PhD Studentship: Platinum-Group Element and Isotopic Geochemistry: Implications for Mapping Precious Metals in the Mantle as a Mineral Exploration Tool - Environmental Science, PhD (NERC GW4+ DTP Funded)

University of Exeter - Camborne School of Mines

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership.  The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Met Office, Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018, research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months for full-time students, pro-rata for part-time students.


Lead supervisor: Dr Hannah Hughes
Co-Supervisor:  Dr Iain McDonald
                           Prof Chris Jeffrey
                           Prof Judith Kinnaird
                           Dr Grant Bybee
                           Prof Chris Hawkesworht
                           Dr Simon Tapster

A suite of lamprophyric dykes have recently been described cross-cutting the Bushveld Complex of South Africa (Hughes, 2016) – the world’s largest layered intrusion and storehouse of Cr, V and platinum-group elements mineral deposits.  Despite the Bushveld Complex being one of the classic areas for igneous and economic geoscience research in the world, little is known about the provenance of the magmas and metals from which it formed and mineralised.  The lamprophyre dykes cross-cutting the Bushveld are substantially younger than the Bushveld Complex itself (Hughes, in prep) and are thought to have been derived from very small degree partial melts of the subcontinental lithospheric mantle. Via time-integrated radiogenic isotopic compositions of the lamprophyres, spatial and temporal changes in sub-Bushveld SCLM composition may be identified.


A significant aim of the PhD project is to ascertain the controls on PGE behaviour and geochemistry: a paradox of lamprophyric rocks is that their PGE abundance is higher than would be expected given the low degrees of partial melting required to form them (McDonald, 1995). This observation contradicts ‘traditional’ partial melting models thought to dictate the ‘fertility’ of mantle-derived magmas for PGE. By contextualising PGE geochemical data with the petrography, mineral chemistry and isotopic compositions of lamprophyric dykes (and comparing these with appropriate mantle/mantle-derived lithologies), the PhD studentship will identify the processes governing the (re)distribution of these elements in the upper mantle.

Thus the objectives of the studentship are to:
1. Gain insights into the precious metal budget of the mantle through time.
2. Assess if this metal budget and it’s ‘fingerprints’ impact upon the location and characteristics of major mineralised metal deposits, e.g. the Bushveld Complex itself.
3. Develop PGE as a tool for understanding lamprophyric rock petrogenesis, possibly towards kimberlite (diamond) exploration.


Candidates suited to this PhD will have an interest in mantle petrology, mantle processes, geochemistry, and economic geology. The candidate will be collaborative, and keen to travel and visit various labs across the UK and in South Africa.

Case Award

There is potential CASE support from BGS and once a decision has been made we can update. A CASE application to BGS is in progress.

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2018 entry. The studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-18.

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