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Postgraduate research project

Ocean physics and ecology: can robots disentangle the mix?

Fully funded (UK and international)
Type of degree
Doctor of Philosophy
Entry requirements
2:1 honours degree View full entry requirements
Faculty graduate school
Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences
Closing date

About the project

Marine phytoplankton are key players in the global carbon cycle as they are responsible for half of the primary production (conversion of carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and organic carbon via photosynthesis) on Earth. The main controls on phytoplankton growth are light and nutrient availability.   

Both observations and models have suggested that upper ocean mesoscale (eddies) and submesoscale processes (fronts) play an important role along with atmospheric forcing in regulating the availability of these resources and therefore phytoplankton community growth. Such processes, influence the vertical exchange between the water layers, regulating the light field and nutrient availability for the phytoplankton community at small spatial (metres to kms) and short temporal scales (daily to sub-daily), which are relevant for phytoplankton adaptation and acclimation.  

Models with sufficient resolution to evaluate these processes are computationally expensive and most observation platforms (e.g. Argo floats) don’t sample and resolve the daily to sub-daily variability.  

In this project, you will use high-resolution gliders to (1) understand and quantify the effect of small-scale and episodic physical processes on the phytoplankton community growth; (2) evaluate the importance of including small-scale processes in oceanic carbon uptake. Filling this knowledge gap using these high-resolution data will improve predictions of how the carbon uptake by phytoplankton is affected by both natural variability and changes in physical forcing driven by climate change. 

For full project details visit the Inspire project page.

Lead supervisor

  • Doctor Filipa Carvalho (National Oceanography Centre)


  • Doctor Bieito Fernandez Castro (University of Southampton)
  • Doctor Louis Clément (National Oceanography Centre)
  • Doctor Joanne Hopkins Little (National Oceanography Centre)