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Cold-water coral reef growth and loss in a changing ocean

Project Description

Background: Cold-water corals (CWC) are key habitat-forming organisms found throughout the oceans from 30 to 3000 m deep. The complex three-dimensional frameworks made by these vulnerable marine ecosystems support high biodiversity and commercially important species compared to neighbouring, less complex habitats. If this habitat complexity was reduced, the ability of these to support high levels of biodiversity would decrease. This would have huge implications for the species that rely on these reefs. The scholar will investigate the future of cold-water coral reef framework in a 3-tiered approach. 1) Long-term experimentation on live coral physiology and dead coral framework structural integrity when exposed to projected future environmental and sediment conditions. 2) Analysis of cold-water coral reef video to assess the proportion of live and dead coral framework across a range of environments. 3) Building on 1 & 2 to assess Atlantic CWC reef growth and loss over the coming century.

Methodology: To perform long-term experiments on live and dead CWC, the scholar will setup and maintain multiple experimental mesocosms under several environmental and pollution/sediment conditions, with regular geochemistry analysis. Growth rates, tissue growth/retraction and respiration of live corals will be assessed. Skeletons will be subjected to repeated micro computational tomography scans (µCT) to assess dissolution and structural integrity. These will then be compared to µCT images of corals from our existing cold-water coral collection from a range of different environments. To assess live:dead ratios of current CWC reefs across environmental gradients, the scholar will analyse ROV videos, and compare results with regional biogeochemistry. Results from long-term coral experimentation, image processing and video analysis will be combined and statistically analysed along with future environmental change projections to assess whether CWC reefs in the Atlantic will experience net reef growth or loss.

Scholar support and training: The School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh has a large research student cohort that will provide peer-support. The scholar will participate in postgraduate research conferences, providing an opportunity to present their research within the university, and learn about the research conducted by their peers. The multi-disciplinary nature of the project and of the supervisory team will ensure that the scholar experiences training in multiple fields across different universities, including biology, biogeochemistry and biomechanical engineering. A comprehensive training programme will be provided comprising both specialist scientific training and generic transferable and professional skills, and the scholar will be encouraged to attend specialist courses that will directly contribute to the proposed project:
· This project could involve a potential cruise work element; thus the scholar will attend a specialist offshore course in the first 6 months of the project.
· Analytical training will be provided by the supervisors and / or specialist technicians for each piece of instrumentation required for analyses.

Requirements – The scholar sought for this project must have interests in coral ecology and climate change. The scholar will have the opportunity to partake in research cruises and must be willing to work at multiple campuses in Edinburgh. Essential criteria: Research experience with corals (lab or field, tropical or cold-water). Highly desirable criteria: Seagoing experience, video analysis, MSc in a related discipline, good data analysis experience, programming (e.g. r) experience. Desirable criteria: Track record in getting funding, publications in a related discipline, GIS experience.

Application process

Please go to and select 1 December 2019 in the drop down menu under “PhD Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences - 3 Years (Full-time)” in the Applying section on the right hand side of the page. You will be directed to an online application form containing sections in which you can detail your relevant knowledge and training and write a personal statement explaining why you are applying for this opportunity and why you think you are the best candidate. You will also need to upload the following documents:

- Copies of your certificates and transcripts of marks
- An up to date CV
- 2 references (these must not be older than two years)
- If you are not a national of a majority English speaking country, you need to provide a proof of English proficiency

Incomplete applications will not be considered. Deadline for application is 31st October

The panel is hoping to hold interviews mid-November. Start date will be discussed but we expect the PhD to start by Feb 2020 at the very latest.

Funding Notes

The successful applicant will be fully funded for 42 months (tuition fees, stipend and research costs).

Both UK/EU and Overseas students are eligible.


References: (1) Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2016). Voluntary workplan and background document on “Biodiversity and acidification in cold-water areas” (J.M. Roberts, S. Hennige, M. Vierros) (2) Hennige, S. J. et al. Hidden impacts of ocean acidification to live and dead coral framework. Proc. Royal Soc. B: Biol. Sci. 282, 20150990 (2015).

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