PhD Studentship: How Will Changing Shipping Emissions Affect the Atmospheric Deposition of Trace Elements to the Surface Ocean?

University of East Anglia - School of: Environmental Sciences

Start Date: October 2018

Supervisor: Dr Simon Ussher

Project description: Scientific background and significance

The biogeochemistry of the surface ocean and atmosphere are connected by transport pathways that have profound effects on the Earth’s climate and biosphere. Airborne particles are often natural in origin (e.g. sea salt, dust) but there is concern that modern anthropogenic aerosols have significant effects on sensitive marine ecosystems. A major contributor to atmospheric pollutants in the marine environment is shipping, which is continually increasing due to expanding populations and global trade.

In this project you will determine trace elements in ship emissions and aerosol/rainwater samples collected onboard ships and at coastal and open ocean sampling sites. Laboratory simulations will be used to study the dissolution of aerosol associated trace elements into seawater, using established trace techniques. Using these data, the project will address the critical impact that anthropogenic emissions associated with maritime shipping can have on open ocean ecosystems either by deposition of nutrient-type trace elements or harmful toxic heavy metals. The final goal will be to use the results to help inform ‘best practice’ for governments and the shipping industry.

Research methods, training and supervision

You will become an expert in cutting-edge techniques to sample and analyse marine aerosols and rainwaters. You will conduct fieldwork on ships, at a coastal atmospheric observatory (Penlee Point) and collect open ocean samples deposited in the North Atlantic Ocean (Bermuda). You will learn how to use advanced chemical analytical techniques and meteorological models to identify the origin of aerosols and assess their impact on the surface ocean.

Training opportunities will be offered in marine atmospheric fieldwork at study sites in Cornwall ( and Bermuda ( You will also receive comprehensive training in advanced analytical techniques, including mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and X-ray techniques (XRF and SEM-EDX).

You will benefit from a team of experienced and friendly supervisors from Plymouth University, the University of East Anglia, and Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and the scientific networks and career opportunities associated with these institutes.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with over twenty other research partners. Undertaking a PhD with the EnvEast DTP will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 12/13 February 2018.

For further information, please visit

Person specification: BSc/MSc Environmental Science, Marine Science or Chemistry (or similar) with a passion for marine and atmospheric science.

EnvEast welcomes applicants from quantitative disciplines who may have limited background in environmental sciences. Excellent candidates will be considered for an award of an additional 3-month stipend to take appropriate advanced-level courses in the subject area.

Funding notes: Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - in 2017/18, the stipend is £14,553. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a stipend. For non-UK EU-resident applicants NERC funding can be used to cover fees, RTSG and training costs, but not any part of the stipend. Individual institutes may, however, elect to provide a stipend from their own resources. 

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