University of Exeter funding: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship

New methods for calculating the oceans role in absorbing key greenhouse gases. PhD in Renewable Energy (NERC GW4 + DTP) Ref: 3673

About the award


Lead Supervisor 
Dr Ian Ashton, Department of Engineering, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors 

Dr Tom Bell, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Dr Mingxi Yang, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Location: University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • A stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
  • Travel and accomodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events
  • No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter


Students who are resident in EU countries are eligible for the full award on the same basis as UK residents.  Applicants resident outside of the EU (classed as International for tuition fee purposes) are not eligible for DTP funding. Residency rules are complex and if you have not been resident in the UK or EU for the 3 years prior to the start of the studentship, please apply and we will check eligibility upon shortlisting.

Project Background

The oceans absorb approximately one quarter of anthropogenic CO2 and its exchange between the ocean and atmosphere is one of the key controls on the rate of climate change. Meanwhile, the continual uptake of CO2 causes ocean acidification, one of the key global threats to marine ecosystem health. Recent advances have enabled us to estimate CO2 ocean-atmosphere exchange from space. International initiatives such as the Surface Ocean CO2 ATlas (SOCAT) routinely collect, quality control and collate over a million in situ CO2 observations each year. Rapid developments in satellite monitoring, such as the Copernicus Sentinel satellites, provide state-of-the-art instruments for measuring global surface ocean conditions. In combination, these unlock new potential for more sophisticated methods to estimate gas exchange. The CO2 flux calculation method has an important impact on global estimates of oceanic CO2 uptake, where more accurate results will be highly valuable to global climate predictions.

Project Aims and Methods

This project will use ship-board equipment to measure air/sea CO2 fluxes, with a particular focus on the Polar Regions. Measurements will be taken using cutting-edge instrumentation on a polar research cruise and the study will compare these observations with CO2 flux estimates that use in situ and satellite observations of surface ocean conditions to evaluate and improve flux estimates in polar and global regions.

This project will use these results as part of the development of FluxEngine, an open source toolbox designed to exploit earth observation data for estimating air-sea gas exchange. FluxEngine is ideally suited to incorporating and analysing new data sets and methodologies. The student will incorporate the outcomes from the field-studies into FluxEngine, to provide the community with updated methods and more accurate global estimates of air-sea CO2 flux.

The student will join an on-going, successful collaborative team based at PML and University of Exeter. After conducting a literature review and uncertainty analysis, they will determine the specific focus of the project and the methods that they will use. Their efforts will play an important role in the development of the FluxEngine toolbox. Results will inform ongoing research and influence in-situ field campaigns, contributing directly to global climate science.  


Global, satellite-derived CO2 flux, (from Ashton et. al. PLoS One, 2016)


RRS James Clark Ross in Polar waters

Candidate Requirements

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a UK honours degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent) in oceanography, geography, environmental science or related field, and be capable of independent and team work. Analytical or computer-based research would be a benefit. Candidates should ideally be prepared to go to sea for periods of up to 6 weeks to make measurements in challenging wind and wave conditions.

CASE or Collaborative Partner 

Plymouth Marine Laboratory are a marine research laboratory with a culture and history of providing pioneering oceanographic research. They co-ordinate the Atlantic Meridional Transect research cruise program and hold world-leading expertise and equipment for monitoring air-sea gas fluxes. Dr Tom Bell and Dr Mingxi Yang will provide relevant training in how to make highly specialised air-sea gas flux measurements and how to process the data. The combination of in-situ measurements with the analytical toolbox from UoE underpins this project and offers a significant research opportunity.


In addition to the DTP training program, the student will be eligible for a range of skills training aimed at post-graduate students within the University of Exeter. The student will learn the eddy covariance flux measurement technique, which directly quantifies CO2 transport to/from the ocean surface by turbulence (eddies) in the lower atmosphere. They will develop the skills to process in situ and satellite datasets in order to make calculations of air/sea CO2 fluxes. During the field campaign they will gain seagoing experience making measurements in the ocean and atmosphere. 

The student will also be offered advanced data analysis and programming support.

References / Background reading list 

Holding, T., Ashton, I. et al. (2019), The FluxEngine air-sea gas flux toolbox: simplified interface and extensions for in situ analyses and multiple sparingly soluble gases, Ocean Science Discussions,

Bakker, D.C. Eet al. (2016), A multi-decade record of high-quality fCO2 data in version 3 of the Surface Ocean CO2 Atlas (SOCAT), Earth Systems Science Data, 8(2), doi:10.5194/essd-8-383-2016, 2016.

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, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 14,

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 in oceanography, geography, environmental science or related field.  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


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.

Reference information
You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process, however we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the, 7 days prior to the interview dates.  Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is 1600 hours GMT Monday 6 January 2020.  Interviews will be held between 10 and 21 February 2020.  For more information about the NERC GW4+ DPT please visit

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email  Project-specific queries should be directed to the lead supervisor.

Data Sharing
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.


Application deadline:6th January 2020
Value:£15,009 per annum for 2019-20
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries