May 5, 2020

Next generation computing framework for geophysical imaging of the Earth’s subsurface at Lancaster Environment Centre

Paid summer research placement opportunity

Are you looking to transfer your knowledge of emerging computational methods to tackling Earth science problems?

A funded opportunity is available for an undergraduate student in a quantitative discipline such as mathematics, computing or physics (subject to eligibility criteria below) to form part of an ongoing study on improving our ability to image the shallow subsurface (the top 100m of the Earth’s crust – the bit we rely on for water and many other resources).   You will work within a team from the Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC), British Geological Survey (BGS) and UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH). Work will begin from 29th June and will run until September (approximately 8 weeks of flexible working, depending on age and experience). You will be supported by a student stipend of £230 per week (National Living Wage) from the Envision NERC scheme. This paid research placement is an exciting opportunity to gain experience in computational geophysics, all while developing your CV.

Geophysical techniques now offer the potential to image complex large scale subsurface structures and processes, helping us improve our understanding of, for example, landslides, volcanoes, thawing of permafrost, groundwater contamination, and consequently the threats they pose on society. We are, however, at present constrained by the size of problem we can investigate with such techniques because of available computational power and computing approaches.  We want to use this opportunity to learn how we can benefit from computational methods that are emerging in other areas of science.

The aim of this project is to determine which emerging computing frameworks could have a major impact on our ability to image the Earth’s subsurface with geophysical techniques, especially to lower the barrier of entry to computing resources in solving large or data-intensive problems and conducting uncertainty analysis. The specific objectives of the project are:

  • Identify the suitability of emerging computing technology (e.g. cloud computing, serverless functions, GPUs, Dask, Spark) for geophysical imaging.
  • Identify key barriers and efforts to full implementation.
  • Test the implementation framework with synthetic problems using existing geophysics codes.

The placement will provide training in geophysics, specifically on data inversion. You will spend some time familiarizing yourself with existing community platforms for big data geoscience (e.g. PANGEO in the US) and explore emerging computing technologies (see above), allowing you to develop a series of recommendations to the team leaders. You will develop an illustration of some of the concepts, e.g. implementing cloud computing to tackle some simple trial problems.   We hope that your final report can form the basis of a future publication. Due to the covid19 crisis, this project will be run remotely but will include regularly online meetings and support from the supervisors.

To apply, send a short (maximum one A4 page) letter of motivation and your CV to Prof Andrew Binley ( by 29th May 2020. Please feel free to contact Prof Binley if you have any further enquiries or wish to discuss the opportunity further.

Please note the eligibility criteria, you should:

  • Be studying for an undergraduate degree in a quantitative discipline outside of NERC’s scientific remit (e.g. mathematics, statistics, computing, engineering, physics).
  • Be applying for a placement in a different department to their undergraduate degree.
  • Be undertaking their first undergraduate degree studies (or integrated Masters).
  • Be expected to obtain a first or upper second class UK honours degree.


  • Be eligible for subsequent NERC PhD funding (i.e. UK, EU or right to remain in the UK).