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How do natural and ship emissions influence marine atmospheric sulfur, aerosol composition and acidity?

   School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

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  Prof Thomas Bell, Dr Mingxi Yang, Prof Simon Ussher, Prof Alex Archibald  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP

Applications are invited for a 3.5 years PhD studentship. The studentship will start on 01 October 2023.

Project Description

Scientific background:  

Sulfur plays a key role in the marine atmosphere, and has a major influence on atmospheric particles and climate. Marine sulfur emissions result from natural biological processes as well as anthropogenic activities. Sulfur impacts the composition and acidity of atmospheric particles (aerosols), which is fundamental in atmospheric chemistry and relevant to air quality, ecosystems, and climate. 

The marine atmosphere is changing profoundly: Terrestrial regulations since the 1980s and a 2020 global mandate to reduce ship emissions seven-fold aimed to improve air quality and have significantly reduced anthropogenic sulfur emissions. Furthermore, recent discoveries of new atmospheric sulfur molecules are forcing a radical re-examination of the role of natural marine sulfur in the climate system. Natural/anthropogenic contributions to the marine sulfur burden and impacts on aerosol acidity are poorly understood because there has been no post-2020 assessment of the marine sulfur cycle. 

Project aim: Constrain natural and anthropogenic sulfur emissions, understand present-day atmospheric sulfur cycling, and determine the impacts upon the marine atmosphere.  

Research methodology:  

The student will analyse marine sulfur gas concentrations and fluxes on a dedicated research campaign in the Atlantic, and will assess aerosol composition and natural/anthropogenic sources using isotope ratios in samples from Penlee Point (UK), the Azores (ACE-ENA), and Bermuda (Tudor Hill). All data will be evaluated against the UKCA model to improve understanding of marine aerosol, acidity and the impacts on biogeochemical cycles. 

Training opportunities:  

The student will gain field experience (research cruise and observatory site visits) and analytical lab experience in ISO accredited labs (PML Air-Sea Exchange group: Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry, and UoP: Ion Chromatography and Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry). They will attend the annual UKCA training course, gain data interpretation skills (Python), and learn valuable academic, industrial and consultancy career skills (e.g. transferable writing and presentation skills, good laboratory practice, quality assurance and safety procedures). 


  1. Yang et al. (2016). Attribution of atmospheric sulfur dioxide over the English Channel to dimethyl sulfide and changing ship emissions, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics https://acp.copernicus.org/articles/16/4771/2016/ 
  2. Veres et al. (2020). Global airborne sampling reveals a previously unobserved dimethyl sulfide oxidation mechanism in the marine atmosphere, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1919344117
  3. Baker et al. (2021). Changing atmospheric acidity as a modulator of nutrient deposition and ocean biogeochemistry, Science Advances https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/28/eabd8800 
  4. Hattori et al. (2021). Isotopic evidence for acidity-driven enhancement of sulfate formation after SO2 emission control, Science Advances https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/19/eabd4610 
  5. Yu et al. (2020). Characterizing the particle composition and cloud condensation nuclei from shipping emission in Western Europe. Env. Sci. & Tech. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.0c04039 

Person Specification

Suited for someone passionate about multidisciplinary environmental research and field work, with an aptitude for operating scientific instrumentation and degree-level qualifications in Environmental, Chemical, Marine or Atmospheric Sciences. Those with other numerate degrees (e.g. Physics, Engineering) are also encouraged to apply.

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1 October 2023.

Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship for 3.5 years, covering fees, stipend (£17,668 p.a. for 2022-23 rate) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships.

ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and £2,500 for external training, travel and conferences.

ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience. Our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.

For information and full eligibility visit https://www.aries-dtp.ac.uk/


To apply for this position please visit here and select the studentship you would like to apply for. Please clearly state the name of the studentship project code BELL_PPML23ARIES that you are applying for on your personal statement.

 Please see here for a list of supporting documents to upload with your application.

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Professor Thomas Bell, [Email Address Removed]

For more information on the admissions process generally, please contact [Email Address Removed].

The closing date for applications is 23:59 (UK Time) 11 January 2023. 

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