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How have major changes in marine atmospheric sulfur emissions influenced aerosol composition and acidity?

   School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

  Dr T Bell, Dr M Yang, Dr S Ussher  Wednesday, January 12, 2022  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Plymouth United Kingdom Analytical Chemistry Climate Science Environmental Chemistry Marine Sciences Meteorology Chemistry Environmental Sciences Pollution

About the Project

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Scientific background: Sulfur plays a key role in the marine atmosphere, and has a major influence on atmospheric particles and climate. Sulfur emissions result from natural seawater processes and anthropogenic activities. The marine atmosphere is undergoing a period of profound change. A series of regulations aimed at improving air quality have reduced anthropogenic sulfur emissions, which impact the composition and acidity of atmospheric particles (aerosols). Aerosol acidity is fundamental in atmospheric chemistry and is relevant to air quality, ecosystems, and climate.

Terrestrial anthropogenic sulfur emissions have steadily declined since the 1980s. In contrast, a global mandate in 2020 led to an abrupt seven-fold drop in emissions from international shipping. 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 global implications of sulfur emission changes.

Project aim:

Constrain natural and anthropogenic sulfur emissions, improve understanding of atmospheric sulfur cycling post-2020, and assess the impacts upon the marine atmosphere.

Research methodology: The student will analyse marine sulfur gas and aerosol samples, and measure natural/anthropogenic contributions using isotope ratios. Samples will be collected at the southwest UK (Penlee Point), the Azores (ACE-ENA), and Bermuda (Tudor Hill) field sites, then data compared and evaluated against the GEOS-Chem model to improve understanding of marine aerosol, acidity and the impacts on biogeochemical cycles.

Training opportunities:

The student will gain field experience (observatory site visits) and specialist analytical lab experience (PML Air-Sea Exchange group: novel method development to trap sulfur gases for fluorescence detection; and UoP: analysing aerosol samples with Ion Chromatography and Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry). They will visit the BGS Isotope facility, attend the NCAS summer school, 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).

Person specification:

Suited for someone passionate about 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 1st October 2022.
Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship covering fees, stipend (£15,609 p.a. for 2021-22) 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  View Website


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

2) White et al. (2021). Inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus in Western European aerosol and the significance of dry deposition flux into stratified shelf waters, Atmospheric Environment

3) Baker et al. (2021). Changing atmospheric acidity as a modulator of nutrient deposition and ocean biogeochemistry, Science Advances

4) Hattori et al. (2021). Isotopic evidence for acidity-driven enhancement of sulfate formation after SO2 emission control, Science Advances

5) Yu et al. (2020). Characterizing the particle composition and cloud condensation nuclei from shipping emission in Western Europe. Env. Sci. & Tech.
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