PhD Studentship: Polton_UENV18NEX - Using Ocean Gliders to Improve Prediction of Heat Uptake in Shelf Seas

University of East Anglia - School of Environmental Sciences

Start date: October 2018

Supervisor: Dr Jeff Polton

Project description:

Understanding changing environmental conditions at the sea floor is crucial for successful management of shelf seas ecosystems, and many off-shore industries. As the surface ocean warms during summer months, stratification reduces mixing between the surface and deep layers of the water column. This impacts the total heat uptake of shelf seas, as well as oxygen ventilation of the deep layer. Changes in seasonal stratification can therefore impact the sea floor environment through local changes in temperature, dissolved oxygen saturation, and nutrient concentrations.

Ocean models currently used for forecasting and climate prediction fail to accurately represent seasonal stratification and therefore conditions at the sea floor (Graham et al., 2018). These models are typically verified against long-term climatology, which is limited by the spatial extent and sampling frequency of historical data. Autonomous ocean gliders have been shown to be an excellent tool for observing stratification in shelf seas (e.g. Queste et al., 2016; Sheehan et al., 2018). NOC and UEA have completed over 20 glider missions resulting in a wealth of high-resolution glider observations that will be compared with operational ocean forecasts and reanalysis products.This project will then aim to develop a two-way synergy between modelling and observations, with observations informing model weaknesses, and simulations informing glider mission planning as well as real-time operations. Activities will engage and be supported by the CAMPUS (Combining Autonomous observations and Models for Predicting and Understanding Shelf seas) project, in NOC Liverpool (see Oceanids). The student will also be encouraged to take part in ongoing glider missions, using model output to inform mission planning.


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.

The student will be registered at UEA and hosted at the NOC in Liverpool and be supported by supervisors at NOC, UEA and Cefas (CASE partner). As well as training provided by NEXUSS the student will benefit from training in:

  • Data processing and analysis techniques, relating to both glider observations and model output
  • Numerical modelling of shelf seas processes
  • Ocean glider piloting, operation and quality control of observations
  • Participation in oceanographic research cruises
  • Presentation of research at national and international conferences and workshops

Person Specification:

Acceptable first degree: Engineering, Geophysics, Mathematics, Oceanography or Marine Science, Physics, any numerate discipline.

Funding notes:

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. 

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