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Autonomous technologies and the marine carbon cycle: Impacts of coastal processes on ocean acidification and blue carbon.

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences.

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Exeter
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: £15,609 per annum
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 25th October 2021
Closes: 10th January 2022
Reference: 4294

Recent environmental and climate initiatives such as ‘habitat restoration’ and ‘Blue Carbon’ aim to increase local biodiversity, support carbon removal from the atmosphere, and alleviate the impacts of stressors such as ocean acidification and deoxygenation. However, the coastal environment is very dynamic, with a multitude of drivers that can impact the chemistry of CO2 and related compounds in seawater (together termed carbonates). It is this carbonate chemistry that ultimately alters the seawater’s ability to take up CO2 from the atmosphere, impacts biological processes such as respiration and photosynthesis, and determines the sensitivity of the system to processes such as ocean acidification. These coastal dynamics are still not well understood or even captured by the long-term, low frequency observations that are currently used for monitoring ocean acidification and other ocean changes. This project will take advantage of a suite of new autonomous vehicles and technologies, together with traditional discrete monitoring, to better characterise the near shore variations in carbonate chemistry, particularly with respect to ocean acidity (pH) and CO2.  

This project will take advantage of PML’s new fleet of autonomous marine platforms to make exciting novel observations of seawater CO2 and pH alongside air-sea CO2 fluxes with unprecedented spatial and temporal detail. The self-propelled surface (Autonaut) and subsurface (Ecosubs) vehicles are equipped with a range of sensors to measure near surface seawater salinity, temperature, pH and CO2. Air-sea CO2 exchange and pH observations on the L4 moored buoy (part of PML’s Western Channel Observatory) and discrete sampling of dissolved inorganic carbon and total alkalinity will be used to constrain the wider carbonate system. These measurements will facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the drivers of the carbonate system over a large range of scales (e.g. seconds to seasons in time, cms to many kms in space) and environmental conditions (e.g. high winds, waves, different tidal phases). 

The student will also be expected to focus on some specific and important habitats, such as seagrass meadows (which are being re-established in Plymouth Sound through the Life ReMEDIES project https://saveourseabed.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Natural-Capital_Plymouth-Sound-and-Estuaries.pdf), kelp forests, and mussel farms. The carbon ‘footprint’ of these habitats will be evaluated by assessing their impact on air-sea CO2 flux and ocean acidification, as well as the biological influence on the coastal marine carbon. The student will synthesise the results to evaluate the implication for coastal carbon uptake, ocean acidification, mitigation, and adaptation. 

The student will join an active postgraduate cohort at PML and will also have access to the University of Exeter excellent postgraduate training programmes, including statistics, scientific writing, and communication skills as well as their early career networks and facilities. The student will also receive project specific training including in carbonate chemistry analysis, CO2 flux calculation and data analysis. They will undergo Sea Survival training, small vessel oceanographic sampling, and use autonomous vehicles and sensors. Skills gained from this PhD will not only be foundational for a future academic post but will also be useful for other professional careers. 

Candidate requirements: 

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a MSc or First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK in subject areas related to chemistry, biology, oceanography, engineering, environmental science or meteorological/atmospheric science. This position will suit someone with field work experience and an interest in biogeochemistry and technology. 

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