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Advanced 3D ground modelling workflows to support the sustainable development of offshore windfarms. 

Supervisors: Prof David Hodgson, Prof Natasha Barlow, Dr Mark Thomas 

Ambitions to grow offshore wind energy generation to meet national and global Net Zero goals require tremendous steps forward in engineering capabilities, alongside close integration with geoscience understanding. Building reliable three-dimensional ground models of offshore windfarm sites is a crucial step, to help mitigate risks, design suitable anchor and/or foundation types, determine the most appropriate cable routes, which requires integration of geophysical and geotechnical data. This studentship is part of the Geoscience and Offshore Wind Joint Industry Programme (partnered by offshore wind farm operators, alongside Geosolutions Leeds), and seeks to blend geological and geotechnical approaches to develop 3D ground models that permit cost effective and safe turbine foundations and cable route design (Fig. 1). 

Three-dimensional geological characterisation of subsurface volumes is standard practice during the appraisal and development of oil and gas fields (e.g., Bentley and Smith 2008), and carbon storage sites (e.g., Jiang et al., 2013). These workflows are readily adaptable to the offshore wind development sites, but improved modelling workflows are required that integrate sedimentary and stratigraphic understanding with engineering data, and to populate geological information below seismic resolution. The uptake of three-dimensional geological models is particularly important in many prospective development areas, where the subsurface stratigraphy has been demonstrated to have high spatial and temporal variability, such as the North Sea and Irish Sea (e.g., Clare et al., 2012; Liingaard et al., 2012; Eaton et al., 2020; Cartelle et al., 2021). A scenario-based approach with different grid designs and monopile depths will capture a range of intersections with the substrate (Petrie et al., 2022). Grid resolution is a particularly important consideration as future developments in offshore wind are focused on very large (“XXL”) turbines (>8 m wide foundations).  

Features that pose hazards to developments, such as glacial tectonics and shallow gas, need to be captured in ground models. Furthermore, workflows co-developed with industry partners will seek to accommodate future innovations, such as dynamic bathymetry, and sediment mobility (Figure 2) that account for substrate architecture and erodibility with changing seabed hydrodynamics. To minimise issues around data confidentiality and sharing of outcomes, this studentship will use publicly available data. Prospective areas for investigation include offshore Netherlands, and the Irish Sea. Any dataset documented in detail will also reveal new insights into Quaternary palaeoenvironmental change.   

Image showing the complexity of geological information around wind turbine foundations, and the process for integrating this information into a geological model.

Figure 1: Recommended integrated three-dimensional ground models that capture sediment mobility, and integrate geophysical, geological (including geomorphological) and geotechnical information. From Velenturf et al. (2021).

Eligibility and career prospects 

Applicants should have a BSc degree (or equivalent) in geology, geology-geography, earth sciences, geophysics or a similar discipline, and an MSc or MGeol in geoscience or related fields (we will also consider applicants who do not hold an MSc/MGeol but have equivalent level industrial experience, please contact us to discuss). Experience of using geological mapping and modelling software, such as Petrel or Kingdom IHS, would be useful but not essential as training can be provided. The nature of this research project will enable the appointed applicant to consider a future career in either academia or industry. The main output will be workflows for integration of geotechnical and geological datasets in 3D geological models, for offshore wind as well as broader applications.  

Geosciences, and geoscientists, are integral to the whole lifecycle management of offshore windfarms, from initial site evaluation, foundation and layout design, through installation, and operations and maintenance, to lifetime extension, repowering and decommissioning strategies. Therefore, it is essential that the skills and training of geoscientists are focused on meeting these challenges.  


Training will be provided in engineering geology, Quaternary science, geological model building, and clastic sedimentology and stratigraphy. The supervisory team have a strong track record of working in applied geosciences alongside industry. The successful applicant will join a team of 20+ academic staff, PDRAs and PhD research students who collectively form the Stratigraphy Group, which aims to engender a welcoming and collegiate atmosphere, and puts work-life balance and student-led development to the forefront. 

