U.K. nationals: Indian Summer Monsoon variability in response to Pliocene climate

 (via FindAPhD)
Open University
United Kingdom
Position Type: 
Organization Type: 
University/Academia/Research/Think tank
Experience Level: 
Not Specified


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About the Project

The Indian Summer Monsoon (ISM) precipitation is the main seasonal driver of water availability, supporting billions of people. The future projection of mean annual ISM rainfall is highly variable under different warming scenarios and an increase in the frequency of extreme precipitation has been suggested if global mean temperature increases ≥ 3 °C1. We aim to investigate past warm climate intervals beyond the instrumental record to improve our understanding of past ISM processes. Our ongoing proxy and modelling work suggest multiple competing controls on ISM dynamics (precipitation and wind) during the Plio-Pleistocene linked to atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), global cooling, orbital forcing factors and gateway closure. In order to test some of these competing factors, this study aims to reconstruct ISM dynamics during the early/mid-Pliocene (3 to 5 Ma) capturing the prevailing warm and high atmospheric CO2 conditions2.

This project will apply a multi-proxy approach to reconstruct ISM rainfall/runoff, seasonality of monsoon rainfall/runoff and coccolithophore productivity in response to ISM wind variability on orbital timescales from the core ISM region of the Bay of Bengal (BoB). The selected International Ocean Discovery Programme (IODP) sites boasts from X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) elemental ratios and foraminifera assemblage data (collaborator Robinson). New records from this project will be compared with published monsoon and climate records to identify the nature of the linkage between Asian Monsoon subsystems and global climate. This project will primarily utilise newly drilled continuous sedimentary successions from the BoB (IODP Expedition 353, Sites U1444, U1445 and U1443 and legacy ODP site 722 in the Arabian Sea) to address some of the key questions: what is the response of ISM dynamics during early- and mid-Pliocene warm intervals? How are ISM dynamics linked to the other Asian and global monsoon regions?


The deep-sea mud samples will be washed and the coarse fraction (>150 µm) will be used for picking foraminifera for geochemical work (oxygen and carbon isotopes measurements) and shell size from the same sample in the fully equipped laboratories at The Open University. Benthic foraminifer oxygen isotope measurements will be used to extend the ongoing work on Pliocene stratigraphy. Tooth-pick samples will be used for obtaining coccolithophore assemblage data at CEREGE (Dr Bolton). The study sites already have XRF scanned bulk sediment geochemical data which will be coupled with coccolithophore and foraminifera (in collaboration) assemblage data to infer changes in surface water stratification, productivity and runoff in response to monsoon variations. Further, targeted intervals will be used for multi-species planktic foraminifera geochemical (coupled trace element and oxygen isotope) data to reconstruct ISM dynamics. Additionally, planktic foraminiferal geochemical data will be utilised to infer orbital scale variation in rainfall/runoff3.

Training and skills

The student will receive specific training on coccolithophore assemblage data collection and interpretation from Dr Bolton (at CEREGE) and work closely with collaborators. The student will receive project specific training with supervisors (PA and MB) and additional OU training. Specific skills that will be acquired during this project include: • Nannofossil assemblage and geochemical analyses • Data handling and interpretation from a wide variety of sources • Scientific communication through writing, poster and oral presentations to academic and nonacademic audiences • Co-supervision on your own devised OU’s master’s project and teaching research methods to A level Nuffield funded summer students.

Partners and collaboration

This project will benefit from international collaborations and networking opportunities with IODP 353 expedition scientists. In particular, there will be collaboration with scientists working on the Pliocene for stratigraphy, foraminifera assemblage (Marci Robinson, USGS) proxies and monsoon modelling (Phil Holden and Emmeline Gray, OU).

Possible timeline

Year 1: Obtain training in sample processing of core material for microfossils (taxonomy), inorganic geochemical and stable isotope techniques. Generate benthic oxygen isotope stratigraphy and coccolithophore productivity data and interpret together with existing XRF data. Present at UK-IODP annual meeting.

Year 2: Prepare a manuscript based on age model, productivity and XRF data. Generate planktic geochemical data to support preliminary observations (yr 1) from the BoB sites. Present geochemical data at the Geochemistry Research in Progress meeting or Palaeopercs seminar.

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

Further details

Students should have a strong background in palaeoclimate, and enthusiasm for lab based geochemical methods. If you’re not sure whether your academic background is suitable, please contact one of the supervision team or Olivia Acquah at . We’d be happy to hear from you. The successful student will join well-established teams researching in Palaeoenvironmental Change at the Open University and Palaeooceanographic researchers at CEREG and BGS.

Applications should include

• A covering letter that includes: • Your motivation to study for a PhD in general • Your interest in this project in particular • The project-specific skills, aptitude and experience you bring to the project • an academic CV containing contact details of three references, one of whom should be able to comment on your academic abilities. • and an Open University application form. • If you are British, please use the Home form • If you are not British, please use the International form.

Applications should be sent to by 12 noon on Monday 1st March 2021.

Funding Notes

OU projects: Successful candidates will receive:
• An annual stipend of £15,285 paid directly to the student in monthly increments for 3.25 years
• Full university fees
• A research training support grant (RTSG) of £3,000


1. Bhowmick, M. Sahany, S., and Mishra, S. K. (2019) Projected precipitation changes over the south Asian region for every 0.5C increase in global warming, Environmental Research Letters, 14, https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab1271.
2. Dowsett, H. J., Robinson, M. M., Stoll, D. K., Foley, K. M., Johnson, A. L. A., Williams, M. and Riesselman, C.R. (2013) The PRISM (Pliocene palaeoclimate) reconstruction: time for a paradigm shift, Philosophical Transaction of Royal Society, 371, p. 20120524
3. Nilsson-Kerr, K., Anand, P., Sexton, P. F., Leng, M. J., Misra, S., Clemens, S.C. and Hammond, S.J. (2019) Inter-hemispheric climate controls on late Pleistocene Asian summer monsoon subsystems, Nature Geoscience, 12, pp. 290-295.