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Tiny fractals in the sea: the biogeochemistry of particle shape

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 03, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Particles* are a critical aspect of life and chemistry in the ocean. Marine particles are hotspots of biological activity, and their sinking mediates a major vertical transport of mass and energy that connects the sunlit and dark ocean ecosystems and fundamentally influences global biogeochemistry. Marine particles tend to be formed by aggregating processes, so they tend to behave like fractals** [1]. Both particles’ sinking speeds and the chemical reactions that occur within them [2] are strongly influenced not only by their sizes but also by their shapes. Yet for simplicity particles are nearly always treated as spheres, neglecting any shape effects. The student’s goal will be to explore how particle shape in the ocean affects particle-mediated transport and the oxygen (and other chemical) gradients and cycling within particles, and thus ocean biogeochemistry as a whole. How different are the cycles of carbon, nitrogen and other elements as a result of particles being spherical, fractal, or other shapes altogether? This requires pairing microscale modeling of fractal particles with global-scale ocean biogeochemical modeling, complemented by laboratory and field data.

*objects ranging from ~micron to ~millimeter diameters
**objects whose key geometric properties (radius, area, volume…) have different relationships than ‘simple’ objects like spheres

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


[1] Burd, Adrian B., and George A. Jackson. "Particle aggregation." Annual review of marine science 1 (2009): 65-90.
[2] Bianchi, Daniele, Thomas S. Weber, Rainer Kiko, and Curtis Deutsch. "Global niche of marine anaerobic metabolisms expanded by particle microenvironments." Nature Geoscience 11, no. 4 (2018): 263.
[3] Isichenko, Michael B. "Percolation, statistical topography, and transport in random media." Reviews of modern physics 64, no. 4 (1992): 961.

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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