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NERC GW4+ DTP Projects 2020: (Living World, Changing Planet) Advancing the study of photosynthetic life in extreme cryo-environments

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Permanently cold ecosystems make up more than 70% of the Earth’s biosphere, though paradoxically, the microorganisms that thrive in these extreme habitats are the most poorly understood. During summer melt seasons when liquid water and sunlight are abundant, substantial phototrophy is possible across the cryosphere. Unicellular ‘snow algae’ (Chlorophyceae) bloom within snowpack environments following the onset of melt, whilst specialist ‘glacier algae’ (Zygnematophyceae) and cyanobacterial assemblages dominate bare ice surfaces exposed after snowline retreat. To achieve this, they must balance their requirements for photosynthesis and growth with the stresses experienced, including extremes in temperature, desiccation, irradiance and nutrient availability. However, the current ‘dearth of information’ available for cryospheric phototrophs has prevented an understanding of their abilities to thrive within these ecosystems to-date. Consequently, their roles within the global biosphere, carbon and nutrient cycles remain unconstrained. This studentship will take a novel, multidisciplinary approach to address this fundamental knowledge gap. This studentship will adopt an integrated laboratory, engineering and field-based approach to advance our understanding of the functioning of key cryospheric phototrophs in order to examine their importance for the global biosphere, carbon and nutrient cycles. During Year 1, the student will be trained in the latest microalgal culturing and variable chlorophyll fluorescence techniques, and establish a novel culturing program to test the response of cryospheric phototrophs to key environmental stressors (temperature, light, nutrient regime) within the recently upgraded MicroLab of the School of Geographical Sciences (SoGS), UoB. During Year 2, the student will focus on optimisation of equipment for assessment of phototroph physiology in-situ within cryo-environments (e.g. snow & ice) via a 3-month placement at Chelsea Technologies Group Ltd; a leading UK producer of research grade fluorometers. Testing and optimisation of fluorometers will be undertaken using the Low Temperature Experimental Facility (LOWTEX) of the SoGS. In Year 3, the student will validate knowledge gained during culturing experiments by deployment of developed equipment across the cryosphere to constrain the in-situ physiological responses of cryospheric phototrophs to prevailing environmental conditions. Taken together, this project will advance both knowledge and the tools available for the study of photosynthetic life in extreme cryo-environments.

Funding Notes

This project will suit a student with a first degree in physical geography or biological sciences, with experience in one or more of the following: microalgal culturing techniques; variable chlorophyll fluorescence techniques; sensor development; demanding remote field work campaigns.

How good is research at University of Bristol in Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 46.45

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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