PhD Studentship: Sending AutoNaut into Sea Ice Regions: Challenges and Opportunities for Polar Science (HEYWOOD_UENV18NEX)

University of East Anglia

Primary supervisor Prof Karen Heywood

Project description

The polar oceans are vast, underexplored, and challenging to study, yet these regions host processes crucial for understanding the causes and impacts of climate change. In polynya areas (openings in the sea ice), heat is exchanged with the atmosphere, and subsequent densification of seawater drives the global thermohaline ocean circulation. The Arctic and Antarctic regions host significant natural resources and there is a need to learn how to exploit these sustainably.

Autonomous surface vehicles are a new way to observe both the ocean and the atmosphere, offering the potential for year-round observations in hazardous environments. This project will work on adapting the wave-powered surface vehicle AutoNaut for scientific missions in Polar Regions, with the aim to determine the current and future capability for these novel platforms to answer important questions about the future impact of physical changes on climate, biogeochemistry and ecosystems of the Southern Ocean.

You will work closely with the AutoNaut engineers, including at least a month each year working there, exploring ways to make AutoNaut more robust. You will design and run experiments in the Roland von Glasow Air-Sea-Ice Chamber at UEA to test AutoNaut components with the goal of optimising the build of a new AutoNaut, and trials of the vehicle in UK, European and/or polar seas.

In parallel with this, you will analyse output (e.g. sea ice extent) from UK Earth System Models for the Southern Ocean and determine feasible current and future scenarios for using such technology to explore this hostile environment. This provides training in analysis of large model data sets, and will aid you in the design of deployments of AutoNaut in the Antarctic.

The NEXUSS CDT provides state-of-the-art, highly experiential training in the application and development of cutting-edge Smart and Autonomous Observing Systems for the environmental sciences, alongside comprehensive personal and professional development. There will be extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial / government / policy partners. You will be registered and hosted at UEA in Norwich but will spend time working with supervisors at Southampton, BAS and AutoNaut. Specific training will include:

  • Oceanography, ocean physics, marine biogeochemistry, marine ecology
  • Cryospheric science, sea ice processes and atmospheric processes
  • Numerical modelling and Earth System Models
  • Computing and processing of large data sets
  • Seagoing and marine data collection skills
  • Experimental design using the sea ice chamber
  • Engineering challenges for AUV design, development and operation.

Requirements: A degree in Engineering, Geophysics, Oceanography or Mearine Science, Physics, Natural Sciences, Meteorology, or Environmental Sciences (minimum 2:1 or equivalent)

Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC/EPSRC 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. 

For further information, please visit

Start date: October 2018

Application deadline: 23:59 on 1st June 2018

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