CDT SuMMeR: PhD opportunities with Heriot-Watt University

PhD projects and studentships

Applications are invited for the following three-year, eight-month PhD studentships. The studentships will start on 1 October 2022.

If you wish to informally discuss any of our projects further, please contact the lead supervisor. Details on how to apply and eligibility are listed on the Study with CDT SuMMeR page. If you require more information on the admissions process please contact

The closing date for all applications is 16:00 BST on 23 May 2022.

Heriot-Watt University is a host institution for the Centre for Doctoral Training in Sustainable Management of UK Marine Resources (CDT SuMMeR). To view the full range of opportunities available through the CDT visit the Study with CDT SuMMeR page.

CDTS101:Assessment of Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement

PhD Project Reference: CDTS101
Lead Supervisor:
Dr Phil Renforth
2nd Academic Supervisor: Dr Yuri Artioli
Associate Partner: Rolls-Royce

<p>Close up of the ocean surface</p>
CDTS101: Project information

Project description
The oceans contain more carbon than soils, plants, animals and the atmosphere combined. This carbon pool was created naturally over millions of years by mineral weathering, which removes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Proposals for accelerating this natural process are gaining increasing attention (called ‘ocean alkalinity enhancement’), yet there remains limited data on their technical feasibility, environmental impact, and social acceptability. By integrating engineering, biogeochemistry, and ocean modelling, the aim of this PhD is to assess the technical feasibility and environmental consequences of a range of ocean alkalinity enhancement approaches. This project will work between engineers and biogeochemists at Heriot-Watt University, earth system models at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and professionals at Rolls-Royce Plc.

CDTS104: Energy, Technology, Behaviour, Culture and Regulation; The complex problems and transition engineering solutions for the future of local, sustainable fishing

PhD Project Reference: CDTS104
Lead Supervisor:
Professor Susan Krumdieck
2nd Academic Supervisor: Professor Alison Anderson
Associate Partner: Aquatera

<p>fishing fishermen boat ocean marine net&nbsp;</p>
CDTS104: Project information

Project background
Picture an idyllic fishing village in the British Isles. City dwellers flock to these places for respite and to soak up the quaint historical scenery and great fresh seafood. COVID remote workers and Baby Boom Retirees are also taking up residences in rural areas. However, there are sustainability risks from the complex combination of technology advances, pressures on the marine environment, quotas and regulations, and the growing pressures on the communities themselves from becoming tourism and holiday home destinations. The purpose of our project is to build a Transition Engineering framework for regenerating local fishing communities and the marine resources they depend on. Our project aims to develop the mechanisms to shift from the unsustainable path which has developed over the past 100 years. The research question is “How do we use transition engineering to design interventions and local regulatory mechanisms that preserve traditional knowledge and shift to a sustainable marine and social management pathway? The early-stage objectives of the research are to utilise modern digital capability to create the tools of data exchange and information observation that will be essential for both engineering the transition of the unsustainable aspects of the current fishing regulations and fishing village economics. Once the new kinds of digital interfaces are established, the next objectives are to create serious games that stakeholders from all perspectives can participate in, to co-design sustainable development solutions. The key focus is on the interplay of traditional knowledge, regulations, resources including energy, and external economic factors like tourism.

Aims and objectives for the successful candidate’s research
The aim of the research is to design and demonstrate tools and interventions at the local level that objectively build a pathway to a sustainable future for rural fishing communities.

  • Objective 1: Design, Construct and Demonstrate three key Data Exchanges; (1) Local Fish Landing and Practices; (2) Fishers & Boats Inventory and Energy Inputs; (3) Village Accommodation Inventory
  • Objective 2: Design, Construct and Demonstrate an Information Observatory for the complex interactions of factors
  • Objective 3: Design, Construct and Demonstrate a Serious Game with local ecosystem representatives in Stromness
  • Objective 4: Design, Prepare and Carry Out a Regulatory Sandbox for (1) Local Fish Landing and Practices; (2) Boats and Energies; (3) Village Accommodation and Property Managements
  • Objective 5: Describe Innovative Interventions in (1) Local Fishing Regulations and Practices; (2) Affordable Net Zero Fishing; (3) Local Village Accommodation Rules

Setting for the research
The student will be working with local experts and supervisors to learn accepted methods for conducting research with stakeholders, end users, regulators and the public. The student will learn about the traditional fishing and social context, and the changes and pressures over the past century. The student will learn the Transition Engineering methodology and tools. The student will need to be confident in software engineering and data systems, and will contribute to innovation in data information systems.

The student will be based at the Islands Centre for Net Zero (ICNZ) at the Orkney campus of Heriot-Watt University in the fishing village of Stromness, Orkney. The co-supervisors are Professor Susan Krumdieck of Heriot-Watt University and Professor Alison Anderson of Centre for Coastal Communities, University of Plymouth. The supervisory team includes Dr Michael Bell at the International Centre for Islands Technology in Stromness and Dr Magnus Johnson, Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Hull. Partners in the research project include the digital consultancy Aquatera and Orkney Fisheries Association.

CDTS108: Exploring geovisualisations as place-based planning tools for collaborative marine and coastal management 

PhD Project Reference: CDTS108
Lead Supervisor:
Dr Lauren McWhinnie
2nd Academic Supervisor: Dr Karen Alexander
Associate Partner: Nature Scot


</p><p>Example of Stromness GeoVis created in InVEnTA
(3D model credit: Hugo Anderson-Whymark)</p><p></p>
CDTS108: Project information

Project description
Marine and coastal systems provide a wide range of ecosystem services that have significant economic and societal importance. Effective management of these complex and highly dynamic areas requires a broad understanding of these systems, their processes, the various spatial and temporal factors that influence them and how they’re perceived. Therefore, the aim of this project is to develop tools and scenarios using cutting edge mapping technology to both inform and engage a broad range of marine stakeholders and coastal communities about the implications of management options in terms of their potential effects on environmental, social, and economic values and interests. The appointed person will also work with stakeholders to evaluate the tools they design to assess their potential usefulness and their representation of marine places. They will obtain both theoretical knowledge related to ocean literacy, stakeholder participation, ecological impact, and geovisualisation. In addition, they will also gain applied knowledge and technical expertise associated with handling, analysing, and assessing a variety of large spatial datasets as well as advanced skills in developing realistic geovisualisations. They will also work and engage with a transdisciplinary team of researchers, planners, stakeholders, and managers to further develop their skills in stakeholder engagement and develop their wider professional networks. (203)

CDTS113: Evaluating environmental and economic implications of management measures for the UK scallop fishery

PhD Project Reference: CDTS113
Lead Supervisor: Dr Marija Sciberras
2nd Academic Supervisor: Dr Lynda Rodwell
Associate Partner: CEFAS


</p><div>Women open and clean scallops for sale</div><p></p>
CDTS113: Project information

Project description
The scallop sector is one of the highest value commercial fisheries in the UK and supports a productive catch sector and processor businesses. Despite their economic relevance, the UK scallop fisheries lack robust management regimes to regulate effort and landings and minimize impacts on target and non-target species. The UK’s withdrawal from the EU represents an opportunity to prioritise and re-structure future UK fisheries management. The proposed project will provide an evidence-base on the environmental, social and economic consequences of different harvest strategies and management measures for the UK scallop fishery. The project is multidisciplinary and cuts across the disciplines of biology and ecology, sociology and economics. The candidate will have the opportunity to learn and develop scallop population dynamic models and bio-economic models and engage with members of the scallop dredging industry to determine the drivers (social, environmental and economic) of fishers’ spatial behaviour and their preference of management measures for scallop stocks. During this project the candidate will benefit from working with fisheries science authorities (CEFAS, MSS) advising UK government on scallop fisheries management in the UK. Ultimately, the knowledge gained through this PhD will help inform future fisheries management decisions to improve the management of scallop stocks.

CDTS115: Understanding the biodegradation and residence time of microplastics in the ocean

PhD Project Reference: CDTS115
Lead Supervisor:
Dr Tony Gutierrez
2nd Academic Supervisor: Professor Peter Golyshin
Associate Partner: Marine Scotland Science

