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B437: Formation and geobiological significance of sedimentary phosphate nodules (Lead Supervisor: Nicholas Butterfield, Earth Sciences)

Supervisors: Nicholas Butterfield (Earth Sciences) and Simon Kelly (CASP

Importance of the area of research:

Phosphate is a limiting nutrient in the modern oceans and is closely tied to the long-term biogeochemical cycling of carbon, oxygen and iron.  It's deep-time history can potentially be tracked via the record of sedimentary phosphates, though the precise mechanisms by which it is sequestered remain poorly understood.  Phosphatic nodules are particularly common in fossiliferous, often glauconitic, marine-shelf strata though the Mesozoic and Cenozoic of the UK, offering a unique opportunity to unpick the mechanisms of a major phosphate sink.  The interplay of early diagenetic nodule formation with reworking and infestation by encrusting and boring organisms presents a high-resolution, palaeontological account of both local and regional deposition, as well as larger-scale stratigraphic and secular changes in marine phosphogenesis.

Project summary:

This project will investigate the nature, formation and distribution of sedimentary phosphate nodules in Mesozoic marine strata of the UK, with an eye to resolving their local/regional/global significance in the marine phosphate cycle.  Initial work will focus on phosphate nodules in the early Cretaceous (Gault Clay and Lower Greensand formations), and Cenozoic (Red Crag), with potential for a more expanded survey (including similar phosphate/glauconite-rich successions of Cambrian age).

What the student will do:

The student will conduct a systematic sedimentological, palaeontological and petrographic analyis of phosphate nodules in Mesozoic strata of the UK - with a possible extension into Cambrian-age equivalents.  The resulting data and insights will be applied to the broader issue of sedimentary phosphogenesis through time.

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Knight RI. 1999. Phosphates and phosphogenesis in the Gault Clay (Albian) of the Anglo-Paris Basin. Cretaceous Research 20:507-521

Pufahl PK, Groat LA. 2017. Sedimentary and igneous phosphate deposits: formation and exploration. Economic Geology 112:483-516.

Kelly SRA. 1980. Hiatella - a Jurassic bivalve squatter? Palaeontology 23:769-781.

Follow this link to find out about applying for this project.

Other projects available from the Lead Supervisor can be viewed here.

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