Tuesday, 30 May 2017
Monday, 31 October 2016 11:08
PhD with SAHFOS? Climate change impacts and differences between plankton communities in the North Pacific and North Atlantic oceans
This vacancy is for a PhD Student. They will be registered at the University of Southampton but be hosted by the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science - SAHFOS (Plymouth) 
Lead Supervisor - Professor Martin Edwards (SAHFOS), Dr Sonia Batten (Pacific Biological Station, Nanaimo, Canada), Dr Stephanie A Henson (National Oceanography Centre, Southampton), Dr Anna Hickman (National Oceanography Centre, Southampton).


Phytoplankton are tiny marine plants that form the base of the marine food web and undertake about half of planetary primary production. There are thousands of species of phytoplankton and the zooplankton that consume them. The plankton community structure changes from year to year in response to natural variability and is expected to be affected by climate change. The Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) Survey has sampled the North Atlantic for multiple decades, and the North Pacific for more than 15 years. Both programmes cover a latitudinal range from temperate to sub-Arctic waters. However, there are major differences in the oceanography of the two regions which cause different life history strategies, and trophic interactions, within the phytoplankton population. For example, greater freshwater run-off from coastal glaciers and mountains gives the Pacific a lower salinity. Waters are high in silicate but low in iron, producing a phytoplankton community that is dominated by small cells and a low standing stock of chlorophyll.  The large zooplankton in the North Pacific reproduce at depth and arrive at the surface as feeding juveniles, keeping the phytoplankton standing stock low, whereas the zooplankton in the North Atlantic reproduce in Spring in response to the increasing phytoplankton and may lag the Spring bloom. From these different regional areas the North Pacific and North Atlantic plankton communities will be analysed to understand how they respond to long-term climatic changes in different regions of the world and under different oceanographic regimes.


As part of the development of the research, a series of hypothesis to be tested will be developed to address the following questions:

    How do the communities measured by the CPR in the North Pacific and North Atlantic compare?
    Can the difference be explained by different oceanography and which factors are the most important drivers?
    How would these communities be expected to change under various climate change scenarios?
    How does productivity differ now, in the past, and in the future?

Using the large biological datasets collected by the CPR Survey in the North Atlantic and North Pacific, the student will examine the taxonomic and functional group differences between the regions, and on different temporal scales from seasonal to decadal. Additional data on oceanographic conditions will be obtained from satellite data or model output. Time series analysis will allow the student to determine dominant scales of variability, and statistical techniques will be employed to determine the potential controlling factors, such as temperature, salinity etc. These statistical relationships will then be used in conjunction with existing output from global climate change models to predict how plankton community structure may change into the future.


The SPITFIRE DTP programme provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/ policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted at the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS).

The Ocean Biogeochemistry and Ecosystems group at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) is renowned globally as one of the leading centres of excellence in biological carbon pump research. Specific training will include: concepts in biogeochemical oceanography, processing and statistical skills. The student can attend appropriate university Masters lecture courses to gain relevant background knowledge if needed. Presentation of results at national and international conferences will be encouraged. There is likely to be the opportunity to participate in a research cruise.

SAHFOS operates the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) Survey. The CPR Survey is recognised as the longest sustained (operating since 1931) and geographically most extensive marine biological survey in the world. The dataset comprises a uniquely large record of marine biodiversity covering ~1000 taxa over multi-decadal periods. Project specific training will include concepts in plankton ecology, climate warming, global change and the marine environment. Statistical skills will be developed in spatial and temporal analysis.

Eligibility & Funding Details

This SPITFIRE project is open to applicants who meet the SPITFIRE eligibility, alongside other exceptional applicants and will come with a fully funded studentship for UK students and EU students who meet the RCUK eligbility criteria. To check your eligibility and find information on how to apply click

UK applicants and EU students who meet the RCUK eligibility criteria please apply to SPITFIRE

General contact:   Prof. Sergey Piontkovski spiontkovski@gmail.com
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