Drones for Understanding Carbon Uptake in Sea-Ice Covered Antarctic Waters - Geography - NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship Ref: 2796

About the award

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see http://nercgw4plus.ac.uk/

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018, research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.


Main Supervisor: Dr Jamie Shutler, Geography, University of Exeter
Co-Supervisor: Dr Tom Bell, Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)
Co-Supervisor:  Dr Karen Anderson, University of Exeter (UoE, Exeter DroneLab)

Location: Penryn Campus, Cornwall

Project description:

The oceans around Antarctica are disproportionately important for the global uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2). Large (factor of three) uncertainties exist in our understanding of air-to-sea CO2 gas transfer in mixed ice regions.  For example, sea-ice may alter transfer by suppressing ocean swell and modifying near surface turbulence.
Measurements of air-to-sea CO2 fluxes close to the Antarctic Peninsula are funded via a large Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) project (https://tinyurl.com/yd69blsn). Estimates of the spatial extent of sea-ice and its impact upon air-to-sea gas fluxes are urgently required. Key missing observations, the synoptic scale sea-ice extent and structure within the footprint of the measured gas flux, can only be viewed from above. 
This project will use novel imaging approaches and drone techniques to quantify sea-ice extent coincident with measured gas fluxes. The data collected will help establish the importance of sea-ice for controlling air-to-sea CO2 fluxes.


Image 1: Sea-ice image captured from the bridge of a research vessel. Inset: feature detection of the ice to quantify %age ice cover. Image 2: Example Exeter DroneLab drone platforms that could be exploited for this project.

Project Aims and Methods

Aim: Collect novel drone and ship-based measurements of sea-ice spatial extent in the Weddell Sea, East of the Antarctic Peninsula, and then determine how this ice extent, type and interactions are influencing air-to-sea CO2 fluxes.

Methods: You will first develop your methods (e.g. Duffy et al., 2017) on land (field test sites, PML Penlee observatory), and in UK coastal waters (using UoE Devocean and PML Plymouth Quest research vessels) exploiting a range of different measurement, imaging and drone techniques and equipment (e.g. Exeter DroneLab https://tinyurl.com/hvl337h).  You will evaluate your imaging approaches (e.g. near-infrared and visible spectrum cameras) and the durability of your equipment to harsh environments (e.g. within an artificial ice tank and a blast freezer).   Your main fieldwork will be conducted during a ship-based research cruise in the Weddell Sea, East of the Antarctic Peninsula. During the cruise you will continuously measure sea-ice coverage using fixed cameras and your drone techniques, all concurrently with direct air-to-sea flux measurements.  Drone surveys will be an important and novel tool to survey the region in front of the ship where the air-to-sea CO2 flux ‘footprint’ is located.  You will compare all of your results with a selection of satellite remotely sensed observations.


We are looking for a student with an undergraduate degree of 2:1 or higher in a numerate discipline, ideally with some experience of working in a research or development environment. Experience or knowledge of chemistry and oceanography are desirable, but not essential.


The student will be trained in i) how to build, maintain and safely fly a range of different drones ii) remote sensing theory and techniques iii) air-to-sea gas exchange theory and iv) how to conduct fieldwork in polar regions. They will receive further training in transferable skills through the UoE Post Graduate College, through which students can attend specialist courses of their choice (e.g. scientific programming, research methods and research leadership). The student will also benefit from working in, and alongside, active multidisciplinary research environments at the UoE, PML and within the Exeter DroneLab.


Bell, T. G., et al., (2017) Estimation of bubble-mediated air–sea gas exchange from concurrent DMS and CO2 transfer velocities at intermediate–high wind speeds, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 17, 9019-9033, doi:10.5194/acp-17-9019-2017.

Delille, B., et al., (2014), Southern Ocean CO2 sink: The contribution of the sea ice, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans, 119, 6340–6355, doi:10.1002/2014JC009941.

Duffy, J. P., et al., including Shutler, J. D., and Anderson, K. (2017), Location, location, location: considerations when using lightweight drones in challenging environments. Remote Sens. Ecol. Conserv., doi:10.1002/rse2.58

Shutler JD, et al., (2016), Progress in satellite remote sensing for studying physical processes at the ocean surface and its borders with the atmosphere and sea-ice. Prog. Phys. Geog., 40, 215-246.

Entry requirements:         

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply. 

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project http://www.exeter.ac.uk/postgraduate/apply/english/

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.


Application deadline:7th January 2018
Value:£14,553 per annum for 2017-18
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Recruitment Officepgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

•       CV
•       Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to
        undertake the project.
•       Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript
        if you are still studying.
•       If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current
        proficiency in English. 

You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process however we will not contact these people until the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 7 January 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter between 5 - 16 February 2018.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email pgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;

• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.