Our research in geophysics and geodynamics seeks to understand the structure and dynamics of Earth’s interior; the response of the lithosphere to loading; the mechanics of earthquakes; and the fluid dynamics of geological materials. Our work relies on analysis of observational data and on the application of rigorous mathematical techniques, typically utilising high-performance computing facilities both locally in Oxford and nationally.
We study the origin and internal development of the Earth and other terrestrial planets, and the chemical and mineralogical behaviour of planetary materials, with significant expertise in the application of isotope geochemistry and experimental mineralogy. Substantial funding from the European Research Council and NERC underpins a range of research goals and has equipped the Department with a world-leading suite of geochemical and experimental petrology instrumentation.
Observation, analysis and modelling of the biology, chemistry and physics of the ocean system integrates with study of the past from sediments and elsewhere (e.g. cave deposits) to assess the operation of the climate system in varied modes, and at a range of timescales. The Department’s physical oceanography research is also a core component of Oxford’s membership of an Academic Partnership with the UK Met Office, a mechanism for the Met Office to incorporate new academic research into its climate forecasting, models, services and policies, and to indicate (and fund) research to address specific scientific challenges.
Research assesses the assembly of modern biodiversity, using deep time and extant data, studied in a rigorous mathematical framework, and focusing on groups with well-constrained phylogenies and rich fossil records (e.g. vertebrates, arthropods, foraminifera). We aim to understand the processes governing evolutionary change on long timescales, and the patterns of biodiversity during changing climatic regimes. The Department has a strong relationship with the adjacent Oxford University Museum of Natural History, which is currently shortlisted for the 2015 Museum of the Year award, and has world-leading palaeontology collections.
Our research advances techniques and applications in Earth Observation (EO), and integrates these with field measurements and modelling to improve understanding of the processes causing earthquakes and volcanoes, both on land and at sea. We are at the forefront of rapid scientific assessment of tectonic and volcanic hazards, securing urgency funding to analyse post-event deposits or to make assessments of possible future events. Oxford researchers are active in the BGS partnered COMET (Centre for Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tectonics) research centre, having provided the funding director (2008-13) and two of three current deputy directors. We are core to a number of major interdisciplinary programmes aimed at evaluating, monitoring and mitigating hazards from earthquakes and volcanoes in central Asia, East Africa, and South America.
Resource exploration continues to offer fundamental scientific challenges with obvious societal relevance. Collaborative research with industrial partners assesses the distribution of resources in sedimentary basins; unconventional hydrocarbons; hydrocarbon migration and flow; the tectonic evolution of rifted continental margins and cratonic basins; and geological CO2 sequestration. For example, Shell and Oxford University signed a major collaborative research agreement in 2012 in which Shell generously undertook to support fundamental research into the deposition, diagenesis, deformation and geochemistry of mudrocks. This £5.9m investment is for an initial period of five years, and allows a major expansion of research activity into the underpinning science behind the exploration for and development of earth resources in the Department of Earth Sciences. Faculty within the Department also have substantial funding from further earth resource companies including Saudi Aramco, BG, BP and Petrobras, which has supported – for example – the installation of the equipment to deliver the Department’s first capability in X-Ray diffraction techniques.