Prof. John PARNELL


Permanent Academic

School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 3UE
01224 273464

Email address:

Research interests

  • The nature of the deep biosphere, and the potential for deep biospheres on other planets.
  • Analogue environments for exploration of Mars.
  • Relationships between planetary geochemical evolution and the evolution of life.
  • Potential habitats in/around impact craters.
  • Application of Raman spectroscopy to exploration of Mars, including ExoMars mission.

Research summary:

My research is focussed on understanding the geochemical and habitat controls on life on Earth, and the potential extrapolation to other planets. Life on Earth is controlled by trace element geochemistry (for metabolism), atmospheric composition (for energy) and environment (for habitat). Each of these has evolved through time, so Earth’s history has seen a range of successive states, which could be duplicated on other planets at different stages of their evolution. As we improve our knowledge of the Earth in deep time, we are better able to predict the potential for life on other planets.

Grant funding from within the past 6 years:

  • NERC Selenium and tellurium concentration in organic materials – £97,018
  • NERC Direct Measurement and Sampling of subglacial Ellsworth – £44,557
  • NERC Tellurium and selenium cycling and supply – £666,596
  • PTDF Fluid flow and deep biosphere in fractured basement – £60,000
  • PTDF Geochemical consequences of Cretaceous sea level change – £67,000
  • STFC Methane on Earth and Mars – £67,671
  • STFC Raman Spectroscopy for Mars – £68,790
  • STFC Terrestrial applications of Raman spectroscopy – £21,776

Research publications (2010-2016)

