Simon Holford

Professor Simon Holford

State Chair in Petroleum Geoscience

School of Physics, Chemistry and Earth Sciences

Faculty of Sciences, Engineering and Technology

Eligible to supervise Masters and PhD - email supervisor to discuss availability.

I am the South Australian State Chair of Petroleum Geoscience in the Discipline of Earth Sciences, School of Physics, Chemistry and Earth Sciences, University of Adelaide. With my colleague Rosalind King, I lead the Stress, Structure & Seismic (S^3) Research Group; this is a multidisciplinary group of academics, research staff and HDR students working mostly on applied GeoEnergy problems related to structural geology and geomechanics in sedimentary basins. Current research foci include the development of rapid methods for evaluating the geomechanical impacts of CCUS at basin scales, the quantification of uncertainty associated with stress magnitude determination and the geomechanical impacts of cyclic hydrogen storage. I have a long-standing interest in magmatism in sedimentary basins, with geographic focus on the rifted margins of Australia and NW Europe. This research seeks to understand the impacts of magmatism on petroleum systems and evaluate the potential for subsurface gas storage, and specifically the permanent storage of carbon, in buried volcanic rocks.

My main research interests are;
1) Magmatic systems in sedimentary basins. This work is focused on the interactions between igneous intrusive and extrusive systems and basin structure, stratigraphy and the elements of the petroleum system, with a current focus on evaluation the potential for permanent CO2 storage in buried volcanic rocks. Current projects on this topic involve collaboration with the University of Aberdeen and University of Canterbury.
2) Structural permeability. This work is focused on understanding the intrinsic and extrinsic drivers behind fracture-hosted fluid flow in sedimentary basins, with application to both conventional hydrocarbon exploration and production and the subsurface storage of gases such as CO2 and hydrogen. Current and recent projects on this topic have been funded by the ARC, ARENA, the Geological Survey of South Australia, IMER and ASEG.
3) The evolution of Australia's 'passive' southern rifted margin. This work is focused on understanding the tectonic evolution of the southern Australian margin. This work was originally funded by an ARC Australian Postdoctoral Fellowship, and is now primarily focused on the Bight Basin. I was the lead proponent for IODP APL-897 which was incorporated into IODP Expedition 367.

Available PhD projects

If you are interested in working on one of the following topics, please contact me.

Storing carbon in buried volcanoes

This project will assess the feasibility of permanent carbon dioxide storage through carbonate mineralisation in buried volcanic rocks proximal to high CO2 content reservoirs. The project will involve; mapping buried volcanoes using 3D seismic reflection; studying multiphase flow (including CO2) in volcanic rocks; and field work in volcanic provinces to generate virtual outcrop models that will inform reservoir simulation.

Fault stability during CO2 and hydrogen injection

This project will focus on the Cooper Basin and will investigate the maximum sustainable pressures related to reservoir CO2 and hydrogen injection that will not induce seismicity. The main aims of the project include: determining contemporary, pre-injection stresses, pore pressures and rock strengths; developing 3D structural models for potential CO2 and hydrogen storage sites; reservoir-to-basin scale numerical-geomechanical modelling; and geomechanical risking to evaluate the likelihood of induced seismicity.

The seismic and stratigraphic record of ancient Southern Ocean currents

The overarching goal of this project is to develop a deep-time record of ocean circulation using the Cenozoic sedimentary record of the southern Australian margin. The project will involve: detailed mapping of along-slope sediment drifts using high-resolution 3D seismic data from the Great Australian Bight; re-evaluation of Cenozoic strata recovered during IODP/ODP drilling; and integration with paleoceanographic modelling to evaluate hypothesis for the onset of modern bottom currents.

‘Critical gases’ in South Australia

This project will explore the geological controls on the origin and distribution of commercially important ‘critical gases’ including natural CO2, hydrogen and helium in South Australia.

