PhD Studentship: Drones for Understanding Carbon Uptake in Sea-Ice Covered Antarctic Waters - Geography, PhD (NERC GW4+ DTP Funded)

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership.  The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Met Office, Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018, research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.


Main Supervisor: Dr Jamie Shutler
Co-Supervisor: Dr Tom Bell
Co-Supervisor:  Dr Karen Anderson

Project description:

The oceans around Antarctica are disproportionately important for the global uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2). Large (factor of three) uncertainties exist in our understanding of air-to-sea CO2 gas transfer in mixed ice regions.  For example, sea-ice may alter transfer by suppressing ocean swell and modifying near surface turbulence.
Measurements of air-to-sea CO2 fluxes close to the Antarctic Peninsula are funded via a large Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) project. Estimates of the spatial extent of sea-ice and its impact upon air-to-sea gas fluxes are urgently required.
This project will use novel imaging approaches and drone techniques to quantify sea-ice extent coincident with measured gas fluxes. The data collected will help establish the importance of sea-ice for controlling air-to-sea CO2 fluxes.

Project Aims and Methods

Aim: Collect novel drone and ship-based measurements of sea-ice spatial extent in the Weddell Sea, East of the Antarctic Peninsula, and then determine how this ice extent, type and interactions are influencing air-to-sea CO2 fluxes.

Methods: You will first develop your methods (e.g. Duffy et al., 2017) on land (field test sites, PML Penlee observatory), and in UK coastal waters (using UoE Devocean and PML Plymouth Quest research vessels) exploiting a range of different measurement, imaging and drone techniques and equipment (e.g. Exeter DroneLab  You will evaluate your imaging approaches (e.g. near-infrared and visible spectrum cameras) and the durability of your equipment to harsh environments (e.g. within an artificial ice tank and a blast freezer).   Your main fieldwork will be conducted during a ship-based research cruise in the Weddell Sea, East of the Antarctic Peninsula. During the cruise you will continuously measure sea-ice coverage using fixed cameras and your drone techniques, all concurrently with direct air-to-sea flux measurements.  Drone surveys will be an important and novel tool to survey the region in front of the ship where the air-to-sea CO2 flux ‘footprint’ is located.  You will compare all of your results with a selection of satellite remotely sensed observations.


We are looking for a student with an undergraduate degree of 2:1 or higher in a numerate discipline, ideally with some experience of working in a research or development environment. Experience or knowledge of chemistry and oceanography are desirable, but not essential.

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2018 entry. The studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-18.

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South West England