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Where did all the carbon go? Understanding and predicting carbon inventories in coarse sediments

Project Description

Project Rationale:

‘Blue carbon’ (BC), or carbon stored long-term in marine environments, is receiving increasing attention from scientists and policy makers, in terms of its capacity to mitigate against climate change by storing CO2and the potential to value these systems as a method of off-setting carbon emissions. However, the uncertainty around the carbon stocks, sources and burial in marine habitats remains significant, especially in large areas of sands/gravels where C concentrations are low, but which comprise a significant stock of carbon in the shelf overall (Diesing et al., 2017).

Coarse substrates (sands and gravels) have open matrices and high permeabilities that allow pore-water flows in their upper layers. These sediment types are spatially significant in the shelf seas and coastal environments. Their role as efficient bioreactors, rapidly exchanging nutrients and carbon between the bed and water column, has been highlighted in numerous studies (Huettel, 2014 and references there-in). Nevertheless, many ecosystem models such as ERSEM, Delft3d/Eco, neglect pore water transport within the bed and assume that transport occurs only by molecular diffusion. This assumption affects the modelling of physical, chemical and biological cycles within and across the seabed and is a serious weakness when undertaking model predictions of seabed state, functioning and potential future changes. This can lead to underestimates of carbon exchanges by an order of magnitude (Ahmerkamp et al., 2017).

This coupled observational (experimental) and modelling studentship aims to provide underpinning research for modelling permeable substrates that will be incorporated into existing shelf biogeochemical models. This will allow more realistic modelling of biogeochemical processes and allow improved BC stock predictions, both now and in the future.


The studentship will combine: new (and existing) observational measures of sediment parameters and variables using experimental flume systems (UoS) to understand and measure physical & chemical processes, and the modelling of these processes on sediment biogeochemistry (in particular oxygen and organic carbon) at mm-cm scales within existing validated packages (COMSOL, OMEXDIA). The implications of these outputs will then be tested in simplified forms in GIS based spatial models and/or larger scale shelf sea models (ERSEM).


The INSPIRE DTP programme provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted at University of Southampton. Specific training (UoS and Cefas) will include the use of laboratory flumes, sampling techniques and modelling using COMSOL and ERSEM. The links to Cefas will allow the student to participate in the Cefas studentship programme/days and access to additional informal training opportunities on statistical modelling/coding and policy context and priorities under climate change and blue carbon.

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


Huettel, M. Berg, P. and Kosta, J.E. 2014. Benthic Exchange and biogeochemical cycling in permeable sediments. Annual Reviews of Marine Science, 6:23-51

Amherkamp et al (2017) Regulation of benthic oxygen fluxes in permeable sediments of the coastal ocean. Limnology and Oceanography 62: 1935-54

M. Diesing, S. Kröger, R. Parker, C. Jenkins, C. Mason, K. Weston Predicting the standing stock of organic carbon in surface sediments of the North–West European continental shelf. Biogeochemistry, 135 (2017), pp. 183-200

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)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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