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Using satellites to monitor plastics in the world’s oceans

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  • Full or part time
    Dr A Marino
    Dr P Hunter
    Dr D Woolf
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

A by-product of the production of 250 million tonnes of plastic a year is the contamination of natural ecosystems by fugitive plastics. Due to ocean currents, this plastic tends to accumulate within five major ocean gyres that are referred to as Garbage Patches. Plastic here represents a hazard to animals through entanglement and ingestion, as well as a threat to the food chain from the accumulation of persistent organic pollutants.
The first step in tackling this problem is to quantify it. This project aims to address this requirement by using satellite data. It was recently shown for the first time an association between high densities of micro-plastic and regions of low backscatter in Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite images. We are hypothesising that this is related to the generation of surfactants from microbial degradation of plastics.
In this project, we want to have a definitive proof that the dark features we observe in radar images are due to plastic. We will therefore perform ground and lab experiments able to assess the nature of the dark stripes.
The successful candidate will undertake exciting multi-disciplinary work that involves:
1. Fieldwork and Laboratory experiments investigating the hypothesis that satellite data acquired by Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) can reliably detect plastics due to biofilm formation and a dampening of waves over the ocean surface.
2. Fusion of satellite sensors to try to quantify the amount of micro-plastic pollution.

In summary, this project aims to prove that we can quantify plastic accumulation in the world’s oceans with unprecedented resolution and accuracy. The obtained maps will help optimise future clean-up activities.

Funding Notes

This PhD project is fully funded by NERC through the IAPETUS-2 Doctoral Training Centre. We welcome applications form UK and EU Students. This is a competition funded PhD.


A first or upper second class degree in Microbiology, Engineering, Geosciences or in closely related areas, and enthusiasm for innovation. It would be beneficial for applicants to have experience with a programming language (eg. Python, Matlab, C).

Further details:
Serious applicants are strongly advised to make an informal enquiry about the PhD well before the final submission deadline of 10th January by contacting Dr. Armando Marino ([email protected]).

How to apply:
Instructions on how to make a formal application and information on eligibility requirements can be found here: Note that you must make an application both to the IAPETUS2 website and to Stirling University ( before the closing date for your application to be valid.

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