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Systems off-balance? Exploring the cumulative impacts of enriched coastal waters, altered nutrient ratios and a warming climate on coastal phytoplankton communities (MALINUENV20ARIES)

Project Description


Coastal eutrophication is a worldwide issue with negative cultural and environmental impacts and its assessment is a formal requirement of several European Directives. Over recent decades river phosphate has declined through improved sewage treatment, but nitrogen, arising mostly from diffuse agricultural sources, is not decreasing similarly. This PhD is an exciting opportunity to advance understanding of how increased N:P ratios impact on phytoplankton composition. Climate change also alters diversity and bloom timings with further impacts on coastal N and P. A key challenge is to determine whether trait-based plankton community metrics would allow a step-change improvement in future eutrophication assessments.


Your aim is to improve understanding of how changing nutrient ratios are impacting on primary producers now and what could happen under future climate scenarios. Key research objectives and methods are:

1) Interrogate existing nutrient and plankton datasets for nutrient input and N:P, phosphate limitation area and community structure trends in UK waters.

2) Conduct seagoing research with Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), Marine Scotland (MS) and the Environment Agency (EA) to determine the nutrient limiting primary producers across the North Sea through sampling, nutrient analysis and nutrient add-back incubations.

3) Apply the alkaline phosphatase method to determine the importance of organic phosphorous.

4) Model how climate-related changes could interact with this nutrient-perturbed system.

5) Publish results in peer-reviewed journals and recommend changes to policy via Cefas and MS and practice via the Environment Agency.

You will work with a strong multidisciplinary team with excellent research track records on microalgae, nutrients and coastal seas policy at: UEA (Malin, Greenwood and Devlin) and Cefas (Greenwood and Devlin). You will do sea-going fieldwork with Cefas, MS (Bresnan) and the EA (Best).


You will develop advanced skills in field research, sample and data analysis, and transferable skills. These can open doors to careers in research, industry, commerce and marine policy.


An enthusiastic, self-motivated student with good experimental skills, knowledge of water analysis, microalgae and/or coastal seas would be ideal.

More information on the supervisor for this project:
Type of programme: PhD
Start date: October 2020
Mode of study: Full-time or part-time
Studentship length: 3.5 years
Partner: Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas)
Eligibility requirements: First degree in Oceanography, Marine or Environmental Sciences

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.

Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.

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 in the subject area.

For further information, please visit View Website


Greenwood N, Devlin MJ, Best M, Fronkova L, Graves CA, Milligan A, Barry J and van Leeuwen SM (2019) Utilizing eutrophication assessment directives from transitional to marine systems in the Thames Estuary and Liverpool Bay, UK. Front. Mar. Sci. 6:116 doi: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00116

Davis CE, Mahaffey C (2017) Elevated alkaline phosphatase activity in a phosphate-replete environment: Influence of sinking particles. Limnology and Oceanography 62, 2017, 2389–2403 doi: 10.1002/lno.1057

Hockin, NL, Mock, T, Mulholland, F, Kopriva, S and Malin, G (2012). The Response of Diatom Central Carbon Metabolism to Nitrogen Starvation Is Different from that of Green Algae and Higher Plants. Plant Physiology 158(1):299-312 doi: 10.1104/pp.111.184333

McQuatters-Gollop A, Atkinson A, Aubert A, Bedford J, Best M, Bresnan E, Cooke K, Devlin M, Gowen R, Johns DG, Machairopoulou M, McKinney A, Mellor, A, Ostle C, Scherer C, Tett, P (2019) Plankton lifeforms as a biodiversity indicator for regional-scale assessment of pelagic habitats for policy. Ecological Indicators 101:913–925 doi: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2019.02.010

Burson, AM, Stomp, M, Akil, L, Brussaard, CPD and Huisman, J (2016) Unbalanced reduction of nutrient loads has created an offshore gradient from phosphorous to nitrogen limitation in the North Sea. Limnology and Oceanography 61:869-888 doi: 10.1002/lno.10257

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