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Methane In and Above the Polar Oceans: How Much is There, Where is it Coming From, and is it Changing? (JONESRHBAS21ARIES)

Polar Science for Planet Earth

About the Project

Project Background

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential ~85 times that of carbon dioxide on a 20-year timescale. Atmospheric methane concentrations are rising, but the global sources and sinks of methane are inadequately defined. Global ocean emissions remain highly uncertain: aerobic and anaerobic production mechanisms have been observed, as has direct seepage from the sea floor. A recent study reported the first observations of methane seepage from shallow nearshore waters in Antarctica, but little is known about the atmospheric significance of such seeps. Mechanistic understanding and quantification of ocean methane sources is critically needed to accurately project future marine emissions and atmospheric methane levels as Earth’s climate changes.

You will:

- Investigate existing ship-board methane observations from past Arctic/Antarctic campaigns plus from north-south Atlantic latitudinal transects. You will study ambient methane concentrations as well as derive methane emission fluxes.

- Establish the first polar-wide assessment of methane isotopic fingerprints using air samples provided by partner Arctic/Antarctic stations/ships.

We aim for your participation in a measurement cruise, sampling from the UK to Antarctica – observations in Antarctica targeting oceanic seeps, plus broader spatial surveys around algal blooms; concurrent air sampling to enable isotopic fingerprinting of methane sources using established (delta 13C) and novel (delta D) techniques. The project does not rely on cruise participation, and this project aspect is not guaranteed.

You will be based primarily at BAS, but will work with leading scientists at 3 UK institutes to achieve the project goals. Regular meetings with supervisors by video-conference and, where possible, in person will keep the project on track and ensure smooth development of your scientific skills. You will learn cutting-edge data analysis techniques, instrument operation, analytical techniques, and fieldwork/planning skills. We will link to policy experts to provide exposure to policy development, aiming for a 3-month placement.

Should circumstances prevent overseas deployments, an alternative fieldwork component, quantifying specific UK anthropogenic methane sources is possible, using novel techniques from BAS and RHUL.

This studentship will be based at the British Antarctic Survey, and registered at Royal Holloway, University of London.

For this exciting project we seek applicants with a degree in Chemistry, Physics, or equivalent subjects, who can demonstrate strong numerical ability.

Funding Notes

UK students will be eligible for a full NERC studentship. More information is available in the UKRI Training Grant Guide (View Website).

A full studentship will include the cost of fees and a maintenance allowance. UKRI have confirmed that international students (EU and non-EU) will be eligible for all Research Council-funded postgraduate studentships from the start of 2021/2022 academic year. There will be a limited number of international studentships available


1. E. G. Nisbet, M. R. Manning, E. J. Dlugokencky, R. E. Fisher, D. Lowry, S. E. Michel, C. Lund Myhre, S. M. Platt, G. Allen, P. Bousquet, R. Brownlow, M. Cain, J. L. France, O. Hermansen, R. Hossaini, A. E. Jones, I. Levin, A. C. Manning, G. Myhre, J. A. Pyle, B. H. Vaughn, N. J. Warwick, J. W. C. White, “Very Strong Atmospheric Methane Growth in the 4 Years 2014–2017: Implications for the Paris Agreement”, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Vol 33, Issue 3,, 2019.
2. James L. France, Prudence Bateson, Pamela Dominutti, Grant Allen, Stephen A. Andrews, Stephane Bauguitte, Max Coleman, Tom Lachlan-Cope, Rebecca E. Fisher, Langwen Huang, Anna E. Jones, James D. Lee, David Lowry, Joseph Pitt, Ruth Purvis, John A. Pyle, Jacob T. Shaw, Nicola J. Warwick, Alex I. Weiss, Shona Wilde, Jonathon Witherstone, and Stuart Young et al., “Facility level measurement of off-shore oil & gas installations from a small airborne platform: Method development for quantification and source identification of methane emissions”, Atmospheric Measurement Techniques,, in review, 2020.
3. M. Römer, M. Torres, S. Kasten, G. Kuhn, A.G.C. Graham, S. Mau, C.T.S. Little, K. Linse, T. Pape, P. Geprägs, D. Fischer, P. Wintersteller, Y. Marcon, J. Rethemeyer, G. Bohrmann, and shipboard scientific party ANT-XXIX/4: “First evidence of widespread active methane seepage in the Southern Ocean, off the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia”, Earth and Planetary Science Letters 403,166–177,, 2014.
4. Yang, M., Bell, T. G., Brown, I. J., Fishwick, J. R., Kitidis, V., Nightingale, P. D., Rees, A. P., and Smyth, T. J.: “Insights from year-long measurements of air–water CH4 and CO2 exchange in a coastal environment”, Biogeosciences, 16, 961–978,, 2019.
5. Platt, S. M., Eckhardt, S., Ferré, B., Fisher, R. E., Hermansen, O., Jansson, P., Lowry, D., Nisbet, E. G., Pisso, I., Schmidbauer, N., Silyakova, A., Stohl, A., Svendby, T. M., Vadakkepuliyambatta, S., Mienert, J., and Lund Myhre, C.: “Methane at Svalbard and over the European Arctic Ocean”, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 18, 17207–17224,, 2018.

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