Planetary surfaces and atmospheres

Qualifications Duration Start dates Application period
(MPhil also available)
Full time: 3–4 years
Part time: 6–8 years
February and October January to April
PhD (MPhil also available)
Full time: 3–4 years
Part time: 6–8 years
Start dates
February and October
Application period
January to April

The Planetary Environments Group includes about seven academic and research staff and about ten PhD students. Our aim is to better understand planetary environments, including habitability, from both the geoscience and physical science perspective. 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, terrestrial analogue fieldwork, and laboratory and numerical simulations. Our atmospheres research involves computer modelling using a variety of global and mesoscale models, and analysis of spacecraft remote sensing and in situ data. For Mars, the atmosphere and geology strands are interlinked, and several projects explore surface-atmosphere interactions. In the near future our focus will be on analysing data from the ongoing ESA ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission and the Bepi-Colombo mission to Mercury, which enters orbit in 2025.

Entry requirements

Minimum 2:1 undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in a relevant science subject or equivalent 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.

If you are not a UK citizen, you may need to prove your knowledge of English.

Potential research projects

  • Modelling of the atmospheres of Mars, Venus and/or giant planets
  • Fluvial, glacial, sedimentary and tectonic 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

Current/recent research projects

  • Atmospheric retrievals from ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission data
  • The geomorphology of glacial landscapes on Mars
  • Ancient river systems on Mars: geological studies using high-resolution images and digital terrain models.
  • Investigations of the stratigraphy and tectonic history of the ExoMars Rosalind Frankin Rover landing site and its regional context
  • Fluvial and Lacustrine Processes on Mars and their relevance to exploring Mars' Habitability.
  • Analysis of new atmospheric dust observations from Mars using a global circulation model
  • Geological mapping in the southern hemisphere of Mercury

Potential supervisors

Fees and funding

UK fee International fee
Full time: £4,712 per year Full time: £15,456 per year
Part time: £2,356 per year Part time: £7,584 per year

Our research students are funded via many sources, including: industry, Doctoral Training Partnerships, the EU, self-funding, and faculty funded studentships.

For detailed information about fees and funding, visit Fees and studentships.

To see current funded studentship vacancies across all research areas, see Current studentships.


An image to illustrate planetary surfaces and atmospheres

How to apply

Get in touch

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

Administrative support
Email: STEM-SPS-PhD-Admin
Phone: +44 (0)1908 659721

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If you’re interested in applying for this research topic, please take a look at the application process.