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Pathways for fertilization of the South Georgia phytoplankton bloom from model and observational data

Project Description

Project Rationale:

Iron from South Georgia fertilizes the largest phytoplankton bloom in the Southern Ocean, which is replete in nitrate and phosphate. This bloom is central to the rich and diverse regional ecosystem, and constitutes a major sink for carbon from the atmosphere.

There are several distinct sources for the iron, from land, sediments and ocean, and the phytoplankton bloom may be best understood as a superposition of these. The comparative role of the different sources has not yet been determined, and the sources may be changing, with glacial retreat impacting the supply from the island and shifts in wind stress having the potential to affect sources from shelf sediments and upwelling. It is therefore important to understand the relative effects and spatial footprints of each source to better determine the potential changes that might occur.

This project will use a combined modelling-observational approach to tackle these important issues of potential changes in iron supply and carbon draw down. Additionally the project will be complementary to a cutting-edge project at the AWI and a proposed RV Polarstern expedition for 2021.


This project will use both observational data and numerical modelling to understand the dynamics and physical drivers of variability in the South Georgia phytoplankton bloom. Specifically, the project will include analysis of hydrographic and biogeochemical data from previous cruises and temperature and salinity profiles from Argo floats, with the likelihood of additional data from a research cruise along the path of the bloom and close to glacial sources at South Georgia. Satellite data (sea surface temperature, chlorophyll, irradiance and currents) will be merged with float profiles to study the surface mixing and light availability that control the bloom onset in spring.

Complementary modelling work will use an existing NEMO high-resolution regional model of South Georgia to simulate the fate of conservative tracers released at all likely iron sources. This will allow determination of the transport pathways, dispersal patterns and temporal signatures for iron from each source. Model simulations will be conducted for multiple years to examine the drivers of both seasonal and interannual variability in tracer transport.

Combined, such outputs will allow an assessment of the key physical drivers of variability in the timing, strength and spatial distribution of the phytoplankton bloom, and the potential impact of future change.


The INSPIRE DTP programme provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted at British Antarctic Survey.

Specific training will include:
(1) collation, analysis and interpretation of oceanographic and satellite datasets
(2) high-resolution oceanographic modelling (NEMO);
(3) competence in high-performance computing;

BAS has a vibrant student community, with weekly student seminars and discussion meetings and a range of social activities. The student will gain important research skills such as scientific writing and oral presentation by attending appropriate courses. Travel to international scientific meetings to present project results will also be encouraged.

While Antarctic fieldwork is not required, participation in expeditions will be considered. There may be the opportunity to join a RV Polarstern cruise and acquire field experience.

Funding Notes

You can apply for fully-funded studentships (stipend and fees) from INSPIRE if you:
Are a UK or EU national.
Have no restrictions on how long you can stay in the UK.
Have been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the project.

Please click View Website for more information on eligibility and how to apply


Venables, H.J., Meredith, M.P., 2009. Theory and observations of Ekman flux in the chlorophyll distribution downstream of South Georgia. Geophysical Research Letters 36.
Young, E.F., Meredith, M.P., Murphy, E.J., Carvalho, G.R. (2011). ‘High-resolution modelling of the shelf and open ocean adjacent to South Georgia, Southern Ocean’. Deep Sea Research II, 58, 1540-1552, doi:10.1016/j.dsr2.2009.11.003.

How good is research at University of Southampton in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 68.62

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

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