Energy-critical metals: using global screening and plate reconstructions to model new exploration targets


Energy-critical metals: using global screening and plate reconstructions to model new exploration targets


Project Description


Dr Ian M. Watkinson, RHUL – Contact Me

Dr Graeme Nicoll, Halliburton

Dr Jean-Christophe Wrobel-Daveau, Halliburton

Project Background

To fuel the world’s appetite for electronics, batteries, solar panels and low-carbon technology the existing and often politically volatile sources of metals (including Li, Cu, Co, Ni) and rare earth elements need to be supplemented with new discoveries, perhaps equivalent in significance during the energy transition to the giant oil and gas fields that were being identified in the 1960s and 1970s.

Research Methodology

This project takes a global perspective and aims to understand the relationships between interconnected factors that control the formation and evolution of energy-critical resources – from formation to discovery. These factors include past and present plate velocities, tectonic/volcanic features, topography/paleotopography, climate/paleoclimate, crustal thicknesses, subducted slab parameters, mantle structure, seismicity, geology, geochemistry and many more. A 4-dimensional analysis of these variables will form the basis for a ‘geological rule book’ and ultimately a probabilistic model for resource development.

In collaboration with Halliburton’s energy-critical resource research team, this project builds on a global screening project (Wrobel-Daveau & Nicoll, 2022). It uses deep data mining and development of a global GIS database and applies statistical tests to understand inter-relationships between the geodynamic parameters at different plate margins. A model will be developed that predicts volcanic processes, chemistry and associated tectonics in deep time plate reconstructions. The model will be tested using known resource deposits and finally used to screen for and de-risk new exploration targets.


The candidate will be trained in:

1)         Data mining and management;

2)         Advanced GIS analysis and associated statistical techniques;

3)         The geologic, geodynamic and other processes that govern development of mineral resources;

4)         Plate reconstruction methods, paleotopographic modelling and resource risking.

Person Specification

We seek an enthusiastic individual who holds a degree in Earth Sciences, Geography, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) or related subjects. Experience in GIS is desirable.


  • Wrobel-Daveau, J.-C. and Nicoll, G.R., 2022. Plate tectonics as a tool for global screening of magmatic arcs and predictions for related porphyry deposits. Economic Geology, 117, 1429-1443.
  • Wrobel-Daveau, J.-C., and Nicoll, G.R. 2019. The drift towards plate tectonic theory—from continental drift to a holistic understanding of the whole Earth system—how plate tectonics informs natural resource exploration. Exploration Insights Magazine, 9, 10–15.
  • Gessner, K., Blenkinsop, T., and Sorjonen-Ward, P. 2018. Characterization of ore-forming systems—advances and challenges. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 453, 1–6, doi: 10.1144/SP453.16.
  • Matthews, K.J., Maloney, K.T., Zahirovic, S., Williams, S.E., Seton, M., and Müller, R.D. 2016. Global plate boundary evolution and kinematics since the late Paleozoic. Global and Planetary Change, 146, 226–250. doi: 10.1016/j.gloplacha.2016.10.002
  • Dicken, C.L., Dunlap, P., Parks, H.L., Hammarstrom, J.M., and Zientek, M.L. 2016. Spatial database for a global assessment of undiscovered copper resources. U.S. Geological Survey, Scientific Investigations Report 2010-5090-Z, 29 p. doi: 10.3133/sir20105090Z

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2023. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 19th May 2023.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£18,622 p.a. for 2023/24) and research funding. Please note that all international awards have been made for our programme for 2023 so we will not be accepting applications from international candidates,
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences, on top of all Research Costs associated with the project. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship follow the instructions at the bottom of the page or click the 'apply now' link.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.

Applications are open

Apply now