Dr Rachel Jamieson (Heriot-Watt University Global Platform PDRA Appointment, Applied Geoscience Unit)

A geophysicist/structural geologist specialising in seismic interpretation, Rachel has extensive experience working in multi-disciplinary research teams to provide detailed subsurface models. Her responsibilities have included seismic to well ties, seismic interpretation, sedimentology and biostratigraphy and structural modelling/restoration. She undertook her PhD on the structural evolution of the Central North Sea and has extensive experience working with subsurface data from this basin. She is interested in, and has undertaken, regional-scale exploration projects worldwide including projects in the North Sea, West of Britain, Onshore UK, Côte d'Ivoire, Lüderitz Basin (Namibia) and Orange Basin (South Africa) in both academic and industry-supported roles.


Our current research partners include:

If you are interested in supporting any of our research projects, or developing a bespoke project for your company, please do not do not hesitate to contact us.

Key information

Lorna Morrow

Lorna Morrow

Lorna Morrow