PhD opportunity: autonomous technologies and the marine carbon cycle: impacts of coastal processes on ocean acidification and blue carbon (ref: 4294)

Deadline application: 10 January 2022, 4:00pm GMT

Interviews period: 28 February – 4 March 2022

Location: Streatham Campus, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon.

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This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,  the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see http://nercgw4plus.ac.uk/

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,609 p.a. for 2022/23) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses

Lead Supervisor

Dr Helen Findlay – Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Additional Supervisors

Dr Ceri Lewis – Biosciences, University of Exeter

Dr Tom Bell – Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Dr Mingxi Yang – Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Project Background:

Recent environmental and climate initiatives such as ‘habitat restoration’ and ‘Blue Carbon’ aim to increase local biodiversity, support carbon removal from the atmosphere, and alleviate the impacts of stressors such as ocean acidification and deoxygenation. However, the coastal environment is very dynamic, with a multitude of drivers that can impact the chemistry of CO2 and related compounds in seawater (together termed carbonates). It is this carbonate chemistry that ultimately alters the seawater’s ability to take up CO2 from the atmosphere, impacts biological processes such as respiration and photosynthesis, and determines the sensitivity of the system to processes such as ocean acidification. These coastal dynamics are still not well understood or even captured by the long-term, low frequency observations that are currently used for monitoring ocean acidification and other ocean changes. This project will take advantage of a suite of new autonomous vehicles and technologies, together with traditional discrete monitoring, to better characterise the near shore variations in carbonate chemistry, particularly with respect to ocean acidity (pH) and CO2.

Project Aims and Methods:

This project will take advantage of PML’s new fleet of autonomous marine platforms to make exciting novel observations of seawater CO2 and pH alongside air-sea CO2 fluxes with unprecedented spatial and temporal detail. The self-propelled surface (Autonaut) and subsurface (Ecosubs) vehicles are equipped with a range of sensors to measure near surface seawater salinity, temperature, pH and CO2. Air-sea CO2 exchange and pH observations on the L4 moored buoy (part of PML’s Western Channel Observatory) and discrete sampling of dissolved inorganic carbon and total alkalinity will be used to constrain the wider carbonate system. These measurements will facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the drivers of the carbonate system over a large range of scales (e.g. seconds to seasons in time, cms to many kms in space) and environmental conditions (e.g. high winds, waves, different tidal phases).

The student will also be expected to focus on some specific and important habitats, such as seagrass meadows (which are being re-established in Plymouth Sound through the Life ReMEDIES project https://saveourseabed.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Natural-Capital_Plymouth-Sound-and-Estuaries.pdf), kelp forests, and mussel farms. The carbon ‘footprint’ of these habitats will be evaluated by assessing their impact on air-sea CO2 flux and ocean acidification, as well as the biological influence on the coastal marine carbon. The student will synthesise the results to evaluate the implication for coastal carbon uptake, ocean acidification, mitigation, and adaptation.

University of Exeter, 26 October 2021. More information.


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