Ocean eyes: Developing novel optical chemical measurements of trace elements

Supervisory Team 

Dr Simon Ussher 

Dr Angela Milne  

Dr Will Homoky  

Dr Giorgio Dall’olmo  

Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide) 

Project Advert 

Scientific background: The availability of iron (Fe) plays a key role in carbon dioxide drawdown and climate regulation as it can limit phytoplankton growth and the ‘biological pump’ in vast ocean regions. Fe is critical for cellular functioning and is particle reactive, meaning its transport is tightly coupled to particle fluxes in the ocean. Marine particles can be lithogenic (e.g. silts, clays) or biogenic carbon-based (e.g. cells, detritus) but little is known of their composition. Furthermore, chemical analysis of particles is time consuming and expensive, meaning in situ sensor analysis is highly desirable.  

This project addresses the important question of how in situ sensor systems (e.g. float networks, buoys and autonomous vehicles) can be used to estimate iron concentrations in the ocean. Successful outcomes will mean suspended particulate element distributions can be obtained autonomously and remotely in the future, using optical techniques.  

Research methodology and management: You will collect and synthesise suspended marine sediment particles and use state-of -the-art analytical techniques to correlate particulate iron concentrations with optical and spectroscopic properties (e.g. transmittance, backscattering, absorbance and fluorescence). You will have the opportunity to conduct regular field surveys in shelf waters at the Western Channel Observatory (WCO) and work with scientists in Antarctica and Bermuda to ground-truth these proxies. Past and current sensor and satellite observations will be used to investigate the potential for mapping particulate element concentrations using the optical proxies.  

Training: You will become an expert in marine biogeochemistry and sensors and receive valuable training in ISO 9001 analytical laboratories at the University of Plymouth and the optics laboratories at PML. You will be trained in the field with state-of-the-art samplers, deploy novel in situ sensors and develop data analysis methods with programming (Ocean Data View, Python and R). Field campaigns will be focused at coastal and open ocean time-series sites with opportunities to network within international oceanographic programmes providing an important stepping-stone for a career in ocean science. 

Person specification: Applicants should have a degree in an environmental or physical science subject and a passion for analytical and marine science. 

Funding Notes 

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2022.
Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship covering fees, stipend (£15,609 p.a. for 2021-22) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. 
ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and £2,500 for external training, travel and conferences. 
ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience. Our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience. 
For information and full eligibility visit  https://www.aries-dtp.ac.uk/