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PhD Studentships with Marine Research Plymouth

22 October 2023

Exciting new PhD Studentship opportunities to train tomorrow’s leaders in Environmental Science.
PhD student at Plymouth Marine Laboratory We are delighted to share a number of new PhD Studentship opportunities hosted by PML and through our Marine Research Plymouth partnership: between the University of Plymouth, Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Marine Biological Association. Details can be found below.

Hosted by Plymouth Marine Laboratory:


Are sea ice and surface foam important in determining oceanic uptake of CO2?

The global oceans take up about a third of the carbon dioxide (CO2) we emit, and about half of this uptake occurs within the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica. This dampens global heating so understanding air-sea CO2 exchange in the Southern Ocean is essential for predicting future climate. While air-sea CO2 exchange through an unbroken water surface is reasonably well understood, how sea ice and whitecaps (formed via bubbles from wave breaking) affect CO2 exchange are very poorly known. Because the Southern Ocean is substantially covered by sea ice and/or whitecaps, our poor understanding of these processes limits the accuracy of current and future CO2 flux estimates.

Closing date for applications is 23:59 on 10 January 2024.
View and apply on the ARIES DTP website >>


Using novel techniques to understand biological controls on volatile sulfur in the ocean

The oceans release huge quantities of a gas called dimethylsulfide (DMS), which plays a key role in regulating Earth’s climate via the formation of atmospheric particles and clouds. DMS is produced when marine phytoplankton die and break apart, or by bacteria as they feed on the substances that phytoplankton excrete.
We know the products of DMS have an important influence on climate – their cooling effect is similar in size (but opposite in sign) to the global warming caused by human CO2 emissions. But gaps in our understanding remain, some of which relate to short term bloom events often associated with intense DMS production. Complex phytoplankton community dynamics are likely to be critical during such events, but models still do not include a suitable level of detail to capture this.

Closing date for applications is 23:59 on 10 January 2024.
View and apply on the ARIES DTP website >>


Marine Research Plymouth projects (PML co-supervising)


How do Organic Nutrients Sustain Shelf Seas Productivity?  

Second Supervisor (External Lead): Dr Katherine Helliwell
Lead Supervisor (Director of Studies): Professor Mark Fitzsimons
Third Supervisor: Dr Andy Rees

Marine phytoplankton play vital roles in regulating the global climate, contributing almost half of net primary production. A major factor controlling phytoplankton assemblages is the availability of crucial nutrients including nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), the supply of which can vary dramatically in space and time. The aim of this project is to integrate field and laboratory methodologies to further examine organic N and P usage and coordination by phytoplankton in the Western English Channel.

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on Monday 8 January 2024.
Find out more and apply >>


Use of AI and computer vision to develop next generation marine biological observing capability

Lead Supervisor (Director of Studies): Professor Kerry Howell
Second Supervisor: Dr James Clark
Third Supervisor: Dr Pierre Hélaouët

Predicting how ocean life will respond to pressures from increasing human use and climate change is the basis for science-informed decision-making. It requires development of models that enable forecasting of possible outcomes in 'what if' scenarios. This studentship will investigate current Artificial Intelligence (AI) capability to deliver ecologically meaningful metrics from image-based data; and in so doing develop the methods and tools to support the wider application of AI to image-based biological observations.

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on Monday 8 January 2024
Find out more and apply >>


Sound of Sharks: assessing the spatial and temporal distribution of sharks in Plymouth Sound and surrounding waters to inform sustainable ecosystem management approaches

Lead Supervisor (Director of Studies): Dr Emma Sheehan
Second Supervisor: Professor David Sims
Third Supervisor: Dr Peter Miller

Elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) play a key role in maintaining ecosystem structure and function, building ocean-human connections through tourism, and underpin valuable recreational and commercial fisheries, but elasmobranchs are globally threatened with extinction. By combining acoustic telemetry (tagging and tracking), video surveys and Earth observation systems, this PhD will build a better understanding of elasmobranch movement and distribution surrounding Plymouth Sound, providing insight into the effect of current management measures on elasmobranchs and facilitate the development of improved management plans and conservation measures. 

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on Monday 8 January 2024.
Find out more and apply >>


New approaches to image dynamic sinking behaviour in marine phytoplankton 

Second Supervisor (External Lead): Dr Glen Wheeler
Lead Supervisor (Director of Studies): Professor Alex Nimmo Smith
Third Supervisor: Dr James Clark

The rate at which phytoplankton cells sink to the deep ocean plays a critical role in the global carbon cycle. Phytoplankton cells can actively control their orientation and buoyancy, indicating that biological processes play a major role in determining carbon export, although the factors controlling sinking rates remain poorly understood. New technologies allowing direct imaging of sinking phytoplankton cells are providing novel insight and this project aims to use these technologies to better understand the biological processes that influence sinking rates in a range of marine phytoplankton and hence determine global carbon fluxes.

