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Autonomous technologies and the marine carbon cycle: Impacts of coastal processes on ocean acidification and blue carbon. NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2022 Entry, PhD in Biosciences.

   College of Life and Environmental Sciences

  ,  Monday, January 10, 2022  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Exeter United Kingdom Climate Science Environmental Biology Marine Biology Marine Sciences

About the Project

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, 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.

Candidate requirements:

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a MSc or First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK in subject areas related to chemistry, biology, oceanography, engineering, environmental science or meteorological/atmospheric science. This position will suit someone with field work experience and an interest in biogeochemistry and technology.

Project partners:

Plymouth Marine Laboratory is a world-leading marine research institute with state-of-the-art technology and facilities. Their recently-refurbished laboratories include the SmartSound lab (, which is designed for testing and developing pioneering scientific sensors and platforms. PML also host the coordinating office for the North East Atlantic regional hub of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network. The University of Exeter is a globally recognised centre of research excellence and one of the UK's top universities with a thriving interdisciplinary Marine Research team spread across it’s two campuses (


The student will join an active postgraduate cohort at PML and will also have access to the University of Exeter excellent postgraduate training programmes, including statistics, scientific writing, and communication skills as well as their early career networks and facilities. The student will also receive project specific training including in carbonate chemistry analysis, CO2 flux calculation and data analysis. They will undergo Sea Survival training, small vessel oceanographic sampling, and use autonomous vehicles and sensors. Skills gained from this PhD will not only be foundational for a future academic post but will also be useful for other professional careers.

Useful links:

Prospective applicants:

For information about the application process please contact the Admissions team via . Please note that applications received via other routes including standard programme application route will not be considered for the studentship funding. 


NERC GW4+ DTP studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals. For further details please see the NERC GW4+ website.

Those not meeting the nationality and residency requirements to be treated as a ‘home’ student may apply for a limited number of full studentships for international students. Although international students are usually charged a higher tuition fee rate than ‘home’ students, those international students offered a NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership full studentship starting in 2022 will only be charged the ‘home’ tuition fee rate (which will be covered by the studentship). 

International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. More information on this is available from the universities you are applying to (contact details are provided in the project description that you are interested in.

How to apply

In order to formally apply for the PhD Project you will need to go to the following web page.

The closing date for applications is 1600 hours GMT on Friday 10th January 2022.

Interviews will be held between 28th February and 4th March 2022.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone: 0300 555 60 60 (UK callers) or +44 (0) 1392 723044 (EU/International callers). Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor

Funding Notes

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:
A stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,609 p.a. for 2021/22) 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.


Ricart et al. 2021. Global Change Biology, DOI: 10.1111/gcb.15594.
Kitidis et al. 2012. Continental Shelf Research, DOI: 10.1016/j.csr.2012.04.012.
Sims et al. 2021. Biogeosciences Discussions, DOI: 10.5194/bg-2021-166.

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