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Planetary surfaces and atmospheres

Research planetary surfaces with The Open University

The Planetary Environments Group is home to academic and research staff and about ten PhD students in the School of Physical Sciences. Our aim is to better understand the variety and evolutionary behaviour of planetary environments from a physical science perspective, where appropriate focussing on aspects related to habitability. Currently, the group’s research is directed towards the geology and geomorphology of terrestrial planets, and the weather and climate of planetary atmospheres. On the geological side we use remote sensing and planetary mapping techniques, including GIS and photogrammetry as well as terrestrial analogue fieldwork and laboratory and numerical simulation of planetary surface processes. Our atmospheres research involves computer modelling using a variety of global and mesoscale models, but analysis of spacecraft remote sensing and in situ data also forms a large part of the work. For Mars, the atmosphere and geology strands are interlinked, and several ongoing projects explore surface-atmosphere interaction, or the effects of changing climate on surface processes. At present, much of our work is focussed on Mars and Mercury, but past and present projects have been, and will be, directed to other objects including Venus, large icy bodies, giant planets and even exoplanets.

Qualifications available:

PhD or MPhil


For detailed information on current fees visit Fees and funding.

Entry requirements:

Prospective PhD candidates should have a minimum 2:1 in a relevant science degree or equivalent qualifications or experience. For planetary geology/geomorphology projects, a geoscience degree is advantageous and some experience in GIS and planetary science is useful, but not essential. For atmospheric modelling or laboratory projects, a physics- or applied mathematics-based degree is advantageous, as is some programming experience, although this is not essential.

Potential research projects

  • Modelling of the atmospheres of Mars, Venus and/or giant planets
  • Water, ice and sedimentary processes on Mars
  • Tectonism, geochemistry and volcanism on Mercury
  • Integration and assimilation of planetary data into atmospheric models
  • Exploring Mars with the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission
Specific project details to be offered for 2019 start will be listed here. 

Current/recent research projects

  • Atmospheric retrievals from ExoMars Trace Gas Orbier mission data
  • The geomorphology of glacial landscapes on Mars
  • Ancient river systems on Mars: geological studies using high-resolution images and digital terrain models
  • The history of water at Lyot Crater, Mars: Possible surface manifestations of ancient groundwater and/or recent climate change
  • The mesoscale meteorology of Lyot Crater on Mars
  • Analysis of new atmospheric dust observations from Mars using a global circulation model
  • Geological mapping in the southern hemisphere of Mercury
  • Unravelling the secrets of Mars' polar caps

Potential supervisors

Further information

If you have an enquiry specific to this research area please contact:

Administrative support
+44 (0)1908 858253

For general enquiries please contact the Research Degrees Team via the link under 'Your Questions' on the right of the page.