Project highlights

  • Participation in the international C-FORCE project, working alongside a large Birmingham-led team of UK, US and EU-based researchers
  • Compare the North Atlantic LIP/Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum exemplar with multiple other large igneous province/environmental change pairs
  • Develop unifying model for the link between large igneous provinces and severe environmental change.


C-FORCE: CarbonCycle Feedbacks from Response to Carbon Emissions is a major international project led by the University of Birmingham.  We will measure how Earth responded to greenhouse gas emissions throughout a past global climate change event akin our current “anthropogenic experiment” to answer how the climate evolved and eventually recovered after the initial warming.  C-FORCE will focus on the link between the North Atlantic Large Igneous Province (NAIP) and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).  Over 5 years beginning November 2022, C-FORCE will make a new accurate reconstruction of carbon emissions through time from the NAIP (the ‘forcing function’) as well as an independent record of the total carbon emissions (the ‘response function’).  The ‘feedback function’ will eventually be determined as the difference between the response and forcing functions.  We aim to find out whether the climatic response is closely tied to the volcanic forcing function, or whether potentially dangerous tipping points acted to decouple the climatic response from the initial forcing.

In this CENTA project, we want to roll out techniques and exploit results of C-FORCE to probe the causative relationship between other Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs) and coeval environmental catastrophes.  These include the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP)/end Triassic mass extinction, the Siberian Traps/end Permian mass extinction, the Karoo LIP/Toarcian ocean anoxia event, the Wrangellia LIP/Carnian Pluvial Episode, the Deccan Traps/end-Cretaceous mass extinction.  Whilst an increasing amount of quality data on volcanism and environmental consequences exists for these and other pairs, no dataset can yet match the detailed records available for the NAIP/PETM pair.  By viewing all these LIP / environmental change pairs through the prism of C-FORCE, we aim to develop a unifying model for the link between large igneous provinces and environmental catastrophes.  In this model we wish to move beyond simple correlations, and towards a full physical model for how magma is generated rapidly at the base of the plate, how it is emplaced rapidly in the upper plate, how it generates and releases greenhouse gases, and how these forcing gases and feedbacks within the ocean-atmosphere system cause environmental catastrophes.

Line graph depicting Example of data constraints on the volcanic 'forcing function' and the environmental 'response function' for the Wrangellia LIP / Carnian Pluvial Episode pair
Figure 1: Example of data constraints on the volcanic ‘forcing function’ and the environmental ‘response function’ for the Wrangellia LIP / Carnian Pluvial Episode pair, from a recent study by Jason Hilton (Lu et al., 2021).


University of Birmingham


  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability
  • Dynamic Earth


Project investigator

Prof. Jason Hilton, University of Birmingham ([email protected])


  • Dr. Stephen M Jones, University of Birmingham ([email protected])
  • Dr. Sarah Greene, University of Birmingham ([email protected])
  • Dr. Pam Vervoort, University of Birmingham (

How to apply


This CENTA PhD project will run alongside C-FORCE and share methodologies.  Like C-FORCE, the PhD project will compile detailed databases of observations that constrain both the volcanic forcing function and the environmental response function for each LIP/catastrophe pair.  After assessing similarities and differences between many LIP/catastrophe pairs, one or two pairs will be selected for more detailed carbon cycle modelling, building on the C-FORCE team’s experience of modelling the NAIP/PETM.  The modelling will allow us to estimate the carbon cycle ‘feedback function’ as the difference between the response and forcing functions, and thus allow us to identify the mechanisms that drove the environmental catastrophes.

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 project would suit a graduate from any earth science field including (but not limited to) Geology, Physical Geography or Palaeontology.  Training is available for the full range of skills required.  Jason Hilton has considerable experience of sedimentary environmental response records for biotic events linked to LIPs in the Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian and Triassic.  The wider C-FORCE consortium offers experience in yet more LIP/environmental catastrophe pairs.  Steve Jones developed stochastic carbon emissions modelling that we will use to estimate the volcanic source function.   Sarah Greene and Pam Vervoort are experts in global carbon cycle modelling.

Partners and collaboration

The project will benefit from working with the entire C-FORCE consortium, including partners in UK universities (Aberdeen, Bristol, Nottingham, Oxford, Royal Holloway), US universities (U California San Diego, U California Riverside) and EU institutions in Denmark, Ireland and Norway.  Steve Jones (Birmingham) currently leads two other international projects investigating the link between LIP emplacement and PETM climate change (EU-industry PORO-CLIM project, and NERC IMPULSE project).  These partnerships offer possibilities to participate in land-based fieldwork to various LIPs, or in marine research expeditions, depending on the interests of the successful applicant.

Further details

Prospective applicants are positively encouraged to contact Jason Hilton ([email protected]), Stephen Jones ([email protected]) or Sarah Greene ([email protected])  in advance of applying to ask questions about the project, discuss whether working with us on this project at the University of Birmingham is a good fit for you, or to ask questions about putting together a strong application.  We are also happy to put you in contact with current and former students to ask questions about their experiences.  See CENTA web page for information on how to apply and general information.

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)
  • Submit your application and complete the host institution application process via: and go to Apply Now in the PhD Geography and Environmental Science (CENTA) section. Please quote CENTA23_B9 when completing the application form.

Applications to be received by the end of the day on Wednesday 11th January 2023. 

Additional information for international applicants

  • All international applicants must ensure they can fulfil the University of Birmingham’s international student entry requirements, which includes English language requirements.  For further information please visit
  • Please be aware that CENTA funding will only cover University fees at the level of support for Home-fee eligible students.  The University is only able to waive the difference on the international fee level for a maximum of two successful international applicants.

Possible timeline

Year 1

Work alongside C-FORCE team to familiarise yourself with methodology and the North Atlantic Igneous Province/Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum exemplar.  Compile detailed database to constrain volcanic forcing function and environmental response functions of multiple other LIP / catastrophe pairs.

Year 2

Identify similarities and differences within the LIP / catastrophe database, and select a sub-set for modelling.  Reconstruct volcanic forcing function and begin carbon cycle modelling for selected pairs.

Year 3

Complete carbon cycle modelling.  Compare with latest C-FORCE results on NAIP/PETM exemplar.  Collaborate with C-FORCE to develop unifying model for the link between large igneous provinces and severe environmental change.

Further reading

  • SM Jones, M Hoggett, S Greene, T Dunkley Jones.   Large igneous province thermogenic greenhouse gas flux could have initiated Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum climate change.  Nature Communications 10 (2019) 10 (2019) 5547,
  • J Lu, P Zhang, J Dal Corso, M Yang, PB Wignall, SE Greene, L Shao, D Lyu, J Hilton.  Volcanically driven lacustrine ecosystem changes during the Carnian Pluvial Episode (Late Triassic).  PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 118 (2021),


The desk-based and computer-based working components of this project present no difficulties. The datasets required are already available, or will be generated by C-FORCE during the course of the project with minimal risk of disruption.  Planning will be required to ensure resilience of travel to collaborate with C-FORCE partners and for any fieldwork, and we will follow existing and future institutional safe working practices.