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Determining the Ecology and Physics of Tidal-Stream Habitats (DEPTH): Uncovering the drivers of animal behaviour and distribution and how to best monitor their interactions with marine renewable developments

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Prof B E Scott, Dr B Williamson  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

There is increased interest globally in the ecology of tidally energetic coastal waters as sites for power generation. The research topic covered in this project will focus on understanding how important mobile species: fish, seabirds and marine mammals use highly energetic sites.

On offer to the student is a wide range of unique data layers (physical and ecological) that allow the exploration of how the physical environment modifies the tidal flow to generate tidal features, noise and sediment dynamics and how this potentially influences fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Physical layers from direct measurements including noise from drifting hydrophone surveys at the sites and oceanographic models offer unprecedented ability to determine how animals are reacting to and using the energy in these sites. The studentship will also offer a range of opportunities for new fieldwork at high-energy sites in the Orkney Islands of Scotland.

This project brings together a team of world-leading ecologists, engineers, industry and government advisors as supervisors, providing a unique opportunity for a student keen to explore environmental impact research topics while participating in real-world issues faced by the marine renewables industry. The detailed understanding from this PhD will be used to inform techniques for monitoring at three scales (device, array, and region) to provide advice towards the ecologically sustainable development of marine renewable energy and has the potential to inform regulations internationally at renewable development sites situated worldwide.

The PhD student would be based in Scotland and be part of MASTS Graduate School and during the course of studies would have the opportunity to study at the University of Aberdeen, University of the Highlands and Islands (SAMS-UHI, Oban) and have a placement at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC, Orkney). The student will also interact with the Scottish Government team in Aberdeen at Marine Scotland Science (MSS).

Application Process:
Please apply for admission to the ’Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Science’ to ensure that your application is passed to the correct School for processing.

Please provide a copy of the degree certificate and transcript for each previous degree undertaken, a copy of your English language proficiency certificate (if relevant), and contact details of two referees who can comment on your previous academic performance (at least one should be from your current degree programme). References will be requested if you are selected for interview. Incomplete applications will not be considered.

Funding Notes

Full funding is available to UK/EU candidates only. Overseas candidates can apply for this studentship but will have to find additional funding to cover the difference between overseas and home fees (approximately £13,805 per annum).

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered provided they have a Distinction at Masters level.


Benjamins, S., Dale, AC., Hastie, G., Waggitt, JJ., Lea, M-A, Scott, B. & Wilson, B. (2015). Confusion Reigns? A Review of Marine Megafauna Interactions with Tidal-Stream Environments. in RN Hughes, DJ Hughes, IP Smith & AC Dale (eds), Oceanography and Marine Biology : An Annual Rview. vol. 53, Oceanography and Marine Biology, vol. 53, CRC Press, pp. 1-54. DOI: 10.1201/b18733-2
Fraser, S., Nikora, V., Williamson, BJ. & Scott, BE. (2017). 'Automatic active acoustic target detection in turbulent aquatic environments'. Limnology and Oceanography, vol 15, no. 2, pp. 184-199. DOI: 10.1002/lom3.10155
Waggitt, JJ., Cazenave, P., Torres, R., Williamson, B. & Scott, BE. (2016). 'Quantifying pursuit-diving seabirds’ associations with fine-scale physical features in tidal stream environments'. Journal of Applied Ecology, vol 53, no. 6, pp. 1653–1666. DOI:10.1111/1365-2664.12646
Wiesebron, LE., Horne, JK., Scott, BE. & Williamson, BJ. (2016). 'Comparing nekton distributions at two tidal energy sites suggests potential for generic environmental monitoring'. International Journal of Marine Energy, vol 16, pp. 235-249. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijome.2016.07.004
Williamson, BJ., Fraser, S., Blondel, P., Bell, PS., Waggitt, JJ. & Scott, BE. (2017) 'Multisensor Acoustic Tracking of Fish and Seabird Behavior Around Tidal Turbine Structures in Scotland'. IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering. DOI: 10.1109/JOE.2016.2637179
Wilson, B., Lepper, P.A., Carter, C. and Robinson, S.P. (2014) Rethinking Underwater Sound-Recording Methods to Work at Tidal-Stream and Wave-Energy. In: Marine Renewable Energy Technology and Environmental Interactions, Springer Netherlands. pp 111-126. DOI10.1007/978-94-017-8002-5_9

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