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PhD in Environmental Sciences: How do Organic Nutrients Sustain Shelf Seas Productivity?

University of Plymouth

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Plymouth
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: The studentship is supported for 3.5 years and includes Home rate tuition fees plus a stipend of £18,110 per annum (2023-24 rate)
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 13th October 2023
Closes: 8th January 2024

How do Organic Nutrients Sustain Shelf Seas Productivity?

Second Supervisor (External Lead): Dr Katherine Helliwell

Lead Supervisor (DoS): Professor Mark Fitzsimons

Third Supervisor: Dr Andy Rees

Applications are invited for a 3.5 year PhD studentship with Marine Research Plymouth – a collaborative partnership between the University of Plymouth, the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Marine Biological Association. The studentship is due to start on 1st October 2024.

Plymouth has been at the forefront of global marine research for more than a century, and today it is home to the largest concentration of marine researchers in the UK. Come and join our vibrant community of marine PhD students.

Project Description

Marine phytoplankton play vital roles in regulating the global climate, contributing almost half of net primary production. A major factor controlling phytoplankton assemblages is the availability of crucial nutrients including nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), the supply of which can vary dramatically in space and time. Most work examining the role of N and P in driving phytoplankton productivity has focussed on inorganic forms (e.g., nitrate and phosphate). By comparison, the roles of organic N and P forms (DON and DOP, respectively), which can make up to 50% of the dissolved N and P pools in seawater, are poorly understood. We recently demonstrated that marine phytoplankton are capable of assimilating organic N and P, even in the presence of high levels of inorganic nutrients. Additionally, we have found that the availability of organic N forms enhances organic P acquisition, suggesting that phytoplankton coordinate N and P signalling and uptake pathways in order to maximise acquisition of these essential nutrients. The aim of this project is to integrate field and laboratory methodologies to further examine organic N and P usage and coordination by phytoplankton in the Western English Channel. 

The project will aim to characterise the dissolved organic nutrient pools in relation to the seasonal succession of coastal phytoplankton communities. The student will characterise compositional changes within the DON and DOP pools in the Western English Channel over the course of the annual cycle, coupling field sampling (on the PML research vessel Quest) with analytical chemistry using HPLC.

Physiological experiments with a range of phytoplankton will also be conducted to examine the bioavailability of environmentally relevant DON and DOP forms. Additionally, the nature (timescale, specificity and extent) of coordination between DON availability and DOP acquisition will be examined.

The successful candidate will gain training in a wide range of field and laboratory skills, including analytical chemistry (chromatography), phytoplankton physiology and marine biogeochemistry, and will have access to professional development opportunities.

If you wish to discuss this project further, please contact Dr Katherine Helliwell.

Eligibility and Funding

For further information on Eligibility and Funding, please click on the links below: 

To apply for this position please visit here.

Please clearly state the name of the studentship that you are applying for on your personal statement.

For a list of supporting documents to upload with your application or more information on the admissions process generally, please visit our How to Apply for a Research Degree webpage or contact the Doctoral College.

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on Monday 8th January 2024.

Shortlisted candidates will be informed as soon as possible after the deadline, with interviews likely to take place in the second half of February.

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