Project highlights

  • Generate Multi-proxy records of Pliocene atmospheric carbon dioxide
  • Support modelling efforts of the international PlioMIP3 and PlioMioVAR collaborations
  • Join a growing, NERC-supported research team.


The Pliocene time interval represents an ideal natural experiment to test our understanding of how a warm climate system operates. Especially as the Pliocene represents warm climate conditions like those expected for the end of this century but otherwise similar boundary conditions (like continental configuration and ecosystems). To that end, there has been substantial community effort to reconstruct global Pliocene temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and use these to test Earth System (climate) Models, including incorporation into the IPCC. The latest of these international collaborative projects is PlioMIP3 (Pliocene Model Intercomparison Project 3) and PlioMioVAR (Pliocene and Miocene climate VARiability over glacial-interglacial timescales) which seek to reconstruct Pliocene climate with unprecedented fidelity and temporal resolution.

The aim of this PhD is to support PlioMIP3 and PlioMioVAR by generating high quality, high temporal resolution multi-proxy reconstructions of atmospheric carbon dioxide for the early Pliocene, the next target of PlioMIP3. These reconstructions will provide targets for data-model intercomparison and help generate the next generation of Pliocene (and therefore future-relevant) model experiments.

A successful applicant will join a growing team recently supported by a NERC grant to Dr Badger and with colleagues from that project will reconstruct CO2 and climate in the early Pliocene using a combination of organic and inorganic geochemical techniques. These will include both the alkenone carbon- and boron isotope proxies for CO2, and foraminiferal trace metal (Mg/Ca) and organic geochemical (UK37’ and TEX86) proxies for sea surface temperatures.

The PhD researcher will join the PlioVAR and PlioMioVAR collaborations, as well as UK based collective of researchers.

Graphic of a map of temperature difference between the Pliocene and pre-industrial, with >5 °C warming at the poles, > 1.5 °C globally
Figure 1: Annual mean surface air temperature change in Celsius (Pliocene minus pre-industrial) from the PlioMIP ensemble (redrawn from Haywood et al. 2013).


The Open University


  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability
  • Dynamic Earth


Project investigator

Dr Marcus Badger, The Open University ([email protected])


How to apply


Following a literature review in the first year, the PhD researcher will generate trace metal and organic geochemical proxy records using foraminiferal (Mg/Ca, δ11B) and biomarker techniques (including alkenone δ13C, UK37’, TEX86). The student will generate multi-proxy high temporal resolution climate records from selected core materials from samples of the International Ocean Discovery Program and/or predecessor projects (IODP/ODP/DSDP).

Training and skills

Students will be awarded CENTA2 Training Credits (CTCs) for participation in CENTA2-provided and ‘free choice’ external training. One CTC equates to 1⁄2 day session and students must accrue 100 CTCs across the three years of their PhD.

The PhD researcher will receive laboratory based training including organic geochemistry and trace metal clean lab skills and mass spectrometry, including hyphenated techniques such as Gas Chromatography Flame Ionisation Detector, (GC-FID); Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS), Gas Chromatography Combustion Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (GC-C-IRMS), High Performance Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (HPLC-MS) alongside geochemical methods such as Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) and Multi-collector Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (MC-ICP-MS). The PhD researcher will be trained in the laboratories of The Open University, Queen Mary University of London and CEREGE, France.

Partners and collaboration

The PhD researcher will join a growing team recently funded by NERC at the Open University within the Palaeoenvironmental Change Research Group, as well as Dr Heather Ford at Queen Mary University of London and Dr Tom Chalk at CEREGE, France.  The researcher will join the international PlioMIP3 and PlioMioVAR projects and work with partners within CENTA at the University of Birmingham (alongside researchers of NERC funded project “Accurate and precise alkenone records of atmospheric CO2 for the Pliocene and beyond to inform the future”).

Further details

For further details please contact Dr Marcus Badger ([email protected])

If you wish to apply to the project, applications should include:

  • A CV with the names of at least two referees (preferably three and who can comment on your academic abilities)

Possible timeline

Year 1

Review literature on Pliocene climate change and review extant PRISM/PlioVAR/PlioMioVAR datasets. Identify and request samples. Receive training in organic geochemical methods from the supervisors and NERC-project team. Participate in NERC project meetings. Begin sample processing and laboratory work.

Year 2

Sample processing for organic geochemistry and foraminiferal based methods. Receive training in trace metal clear laboratory methods from supervisors. Receive training in and begin mass spectrometry data collection. Begin data interpretation and contribute to international alkenone CO2 proxy workshop. Attend UK based conferences and PlioVAR/PlioMioVAR meetings and present initial results.

Year 3

Complete data collection and laboratory work, prepare manuscripts, attend international conference and present findings (AGU Fall Meeting/Goldschmidt conference/EGU). Integrate records into PlioVAR/PlioMIP3 teams. Complete thesis. Possible formal study break in Year 2 or 3 to complete internship.

Further reading

  • Badger, M. P. S., Foster, G. L., Chalk, T. B., Gibbs, S. J., Badger, M. P. S., Pancost, R. D., Schmidt, D. N., Sexton, P. F., Mackensen, A., Bown, P. R., & Pälike, H. (2019). Insensitivity of alkenone carbon isotopes to atmospheric CO2 at low to moderate CO2 levels. Climate of the Past, 15, 539–554.
  • Martínez-Botí, M. A., Foster, G. L., Chalk, T. B., Rohling, E. J., Sexton, P. F., Lunt, D. J., Pancost, R. D., Badger, M. P. S., & Schmidt, D. N. (2015). Plio-Pleistocene climate sensitivity evaluated using high-resolution CO2 records. Nature, 518(7537), 49–54.
  • McClymont, E. L., Ford, H. L., Ling Ho, S., Tindall, J. C., Haywood, A. M., Alonso-Garcia, M., Bailey, I., Berke, M. A., Littler, K., Patterson, M. O., Petrick, B., Peterse, F., Christina Ravelo, A., Risebrobakken, B., de Schepper, S., Swann, G. E. A., Thirumalai, K., Tierney, J. E., van der Weijst, C., … Zhang, Z. (2020). Lessons from a high-CO2 world: An ocean view from ∼3 million years ago. Climate of the Past, 16(4), 1599–1615.


Samples for this project have already been collected and will be requested from the International Ocean Discovery Program. No fieldwork or overseas travel is therefore required. Although primarily a laboratory based project, almost all of the laboratory work can be carried out the The Open University, where keeping laboratories open (and rapid reopening) was prioritised during COVID-19. Where analyses may be necessary at other laboratories, samples could be sent without the student travelling. Substantial Pliocene data does already exist, and should all laboratory work become impossible, a pivot to a desk-based data focussed project could be considered/plausible.