Constraints on the Cretaceous topographic evolution of central Australia from geodynamic modelling and subsurface mapping (joint project with UNSW)

The impact of mantle convection on surface uplift, subsidence, erosion and deposition is being increasingly recognised as having a major control the emission of natural, mantle-derived CO2 and the formation and distribution of natural resources in sedimentary basins. However, understanding the topographic evolution of intra-plate continental interiors remains difficult due to poor depth constraints of measurements and a lack of regional-scale geodynamic modelling. Hence, the precise mechanisms responsible for the formation of localised continental sedimentary basins, surface uplift and erosion due to shallow mantle convection and its impacts on natural resources over geological time remains a significant and unresolved problem. Understanding the processes responsible for such topography provides the key to determining how the surfaces of continental interiors that lie far from plate tectonic boundaries evolve over time.

The intra-continental Eromanga basin is one of Australia’s largest sedimentary sub-basins and forms part of the larger Great Artesian Basin. The Eromanga Basin has undergone a complex history of mantle-related subsidence, uplift and erosion over the last 200 million years. Deciphering the mechanisms responsible for vertical crustal movements across the Eromanga Basin is fundamental to understand the magnitude and timing of mantle-related uplift in a sedimentary basin system that has been identified as a candidate for CO2 storage. This project aims to bring together different datasets (seismic, well, gravity and magnetic) to produce a basin-wide assessment of Cretaceous strata. Geodynamic modelling will be applied (e.g. using the Advanced Solver for Problems in Earth Sciences, ASPECT) to investigate the mechanisms, timing and magnitude of mantle-related uplift across the basin.

The successful candidate will be based at the University of Adelaide and be supervised by Prof. Simon Holford and co-supervised by Dr Bhavik Harish Lodhia (University of New South Wales Sydney). Occasional travel to UNSW Sydney will be expected.

Available Honours projects for eligible students starting in 2024


How can we identify geomechanically secure locations for carbon capture and storage?

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is critical to pathways to net zero, with an estimated total geological storage requirement of 190 Gt of CO2. However, existing CCS projects only store around 40 Mt of CO2 each year, so considerable upscaling is required. Quantifying and managing the risks of fault reactivation is the leading obstacle to increasing the implementation of CCS, because CO2 injection into reservoirs results in increased pore fluid pressure, which can reduce the strength of rocks and faults, and induce brittle failure. This could result in induced seismicity, with hydraulic fracturing of sealing formations providing pathways for CO2 leakage. Sedimentary reservoirs that have undergone prior hydrocarbon production are thought to be the most favourable geological sites for CCS. However, anthropogenic processes that involve the injection and extraction of fluids in subsurface reservoirs can significantly change the stress and pore pressure conditions of subsurface reservoirs from their initial state. The goal of this project is to collect and analyse geomechanical data from depleted reservoirs in South Australia’s Cooper and Eromanga basins to a) quantify how historical injection and extraction has impacted their thermo-mechanical properties and b) inform predictions of how any such changes may impact the likelihood of reservoir deformation such as faulting that may result from CO2 injection.

Storing carbon in buried volcanoes

Many of Australia’s natural gas fields contain high CO2 contents; if not captured and stored, the release of this CO2 could jeopardize efforts to meet Australia’s emissions reductions targets. A potential novel option for carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Australia is injection into buried volcanic sequences (CCSV) which are found in many basins along the southern and northwestern continental margins, often in close proximity to natural gas fields with high CO2 contents. The chemical reactivity of the minerals found in basalts means that if these rocks have sufficient connected pore spaces, any CO2injected into them can rapidly mineralise, essentially locking the carbon away by turning it into stone. Indeed, pilot projects in Iceland involving basalt reservoirs have generated significant interest as tens of thousands of tons of CO2 have been shown to have converted into carbonate minerals within several years of injection. The aim of this exciting project is apply advanced subsurface mapping and imaging techniques to build 3D models of buried basaltic volcanic systems in order to answer the following question: just how much CO2 could be permanently stored in ancient volcanic rocks in Australia’s sedimentary basins?

