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Award details

The Transport & Cycling of Terrigenous Carbon in UK and Falkland Island Coastal Waters. NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2024 Entry. Ref: 4971

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Andy Rees, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Additional Supervisors

Professor Dan Mayor, University of Exeter, Biosciences

Professor Chris Evans, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Bangor

Dr Paul Brickle, South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute

Dr Vas Kitidis, Plymouth Marine Laboratory


Lead Institution: Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Location: Plymouth Marine Laboratory & University of Exeter.  .

About the Partnership

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 five Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,  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 eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £18,622 p.a. for 2023-24) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fee;
  • 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

Project details

For information relating to the research project please contact the lead Supervisor via (


Project Background

Images of Peat depositon in Falkland Island Coastal Waters and Esturine mudfalt and waters of the Tamar Estuary

Images of Peat depositon in Falkland Island Coastal Waters and Esturine mudfalt and waters of the Tamar Estuary Switch to Source view view and paste in this: 

The transport of terrestrial carbon to estuarine and coastal waters contributes to the chemical and biological functioning of these critical and sensitive ecosystems. There are though widespread examples of human activities altering the flow of material and affecting the natural behaviour beyond our current understanding. The supervisory team have evidenced regions where this is happening and propose a project to investigate further:

  1. In organically rich environments such as the Tamar Estuary in South-West England where large concentrations and fluxes of methane and CO2 are emitted from mid-estuarine environments;
  2. In the east of England where drained peatlands have directly resulted in increased CO2 emissions to the atmosphere but also in the increased transfer of dissolved carbon to waterways and coastal waters;
  3. The peatlands of the Falkland Islands transfer high levels of dissolved and particulate organic carbon to estuarine and surrounding coastal waters though the fate of this material is largely unknown and uncharacterised but likely to modify benthic and water column chemistry.

Project Aims and Methods

During this project you will investigate processes that transform carbon transported between land and the ocean within several contrasting environments in order to better understand the fate and impact in receiving waters and overlying atmosphere. There will be opportunities to join existing research teams at the host organisations in order to address the following high level questions:

  1. What mechanisms control CO2 and CH4 release from an agriculturally dominated estuary (Tamar – SW England)
  2. How do the carbon characteristics differ between estuaries and coastal waters associated with drained and re-wetted peatlands (East Anglia)
  3. How does remineralisation of peat deposited on the sea-bed impact the chemistry of benthic sediments and overlying waters (Falkland Islands)

Human activities on land have resulted in the elevated release of material between land and ocean, this project will work alongside areas of impacted land in addition to those which are undergoing restoration attempts. Each of the areas highlighted above will require the student to work between rivers and the coastal zone in order to collect samples and deploy sophisticated analytical instrumentation in order to characterise dissolved and particulate carbon, dissolved oxygen and concentrations and fluxes of methane and CO2.

Candidate requirements

We seek an enthusiastic, self-motivated candidate, with a strong understanding of estuarine and marine chemistry and an aptitude for the use of analytical instrumentation. Fieldwork is central to the delivery of this studentship and you will be expected to work on land and boat-based expeditions for which you will need to take sea survival training and obtain certification of medical wellbeing. You will have at least a 2.1 BSc in chemistry, physics, oceanography or a suitable branch of environmental sciences.

Project partners

All supervisors have collaborated together on the transport of carbon between UK and Falkland Island land mass and coastal waters and have a wealth of contextual data to support this project. Existing NERC funded National Capability projects – AgZero+ (, Biopole ( and FOCUS ( will provide the background to this project and facilitate field expeditions within the UK and Falklands.


As described above this project will involve fieldwork between land and coastal seas in both the UK and Falkland Islands which will involve sample collection including the deployment of autonomous sensors. You will receive specialist training in the measurement of gases using gas chromatography and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy, carbon chemistry using methods to include high temperature catalytic oxidation and spectrophotometry and oxygen analysis by several techniques. This will be coupled to generic training in the biogeochemistry of riverine, estuarine and coastal systems. You will be given training in professional skills, including attendance at an international summer school and an international conference.

Background reading and references

1)Williamson et al 2021. Landscape controls on riverine export of dissolved organic carbon from Great Britain. Biogeochemistry (2021).; 2) García-Martín et al 2021. Contrasting estuarine processing of dissolved organic matter derived from natural and human-impacted landscapes. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, ; 3) Tye et al 2022. Dissolved inorganic carbon export from rivers of Great Britain: Spatial distribution and potential catchment-scale controls, Journal of Hydrology, 4) García-Martín et al 2023. Sources, composition, and export of particulate organic matter across British estuaries. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences,; 5) Evans et al 2023. Marine nutrient subsidies promote biogeochemical hotspots in undisturbed, highly humic estuaries. Limnol Oceanogr.


NERC GW4+ DTP studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals.  For further details please see the NERC GW4+ website.

Those not meeting the nationality and residency requirements to be treated as a ‘home’ student may apply for a limited number of full studentships for international students. Although international students are usually charged a higher tuition fee rate than ‘home’ students, those international students offered a NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership full studentship starting in 2023 will only be charged the ‘home’ tuition fee rate (which will be covered by the studentship). 

International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. More information on this is available from the universities you are applying to (contact details are provided in the project description that you are interested in.

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

The University of Exeter is committed to promoting and supporting equality, diversity, and inclusion within our working environments and is at the heart of all our activities.  With over 27,000 students and 6,400 staff from 180 different countries we offer a diverse and engaging environment where our diversity is celebrated and valued as a major strength. 
We actively encourage applicants with varied experiences and backgrounds and from all sections of the community regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, or disability status.  We are committed to creating an inclusive culture where all members of our community are supported to thrive.
Whilst all applicants will be judged on merit alone, we particularly welcome applications from groups currently underrepresented within our postgraduate research student community.  Reasonable adjustments are available for interviews and workspaces.

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


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
  • GW4+ DTP Personal Statement -  Please upload your completed Personal Statement  using the link to the form.  You must use this Personal Statement form as part of the application process.  No other format for cover letter or personal statement will be accepted.
  • 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, please see the entry requirements for details.
  • Two references

Reference information
You will be asked to submit two references as part of the application process.  If you are not able to upload  your reference documents with your application please ensure you provide details of your referees.  If you provide contact details of referees only, 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 2359 hours GMT Tuesday 9 January 2024. Interviews will be held between 22 February and 8 March 2024.  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:9th January 2024
Value:£18,622 per annum for 2023-24
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Office