The student will benefit from the research cultures in both the Institute of Applied Geoscience (IAG) and the Earth System Science Institute (ESSI) within the School of Earth and Environment, both of whom host a diverse and international postgraduate student community; alongside the cross-faculty Geosolutions Leeds Research Centre. The student will also regularly present to industry project partners, providing early peer review and feedback during their research programme, as well as widening their experiences and networks beyond academia. There may be the potential to work alongside science communication experts at the University of Leeds to develop tools from which ground models can be understood by a wide range of users. 


This studentship is funded through the Geoscience and Offshore Wind Joint Industry Programme (partnered by offshore wind farm developers, alongside Geosolutions Leeds).  The student will receive a stipend matching the UKRI rate for 3.5 years of the studentship. Start dates are flexible from 1st July 2024, but the latest start date considered would be 1st October 2024). Home (UK) student tuition fees are covered by the funding, and a research training support grant to support attendance at conferences and visiting industrial partners is included. 


Please apply through the Research Opportunities database. The deadline for applications will be 5pm Thursday 23rd May 2024.


For queries about the project contact: Prof David Hodgson


Barlow, N.L.M. and Hodgson, D.M. (2021) To harness the North Sea winds, we must understand its complicated seabed geology. The Conversation. 

Bentley M., and Smith S. (2008). “Scenario-based Reservoir Modelling: the Need for More Determinism and Less Anchoring,” in The Future of Geological Modelling in Hydrocarbon Development. Editors A. Robinson, P. Griffiths, S. Price, J. Hegre, and A. Muggeridge (Geological Society, London, Special Publications), 309, 145–159. doi:10.1144/sp309.11 

Cartelle, V., Barlow, N.L., Hodgson, D.M., Busschers, F.S., Cohen, K.M., Meijninger, B.M. and van Kesteren, W.P., 2021. Sedimentary architecture and landforms of the late Saalian (MIS 6) ice sheet margin offshore of the Netherlands. Earth Surface Dynamics, 9(6), pp.1399-1421. 

Clare M. A., Rushton D., and Balthes R. (2012). “A Ground Model-Based Approach to Efficient Assessment and Management of Risk for Pile Installation and Behaviour,” in Hans Lorenz Symposium on Soil Dynamics and Foundation Engineering (TU Berlin), 69–87 

Eaton S. J., Hodgson D. M., Barlow N. L. M., Mortimer E. E. J., and Mellett C. L. (2020). Palaeogeographical Changes in Response to Glacial-Interglacial Cycles, as Recorded in Middle and Late Pleistocene Seismic Stratigraphy, Southern North Sea. J. Quat. Sci. 35, 760–775. doi:10.1002/jqs.3230 

Hastings A. F., and Smith P. (2020). Achieving Net Zero Emissions Requires the Knowledge and Skills of the Oil and Gas Industry. Front. Clim. 2, 22. doi:10.3389/fclim.2020.601778 

Jiang X., Akber Hassan W. A., and Gluyas J. (2013). Modelling and Monitoring of Geological Carbon Storage: A Perspective on CrossValidation. Appl. Energ. 112, 784–792. doi:10.1016/ j.apenergy.2013.01.068 

Liingaard M. A., Mygind M., Thomas S., Clare M., and Pickles A. (2012). “Evidence of Tertiary Intrusive Rock at the West of Duddon Sands Offshore Wind Farm,” in Offshore Site Investig. Geotech. 2012 Integr. Technol., London, United Kingdom, September, 2012, 145–152. Present Future. OSIG 2012. 

Petrie, H.E., Eide, C.H., Haflidason, H. and Watton, T., 2022. A conceptual geological model for offshore wind sites in former ice stream settings: the Utsira Nord site, North Sea. Journal of the Geological Society, 179(5), pp.jgs2021-163. 

Velenturf, A.P.M., Emery, A.R., Hodgson, D.M., Barlow, N.L.M., Mohtaj Khorasani, A.M., Van Alstine, J., Peterson, E.L., Piazolo, S. and Thorp, M., 2021. Geoscience solutions for sustainable offshore wind development. Earth Science, Systems and Society, 1, p.10042.