PhD Studentship: Coral Reef Futures Under Climate Change and Ocean Acidification

University of Exeter - Geography Department

The University of Exeter and the University of Queensland are seeking exceptional students to join a world-leading, cross-continental research team tackling major challenges facing the world’s population in global sustainability and wellbeing as part of the recently launched QUEX Institute.

The student will have the chance to study in the UK and Australia, and will graduate with a double degree from the University of Exeter and the University of Queensland.

Find out more about the PhD Studentship via

Lead Academic Supervisors

Dr Paul Halloran (University of Exeter)

Prof Peter Mumby (University of Queensland)

Project information

Coral reefs are biologically and societally critical ecosystems, which are perhaps uniquely sensitive to climate change (Perry et al. 2012). Tools to monitor and understand contemporary drivers of reef change are becoming increasingly sophisticated (e.g. eReefs, ReefMod), yet our ability to predict coral reef futures – fundamental to planning protection strategies - remain extremely limited. The challenge of linking contemporary reef monitoring and modelling to future climate projections arises from the spatial-scale and complexity disconnect between the information that state-of-the-art climate models provide (e.g., Kwiatkowski et al. 2013, 2014, 2015), and that required to model individual coral reefs (e.g. Kennedy et al., 2013; Mumby et al. 2014).

This project aims to:

1) Take statistical downscaling techniques typically applied to terrestrial precipitation questions, and translate them to provide reef-scale climatic and biogeochemical data from the IPCC-focused CMIP5/6 (Climate Model Intercomparison Project) model projections.    

2) Build a simple ocean carbon-chemistry (ocean acidification) model to account for the local scale (e.g. reef lagoon) chemical buffering/amplification of the open-ocean chemical conditions simulated by the IPCC-focused models.

3) Build a novel set of 21st Century climate-change driven coral reef projections, and identify potential hotspots/refugia.

This project would be undertaken in two parts, first at the University of Exeter with a focus on climate modelling and carbon chemistry, then at the University of Queensland with a on focus reef-scale modelling and pioneering new coral reef projections which build on existing carbonate budget data (ReefBudget). Frequent Australia/UK visits would be required throughout the project.

  • Kwiatkowski L, Cox PM, Economou T, Halloran PR, Mumby PJ, Booth BBB, Carilli JE, Guzman HM (2013) Caribbean coral growth influenced by anthropogenic aerosol emissions. Nature Geoscience, 6, 362-366.
  • Kwiatkowski L, Halloran PR, Mumby PJ, Stephenson DB (2014) What spatial scales are believable for climate model projections of sea surface temperature? Climate Dynamics, 43, 1483-1496.
  • Kwiatkowski L, Cox P, Halloran PR, Mumby PJ, Wiltshire AJ (2015) Coral bleaching under unconventional scenarios of climate warming and ocean acidification. Nature Climate Change, 5, 777-781.
  • Kennedy EV, Perry CT, Halloran PR, Iglesias-Prieto R, Schonberg CH, Wisshak M, Form AU, Carricart-Ganivet JP, Fine M, Eakin CM, Mumby PJ (2013) Avoiding coral reef functional collapse requires local and global action. Current Biology, 23, 912-918.
  • Mumby PJ, Wolff NH, Bozec YM, Chollett I, Halloran PR (2014) Operationalizing the resilience of coral reefs in an era of climate change. Conservation Letters, 7, 176-187.
  • Perry CT, Murphy GN, Kench PS, Smithers SG, Edinger EN, Steneck RS, Mumby PJ (2013) Caribbean-wide decline in carbonate production threatens coral reef growth. Nature Communications, 4, 1402.

Full tuition fees, stipend of £15,000 p.a, travel funds of up to £15,000, and RTSG of £3,000 are available over the 3 year programme.

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