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Basin Structure Group

Petroleum Leeds

PhD Opportunity

Response of density underflows to rift basin floor topography and palaeoenvironmental changes

Supervisors: Dr Richard Collier (Univ. Leeds), Prof Rob Gawthorpe (Univ. Bergen), Dr Katerina Kouli (Univ. Athens)

For more information about this and other Basin Structure Group opportunities at Leeds, contact:
Dr Richard Collier, +44 (0)113 3435211,

This project is co-funded by the Norwegian Research Council and oil company sponsors of the PETROMAKS 2 “Syn-rift systems: Outcrop analogues and subsurface applications” project and the University of Leeds. This will fully fund a PhD for 3 years for a UK or EU national. Those candidates who are liable to pay tuition fees at the “international” rate are eligible to apply, but will need to provide evidence that they are able to meet the difference between the UK/EU and the international rate of tuition fees for 3 years.

Application closing date: 1 August 2016 Start date: 1 October 2016

Background:  Recent oil exploration successes in syn-rift stratigraphic plays such as in Jurassic sands along the Norwegian continental shelf (e.g. Johan Sverdrup and Pil) have generated significant interest in our ability to predict the distribution and reservoir quality of late syn-rift sands around basement highs. Quantitative data directly applicable to specific play types is being sought to increase recovery from new and existing fields, but to apply such data appropriately in rift margin and deep-water environments, the fundamental controls upon density flow processes and the resultant geometries of their deposits need to be understood. High resolution sedimentological studies in the Gulf of Corinth Rift, Greece, supported by digital outcrop mapping and new cored shallow boreholes behind key outcrops, offer the opportunity to address these problems.

The wider PETROMAKS 2 project:  This PhD project sits within the larger Norwegian Research Council and oil company consortium-funded research project “Syn-rift systems: Outcrop analogues and subsurface applications”, of which Prof Rob Gawthorpe is Principal Investigator. This wider project is designed to improve our understanding of how evolving rift structure and
environmental controls (e.g. base-level, climate, sediment supply) influence the location, geometry
and sedimentology of shallow- and deep-water syn-rift depositional systems on rift margins. The project will utilise outcrop and subsurface datasets to address the following specific problems:

  • To investigate the ways in which normal fault segment growth, interaction and linkage, and the evolution of fault networks control sediment routing and deposition in shallow- and deep-water syn-rift depositional systems, and their stratigraphic evolution.
  • To investigate how non-structural, environmental factors control shallow- and deep-water syn-rift depositional systems and their stratigraphic evolution.
  • To integrate the observations and understanding of structural and environmental controls on syn-rift tectonics and sedimentation so that it can be applied to exploration and production.

Although the project arises from an interest in parts of the Norwegian continental shelf, the generic understanding of syn-rift sedimentary systems will be applicable to rifted margins world-wide.

Aims and objectives of the PhD project:  The focus of this PhD will be the characterization of mid-Pleistocene rift margin delta slope to deep-water depositional systems that have been uplifted and are extensively exposed on the margin of the modern Gulf of Corinth, Greece. The aim is to understand the variety of density flow processes that evolve downslope of fan deltas that supplied sand and conglomerates from basement highs on the syn-depositional rift margin. Multiple outcrop sections will allow delta slope to basin floor sedimentary transitions to be documented. Deposit types range from mass transport deposits to channel complexes and channelized lobes which include high density turbidites, to background deposits of low density sandy turbidites and hemipelagic fines. Mapping of structural features, bypass channels and channel lobes will determine how sediment routing was influenced by topography on the rift margin and around intrabasinal highs, in a study area that specifically includes the tip of a major syn-depositional, subaqueous basement ridge. The mid-Pleistocene stratigraphy includes alternating lacustrine and marine phases, recording fluctuations in base level on 104-105 year time scales. This gives the opportunity to examine how density flow processes and architectural stacking patterns responded to base level changes and to changes in the density of the standing water body.

Methodology:  Detailed logging at outcrop will be supported by digital models of key outcrops (Virtual Outcrop Models) produced by others in the Syn-Rift Systems project team. This will provide a framework within which key stratal surfaces and genetic units can be mapped and the geometries and dimensions of sedimentary architectural elements quantified. The Syn-Rift Systems project will also provide new continuously cored borehole records adjacent to key outcrops. Cores will allow detailed palaeoenvironmental and age models to be constructed, based upon palynological and micropalaeontological variations, and tephra and/or palaeomagnetic age constraints. This will allow changes in density underflow processes, channel fill types, sediment body dimensions and stacking patterns to be placed in a context of varying palaeoclimate, base levels and basin salinities.

Potential for high impact outcomes:  Significant academic outcomes of this PhD project are expected to be the development of novel, predictive models for the behaviour and products of density underflows that evolve down rift margin slopes, around topographic features and onto the basin floor. The new element will be the quantification of differences in the dimensions and reservoir quality of these deposits arising from differing palaeoclimatic and marine versus non-marine conditions. This should allow publication of results in leading pure and applied research journals such as Geology, Sedimentology, AAPG Bulletin or Basin Research.

Eligibility:  Applicants should have a BSc degree (or equivalent) in Geology or Earth Sciences. An MSc or MGeol in Applied Geoscience or Petroleum Geoscience would be advantageous. Experience in field-based geological data collection and field sedimentology, stratigraphy and structural mapping would be desirable.

Training:  Advanced training in field skills will be provided, including the application of workflows built around Virtual Outcrop Models (e.g. Rarity et al 2014). Training will be provided in advanced concepts and techniques in sedimentology, basin analysis and core analysis. Palynological training and support will be available from Dr Katerina Kouli (University of Athens) and Dr Alice Milner (Royal Holloway University of London). The student will benefit from interaction with, and will be expected to present results to, the wider Syn-Rift Systems project team and oil company sponsors. The student will be based in Leeds and therefore part of an extensive sedimentology and basin structure research community in Leeds of >30 PhD students, and >15 post-docs and staff.

Recommended reading:
Armitage, J. J. et al. Transformation of Tectonic and Climatic Signals from Source to Sedimentary Archive. Nature Geoscience 4 (2011): 231-35.
Collier, R.E.L. et al. High Sediment Yields and Cool, Wet Winters: Test of Last Glacial Paleoclimates in the Northern Mediterranean. Geology 28 (2000): 999-1002.
Covault, J.A. et al. Rapid Climatic Signal Propagation from Source to Sink in a Southern California Sediment-Routing System. Journal of Geology 118 (2010): 247-59.
Ford, M. et al. Tectono-Sedimentary Evolution of the Western Corinth Rift (Greece). Basin Research 25 (2013): 3-25.
Gawthorpe, R.L. et al. Sequence Stratigraphy in Active Extensional Basins - Implications for the Interpretation of Ancient Basin-Fills. Marine and Petroleum Geology 11 (1994): 642-58.
Gawthorpe, R.L. & M. Leeder. Tectono-Sedimentary Evolution of Active Extensional Basins. Basin Research 12 (2000): 195-218.
Rarity, F. et al. Lidar-Based Digital Outcrops for Sedimentological Analysis: Workflows and Techniques. Geol. Soc. Lond., Spec. Publ. 387 (2014): 153-83.