The Hunt for the World’s Oldest Volcano……

Volcanic eruptions represent one of Earth’s most dramatic and violent agents of change. Past volcanic eruptions have had a profound impact on Earth’s climate, though we typically only have a partial record of ancient eruptive products in the geological record, as the preservation potential of continental volcanic systems is impacted by processes such as post-eruption erosion. However, volcanoes which form in submarine environments and/or rapidly subsiding sedimentary basins are thought to have a higher presentation, since such settings are typically characterised by net sediment accumulation rather than erosion. The aim of this project is to use novel 3D imaging techniques to explore for and identify and characterise buried volcanoes located in sedimentary basins onshore and offshore Australia, including what might be the oldest (over 180 million years old) pristinely preserved volcanoes in the geological record, buried deep beneath the deserts of central Australia. This project will also produce a new global database of buried volcanic systems, which will link the preservation potential of ancient volcanic eruptions to key magmatic, environmental and structural processes, enabling a more accurate understanding of Earth’s volcanic record through space and time.

Did pipe-like structures at Hallett Cove trigger Snowball Earth termination?

Pipe-like features are common features in sedimentary basins, occurring over multiple spatial scales (from cm to hundreds of metres) and are often associated with focused vertical fluid migration related to pore-fluid expulsion, hydrocarbon migration and the formation and/or disassociation of methane hydrate deposits. At Hallett Cove, to the southwest of Adelaide, a series of carbonate-cemented pipe-like features have been described within siltstones of the Reynella Member of the glacial Elatina Formation. A number of hypotheses have been proposed for the origin of these pipes, including the notion (supported by carbon isotopes) that they were formed during the focused vertical seepage of methane hydrates, the destabilisation of which may have potentially contributed to the termination of the Marinoan ‘Snowball Earth’ at the start of the Ediacaran period. An alternative hypothesis is that these features are periglacial palaeosol deposits.

Our recent re-evaluation of these pipes has indicated that they may form part of a broader sub-vertical ‘mesh’ of interconnected calcite-filled faults and fractures. Similar meshes are observed in an array of tectonic settings and often form important conduits for large-volume flow of pressurised subsurface fluids. The aim of this project is to conduct detailed field-based mapping of the pipes to establish their structural context and evaluate the competing hypotheses for their genesis, and to assess the potential role of the structural mesh as a permeable pathway for Snowball-Earth triggering methane hydrate flux.

  • Appointments

    Date Position Institution name
    2023 - ongoing SA State Chair of Petroleum Geoscience University of Adelaide
    2021 - 2022 SA State Chair of Petroleum Geoscience University of Adelaide
    2018 - 2021 Associate Professor of Petroleum Geoscience University of Adelaide, Adelaide
    2014 - 2017 Senior Lecturer in Petroleum Geoscience University of Adelaide
    2012 - 2013 Lecturer in Petroleum Geoscience University of Adelaide
    2008 - 2011 ARC Australian Postdoctoral Fellow University of Adelaide
    2007 - 2007 Research Fellow University of Adelaide
    2006 - 2007 Research Associate University of Birmingham
  • Awards and Achievements

    Date Type Title Institution Name Country Amount
    2022 Award APPEA Best Poster APPEA Australia -
    2021 Award APPEA Best Extended Abstract APPEA Australia -
    2019 Award AEGC 2019 Best Presentation AEGC Australia -
    2018 Award ES Hills Medal Geological Society of Australia Australia -
    2018 Fellowship Visiting Research Fellow Australian School of Petroleum and Energy Resources Australia -
    2015 Award ASEG Best Paper - - -
    2015 Research Award AAPG Top 10 Best Poster American Association of Petroleum Geologists United States -
    2014 Award DI Groves Medal - - -
    2013 Research Award PESA Best Student Paper Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia Australia -
    2012 Award APPEA Best Paper - - -
    2011 Award Walter Howchin Medal Geological Society of Australia Australia -
    2008 Fellowship ARC Australian Postdoctoral Fellowship Australian Research Council Australia -
  • Education

    Date Institution name Country Title
    2001 - 2005 University of Birmingham United Kingdom PhD
    1998 - 2001 Keele University United Kingdom BSc (Dual Hons), Geology & Geography, First Class
  • Research Interests

Active and recent research projects have been funded and supported by the ARC, ARENA, IODP, ASEG Research Foundation, Department for Energy and Mining, Schlumberger, TGS, IMER and Chevron.

