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E326: Deep Crustal Structure of Parnaiba Cratonic Basin, Northeast Brazil (Lead Supervisor: Nicky White, Earth Sciences)

Supervisors: Nicky White (Earth Sciences), Jordi Juliia (Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil) and Alexander Bump (BP Exploration)

Importance of the area of research:

Cratonic basins develop on stable, thick lithosphere within continental interiors, far from active plate boundaries. Many cratonic basins are underlain by rifts but their subsidence histories do not conform to that expected in bona fide rift basins (e.g. North Sea). Typically, water-loaded subsidence profiles are riddled with unexplained excursions and unconformities.

Project summary:

The aim of this project is to develop an improved understanding of these enigmatic basins by carrying out a detailed geophysical study of the Parnaıba cratonic basin which is one of the biggest on Earth and contains 3–6 km of undeformed, shallow water sedimentary rocks. The project will address many aspects of the lithospheric, crustal and sedimentary structure of the region

What the student will do:

The centerpiece of the project is a ∼ 1500 km long deep seismic reflection profile acquired by BP Exploration and calibrated by numerous boreholes. A set of broadband three-component seismometers will be deployed along this profile. These seismometers will record teleseismic earthquakes and the student will analyze their receiver functions to determine the velocity structure of the sedimentary fill, the crust and the upper mantle. These results will be used to aid detailed interpretations of the reflection profile together with additional seismic surveys. Borehole data will be used to develop a quantitative understanding of the spatial and temporal patterns of subsidence. Geophysical and geological fieldwork will form an important part of the project during the first two years. For example, the student will actively participate in instrument deployment across the Parnaıba basin. A key aim of this project is the development of a quantitative understanding of cratonic basin development which can be applied to similar basins worldwide.

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.


Crosby, A., Fishwick, S., & White, N., 2010. Structure and Evolution of the Intracratonic Congo Basin. Earth Planet. Sci. Letts., 11, Q06010.

Crosby, A.G,, White, N.J., Edwards, G.R.H., Corfield, R., & Mackay, L., 2011. Evolution of deep-water rifted margins: testing depth-dependent extensional models. Tectonics, 30, TC1004.

Hartley, R.A., Roberts, G.G. & White, N.J., 2011. Transient uplift of an ancient buried landscape. Nature Geosciences, 4, doi: 10.1038/ngeo1191. doi: 10.1038/ngeo1191.

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