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The Indian Monsoon (a subsystem of the Asian Monsoon) is one of the best examples of coupling between solid Earth and atmospheric processes. Climate and vegetation are known to be interlinked but how vegetation impacts climate is poorly constrained. Although a change in Asian monsoon intensity has been linked to Northern Hemisphere Glaciation (NGH) from terrestrial records [1, 2], a clear association has not yet been demonstrated. This project will apply multi-proxy methods to reconstruct vegetation, aridity and monsoon runoff records since the late Miocene from the core monsoon region of the Bay of Bengal. These records will address the key question: how were vegetation, aridity (related to northeast monsoon) and Indian summer monsoon runoff linked since late Miocene. The new Indian monsoon records from this project will be compared with published terrestrial records from northern Tibet to identify the nature of the linkage between the Indian and Asian Monsoons. Further comparison of the timing of significant change in the Indian monsoon and active uplift of northern Tibetan plateau in the NE during 3.5–2.5 Ma [1] will provide valuable information about the linkages between tectonics and monsoon evolution.

This project will primarily utilise newly drilled continuous sedimentary successions from the BoB (IODP Expedition 353, Sites U1447/48 and U1444).

Figure 1:  Critical regions of monsoon precipitation [1]. This project will analyse samples from Bay of Bengal (IODP Exp. 353, Sites U1445 and U1444) and compare data from the Indus Fan (IODP Exp. 355) and ODP site 1148 in the north China Sea site [3].


The deep-sea mud samples will be extracted for macrocharcoal (>180 mm) and finer fraction for pollens, microcharcoal, spores and biomarkers in the fully equipped laboratories at The Open University using acid digestion and solvent extraction techniques. These will be examined and classified using transmitted light microscopy and organic geochemical methods and used to infer changes in vegetation on land and runoff due to monsoon variation. Detailed charcoal work will be carried out to reconstruct fire history (supervisor: Dr Belcher).

Training and Skills

The student will have the opportunity to gain experience in a wide variety of laboratory techniques including deep-sea sample processing, palynology (pollen identification) and geochemical techniques provided at the state of the art facilities at The Open University. Geochemical techniques include stable carbon isotope and bulk sediment geochemical analyses. In addition, the student will spend time at University of Exeter receiving specific training for charcoal work (Dr. Belcher) and comparison with stratigraphy and organic proxies (Dr Littler). Finally the monsoon intensity record will be placed in context with regional tectonics and global climate.

CENTA students will attend 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10-day placement. In the first year, students will be trained as a single cohort on environmental science, research methods and core skills. Throughout the PhD, training will progress from core skill sets to master classes specific to the student's projects and themes. 

Through the CENTA partnership training will be provided in two labs. Specific skills that will be acquired during this project:

  • Conducting research on newly discovered deep-sea sediments (IODP Expedition 353) and working with an international team
  • Palynology and geochemical analyses
  • Data handling and interpretation from a wide variety of sources
  • Scientific communication through writing, poster and oral presentations to academic and non-academic audiences
  • Online teaching opportunities via the Open University Virtual Learning Environment are also available, including teaching on the new Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).


Year 1: Obtain training in sample processing of core material for palynology (taxonomy) and organic geochemical proxies. Process samples to generate a low resolution vegetation change record.

Year 2: Present preliminary data at the IODP and Geochemistry Research in Progress meetings. Generate vegetation and aridity and compound specific precipitation records from two sites. Two week-long placement learning field work/other skills.

Year 3–3.5: Finish remaining analytical work, data analyses, and present results at an international conference and write up thesis and manuscripts.


Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

This project will benefit from international collaborations and networking opportunities with IODP 353 expedition scientists. In particular there will be collaboration with co-chief scientists Steve Clemens (USA) and Wolfgang Kuhnt (Germany) and scientists working on the long term evolution of vegetation and climate. In addition, there will be collaboration across CENTA.

Further Details

Students should have an understanding of Earth System with enthusiasm for learning and applying multi-proxy geochemical and vegetation tools. Experience of palaeoclimate research is desirable. The student will join a well-established team researching on palaeoclimate proxies at the Open University and Exeter.  Please contact [Marcus Badger; Marcus.badger@open.ac.uk] for further information.

Applications should include:


Applications should be sent to


by 5 pm on Monday 22nd January 2018