I coordinate the following courses: PETROENG1005, PETROGEO4013, PETROGEO7013, PETROGEO7020

  • Current Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2024 Co-Supervisor Exploration for Natural Hydrogen in Eyre Peninsula using magnetotelluric and passive-seismic geophysical methods Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Anna Gubina
    2023 Principal Supervisor Geophysical-geomechanical constraints on the operating limits for basin-scale CO2 storage Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Iain Alexander Campbell
    2023 Co-Supervisor Establishing a systematic approach to exploring and producing natural hydrogen Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Relly Margiono
    2022 Principal Supervisor Tectonics and Magmatic Evolution of the Browse Basin, North West Shelf of Australia Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Kosuke Tsutsui
    2022 Co-Supervisor Reconstructing the Beetaloo/Greater McArthur Basin System Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Johann Savio Soares
    2020 Co-Supervisor Application of different angle stacks and seismic attribute analysis to enhance the understanding of the reservoir geology within the Shipwreck Through, Offshore Otway Basin Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Part Time Mr Marat Valiyev
  • Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2019 - 2023 Principal Supervisor Post-breakup Evolution of the Ceduna Sub-basin and understanding of processes that occur on Rifted Continental Margins Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mrs Monica Jimenez Lloreda
    2018 - 2018 Co-Supervisor Neotectonic faults of the Paralana Escarpment and their influence on uranium-bearing fluid flow Master of Philosophy Master Full Time Mr Jonathan David Donauer Berthiaume
    2018 - 2024 Principal Supervisor The Jurassic and Early Cretaceous Magmatic Record of the Northern Carnarvon Basin, Western Australia: Implications for Petroleum Exploration and Development. Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Michael Shaun Curtis
    2017 - 2021 Principal Supervisor Improving the Accuracy of Geomechanical Predictions in Sedimentary Basins Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Matthew Mark Musolino
    2017 - 2019 Principal Supervisor Analysing Ancient Focused Fluid Flow Systems in Offshore Sedimentary Basins of Australia Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Tayallen Velayatham
    2016 - 2019 Principal Supervisor Characterising the structural, petrophysical, and geochemical properties of inverted fault zones Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Natalie Debenham
    2016 - 2019 Co-Supervisor A Multiscale Approach towards the Characterisation of Upper Crustal Deformation at Passive Continental Margins: A Case Study on the Otway Basin, Australia Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Hugo Bonython Burgin
    2015 - 2019 Co-Supervisor Structural Evolution of Deformation Bands Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Drew Christopher Lubiniecki
    2014 - 2018 Co-Supervisor Normal fault growth analysis using 3D seismic datasets located along Australia’s southern margin Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Part Time Alexander George Robson
    2013 - 2018 Principal Supervisor An evaluation of petroleum systems within the Billiluna Sub-basin and adjacent structural regions, Northeastern Canning Basin Master of Philosophy Master Part Time Mr Peter James Hawke
    2013 - 2019 Co-Supervisor Meso-Cenozoic intraplate magmatism along the Australian southern margin Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Fun Julie Ellen Meeuws
    2013 - 2016 Co-Supervisor The resistivity and permeability of fractured rocks Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mrs Alison Louise Kirkby
    2012 - 2016 Co-Supervisor Structural Permeability in Australian Sedimentary Basins Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Adam Henry Edward Bailey
    2009 - 2013 Co-Supervisor Origin and Structure of the Ceduna Delta System, Offshore South Australia Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Justin MacDonald
    2009 - 2014 Principal Supervisor Compressional Deformation and Exhumation in Sedimentary Basins at 'Passive' Continental Margins, with implications for Hydrocarbon Exploration and Development Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr David Tassone
  • Board Memberships

    Date Role Board name Institution name Country
    2015 - ongoing - Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia - -
  • Committee Memberships

    Date Role Committee Institution Country
    2015 - ongoing President Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia SA/NT Branch - -
    2012 - ongoing Member Geological Society of Australia SA Division - -
  • Memberships

    Date Role Membership Country
    2010 - ongoing - Geological Society of Australia -
    2008 - ongoing - AAPG -
    2008 - ongoing - PESA -
    2001 - ongoing Member Geological Society of London -
  • Position: State Chair in Petroleum Geoscience
  • Phone: 83138035
  • Email:
  • Fax: 83134345
  • Campus: North Terrace
  • Building: Mawson, floor First Floor
  • Room: 124
  • Org Unit: Earth Sciences

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