  • Parnell, J., Mark, D., Fallick, A.E., Boyce, A. & Thackrey, S. 2011. The age of the Mesoproterozoic Stoer Group sedimentary and impact deposits, NW Scotland. Journal of the Geological Society, London, 168, 349-358.
  • Parnell, J., Bowden, S.A., Muirhead, D., Blamey, N., Westall, F., Demets, R., Verchovsky, S., Brandstatter, F. & Brack, A. 2011. Preservation of organic matter in the STONE 6 artificial meteorite experiment. Icarus, 212, 390-402.
  • Lindgren, P., Parnell, J., Holm, N.G. & Broman, C. 2011. A demonstration of an affinity between pyrite and organic matter in a hydrothermal setting. Geochemical Transactions, 12:3.
  • Izawa, M.R.M., Banerjee, N.R., Osinski, G.R., Flemming, R.L., Parnell, J. & Cockell, C.S. 2011. Weathering of post-impact hydrothermal deposits from the Haughton Impact Structure: Implications for microbial colonization and biosignature preservation. Astrobiology, 11, 537-550.
  • Dohm, J.M., Miyamoto, H., Ori, G.G., Fairén, A.G., Davila, A.F., Komatsu, G., Mahaney, W.C., Williams, J.-P., Joye, S.B., Di Achille, G., Oehler, D.Z., Marzo, G.A., Schulze-Makuch, D., Acocella, V., Glamoclija, M., Pondrelli, M., Boston, P., Hart, K.M., Anderson, R.C., Baker, V.R., Fink, W., Kelleher, B.P., Furfaro, R., Gross, C., Hare, T.M., Frazer, A.R., Ip, F., Allen, C.C.R., Kim, K.J., Maruyama, S., McGuire, P.C., Netoff, D., Parnell, J., Wendt, L., Wheelock, S.J., Steele, A., Hancock, R.G.V., Havics, R.A., Costa, P., and Krinsley, D., 2011, An inventory of potentially habitable environments on Mars: Geological and biological perspectives, in Garry, W.B., and Bleacher, J.E., eds., Analogs for Planetary Exploration: Geological Society of America Special Paper 483, p. 317–347, doi:10.1130/2011.2483(21).
  • Siegert, M. J., R. J. Clarke, M. Mowlem, N. Ross, C. S. Hill, A. Tait, D. Hodgson, J. Parnell, M. Tranter, D. Pearce, M. J. Bentley, C. Cockell, M.-N. Tsaloglou, A. Smith, J. Woodward, M. P. Brito, and E. Waugh 2012. Clean access, measurement, and sampling of Ellsworth Subglacial Lake: A method for exploring deep Antarctic subglacial lake environments, Reviews of Geophysics, 50, RG1003, doi:10.1029/2011RG000361.
  • McMahon, S., Parnell, J. & Blamey, N.J.F. 2012. Sampling methane in hydrothermal minerals on Earth and Mars. International Journal of Astrobiology, 11, 163-167.
  • Parnell, J., Boyce, A.J., Osinski, G.R., Izawa, M.R.M., Banerjee, N., Flemming, R. & Lee, P. 2012. Evidence for life in the isotopic analysis of surface sulphates in the Haughton impact structure, and potential applications on Mars. International Journal of Astrobiology, 11, 93-101.
  • Muirhead D.K., Parnell, J., Taylor, C. & Bowden, S.A. 2012 A kinetic model for the thermal evolution of sedimentary and meteoritic organic carbon using Raman spectroscopy. Journal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis, 96, 153-161.
  • Wright, A.J., Blamey, N.J.F., Conliffe, J., Costanzo, A. & Parnell, J. 2012. Origin of vein-graphite derived from metamorphic fluids in Moine (Glenfinnan Group) rocks, NW Scotland. Scottish Journal of Geology, 48, 47-59.
  • Parnell, J., Hole, M., Boyce, A.J., Spinks, S. & Bowden, S. 2012. Heavy metal, sex and granites: Crustal differentiation and bioavailability in the mid-Proterozoic. Geology, 40, 751-754.
  • Parnell, J. & Foster, S. 2012. Ordovician ash geochemistry and the establishment of land plants. Geochemical Transactions, 13:7.
  • Pontefract, A., Osinski, G.R., Lindgren, P., Parnell, J., Cockell, C.S. &
  • Southam, G. 2012. The effects of meteorite impacts on the availability of bioessential elements for endolithic organisms. Meteoritics and Planetary Sciences, 47, 1681-1691.
  • Osinski, G.R., Tornabene, L.L., Banerjee, N.R., Cockell, C.S., Flemming, R., Izawa, M.R.M., McCutcheon, J., Parnell, J., Preston, L.J., Pickersgill, A.E., Pontefract, A., Sapers, H.M. & Southam, G. 2013. Impact-generated hydrothermal systems on Earth and Mars. Icarus, 224, 347-363.
  • Michalski, J.R., Cuadros, J., Niles, P.B., Parnell, J., Rogers, A.D. & Wright, S.P. 2013. Groundwater activity on Mars and implications for a deep biosphere. Nature Geoscience, 6, 133-138. doi: 10.1038/NGE01706.
  • McMahon, S., Parnell, J., Ponicka, J., Hole, M. & Boyce, A. 2013. The habitability of vesicles in martian basalt. Astronomy and Geophysics, 54, 1.17-1.21.
  • McMahon, S., Parnell, J. & Blamey, N.J.F. 2013. Sampling methane in basalt on Earth and Mars. International Journal of Astrobiology, 12, 113-122.
