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NERC GW4+ DTP PhD project: Autonomous underwater probe for ocean turbulence measurements to understand climate change

   Department of Mechanical Engineering

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  Dr Anna Young  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP) for entry in October 2023. The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the Universities of Bath, Bristol and Exeter and Cardiff University plus five prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad multi-disciplinary training, designed to produce tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science.

Supervisory Team:

Lead Supervisor: Anna Young, University of Bath, Mechanical Engineering 

Co-Supervisor: Pierre Dutrieux, British Antarctic Survey 

Co-Supervisor: Alex Phillips, National Oceanography Centre 

Co-Supervisor: Alan Hunter, University of Bath, Mechanical Engineering 

Project Background 

Understanding the physics of the marine environment requires knowledge of the time-varying flow, but devices for measuring turbulence are expensive and fragile and tend to be limited in the range of frequencies they can resolve. A new probe (the Barnacle) has been developed based on aerospace techniques. The Barnacle probe uses unsteady pressure measurements to give high-frequency information on the speed and direction of the flow. The Barnacle is more robust than the current state-of-the-art devices and therefore allows deployments in treacherous environments, like ice infested polar waters. Acquiring turbulent flow data near and under glacial ice by deploying the Barnacle on autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) offers tantalizing prospects, enabling researchers to understand the changing ocean environment, to answer questions about how global warming affects ocean mixing processes, and heat exchanges with the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. 

Project Aims and Methods 

The aim of the project is to acquire high-frequency turbulence data from the ocean using the unsteady pressure probe (the Barnacle) mounted on an Autosub AUV, which has been successfully deployed under ice shelves in the past. In order to do this, the Barnacle must be adapted for long-time series, deep-water deployment, and data analysis tools must be developed, including for motion correction (separating the motion of the water from the motion of the vehicle on which the probe is deployed). The project therefore has the following objectives: 

  • Test the capabilities of the Barnacle probe at significant depths. 
  • Build production-ready Barnacles for deployment on an Autosub AUV 
  • Develop motion correction algorithms to apply to raw data prior to post-processing 
  • Deploy one or more Barnacles in an AUV campaign and analyse the data. 
  • Map the capabilities and limitations of the Barnacle onto the frequencies and time scales of interest in Antarctic waters and other ocean environments. 

The balance between these objectives can be altered depending on the research interests of the successful candidate. For example, more emphasis could be placed on the data analysis, the mechanical/electrical design, or the deployment methods. 

Candidate requirements 

Applicants for a studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a UK Honours degree at 1st or 2.1 level, or international equivalent. A background in fluid mechanics and/or mechanical or electrical engineering would be an advantage, as would experience of design and experimental work. 

Non-UK applicants must meet the programme's English language requirement by 01 February 2023 (the only exemption is if you will be awarded a UK degree or degree conducted in English before your PhD start date).

Project partners  

This project is a new collaboration between experts in experimental fluid mechanics at the University of Bath and experts in oceanography at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the National Oceanography Centre (NOC). The student will work with all three institutions to pioneer new measurement techniques. During the project, the student will work with NOC to develop and test a version of the probe that can be deployed on an Autosub AUV. The student will also have the opportunity to undertake fieldwork campaigns with NOC and/or BAS. 


There will be opportunities to assist with deployment of AUVs with the National Oceanography Centre, and an aim for the student to participate to fieldwork in Antarctica. 

Enquiries and Applications:

Informal enquiries are welcomed and should be directed to Dr Anna Young, [Email Address Removed]

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath's online application form for a PhD in Mechanical Engineering

When completing the form, please identify your application as being for the NERC GW4+ DTP studentship competition in Section 3 Finance (question 2) and quote the project title and lead supervisor’s name in the ‘Your research interests’ section. 

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found on our website.

We welcome and encourage student applications from under-represented groups. We value a diverse research environment. If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.

Project keywords: fluid mechanics, marine engineering, climate science, oceanography 

Funding Notes

Candidates may be considered for a NERC GW4+ DTP studentship tenable for 3.5 years. Funding covers tuition fees, a stipend (£17,668 p/a in 2022/23) and a generous allowance for research expenses and travel. Studentships are open to both Home and International students; however, International applicants should note that funding does NOT cover the cost of a student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK. In line with guidance from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the number of awards available to International candidates will be limited to 30% of the total.


Young, A., Atkins, N., Clark, C. and Germain, G., 2020. “An unsteady pressure probe for the measurement of flow unsteadiness in tidal channels”. IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering
For more information on NOC and the Autosub, see:
For more information on BAS and the Polar Oceans team, see:

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