Making micro­continents

Project summary

Determining the role of the lithosphere and mantle in controlling plate motions, microplate rifting events, and subsequent distributions of resources

This project aims to link crustal structures to plate tectonic motions using geophysical, computational and tectonic modelling methods, which will enable a better understanding of natural hazards, resource distributions, and Earth's evolution.

At the heart of the project lies a collaboration between Earth and Computational scientists. This allows for novel research approaches, for the development of multi-disciplinary skillsets, and building of a broad personal network. Working alongside a motivated team of active early career researchers, the student will be supported in their research and production of high-quality outputs.

The project aims to enable a better understanding of natural hazards, resource distributions, and Earth's evolution by linking crustal structures to plate tectonic motions using methods already used or designed by the project supervision team.

Plate tectonics produces devastating natural hazards (earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis), globally drives the formation of natural resources, and couples a planet with its atmosphere generating the necessary conditions for life.

To address these issues, this project will use geophysical, computational and tectonic modelling methods to analyse the global relationships between crustal structure and plate tectonic motions.

Furthermore, we will publish our findings in high-quality journals allowing all academics to better understand Earth's evolution and leading to industry improvements in resource exploration techniques.

Entry requirements

Before commencement, applicants will usually hold an MSc or first/upper-second class honours degree in a relevant subject area, such as Earth Science, Geoscience, Geology, Geophysics, Physics, or Mathematics. Applicants should be motivated, have good inter-personal skills, and have (or be willing to develop) good presentation skills.

Skills/interest in the following areas would also benefit potential candidates:

International students may also need to meet our English language requirements. Find out more about our entry requirements for international students. 

Project specific requirements must align with the University’s standard requirements.

How to apply

Please contact Dr Jordan Phethean ( in the first instance for more information on how to apply.

The University has four starting points each year for MPhil/PhD programmes (September, January, March and June). Applications should be made at least three months before you would want to start your programme. Please note that, if you require a visa, additional time will be required. 


Self-funded by student. There is a range of options that may be available to you to help you fund your PhD.


Lecturer in Earth Sciences


Peace, A., Phethean, J.J.J., Franke, D., Foulger, G., Schiffer, C., Welford, J.K., McHone, G., Rocchi, S., Schnabel, M., Doré, A., 2019. A review of Pangea dispersal and Large Igneous provinces – In search of a causative mechanism. Earth Science Reviews.

Phethean, J.J.J., Kalnins, L.M., van Hunen, J., Biffi, P.G., Davies, R.J., McCaffrey, K.J.W., 2016. Madagascar’s escape from Africa: A high-resolution plate reconstruction for the Western Somali Basin and implications for supercontinent dispersal. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems.

Phethean, J.J.J., McCaffrey, K., Kalnins, L., van Hunen. J., 2019. Plates Pushing Back: An example of lithospheric control over plate kinematics during Gondwana dispersal. Oral presentation at the EGU General Assembly, Vienna, Austria.

Phethean, J.J.J., Kalnins, L.M., van Hunen, J., McCaffrey, K.J.W., Plates Pushing Back: Controls of the Lithospheric on plate tectonics. In prep. for submission to Geology.

Phethean, J.J.J., Kalnins, L.M., van Hunen, J., McCaffrey, K.J.W., The micro-continent making machines: A new mechanism for generating micro-continents along oceanic fracture zones. In prep. for submission to Tectonophysics.

Schiffer, C., Peace, A., Phethean, J.J.J., Gernigon, L., McCaffrey, K., Petersen, K.D., Foulger, G.R., 2018. The Jan Mayen Microplate Complex and the Wilson Cycle. in Tectonic Evolution: 50 Years of the Wilson Cycle Concept: Geological Society of London Special Publications.

Yuan, B., Panneerselvam, J., Liu, L., Antonopoulos, N., Lu, Y., 2019. An Inductive Content-Augmented Network Embedding Model for Edge Artificial Intelligence. IEEE Transactions on Industrial Informatics.