<p>Microplastics floating in ocean water<br></p>
CDTS115: Project information

Project description
We are facing one of the most important marine pollution crises on our planet, threatening the biodiversity of marine ecosystems, coastal tourism, fisheries and aquaculture. Plastics pollution is ubiquitous and persistent in the marine environment, and dominated by the smaller abundant plastic particles (<5 mm) defined as microplastics for which their fate and impacts we still don’t fully understand. This project aims to identify the biological and geochemical/physical processes involved in the fate of plastics (of different polymer types) under different environmental settings. It will utilise sophisticated techniques in microbial ecology, such as DNA-based stable-isotope probing (DNA-SIP), to trace the fate of isotopically-labelled plastics through biological systems; a focus will be on the microorganisms participating in this process as they are often protagonists in the fate of these (and other organic pollutants) in the environment. A major benefit in applying SIP-based methods is in the ability to link phylogenetic identity with a specific metabolic function, in which respect the focus will be on the biodegradation of plastics. The project is multidisciplinary, involving an experienced supervisory team that bring a diverse range of expertise cutting across several disciplines, from environmental microbiology, marine biology and ecology, biotechnology and genomics, biogeochemistry, biological resource storage/sustainability, engineering, modelling and physical oceanography. The research will focus on coastal and offshore regions of the north Atlantic to investigate the biodegradation of microplastics using lab-based and in-situ (in the field) experiments.

The student will be based at Heriot-Watt University, with opportunities to participate on research cruises, and be co-supervised by Bangor University and Marine Scotland Science, with support also by the National Collection of Industrial, Food and Marine Bacteria (NCIMB).

CDTS116: Improving the future sustainability of fishing communities in the Firth of Clyde

PhD Project Reference: CDTS116
Lead Supervisor:
Dr Andrew Johnson
2nd Academic Supervisor: Dr Natalie Hold
Associate Partner: Clyde Inshore Fisheries Alliance (CIFA)


</p><div>Girvan, South Ayrshire, Scotland.&nbsp;View looking across Girvan Harbour on a spring afternoon.</div><p></p>
CDTS116: Project information

Project description
Fisheries in the Firth of Clyde provide an important cornerstone to Scotland’s West coast economies and heritage. In recent years, however, they have faced difficulties with historically low catches, an aging fleet, and broken collaboration between industry, government and fishery management bodies. This project will fill important knowledge gaps related to the sustainability of the Clyde’s fisheries by combining ecology and social sciences into a streamlined PhD project that will work directly with Clyde fisheries’ stakeholders to understand where current knowledge gaps lie, the importance of the new blue carbon agenda and what it means for local fishing activity, and what future Clyde Fishery Management Plans may and should look like. From the outset, this project will take a multidisciplinary co-designed approach, working directly with industry to understand the best possible future scenarios for the Clyde. The project will integrate a diverse range of research techniques to uncover important nuances that lie between pure ecology and the social sciences; an area that is traditionally understudied due to siloed research approaches. Work from the project will be Clyde-centric, feeding directly into future management plans, but will also be important for the development of fishery management plans elsewhere in the UK and for future research approaches aiming to bridge the divide between fisheries sustainability, economics and social well-being in the UK’s fisheries.

CDTS121: Offshore wind farms effects on ocean fronts and seabirds

PhD Project Reference: CDTS121
Lead Supervisor:
Professor Stephen Votier
2nd Academic Supervisor: Dr Peter Miller
Associate Partner: RPS Group Plc


</p><div><div>Offshore wind farm at sunset. Image courtesy of Getty Images.</div></div><p></p>
CDTS121: project information

Project description
The UK is a global leader in marine renewables, and offshore wind farms (OWFs) are predicted to expand rapidly in future. However, potential deleterious biodiversity impacts mean we must do more to quantify and mitigate such effects and guide policy decisions. Seabirds are especially at risk from OWFs – they may collide with turbines, face barrier/displacement effects, or be impacted indirectly such as via impacts on oceanography. For instance, increased turbulence around OWFs is predicted to alter water stratification and in turn ocean front formation – ocean fronts are important foraging habitats for a range of marine predators including seabirds. This cross-disciplinary project will combine remote sensing to quantify changes in ocean fronts at OWFs with movement ecology to model foraging success of a model marine predator – the northern gannet Morus bassanus – using long-term precision tracking data in relation to ocean fronts. Then, using a Before After Control Impact design, compare gannet foraging in relation to ocean fronts between two large colonies, one before and after OWF construction (Bass Rock, Scotland) and one with no current OWFs (Grassholm, Wales). The candidate will receive state-of-the-art training in the analysis of remote-sensed oceanography, as well as animal movement ecology. They will be based at Heriot-Watt University, with co-supervision from Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Zoological Society of London, and benefit from links with University of Leeds. They will also work with the ecological consultancy team at RPS limited to link this work directly with policy and the OWF consenting process.