  • Parnell, J., Boyce, A.J., Hurst, A., Davidheiser-Kroll, B. & Ponicka, J. 2013. Long term geological record of a global deep subsurface habitat in sand injection complexes. Scientific Reports, doi:10.1038/srep01828.
  • Edwards, H.G.M., Hutchinson, I.B., Ingley, R., Parnell, J., Vitek, P. & Jehlicka, J. 2013. Raman spectroscopic analysis of geological and biogeological specimens of relevance to the ExoMars mission. Astrobiology, 13, 543-549.
  • McMahon, S., O’Malley-James, J. & Parnell, J. 2013. Circumstellar habitable zones for deep terrestrial biospheres. Planetary and Space Science, 85, 312-318.
  • McMahon, S. & Parnell, J. 2014. Weighing the deep continental biosphere. FEMS Microbiology Ecology, 87, 113-120.
  • Parnell, J., McMahon, S., Blamey, N.J.F., Hutchinson, I.B., Harris, L.V., Ingley, R., Edwards, H.G.M., Lynch, E. & Feely, M. 2014. Detection of reduced carbon in a basalt analogue for martian nakhlite: a signpost to habitat on Mars. International Journal of Astrobiology, 13, 124-131.
  • Bata, T. & Parnell, J. 2014. A Neoproterozoic petroleum system in the Dalradian Supergroup, Scottish Caledonides. Journal of the Geological Society, London, 171, 145-148.
  • Parnell, J., Still, J., Spinks, S., Thayalan, W. & Bowden, S. 2014. Cadmium sulfide in a Mesoproterozoic terrestrial environment. Mineralogical Magazine, 78, 47-54.
  • Parnell, J.  , Mark, D.F., Frei, R., Fallick, A.E. & Ellam, R.M. 2014.  40Ar/39Ar dating of exceptional concentration of metals by weathering of Precambrian rocks at the Precambrian-Cambrian boundary. Precambrian Research, 246, 54-63.
  • Parnell, J., Hole, M. & Boyce, A.J. 2014. Evidence for microbial activity in British and Irish Ordovician pillow lavas. Geological Journal, doi:10.1002/gj.2562.
  • Parnell, J., Blamey, N.J.F., Costanzo, A., Feely, M. & Boyce, A.J. 2014. Preservation of Mesoproterozoic age deep burial fluid signatures, NW Scotland. Marine and Petroleum Geology, 55, 275-281.
  • Alabi, O.O., Bowden, S.A. & Parnell, J. 2014. Simultaneous and rapid asphaltene and TAN determination for heavy petroleum using an H-cell. Analytical Methods, 6, 3651-3660.
  • Parnell, J., Macleod, K. & Hole, M.J. 2014. Carbon dioxide drawdown by Devonian lavas. Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 105, 1-8.
  • Burchell, M.J., Bowden, S.A., Cole, M., Price, M.C. & Parnell, J. 2014. Survival of organic materials in hypervelocity impacts of ice on sand, ice, and water in the laboratory. Astrobiology, 14, 473-485.
  • Spinks, S.C., Parnell, J. & Still, J.W. 2014. Redox-controlled selenide mineralization in the Upper Old Red Sandstone. Scottish Journal of Geology, 50, 173-182.
  • Price, M.C., Ramkissoon, N.K., McMahon, S., Miljkovic, K., Parnell, J., Wozniakiewicz, P.J., Kearsley, A.T., Blamey, N.J.F., Cole, M.J. & Burchell, M.J. 2014. Limits of methane release and generation via hypervelocity impact of Martian analogue materials. International Journal of Astrobiology, 13, 132-140.
  • Hutchinson, I.B., Parnell, J., Edwards, H.G.M., Jehlicka, J., Marshall, C.P., Harris, L.H. & Ingley, R. 2014.Potential for analysis of carbonaceous matter on Mars using Raman spectroscopy. Planetary and Space Science, 103, 184-190.
  • Othman Wilson, A., Parnell, J., Boyce, A.J. & Bowden, S.A. 2014. Constraining causes of fish mass mortality using ultra-high-resolution biomarker measurement. Chemical Geology, 385, 156-162.
  • Spinks, S.C., Parnell, J., Bowden, S., Taylor, R.A.D. & Maclean, M.E. 2014. Enhanced organic carbon burial in large Proterozoic lakes: Implications for atmospheric oxygenation. Precambrian Research, 255, 202-215.
  • Hutchinson, I.B., Ingley, R., Edwards, H.G.M., Harris, L., McHugh, M., Malherbe, C. & Parnell, J. 2014. Raman spectroscopy on Mars: Identification of geological and bio-geological signatures in Martian analogues using miniaturized Raman spectrometers. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, A, 372, doi:10.1098/rsta2014.0204.
  • Parnell, J., Bellis, D., Feldmann, J. & Bata, T. 2015. Selenium and tellurium enrichment in palaeo-oil reservoirs. Journal of Geochemical Exploration, 148, 169-173.
  • Harris, L.V., McHugh, M., Hutchinson, I.B., Ingley, R., Malherbe, C., Parnell, J., Marshall, A.O. & Edwards, H.G.M. 2015. Avoiding misidentification of bands in planetary Raman spectra. Journal of Raman Spectroscopy, 46, 863-872.
