Project highlights

  • Microfossil study of Early Jurassic Climates
  • Working as part of international multidisciplinary research team
  • Co-supervised by Industry and GSNI/BGS Staff


This is a micropalaeontological study (foraminifera, ostracods) of Early Jurassic assemblage response to global climate cyclicity.  Cyclic sedimentation is an expression of climate variability controlled by astronomically-driven processes. The Early Jurassic is a time of diversification and turnover in the palaeontological record, following on from the late Triassic mass-extinction. Pilot studies on Blue Lias Formation cycles (photo below) reveal that microfossil assemblages display marked changes on a centimetric-decimetric scale within these cycles. Detailed understanding of the benthic ecosystem response to these cycles requires (i) relatively expanded sedimentary sequences, (ii) complimentary geochemical records and (iii) relatively abundant and diverse faunal assemblages, all three requirements are met within this project.

Working alongside the ICDP/NERC funded JET project (Early Jurassic Earth System & Timescale) the student will have access to the new JET core from Prees (Cheshire Basin, drilling began in October 2020) through this key interval in earth history. The proposed project will benefit from synergies created by working with this diverse multinational research group while contributing important chronostratigraphic and palaeoenvironmental insights to the JET objectives. The project will also include cores from the Larne Basin, Northern Ireland (Boomer et al., 2020) in collaboration with colleagues at the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (BGS). Unravelling the faunal response from different basins will also help understand the spatial variability in these processes. High-resolution faunal studies through cycles in the Prees and Irish cores will provide the opportunity to trace benthic ecosystem responses during all stages of these climate cycles. Efforts will be made to establish a better understanding of these assemblages as indicators of bottom water oxygenation and palaeodepth.

In collaboration with industry partner (Merlin Energy) the student will also develop an understanding of how these microfossils can be used to establish correlations and sequence stratigraphic frameworks for the Early Jurassic.


University of Birmingham


  • Organisms and Ecosystems
  • Dynamic Earth


Project investigator

  • Ian Boomer (University of Birmingham)



  • Kirsty Edgar (University of Birmingham)
  • External Supervisors: Phil Copestake (Merlin Energy)
  • Rob Raine (GSNI)

How to apply


The project will be based on regular sampling through the Prees core (with higher-resolution at key intervals) and very high-resolution sediment sampling of selected cycles from each site. The Northern Ireland cores already have a well-constrained biostratigraphic and stable-isotope framework while the JET team will undertake a range of geochemical and biostratigraphic tasks on the new Prees core that will compliment the proposed work. Sampling will also take place at outcrops in SW Britain where similar units can be examined laterally to assess within-bed assemblage variability in the microfossil record (ecological patchiness), not possible in the cores due to the limited material available.

Training and skills

Training will be provided in microfossil preparation and analysis techniques, the student will also learn to use SEM facilities at the University of Birmingham. Initial stages will include familiarisation of the key fauna using well-preserved material of the same age and environment that is already available.  In addition to traditional office software, training can be arranged to use industry-standard biostratigraphic management software (Stratabugs).

Partners and collaboration

Merlin Energy Resources Ltd.: Phil Copestake has extensive knowledge of Early Jurassic foraminifera and the distribution of Early Jurassic sediment in NW Europe. He will provide taxonomic advice and support throughout the project.

Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (part of BGS).: GSNI provide access to the Carnduff cores and Rob Raine brings his expertise in sedimentology and Early Jurassic stratigraphy to the project.

JET Project team: The JET team will provide access to the cores (which will be stored at BGS Keyworth) for sampling and access to additional palaeontological, physical and chemical data as it becomes available.

Further details

Applications need to be submitted via the University of Birmingham postgraduate portal,, by midnight 11.01.2021. Please first check whether the primary supervisor is within Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, or in Biosciences, and click on the corresponding PhD program on the application page.

This application should include

  • a brief cover letter, CV, and the contact details for at least two referees
  • a CENTA application form
  • the supervisor and title of the project you are applying for under the Research Information section of the application form.

Referee’s will be invited to submit their references once you submit your application, but we strongly encourage applicants to ensure referees are aware of your submission and expecting a reference request from us. Students are also encouraged to visit and explore the additional information available on the CENTA website.

Possible timeline

Year 1

(*Covid dependent) Sampling of the 2 main cores from GSNI (Belfast) and BGS (Keyworth). Field site sampling in SW England*. Determining optimum processing techniques, establishing familiarity with key microfossil taxa. Determine JF foram Zones for Prees core.

Year 2

Detailed microfaunal analysis of cycles, correlation to core chemistry & physical properties

Year 3

Establish models integrated with chemical & physical proxies to explain assemblage changes. Develop depth and palaeo-oxygenation models. Begin Thesis write up.

Further reading

Boomer, I., Copestake, P., Raine, R., Azmi, A., Fenton, J., Page, K., O’Callaghan, M.  2020. Stratigraphy, palaeoenvironments and geochemistry across the Triassic-Jurassic boundary transition at Carnduff, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association.

Copestake, P. & Johnson, B. 2014. Lower Jurassic Foraminifera from the Llanbedr (Mochras Farm) Borehole, North Wales, UK. Monograph of the Palaeontographical Society, London: 1-403. (Publ.641, part of Vol. 167 for 2013).

Raine, R., Simms, M., Copestake, P., Boomer, I. Uppermost Triassic to Lower Jurassic sediments of the island of Ireland and its surrounding basins. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association.

Warrington, G., 1997. The Penarth Group-Lias Group succession (Late Triassic-Early Jurassic) in the East Irish Sea Basin and neighbouring areas: a stratigraphical review. Geological Society, London, pp. 33–46 Special Publications 124.

Web pages:

University of Exeter.  Early Jurassic Earth System and Timescale (JET). Blog (last accessed: 17 October 2020).

Early Jurassic Earth System and Timescale – JET. (for updates on drilling and sampling). (last accessed: 16 October 2020).


Initial stages of the project (technique training, familiarisation with the fauna, pilot projects) can all be undertaken using material that is already available at Birmingham. Initial sampling of the Prees core (due Spring 2021, before the student starts), can be collected by the JET sampling team in the first instance (under BGS covid restrictions) which, together with samples requested from the N. Ireland core store, should provide all material needed to take the project through to mid-late 2022. All activities within Birmingham can be undertaken within our existing covid-safe guidelines.