Research course

Isotope geochemistry of the Earth system

Open University · Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Entry requirements

Minimum 2:1 (or equivalent)

Months of entry


Course content

Isotope geochemistry has been a major focus of the research carried out in The Open University’s science faculty for nearly 40 years; we are world leaders in radiogenic and stable isotope geochemistry, and in geochronology, with state-of-the-art laboratories housed in the Department of Environment, Earth and Ecosystems.

Academics and researchers from Earth sciences use a wide range of cutting-edge isotopic techniques, many of which we have developed ourselves, to study a very diverse range of problems in the Earth and environmental sciences. Our research interests cover present-day and past environmental change; oceanography and palaeoceanography; tectonics and mountain building; volcano dynamics; and sedimentology and stratigraphy. Isotope geochemistry has been central to the major contributions to the international research agendas in these varied fields that have been made by academics and researchers at the OU since the 1970s.

Potential research projects

We encourage enquiries from prospective students on any geochemical, biotic or geochronological aspect of present-day or palaeoenvironmental change. Lists of postgraduate research projects likely to be available for a 2017 start will become available towards the end of 2016.

Current/recent research projects

  • Response of global ocean oxygenation to early Cenozoic climate extremes (RESPIRE): three-year NERC funded research project
  • The Impact of Recent Ocean Acidification on Bio-calcification
  • Reconstructing ocean circulation patterns during the early/middle Eocene climatic warmth and subsequent cooling trend (47-53Ma)
  • Tectonic scale Indian Summer Monsoon evolution
  • Reconstruction of Indian Summer Monsoon runoff response to global climate
  • Reconstruction of past changes in North Atlantic overturning using neodymium isotopes
  • Eclogites, amphibolites and argon: tracing Ar through a metamorphic cycle
  • An integrated metamorphic and isotopic study of crustal extrusion along the Main Central Thrust, Sikkim Himalaya
  • Orogenesis in the Eastern Himalayas: a study of structure, geochronology and metamorphism in Bhutan
  • Understanding excess argon in volcanic tuffs by 40Ar/39Ar laserprobe geochronology

Potential supervisors

  • Dr Pallavi Anand – biogeochemical proxies development and application in understanding calcification, oceanic processes and climate.
  • Dr Tom Argles – Senior Lecturer in Earth Science. The evolution and provenance of highly deformed and metamorphosed rocks in orogenic belts.
  • Professor Nigel Harris – Professor of Tectonics. Links between tectonics and magmatism, the role of mountains in the Earth system, comparative tectonics along the Tethyan orogenic belts, how mountain building impacts on global climate.
  • Professor Simon Kelley – Professor of Isotope Geochemistry.
  • Dr Phil Sexton – climatic change during the Eocene and mid-Cretaceous ‘greenhouse’ regimes.
  • Dr Sarah Sherlock – Senior Research Fellow. 40Ar/39Ar geochronology.
  • Dr Clare Warren – NERC Advanced Postdoctoral Research Fellow. The formation and exhumation of high-pressure metamorphic rocks, geochronology, geodynamic modelling.

Department specialisms

We encourage enquiries from prospective students on any geochemical, biotic or geochronological aspect of present-day or palaeoenvironmental change.

Fees and funding

Please see The Open University website

Qualification and course duration


part time
72 months
full time
36 months
distance learning
variable months

Course contact details

Administrative support
+44 (0)1908 659036