  • Lamorde, U.A., Parnell, J. & Bowden, S.A. 2015. Constraining the genetic relationships of 25-norhopanes, hopanic and 25-norhopanic acids in onshore Niger Delta oils using a temperature-dependent material balance. Organic Geochemistry, 79, 31-43.
  • Bowden, S.A., Parnell, J., Muirhead, D.K., Alabi, O., Brolly, C.V., Faqi, A.N., & Stacey, R. 2015. Asphaltene detection using Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS). Chemical communications, doi:10.1039/C5CC00676G.
  • Parnell, J., Spinks, S., Andrews, S., Thayalon, W. & Bowden, S. 2015. High molybdenum availability for evolution in a Mesoproterozoic lacustrine environment. Nature Communications, 6, doi:10.1038/ncomms7996.
  • Blamey, N., Parnell, J., McMahon, S., Mark, D., Tomkinson, T., Lee, M., Shivak, J., Izawa, M., Banerjee, N. & Flemming, R. 2015. Evidence for methane in martian meteorites. Nature Communications, 6, doi:10.1038/ncomms8399.
  • Spinks, S.C., Parnell, J., Bellis, J. & Still, J. 2015. Remobilization and mineralization of selenium-tellurium in metamorphosed red beds: evidence from the Munster Basin, Ireland. Ore Geology Reviews, 72, 114-127.
  • Bata, T., Parnell, J., Samaila, N.K., Abubakar, M.B. & Maigari, A.S. 2015. Geochemical evidence for a Cretaceous oil sand (Bima oil sand) in the Chad Basin, Nigeria. Journal of African Earth Sciences, 111, 148-155.
  • Parnell, J., Boyce, A.J., Davidheiser-Kroll, B., Brolly, C., Bowden, S. & Lindgren, P. 2015. Enhanced microbial activity in carbon-rich pillow lavas, Ordovician, Great Britain and Ireland. Geology, 43, 827-830.
  • Parnell, J. & McMahon, S. 2015. Physical and Chemical Controls on Habitats for Life in the Deep Subsurface Beneath Continents and Ice. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, article 20140293.
  • Makinson, K., Pearce, D., Hodgson, D.A., Bentley, M.J., Smith, A.M., Tranter, M., Rose, M., Ross, N., Mowlem, M., Parnell, J. & Siegert, M. 2015. Clean subglacial access: prospects for future deep hot-water drilling. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, article 20140304.
  • Parnell, J., Brolly, C., Spinks, S. & Bowden, S. 2015. Metalliferous biosignatures for deep subsurface microbial activity. Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere, 46, 107-118.
  • Parnell, J., Still, J. Spinks, S. & Bellis, D. 2015. Gold in Devono-Carboniferous red beds of northern Britain. Journal of the Geological Society, London, 173, 245-248.
  • Parnell, J., Brolly, C., Spinks, S. & Bowden, S. 2016. Selenium enrichment in Carboniferous shales, Britain and Ireland: Problem or opportunity for shale gas extraction? Applied Geochemistry, 66, 82-87.
  • Parnell, J. & Lindgren, P. 2016. Anomalous supply of bioessential molybdenum in mid-Proterozoic surface environments. Precambrian Research, 275, 100-104.
  • Brolly, C., Parnell, J. & Bowden, S. 2016. Raman spectroscopy: Caution when interpreting organic carbon from oxidizing environments. Planetary and Space Science, in press.
  • Parnell, J., Salter, N. & West, P. 2016. A micrometeorite record in Ordovician Durness Group limestones, Isles of Skye. Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 106, 81-87.
  • Parnell, J., Spinks, S. & Bellis, D. 2016. Low-temperature concentrations of tellurium and gold in continental red bed successions. Terra Nova, 28, 221-227.
  • Muirhead, D.K., Parnell, J., Spinks, S. & Bowden, S.A. 2016. Characterisation of organic matter in the Torridonian using Raman Spectroscopy. Geological Society of London Special Publications, in press.
  • Bata, T., Parnell, J., Bowden, S.A. & Boyce, A. 2016. Origin of heavy oil in Cretaceous petroleum reservoirs. Bulletin of Canadian Petroleum Geology, 64, in press.
  • McMahon, S., Parnell, J. & Blamey, N.J.F.2016.  Evidence for seismogenic hydrogen gas, a potential microbial energy source on Earth and Mars. Astrobiology, in press.
  • Wacey, D., Brasier, M., Parnell, J., Culwick, T., Bowden, S, Spinks, S., Boyce, A.J., Davidheiser-Kroll, B., Jeon, H., Kilburn, M., & Saunders, M. 2016. Contrasting microfossil preservation and lake chemistries within the 1200-1000 Ma Torridonian Supergroup of northwest Scotland. Geological Society Special Publication, in press.
  • Blamey, N.J.F., Brand, U., Parnell, J., Spear, N., Lecuyer, C., Benison, K., Meng, F. & Ni, P. 2016. Paradigm shift in determining Neoproterozoic atmospheric oxygen. Geology, 44, 651-654.
  • Brolly, C., Parnell, J. & Bowden, S. 2016. Raman spectroscopy of shocked gypsum from a meteorite impact crater. International Journal of Astrobiology, in press.