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Climate change, marine fisheries and conservation in West Greenland

   Department of Mathematics & Statistics

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  Prof M Heath, Prof A Brierley  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

We are looking for a candidate with an interest in climate change and polar marine ecosystem issues, and strong numerical and computer coding skills.

 Throughout history, back to at least 2500 BC [1], the survival of human communities in West Greenland has been closely linked to the marine ecosystem and its living resources (fish, marine mammals, seabirds and polar bears). Even today, the economy is almost entirely dependent on fishing – previously for Atlantic cod but now almost entirely shrimps [2,3]. However, the region is facing challenging impacts from climate warming and melting of the Greenland icecap, leading to likely trade-offs between fisheries and wildlife. Quantitatively assessing these impacts requires dynamic mathematical models. This project will implement a dynamic ecosystem model for the region, driven by climate change scenarios, which represents a unique training and research opportunity for a motivated PhD student.

The project will implement the StrathE2EPolar food web model [4] for the West Greenland marine ecosystem. The questions to be answered by the project are:

·      How will fisheries management strategies need to change in the future to ensure sustainability, and what will this mean for indigenous human communities?

·      What is the sensitivity of high trophic levels (birds, pinnipeds, cetaceans and maritime mammals) to the indirect (food web mediated) effects of fishing, and how will this be affected by changing environmental conditions?

·      What trade-offs between harvesting and wildlife conservation may emerge as a result of climate change?

A StrathE2EPolar model for the Barents Sea [4] and East Greenland regions, developed in the NERC Changing Arctic Ocean Programme (available as a package for the R statistical programming environment, will provide the launch-pad for the studentship. StrathE2EPolar includes an ecology model and a coupled fishing fleet model. Chemical and biological functional guilds in the ecology model span detritus, nitrate and ammonia, through micro-plankton, benthos and fish, to high level predators (birds, pinnipeds, cetaceans and polar bears). The environmental input data required to implement StrathE2EPolar for decadal intervals will be assembled by downscaling from existing outputs of the NEMO-MEDUA earth system model [5] run from 1980-2100 using RCP 8.5 and 2.6 greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. The student will be trained to develop and implement new mathematical formulations to represent polar-specific ecology in StrathE2EPolar, and implement them in the code.

The successful PhD candidate will join a vibrant research community at the University of Strathclyde Marine Modelling Research Group in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. They will be mentored and supported closely by the supervisory team and will actively participate in research programmes and knowledge exchange activities. Highly motivated PhD candidates with demonstrable strong numerical and computer coding skills from various backgrounds, including mathematics, statistics, oceanography, marine ecology, or environmental sciences are invited to apply.


 We welcome applications from exceptional candidates with a solid academic record (at least a 2:1 Honour’s degree or international equivalent). Candidates should preferably have a Masters-level degree with Merit/ Distinction (with average programme mark of no less than 65%) or international equivalent, from an internationally reputable University. English Language requirement of IELTS band 7.0 or above with not less than 7.0 in each component.

 Applicants with great academic potential and clear motivation to conduct world-class research will be considered. Previous research experience in engaging with partners, academic writing, conducting systematic literature reviews, publishing research, and qualitative data analysis is highly desirable. The candidates should also be able to work independently as well as in a team, collaborate with colleagues and have excellent communication skills.

Funding Information

This is a 42-month full time studentship starting in Autumn 2022 (or 84 months part time. However, part time study is not available to those who require a visa to study in the UK). The student will be registered at the University of Strathclyde, and the project will involve collaboration with the University of St Andrews. The project is directly funded as part of the NERC SUPER DTP (

PLEASE NOTE: The SUPER DTP is unable to assist with visa costs for international applicants (either for yourself or for accompanying family members), immigration health surcharge, or any other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.

Application Procedure

 For informal enquiries, please contact Michael Heath, lead supervisor and Leader of the Marine Modelling Group, Department of Mathematics and Statistics: [Email Address Removed]

 Please visit for full instructions on how to submit your application. Please ensure you enter SUPER DTP, the project title, and lead supervisor name in the application form.


Funding Notes

The SUPER DTP provides:
• Tax-free annual stipend based on RCUK rates (currently £15,609 for the 2021/22 academic year)
• UK Level Tuition Fees. (PLEASE NOTE: International students are eligible to apply, but will need to find other funding sources to cover the difference between the home and international tuition fees – and international places are capped by the DTP rules and subject to availability. In 2021/22 The Strathclyde Global Research Scholarship Programme supported some high calibre international students by providing fee waivers, but the extent, terms and conditions of any 2022/23 Programme are not yet known).
• Research and Training Costs


1. Olsen,B. (1998). Saqqaq housing and settlement in southern Disko Bay, West Greenland, Acta Borealia, 15:2, 81-128.
2. Buch, E., S. A. Pedersen, and M. H. Ribergaard. 2004. Ecosystem Variability in West Greenland Waters Journal of Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Science, 34: 13-28.
3. Garde,E. (2013). Rapid Assessment of Circum-Arctic Ecosystem Resilience (RACER). The West Greenland shelf. WWF – Denmark. 56pp.
4. Heath, M.R., Benkort, D., Brierley, A.S., Daewel, U., Laverick, J., Proud, R., and Speirs, D.C. (2021). Ecosystem approach to harvesting in the Arctic: walking the tightrope between exploitation and conservation in the Barents Sea. Ambio, Changing Arctic Ocean Special Issue, 15pp. 12pp. Published online 3 September 2021,
5. Yool, A., Popova, E.E, and Coward, A.C. 2015. Future change in ocean productivity: Is the Arctic the new Atlantic? Journal of Geophysical Research, Oceans 120: 7771–7790.
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