How good is the geological record? Investigating the reliability of speleothems in providing a window into environmental change over time

Project Description

Speleothems, which are layered mineral deposits that accumulate over time in caves, are an extremely important terrestrial archive of paleoenvironmental information. Their calcium carbonate composition records high resolution geochemical and thus environmental information precipitated from dripwaters at their time of formation. These proxies can be absolutely dated to sub-decadal, and in some cases sub-annual, resolution. However, the fidelity of these proxies is predicated on the assumption that they faithfully and continually record this information in a consistent manner. Depositional hiatuses or disruption of the nucleation of calcium carbonate may introduce errors into these proxy records. Electron beam analysis techniques give us the ability to examine the crystalline microstructure of speleothems, which in conjunction with geochemical analysis of the same crystallites, will enable us to examine potential disruptions to these proxy records.

In this project you will examine several speleothem samples where changes in growth rate, hiatuses due to flooding or drought events, or other disruption may have influenced these proxies. Using the University of Leeds Electron Microscopy Facility alongside University of Leeds scientists (including Professor Sandra Piazolo and Dr. Robert Jamieson) you will use techniques including optical microscopy, Electron Backscatter Diffraction, Cathodoluminescence and Electron Probe Microanalysis to image the crystal structure, layering, and geochemistry of speleothem carbonates to examine the relationships between changes in crystal morphology and geochemistry. We anticipate that this work will lead to further research and participation in a scientific publication.

The project will suit students with an Environmental, Earth Science, Physical or Chemical Science background.

Timing for conducting this project are flexible. If desired there is the possibility to split the project into two periods, ideal are mid June-mid July, mid August-mid September 2024

Supervisor & Contact

Sandra  Piazolo ,

How to Apply

  1. Complete the online REP application form, one for each project of interest, including a copy of your CV.
  2. Complete the EDI form (only one is needed, you do not need to submit more than one if you apply for multiple projects).  Although this is optional, if places are over-subscribed, preference will be given to under-represented groups.