University of Leicester PhD student receives prestigious research grant

Posted by er134 at Nov 02, 2016 01:22 PM |
Joe Emmings from the Department of Geology to investigate Bowland Shale

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 2 November 2016

Image of Joe Emmings available to download at: ttps://

A University of Leicester PhD student has been awarded funding to investigate the ‘fingerprint’ of organic matter in the Carboniferous Bowland Shale. 

Joe Emmings in the University of Leicester’s Department of Geology has been awarded the Donald Trowse Memorial Grant from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Foundation (AAPG-F). Joe will investigate organic compounds termed ‘biomarkers’ – a unique signature that preserves clues to the origin of the material within the Bowland Shale. 

The Carboniferous period dates from 360 million to 280 million years ago. It gets its name from the vast deposits of coal produced when fluctuating seas drowned the tropical forests that covered much of North America and Europe. 

“The origin of organic matter in ancient marine sediments like the Bowland Shale is often a mystery because many of the plants and animals that existed have few modern analogues,” Emmings said. “During the Carboniferous, land plants were beginning to diversify, but we do not yet understand the proportions that were eventually buried in marine sediments. 

“We know even less about the plankton that lived in the ancient seas because their remains are difficult to recognise in the fossil record using conventional techniques like microscopy,” he continued. “Biomarkers will help to clarify which organisms produced the organic matter, a crucial step to understanding how the carbon cycle operated in the ancient world.” 

Biomarkers also help to understand whether ancient seas were oxygen-rich, oxygen-poor or fluctuated between the two states. This is important because oxygen content of seas can be driven by changing sea level and may influence the amount of organic matter preserved. 

Understanding where and why organic-rich intervals occur also helps to understand the Bowland Shale’s potential as a UK unconventional hydrocarbon resource. 

The AAPG Foundation’s Donald Towse Memorial Grant is awarded annually to a deserving graduate student whose research in geology is related to the occurrence and production of earth materials capable of being used in energy production, and including remote sensing. 

“The Grants-in-Aid Program is designed to incentivize important work like the research Joe is conducting, and helps the Foundation fulfil its mission of disseminating science,” said AAPG Foundation Executive Director, David Curtiss. “His work not only advances our science, but contributes to a strong and vibrant community of petroleum geologists which we are all proud to be a part of.” 

The analyses will be conducted in collaboration with researchers at the Organic Geochemistry Laboratory at the British Geological Survey. 

The PhD is supervised by Professor Sarah Davies in the University of Leicester’s Department of Geology and is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) CENTA DTP (Doctoral Training Partnership). The Central England NERC Training Alliance is a partnership involving the universities of Birmingham, Leicester, Loughborough, Warwick and the Open University, together with the British Geological Survey and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.


Notes to editors:

For more information contact Joe Emmings at:

About AAPG Foundation

The American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Foundation exists to support the geosciences. Since 1967, the AAPG Foundation has provided funding for a variety of educational and research programs that benefit the geologic profession and the general public. The Foundation continues to promote a better understanding and advancement of the geosciences through the dissemination of technological information, recognizing outstanding achievements and by funding grants, publications and other initiatives that support the preservation of data, training and career enhancement for current and future geoscientists. Through the financial support of many generous donors, the AAPG Foundation reaches thousands of people each year.

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