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on Monday 8 January 2024

Find out more and apply >>



The application deadline for these studentships is Tuesday 9 January 2024 at 2359 GMT. Interviews will take place from 26 February to 8 March 2024. For more information about the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership please visit


Building a digital twin navigating autonomous underwater vehicles to monitor water quality

Lead Institution: Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Lead Supervisor: Jozef Skakala, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Modelling group

Co-Supervisor: Prathyush P Menon, University of Exeter, Faculty of Environment, Science and Economy
Co-Supervisor: Juliane Wihsgott, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Marine biogeochemistry group
Co-Supervisor: David Ford, Met Office, Exeter

We propose for the student to develop a proof-of-concept DT to demonstrate that multiple AUVs could be successfully navigated to investigate oxygen depletion/minima zones using their own measurements (of temperature, salinity, chlorophyll and oxygen itself) as well as Earth Observation (EO) and model data. The initial plan, which we are happy to later adapt to the student’s initiatives, needs and interests, is that the student will run virtual DT experiments using a state-of-the-art physics-biogeochemistry ocean model (NEMO-FABM-ERSEM), acting as the "real-world ocean’’ in which AUVs take "samples".  Virtual EO data will be similarly extracted from the model outputs and perturbed by noise to represent observational uncertainty, providing an idealised framework in which the true ocean state and all model and observational errors are known, allowing the effectiveness of the developed ML/AI algorithms to be accurately assessed. Building on a recent work of Skakala et al (2023), the student will develop ML model to forecast DO values from the virtual glider measurements and EO data. The ML model will then be used together with path-planning algorithms, designed by the student, to optimize the trajectory and sampling strategy of multiple gliders. The work will demonstrate the feasibility of the DT AUVs control for tracking hypoxia and provide framework for real-world applications. The work will further investigate/advise what variables need to be measured, as well as their locations and sampling resolution, for a successful future hypoxia tracking mission.

Applications opening soon.


The Transport & Cycling of Terrigenous Carbon in UK and Falkland Island Coastal Waters

Lead Institution:  Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Lead Supervisor: Andy Rees, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Co-Supervisor: Dan Mayor, University of Exeter, Biosciences
Co-Supervisor: Chris Evans, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Bangor
Co-Supervisor: Paul Brickle, South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute
Co-Supervisor: Vas Kitidis, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

During this project you will investigate processes that transform carbon transported between land and the ocean within several contrasting environments in order to better understand the fate and impact in receiving waters and overlying atmosphere. There will be opportunities to join existing research teams at the host organisations in order to address the following high level questions:

  1. What mechanisms control CO2 and CH4 release from an agriculturally dominated estuary (Tamar – SW England)

  2. How do the carbon characteristics differ between estuaries and coastal waters associated with drained and re-wetted peatlands (East Anglia)

  3. How does remineralisation of peat deposited on the sea-bed impact the chemistry of benthic sediments and overlying waters (Falkland Islands)

Human activities on land have resulted in the elevated release of material between land and ocean, this project will work alongside areas of impacted land in addition to those which are undergoing restoration attempts. Each of the areas highlighted above will require the student to work between rivers and the coastal zone in order to collect samples and deploy sophisticated analytical instrumentation in order to characterise dissolved and particulate carbon, dissolved oxygen and concentrations and fluxes of methane and CO2.

Applications opening soon.


Microscopic ocean life viewed through a new lens

Lead Institution: Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)
Lead Supervisor: Dr James Clark, PML, Marine Systems Modelling

Co-Supervisor: Dr Sareh Rowlands, University of Exeter, Computer Science
Co-Supervisor: Dr Sophie Pitois, Cefas, Ecology and Plankton Science
Co-Supervisor: Elaine Fileman, PML, Marine Ecology and Biodiversity
Co-Supervisor: Claire Widdicombe, PML, Marine Ecology and Biodiversity
Co-Supervisor: Robert Blackwell, Cefas, Data science and statistics

The project can be steered in several directions, and the successful student will have the opportunity to shape the project around their interests. Example research questions include: How do plankton abundances vary on hourly-daily timescales, and what are the drivers behind the observed variability? What are the dominant spatial scales governing patchiness in plankton communities? And how do plankton populations respond to short- and long-term perturbations? The student may also decide to research how these new data types can be integrated into existing plankton survey and monitoring programmes, which at the current time rely on more traditional measuring techniques.
The following gives an example of a set of objectives around which a project could be built:

  • i) Collect existing and new data on plankton abundances using the Pi-10 and IFCB cameras.
  • ii) Assess the efficacy of existing machine learning algorithms for classifying planktonic organisms within image data collected by the Pi-10 and IFCB cameras.
  • iii) Quantify and investigate sub-daily changes in plankton community composition at Station L4 in the Western English Channel using data from the IFCB and Pi-10 camera systems.
  • iv) Quantify and investigate short (~m) spatial scale changes in plankton community composition in Pi-10 image data collected aboard the RV Cefas Endeavour.

It is anticipated the student will work directly with the IFCB (PML) and Pi-10 (PML, Cefas) camera systems, and will take part in research cruises organised by both PML and Cefas. They will help to deploy, operate and service the three cameras; and use the data to study plankton communities. They will work with Machine Learning software to classify plankton within the images and use time series analysis and statistical approaches to tease apart patterns within the data and drivers of variability.

Applications opening soon.
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