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PhD Studentship: Effects of Dispersants on Mitigating Environmental Impacts of Marine Oil Pollution: Insights From Microbiological, Chemical and Field Investigations

University of Essex - School of Life Sciences

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Colchester
Funding for: International Students
Funding amount: Not Specified
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 10th October 2019
Closes: 7th January 2020
Reference: 11297

Supervisory Team:

Dr Boyd McKew (University of Essex)

Prof Terry McGenity (University of Essex)

Dr Rob Holland (OSRL Ltd)

Oil spills are one of the most challenging threats to the marine environment that can have long-

term impacts on fisheries, the economy and society. Dispersants are commonly applied as a remediation strategy to disperse oil into the water column and produce small oil droplets that are more readily degraded by indigenous oil - degrading bacteria. Whilst dispersants are one of the many tools to prevent coastal contamination, there are concerns they may contribute to the formation of marine oil snow (MOS). MOS has been speculated to transport oil into the deep sea, potentially damaging benthic ecosystems. This PhD will investigate whether dispersants inhibit or enhance the formation of MOS over a range of relevant conditions.

The student will use state -of-the-art microbiological, chemical, and molecular techniques to quantify the effects of dispersants on MOS formation over a range of environmental conditions. The student will learn Next Generation Sequencing and quantitative-PCR to identify and quantify oil-degrading microbes associated with MOS, and Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry to measure hydrocarbon degradation. There will also be an exciting opportunity to participate in novel multidisciplinary controlled oil-spill experiments at sea with OSRL (

Training will include marine fieldwork, experimental design, molecular microbiology (e.g. Next Generation Sequencing, bioinformatics) and environmental chemistry. The student will be part of the vibrant Ecology and Environmental Microbiology Group at the UoE, as well as benefiting from expertise at OSRL and further engagement with industry partners, such as IPIECA, Shell and ExxonMobil, enhancing key skills and employability. Additionally, as part of the ARIES cohort, the student will have access to a range of training courses, such as “advanced genomics”.

This is an exciting opportunity for a highly motivated student with a background in Microbiology, Marine or Ecological Sciences, who is keen to learn new skills to address a global environmental issue and engage with the oil industry’s scientific expertise. The successful applicant will undertake studies as part of a multi-disciplinary team (Boyd McKew, Terry McGenity and Rob Holland). The PhD will be based at the UoE with time spent at OSRL, Southampton.

Please apply by sending a CV (including contact details of two academic referees) and a cover letter explaining your motivation and suitability for the PhD to Emma Revill If you have any questions please feel free to contact any member of the supervisory team.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.

Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - UK/EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.

Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area.

Further information, visit

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