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What does the future hold for European shelf seas ecosystems?


   College of Life and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr U Schuster  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) content has been increasing from the industrial revolution onwards, predominantly due to the combustion of fossil fuel that had trapped the carbon deep underground and away from the atmosphere. The more of this fossil fuel that is burned, producing ‘anthropogenic CO2’, the progressively stronger are the impacts on the environment, including the marine domain.

The world ocean is a net sink of atmospheric CO2, i.e. taking up more CO2 than it releases, without which the environmental impacts of the excess anthropogenic CO2 would have been significantly more severe. At the same time, the additional CO2 impacts ocean chemistry by making seawater more acidic. This process, called ‘ocean acidification’, along with the increasing ocean temperature and carbon content, in turn impacts marine biology, from simple photosynthesising plankton (phytoplankton) through the whole food chain.

Additional to the CO2-driven environmental changes, dissolved oxygen (DO) is reducing in the ocean, exacerbating detrimental impacts on ocean ecosystems.

In turn, ecosystem changes have feedbacks onto the organic and inorganic composition of seawater, including changes in organic and inorganic matter present, and persisting, in seawater. Such processes and feedbacks potentially further affect shelf seas health and biodiversity, including greater reduction of DO, accumulating toxin concentrations, and seawater particle load (reduced clarity).

Understanding exists of some of the processes that are leading to change and their feedbacks, yet crucial uncertainties remain. This project will improve our knowledge of past and contemporary variability and the processes influencing it, and hence improve projections of future variability.

Proposed Research:

This project will research the details of processes through which marine ecosystems on the European Shelf are impacted by atmospheric CO2. It will examine how identified changes, their drivers, and feedback mechanisms in turn affect the shelf seas’ biogeochemistry, health, and biodiversity, with special emphasis on the organic and inorganic particle load that changes seawater clarity. Based on the identified changes and drivers, the future evolution of shelf seas’ biogeochemistry will be numerically predicted.

We will utilise existing data, complemented by collecting new observations, together with statistical and high-resolution numerical modelling, as well as machine learning techniques.

Data sources to be utilised that are publicly available include remotely sensed data and reanalysis data, and in-situ observations.

Remotely sensed and reanalysis data can be used to identify ocean surface chlorophyll concentrations (a proxy for phytoplankton activity), coloured dissolved organic matter (CDOM; an indicator of organic matter), as well as particulate matter, temperature, salinity, ocean currents, wind speed, etc.

Applying statistical modelling and machine learning techniques, we will identify hindcasts of the drivers of marine ecosystem variability, utilising these data.

Existing in-situ observations will be used to validate any resulting drivers; depending on field-work regulations, we are hoping to be able to enhance the in-situ observational datasets by collecting and analysing additional samples for relevant parameters.

Additionally, we will utilise a high-resolution coastal biogeochemical model to study the processes driving change.

Finally, using all obtained results and understanding, we will use predictive modelling to identify potential shelf sea ecosystem conditions in decades to come. 

The successful applicant will be aligned to the UKRI CDT in Environmental Intelligence, and will be included in CDT cohort building and training activities where suitable. It should be noted that, unlike standard Environmental Intelligence CDT students who develop their own PhD projects and supervisory teams, the successful applicant will work on the above project under the supervision of Ute Schuster from the start of their PhD.

About the UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Environmental Intelligence:

Our changing environment presents a series of inter-related challenges that will affect everyone’s future health, safety and prosperity. Environmental Intelligence (EI) is the integration of environmental and sustainability research with data science, artificial intelligence and cutting-edge digital technologies to provide the meaningful insight to address these challenges and mitigate the effects of environmental change. One of the 16 UKRI AI CDTs launched in 2019, the CDT in Environmental Intelligence provides an interdisciplinary training programme for students covering the range of skills required to become a leader in EI:

• the computational skills required to analyse data from a wide variety of sources;

• expertise in environmental challenges;

• an understanding of the governance, ethics and the potential societal impacts of collecting, mining, sharing and interpreting data, together with the ability to communicate and engage with a diverse range of stakeholders.

The CDT cohort (currently around 30 students out of the planned 50), works and learns together, bringing knowledge, skills, and interests from a range of academic disciplines relevant to EI. CDT students undertake training and professional development as a cohort, and regularly participate in seminars, symposia, and partner engagement activities including the annual CDT Environmental Intelligence Grand Challenge. As part of the research community at the University of Exeter, CDT students benefit from networking with colleagues in the Institute for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence; the Global Systems Institute; and the Environment and Sustainability Institute.

This award provides annual funding to cover Home tuition fees and a tax-free stipend. For students who pay Home tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £16,062 per year tax-free stipend. Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend. 

International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD.

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

How to apply & Entry Requirements

For further information and to submit an application please visit - https://www.exeter.ac.uk/study/funding/award/?id=4472


Funding Notes

This award provides annual funding to cover Home tuition fees and a tax-free stipend. For students who pay Home tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £16,062 per year tax-free stipend. Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend.
International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD.
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