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Centennial-scale records of water quality in the sub-tropical South Atlantic

Project Description

Industrial activity and land use change has increased the input of nutrients, organic carbon and toxins into coastal oceans around the world over the past several decades and is of major ecological concern. Ecotoxicological and eutrophic impacts lead to complex and undesirable effects on marine ecosystems, including shifts in species dominance, increased susceptibility to other pressures and degradation of the ecosystem. One emblematic example of efforts to control pollution is the case of Cubatão, an industrial region adjacent to the São Paulo metropolis and one of the biggest ports in the southern hemisphere.

The historical consequences of Cubatão’s pollution to the human health have already been widely documented. However, the effect of this pollution on the adjacent coastal and marine ecosystems remains unknown. Understanding how pollutant exposure changes over time is important for long-term management strategies because the legacy of environmental pollution often persists for many years, even when management and ‘clean-up’ strategies have been put in place. This requires historical datasets that often do not exist. An alternative method is to use biological archives: calcifying marine organisms (e.g corals, coralline algae) are known to be effective monitors of environmental pollution over decadal timescales with high (sub-annual) resolution.

How these habitats respond to acute pressures (e.g. pollution) remains unknown. Interestingly, the corals here appear to be especially resilient to high turbidity waters – which naturally occur in the area because of land run-off. Understanding the extent of pollution in these ecosystems over the past 50-100 years will provide invaluable information on the link between the land and sea, past and present-day pollutant exposure and the effectiveness of implemented marine management and clean-up strategies.

Aim: This project will reconstruct a history of water quality in the marine environment adjacent to Cubatão industrial area and Santos Port. This is important as it will tell us how coastal marine ecosystems have been affected by industrial activity and the effectiveness of recent management measures.

For more specific details on this project, including training and placement opportunities, please see the full advertisement at: or contact:

All applicants should meet NERC’s eligibility criteria to be considered for an IAPETUS2 studentship and these are detailed in NERC’s current studentship handbook.

IAPETUS2 is looking for candidates with the following qualities and backgrounds:

- A first or 2:1 undergraduate degree, or have relevant comparable experience;
- Candidates may also hold or be completing a Masters degree in their area of proposed study or a related discipline;
- An outstanding academic pedigree and research potential, such as evidenced through the publication of articles, participation in academic conferences and other similar activities.

Applicants must apply to Heriot-Watt University via the online application form, select PhD Environment and include reference IAP2-18-103. You must provide a current CV, degree certificates and full transcripts, a research proposal in the form of a cover letter, no greater than 2 sides in length, detailing the reasons for applying and why you have selected the project. You must also provide two (or more) references, avoiding any references from any members of the supervisory team for project that they wish to conduct.

The selected applicant will proceed to an interview at the IAPETUS2 Studentships Panel, which will meet on Wednesday 20th February 2019. The studentship will commence in September/October 2019, except in exceptional circumstances.

Funding Notes

IAPETUS2’ postgraduate studentships are tenable for between 3-4 years, depending on the doctoral research project the student is studying and provides a tax-free maintenance grant set at the UK Research Council’s national rate, which in 2019/20 is £14,999 (pending confirmation), payment of tuition fees at the Home/EU rate and access to extensive research support funding.

Part-time award-holders are funded for between six (6) and eight (8) years and receive a maintenance grant at 50% of the full-time rate.

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