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Utilising novel satellite observations in the monitoring and management of marine Ecosystems.PhD in Renewable Energy (NERC GW4 + DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead Supervisor
Dr Helen Smith, Department of Engineering, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
Dr Jon Rees, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
Dr Tiago Silva, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
Dr Ian Ashton, Department of Engineering, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

Location: University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

- An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
- Payment of university tuition fees;
- A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
- A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
- Travel and accommodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events.
- No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter

Project Background

The growth of anthropogenic activity and associated impacts in the marine environment from sectors such as offshore wind, shipping, and fishing and aquaculture have led to an increased need for wide-scale and long-term monitoring. However, traditional in situ and remote monitoring activities have a low spatial coverage and are limited in their ability to respond quickly to unplanned events. New opportunities for marine monitoring are becoming viable as the latest generation of multi-spectral, as well as synthetic aperture radar (SAR), satellites come online. Recent developments in CubeSats [1], i.e. relatively inexpensive small satellites, as well as the larger ESA Sentinel satellites, offer significant increases in the range of sensing parameters, resolution, utility and coverage, e.g. [2],[3]. This PhD will build on ongoing work in the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) to produce new earth observations products for use in the monitoring of anthropogenic activities.

Project Aims and Methods

This project will explore and assess the utility of CubeSats in monitoring marine activities on local, national and global scales. Project CASE partner Cefas, as part of Defra, has been given free access to the NOVASAR satellite currently used for flood detection, but which could be used to monitor oil spills, wakes from offshore windfarms, surface shipping and unreported and unregulated fishing. The student will explore the application of high temporal frequency, high resolution constellations to coastal and intertidal mapping, water quality and marine surveillance (e.g. oil spills and other pollution events), and test the application of novel Earth observation sensors to marine management while assessing the constraints of operational use of these new technologies.

The large range of potential applications using NOVASAR data will enable the student to design a project either focusing in detail on a specific sector of marine activity or geographical scale, or addressing wider marine monitoring and management, depending on their background or specific area of interest. Possible areas of application include detection of illegal fishing in the UK overseas territories and oil spill detection.

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2020 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-20.


References / Background reading list

[1] Poghosyen, A. & Golkar, A. (2017). CubeSat evolution: Analyzing CubeSat capabilities for conducting science missions. Progress in Aerospace Sciences, 88, pp.59-83.

[2] Vanhellemont, Q. (2019). Daily metre-scale mapping of water turbidity using CubeSat imagery. Optics Express, 27(20), pp.A1372-A1399.

[3] Morrison, J.M. et al. (2016). SeaHawk: an advanced CubeSat mission for sustained ocean colour monitoring. Proc. SPIE 10000, Sensors, Systems, and Next-Generation Satellites XX, 100001C, 19 October 2016, Edinburgh, UK, doi: 10.1117/12.2241058.

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