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Unlocking past and present climatic and anthropogenic drivers of environmental change influencing Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park (Borneo, Malaysia)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Thursday, June 13, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Project Highlights

• Study a set of unique coral cores covering up to 200 years of ocean climate history from Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park (MSCRNP)

• Assess anthropogenic impacts and their effects on sediment and nutrient delivery to the coral reefs and their signatures in coral core geochemistry

• Carry out and develop analytical experience with a range of high precision analytical instruments research with cutting edge stable isotope and trace element geochemistry at UOL and partners in Australia and Germany

• Undertake innovative climate and geochemical proxy data analysis and develop paleoclimate reconstructions of temperature, hydroclimate, river runoff and eutrophication

The Maritime Continent has experienced fast economic development and urbanization in the past 40 years, drastically increasing anthropogenically induced pressures on the marine ecosystems and causing significant ecological damage (Burke et al., 2011; Tun et al., 2008; Miettinen et al., 2011). Forest loss in Borneo has resulted from human-induced actions like widespread timber exploitation and oil palm cultivation, as well as climate-induced events like severe droughts and wildfires, particularly in ENSO years (Chen et al., 2016; Gaveau et al., 2014, 2016; Sloan et al., 2017).

Deforestation in tropical regions with high precipitation is a major cause for the siltation of watersheds by leaving cleared areas prone to soil erosion (Storlazzi et al., 2015; Vijith and Dodge-Wan, 2018). Terrestrial sediment- and pollutant-runoff into the coastal waters, and sediment resuspension caused by land use changes and dredging, are serious issues for the status of coral reefs (Fabricius, 2005).

The reefs in Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park (MSCRNP), off the northwestern Sarawak coast of Borneo are poorly studied. There is limited in situ SST and light level (turbidity) data available for the coastal waters of MSCRNP from several Masters thesis (Krawczyk et al., 2018). Thus, the lack of detailed reef assessments and poor climatic data limits the analysis of temporal change of the coral reefs’ status in MSCRNP.

Within this proposed project we aim to develop a spatio-temporal reconstruction of dynamics regarding SST, sea surface salinity (SSS), light availability, nutrient discharge and river sediment runoff based on a multi-proxy geochemical analysis of coral cores (Sr/Ca for SST; 18O for rainfall; 13C for light levels and carbon uptake; Ba/Ca for sediment runoff; 15N for nutrient cycling; Ren et al., 2002; Sun et al., 2008; Grove et al., 2012; Zinke et al., 2016; Duprey et al., 2016) from various sites in MSCRNP, Borneo (Malaysia). All proxies are compared to other data products of SST, SSS, river runoff and precipitation. Proxy data are further investigated for signals of large-scale climatic teleconnections related to important climate drivers.

The PhD project is part of Prof. Zinke’s Royal Society Wolfson Fellowship which aims to take the pulse of the tropical oceans through the coral’s lense.


Geochemical measurements will be performed in laboratories in at the University of Leicester (UOL), Curtin University Perth (Australia) and Max-Planck Institute Mainz (Germany).

The methods to generate coral proxy records include:
1) X-ray analysis to determine optimum sampling tracks along major growth axes of the coral cores (already completed at AIMS)
2) paired with XRD and microscopy to detect potential diagenesis in modern and fossil corals (UOL)
3) Bi-monthly sampling (1-2mm) of coral cores with an automated milling device to extract powder (UOL)
4) Geochemical preparation of samples for subsequent analysis in ultra-clean lab at UOL
5) High-precision measurement of elemental ratios (Sr/Ca, Mg/Ca) with inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (ICP-MS) at UOL (Sr/Ca, U/Ca, Mg/Ca, Ba/Ca, B/Ca, Li/Ca, Li/Mg); Laser-Ablation ICP-MS analysis at Curtin University (Australia) (Sr/Ca, Ba/Ca, B/Ca, Mn/Ca, Y/Ca, REEs)
6) Measurement of stable isotopes (18O, 13C) with Gasbench at FU Berlin and Sercon 20-20 at UOL
7) Measurement of nitrogen isotopes (15N) at Max-Planck Institute Mainz (Germany)


Fieldwork in Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park is planned in cooperation with Curtin University (Perth, Western Australia) and Curtin Sarawak University (Malaysia) in 2020 in Miri. The student will gain experience in modern coral sampling, and has the chance to obtain a dive certificate. Aims of the fieldwork is to expand the available coral core archive by obtaining 2m long cores covering up to 200 years. In addition, we will collect and re-deploy in situ sensors for SST and light levels.

Entry requirements

Applicants are required to hold/or expect to obtain a UK Bachelor Degree 2:1 or better in a relevant subject. The University of Leicester English language requirements apply where applicable:

How to apply

You should submit your application using our online application system:

Apply for a Geology Research
In the funding section of the application please indicate you wish to be considered for the SGGE-ZINKE-19 Studentship

In the proposal section please provide the name of the supervisor and project.

Include a personal statement explaining your interest in the project and why we should consider you together with degree certificates, transcripts, CV, references and evidence of English proficiency where applicable.

Project Enquiries: Prof. Jens Zinke

Telephone enquiries to 0116 223 1777

Application enquiries to

Funding Notes

This funding is only available to Home/EU applicants. Candidates must be able to start in September 2019.

The studentship is available for full-time registration and will cover all Home/EU tuition fees for three academic years together with an annual tax-free stipend of £15,009.

The successful applicant will receive an RTSG (Researcher Training Support Grant) to cover the costs of travel, conferences and running costs.


Burke, L., Reytar, K., Spalding, M. and Perry, A. (2011) Reefs at Risk Revisited. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC.
Chen, C.-C., Lin, H.-W., Yu, J.-Y. and Lo, M.-H. (2016) The 2015 Borneo fires: What have we learned from the 1997 and 2006 El Niños? Environmental Research Letters 11, 104003.
Duprey, N.N., Yasuhara, M. and Baker, D. M. (2016) Reefs of tomorrow: eutrophication reduces coral biodiversity in an urbanized seascape Global Change Biology 22, 3550–3565, doi: 10.1111/gcb.13432.
Fabricius, K.E. (2005) Effects of terrestrial runoff on the ecology of corals and coral reefs: review and synthesis. Marine Pollution Bulletin 50, 125-146.
Gaveau, D.L.A., Sheil, D., Husnayaen, Salim, M.A., Arjasakusuma, S., Ancrenaz, M., Pacheco, P. and Meijaard, E. (2016) Rapid conversions and avoided deforestation: examining four decades of industrial plantation expansion in Borneo. Scientific Reports 6, 32017.
Gaveau, D.L.A., Sloan, S., Molidena, E., Yaen, H., Sheil, D., Abram, N.K., Ancrenaz, M., Nasi, R., Quinones, M., Wielaard, N. and Meijaard, E. (2014) Four Decades of Forest Persistence, Clearance and Logging on Borneo. PLOS ONE 9, e101654.
Grove, C. A., J. Zinke, T. Scheufen, E. Epping, W. Boer, B. Randriamanantsoa and G-J. A. Brummer (2012) Spatial linkages between coral proxies of terrestrial runoff across a large embayment in Madagascar. Biogeosciences 9, 3063-3081.

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