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Capturing ocean carbon to geoengineer the planet toward 1.5 degrees, NERC GW4+ DTP, PhD Geography studentship

Project Description

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter EX4 4QJ

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

Project Background

Climate models suggest that we have around a decade’s worth of current CO2 emissions left before we are committed to exceeding the 1.5 degree warming threshold agreed in Paris( Even with the best efforts of the signatories on the Paris Agreement, lack of options to decarbonise sectors like international transportation mean that the deployment of geoengineering solutions are almost inevitable if we are to meet ambitious climate targets.

The oceans presently take up about a third of the CO2 that society emits ( It was initially proposed by James Lovelock that by enhancing the supply of nutrients from the subsurface to the surface ocean we could stimulate additional phytoplankton growth and enhance the ocean’s natural removal of CO2 from the atmosphere ( Unfortunately, the cycling of nutrients and carbon are tightly coupled in the ocean, so by bringing nutrients up to the surface, you are also bringing up additional carbon, which essentially results in no net CO2 removal from the atmosphere. The nutrient and carbon cycles could however be decoupled by extracting carbon from the seawater as it is being pumped up - a task which we know how to do at small scales.

Project Aims and Methods

We want to work with you to adapt and run climate models and develop simple models to ask: is this geoengineering approach feasible? What are the potential ecosystem and climate-system impacts? Are there unintended consequences? And what is the optimal design of such a system?


The Universities and Met Office provide a range of training opportunities, covering basic computer programming to working with cutting edge climate models. If the project evolves to include a sea-going component you will be trained in sea-survival and the necessary analytical skills to make carbon measurements at sea. Through the DTP and Universities, you will have access to a wide breadth of training covering the broader aspects of undertaking a PhD, and turning that PhD into a springboard to your future career. Finally, you will have extensive one-to-one training within our research groups from leaders in carbon cycle measurement and modelling.

Funding Notes

“NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2019 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £14,777 per annum for 2018-19.


Students from EU countries who do not meet the residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award but no stipend. Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.”

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