PhD Profile: Jack Walker

Jack Walker PhD Student

Student Name: Jack Walker

PhD Project Title: Minimising the risk of UK shale gas exploration through biostratigraphic and geochemical well correlation of the Bowland Shale Formation.

PhD Project Summary: The Pendleian Upper Bowland Shale Formation (UBSF) is a target for UK shale gas extraction. Maximum flooding surfaces – so called ‘marine bands’ – are used as stratigraphic marker beds. These maximum flooding surfaces are mudstones enriched in specific goniatite index fossils, formed during periods of enhanced fossil preservation. As UBSF goniatite fossils are poorly preserved and challenging to identify, organic and inorganic geochemical analyses are used alongside biostratigraphy. However, the exact relationship between marine band geochemistry and basin palaeoceanography is poorly understood.

We present a lateral comparison of sedimentological, palynological, biomarker and elemental data across two cores (from north west UK) and at outcrop (Clitheroe), transecting the palaeobasin.

Supervisors: Van der Land, C. (Newcastle University), Jones, M. (Newcastle University), Vane, C.H.(British Geological Survey), Hough, E.(British Geological Survey) , Hennissen, J.A.I.(British Geological Survey), Wagner, T.(Heriot-Watt University), Barnard, P.(Applied Petroleum Industry), Clarke, H.(Cuadrilla Resources Limited)

What aspect of studying a PhD at Newcastle University do you enjoy the most? 

Practically applying my research to the short and long term benefit of industry and academia through collaboration has been the most enjoyable aspect of studying at Newcastle University.

This project could not have reached full potential if not for the individuals and organisations working with and for Newcastle University. This interdisciplinary collaboration with Newcastle University and their associate connections work together to reach a common goal. That has been the most enjoyable experience during my PhD.

What advice would you give new PhD student/students considering studying a PhD at Newcastle University?

Enjoy it. Never again will you get the opportunity to pursue your own scientific curiosity for so long and with this level of freedom.

My advice would be this: embrace it!


Field visit to one of England’s most valuable wetlands; research into carbon capture and sequestration in peat in response to positive and negative feedbacks


My name is Coleen Murty and I began my PhD with Newcastle University and the British Geological Survey in September 2017. My research aims to increase current understanding of carbon cycling in peatlands and determine whether these large terrestrial carbon sinks can be preserved, protected and even harnessed to store external carbon. In this blog post, I talk about the experience I had while out on a recent field visit to my study site in Cumbria.

Coleen Murty – 1st Year Geosciences PhD Student at Newcastle University

In late February 2018, I was joined by Dr Christopher Vane (British Geological Survey) and Dr Geoff Abbott (Newcastle University) on a field visit to Butterburn Flow, the largest of 58 wetlands which lie on the border between Cumbria and Northumberland. Butterburn is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is considered one of the most valuable mires in England, operating as a substantial carbon sink. We were particularly lucky, as the weather was perfect with clear skies and sunshine, which is a rare occurrence on Butterburn Flow! During our 3 day visit, we took water table measurements and collected peat cores, water samples and moss samples.


Butterburn Flow, a valuable carbon sink and the largest of 58 wetlands which straddle the border between Cumbria and Northumberland.


Peat coring, water sampling and moss sampling

One of the main challenges of the trip was carrying gear and equipment through uneven and boggy ground containing loads of hidden ditches! – Although this provided me with a great opportunity to learn the technicalities of collecting different types of peat cores. We collected a series of 1-2 m peat cores using a combination of Russian coring equipment and polycarbonate tubes. Various cores were taken from 4 different sites across the bog, each containing a water level datalogger used to monitor changes in the water table overtime. Water data and air pressure can be downloaded onto an android device and correlated with peat cores taken nearby. Changes in the water table can have positive or negative impacts on a peatlands ability to accumulate carbon and therefore must be carefully monitored. The collected peat cores will be used for a combination of geomolecular and bulk geochemical analyses: from bulk density measurements used to estimate carbon stocks, to a series of laboratory mesocosm experiments by which peat cores will be placed in a ‘microenvironment’ where natural field conditions will be mimicked in order to monitor the changing chemistry of the cores in different conditions and assess their ability to sequester carbon.

Two ‘push’ peat cores collected in polycarbonate tubing. Peat height ~1 metre.

A variety of water samples were collected from: the water level wells, the river which runs across the northern section of the site, and Sphagnum-dominated bog pools. Different Sphagnum moss species were also collected for species identification and chemical characterization. The nature and abundance of carbon within the bog and river water running off the peatland will give insights into the source, stability and fate of different organic molecules being flushed through the peat profile and how their mobility affects the resilience and vulnerability of the carbon being retained within the wetland. Sphagnum moss is the dominant peat-forming species across the Northern peatlands. It thrives in wet, acidic conditions and its high recalcitrance allows it to store large amounts of carbon compared to other peatland plants. Characterizing the water extractable, solvent-extractable and macromolecular chemistry of Sphagnum moss will improve current knowledge regarding its role in carbon cycling within peatland ecosystems.

Peatlands are complex systems where carbon accumulation rates exceed decomposition rates, however this balance of carbon uptake and loss may be shifted by periods of intense drought which are becoming more common in the light of climate change. Finding solutions to protect and preserve carbon stocks locked up in peat is essential as we move towards a more sustainable future.

Bog pool with an abundance of Sphagnum cuspidatum growing at the water surface

Levelogger well containing water monitoring equipment which records alterations in the water table (four of which are deployed across the site)