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Is it better to be organic? – Resilience of coastal wetlands to sea-level rise based on soil type (NOLTEUENV21ARIES)

School of Environmental Sciences

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Dr S Nolte No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Coastal wetlands, such as salt marshes, are declining at an alarming rate. It is assumed that salt marshes are able to gain elevation at the same pace as moderate rates of sea-level rise (SLR) [1]. But is this true for higher rates of SLR [2] and all types of marshes?

While in some marshes elevation gain is driven by inorganic sedimentation (i.e. minerogenic marshes), others rely on the slow process of peat formation (i.e. organogenic marshes) [3]. Yet surprisingly little is known about the global distribution of these types of marshes and their specific resilience to climate change. We hypothesize, that organogenic marshes are less resilient, as vegetation is unable to persist under accelerated SLR, potentially leading to catastrophic shifts and marsh loss.

And what about global warming? Vegetation might be able to produce more biomass for peat accumulation with increased temperatures and thus increase surface elevation [4]. However, higher temperatures could also increase decomposition of peat [5], thus reducing the marsh’s resilience to SLR.

To answer these questions you will combine the analysis of datasets, remote sensing, modelling, and field work. The first objective is to assess the global distribution of minerogenic and organogenic marshes using existing ‘blue carbon’ datasets and remote sensing. Second, in several modelling case studies you will analyse geomorphological and ecological drivers of marsh resilience to SLR. Third, you will measure surface-elevation change in the worldwide only warming experiment in a minerogenic marsh (MERIT; Hamburg University, Germany, see photo and and compare your data to an experiment in an organogenic marsh (SMARTEX; Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, USA).

You will be based at UEA and training will include the analysis of large datasets, remote sensing, and modelling. Field work will be done in an international collaboration (Germany). The project has an interdisciplinary setup and supervisory team, and will thus enable you to gain experience outside the field in which you gained your degree.

Person Specification:
We are looking for a candidate with a degree in Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Earth Sciences, or other courses delivering similar knowledge and skills.

For more information on the supervisor for this project, please go here

This is a PhD programme.

The start date is 1st October 2021.

The mode of study is full or part time (visa restrictions may apply).

The studentship length is 3.5 years.

Funding Notes

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

Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria are awarded a NERC studentship covering fees, stipend (£15,285 p.a., 2020-21) and research funding. International applicants (EU/non-EU) are eligible for fully-funded studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.

Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses.

ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside significant relevant non-academic experience.

For further information, please visit

Funding Notes

Entry Requirements

Acceptable first degree in Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences or Earth Sciences.


1. Spencer et al 2016 - Global coastal wetland change under sea-level rise and related stresses: The DIVA Wetland Change Model; Global and Planetary Change
2. Schuerch et al 2018- Future response of global coastal wetlands to sea-level rise; Nature
3. Nolte et al 2013 - Measuring sedimentation in tidal marshes: a review on methods and their applicability in biogeomorphological studies; Journal of Coastal Conservation
4. Noyce et al. 2019 - Asynchronous nitrogen supply and demand produce nonlinear plant allocation responses to warming and elevated CO2; PNAS
5. Mueller et al 2018 - Global-change effects on early-stage decomposition processes in tidal wetlands – implications from a global survey using standardized litter; Biogeosciences
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