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Crumbling reefs: quantifying risk of cold-water coral habitat loss in a changing ocean

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  • Full or part time
    Dr S Hennige
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Cold-water corals (CWC) are key habitat-forming organisms found throughout the world’s 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. Given the importance of cold-water habitats, the Convention on Biological Diversity (1) recently stated that there is “a need to develop predictive model research to determine how projected climate change will impact cold-water biodiversity over different timescales”. We currently have no way to monitor and assess the structural integrity of CWC reefs in situ, or to determine how this may change under projected future ocean acidification scenarios. The PhD scholar would seek to create such a model.

The structural integrity of CWC reefs, which is a function of the growth rate of live coral, the dissolution rate of dead coral, and the load bearing capacity of both live and dead fractions, is at risk from ocean acidification (2). Cold-water corals are at particular risk from ocean acidification due to their depth range and their proximity to the aragonite (calcium carbonate) saturation horizon (ASH). At depths below the saturation horizon, exposed skeleton will dissolve. Considering that 95% of reefs are currently above the ASH, we need to develop the means and data to assess whether reefs and the associated ecosystems will persist in their present forms under projected environmental changes, as the reefs themselves may become structurally weaker, leading to smaller reefs and less supported biodiversity. Currently these impacts are not understood to an extent that allows integration into computer simulation environments which would allow analysis of risk of habitat degradation of CWC habitats in a changing ocean. A major outcome for this project will be to quantify how projected changes in ocean acidification will affect the structure-mechanical integrity and stability of CWC reefs. These data would lead to a greater understanding of the future potential of CWC reefs for biodiversity support and ecosystem services, for policy makers and environmental managers.

Full details:

How to apply:

Funding Notes

To be eligible to apply for a fully-funded DTP studentship, you must:

1. Be a UK or EU citizen or a non-EU citizen with permanent settled status in the UK (known as ‘indefinite leave to remain’)


2. Have been ordinarily resident in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the studentship (this applies to all citizen categories).

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