Current Active Projects

  • 2017-2021: From arc magmas to ores (FAMOS): A mineral systems approach
  • 2015-2019: Tellurium and Selenium Cycling and Supply (TeaSe)
  • 2012-2016: The Mid-Palaeozoic biotic crisis: setting the trajectory of tetrapod evolution.
  • 2007–date: Sedimentary process control on the temporal and spatial distribution of organic matter.
  • 2012-2016: The Mid-Palaeozoic biotic crisis: setting the trajectory of tetrapod evolution.

    Funding NERC Consortium Grant NE/J020729/1.

    We are involved in a four-year project which brings together a team of 12 specialists with a wide spectrum of palaeontological and geological skills and experience from five UK institutions. The consortium is lead by Dr Jenny Clack from the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge and involves Sarah Davies (PI), Melanie Leng (co-PI) and Carys Bennett (Research Associate).

    The 25 million years that followed the end of the Devonian (360 Ma) is a key period in the development of terrestrial ecosystems and the acquisition of terrestrial capability by tetrapods, but almost nothing was previously known from fossils from the earliest Carboniferous. For the first time anywhere in the world, abundant fossils of tetrapods and associated fauna and flora from this interval have now been recovered from localities in Scotland. Our consortium project will investigate two main themes: faunal evolution in the Early Carboniferous and the environmental and climatic context in which this evolution occurred.

    Research based at the University of Leicester will concentrate on this second theme and provide insights into the environmental conditions that existed during rebuilding of the ecosystem in the early Carboniferous and contributed to the preferential preservation of early tetrapods. Alongside contributing to developing the stratigraphic framework with partners from the BGS (British Geological Survey) and Southampton, we will be working on the following aspects:

    1. Providing detailed interpretations of the depositional processes delivering sediment to this Carboniferous basin
    2. Generating sedimentological correlation panels to establish the spatial and temporal evolution of depositional environments during the Early Carboniferous
    3. Using δ13C and δ18O from well-preserved shelly carbonate material to indicate whether variations are related to the changes in the global ice volume and/or local salinity changes (with Co-I Professor Melanie Leng)
    4. Producing δ13C stratigraphies from analyses of the bulk sedimentary organic material and specific woody debris to determine whether sedimentary processes/palaeoenvironment or perturbations in the carbon cycle/palaeoclimate generate the changing isotope values observed (with Co-I Professor Melanie Leng).


    2007–date: Sedimentary process control on the temporal and spatial distribution of organic matter.

    Research funding for two PhD Studentships and a researcher.

    Thick successions of apparently monotonous Carboniferous mudstones in northern England and Scotland typically contain TOC values of between 1 and 7%.
    Using multidisciplinary approaches these research projects will generate integrated high-resolution models that will be used to determine the temporal and spatial processes that lead to organic carbon enrichment in specific environments.

    PhD Student Projects

    • 2010 to 2014 Sven Könitzer. Primary biological controls on UK lower Namurian shale gas prospectivity: understanding a major potential UK gas resource (with Dr Mike Stephenson (British Geological Survey), Professor  Melanie Leng (University of Leicester/NERC Isotopes Geoscience Laboratory), Dr Sarah Gabbott (UoL) Dr Chris Vane (BGS) & Dr David Millward (BGS). BGS University Funding Initiative/University of Leicester.
    • 2008 to 2012 Jennifer Graham. Controls on temporal and spatial distribution of organic matter in siliciclastic mudstones: implications for source rock development in shale gas plays. With Dr Mike Norry, and Dr Joe Macquaker and Dr Kevin Bohacs (ExxonMobil). NERC Case Award with ExxonMobil.
    • Mr Sven Koenitzer
    • Professor Sarah Gabbott
    • BGS
    • Miss Jennifer GrahamExxonMobil
    • NERC


    We have published scientific papers in this research area; a number currently in review and more being prepared. The information below provides summaries of some recent papers.

    • Miospore distribution and sedimentological facies distribution as an insight to changing terrestrial palaeoequatorial floral communities during a Pennsylvanian glacio-eustatic sea level cycle
      This publication is based on a Masters Research Project completed by Kay Hawkins (now at Fugro Robertsons) supervised by Sarah and Gary Mullins (also of Fugro Robertsons) concludes that changes in the diversity and abundance of miospores were controlled by sea level changes influencing vegetation in Pennsylvanian coastal areas rather than the depositional mechanisms transporting sediment on to the shelf. (In review with Reviews in Paleobotany and Palynology).
    • Sedimentary process control on carbon isotope composition of sedimentary organic matter in an ancient shallow-water shelf succession
      The source and delivery mechanism of organic matter are rarely considered when interpreting changing δ13C through a sedimentary succession even though isotope excursions are widely used to identify and correlate global perturbations in the carbon cycle. Through a research collaboration with Sarah, Melanie Leng at the NERC Isotope Geosciences Lab, Joe Macquaker (ExxonMobil) and Kay Hawkins (Fugro Robertsons), we demonstrate how organic carbon abundance and δ13C values from sedimentary organic matter relate to the delivery mechanism which, in turn, influences the proportion of terrestrial versus water column-derived organic matter. We provide a novel approach to distinguishing mudstone provenance and ultimately using δ13C to identify oil-prone organic matter in potential source rocks. These results have important implications for using bulk organic matter to identify global C-isotope excursions. (In review with G-cubed).
    • An assessment of geochemical preparation methods prior to organic carbon concentration and carbon isotope ratio analyses of fine-grained sedimentary rocks
      A collaboration between Sven, Melanie Leng, Sarah Davies and Mike Stephenson, this paper describes a study summarizes organic carbon isotope (δ13C) and total organic carbon (TOC) data generated through a series of tests performed to determine an appropriate methodology for pre-analysis treatment of mudstones from an Upper Carboniferous sedimentary succession, in order to develop a consistent preparation procedure. Our results show that the most accurate assessment of bulk organic carbon isotopes and concentration in our samples can be achieved through decarbonating the material prior to measurement via the ‘rinse method’. The results support recent findings that pre-analysis acid treatments can cause variable and unpredictable errors in δ13C and TOC values but despite these uncertainties, our findings can be applied to paleoenvironmental studies on organic matter contained within sedimentary rocks over a range of geological ages and compositions. (Accepted in G-cubed).



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