CDT SuMMeR: PhD opportunities with the University of Plymouth

PhD projects and studentships

Applications for cohort 1 of the CDT SuMMeR are now closed, for this year's PhD studentships commencing from 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
Plymouth is the lead 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.

CDTS118: Revealing the hidden identity and toxicity of priority chemical pollutants released during microplastic degradation and additive leaching in marine and coastal environments

PhD Project Reference: CDTS118
Lead Supervisor: Dr Michael Wilde
2nd Academic Supervisor: Dr Matthew Cole
Associate Partner: Fugro Marine GB

<p>marine plastics, plastic, marine litter, on a beach<br></p>
Project background and description
Micro- and nanoscale plastics produced from the decomposition of marine plastic debris pose a severe threat to marine and coastal ecosystems. Microplastics undergo degradation in the marine environment through abrasion (physical), advanced oxidation processes (abiotic), and biological degradation (biotic), resulting in the leaching of additives not chemically bound to the polymer matrix. These transformations dramatically increase the chemical complexity and analytical challenge of characterising microplastics and microplastic-derived organics (chemical leachate).
Aims and objectives for the successful candidate’s research
This project addresses the important question of which emerging chemical contaminants from microplastic degradation are priority targets for future marine surveillance and compliance monitoring of coastal waters. Successful outcomes will include the identification of persistent chemical additives in microplastic leachate, that do not degrade and pose a toxic threat to marine ecosystems.
The training the student will receive throughout the course of the PhD
This project represents a unique and diverse training opportunity, where you will learn various research techniques, gain practical experience using state-of-the-art analytical instrumentation, and establish an international, transdisciplinary network. You will have the opportunity to complete a CASE funded 3-month internship at Fugro Marine GB, world leading geo-data specialists, helping to deliver cutting edge and sustainable solutions to meet and manage ever changing environmental challenges and obligations.
The University of Plymouth has a long and world-renowned reputation in marine science and microplastic pollution, with excellent facilities in analytical and environmental chemistry. You will receive academic supervision and support from a dedicated, high profile, international network of interdisciplinary scientists from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, SINTEF Ocean and Fugro Marine GB.
How the project will be structured
You will develop a multi-modal approach towards studying chemical additives leaching from microplastics under environmentally relevant conditions. 
Year 1 will focus on the chemical characterisation of environmentally relevant microplastic materials using a suite of instrumentation including comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography (GCxGC), mass spectrometry (MS), Raman and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR), and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Sampling and analysis plan will be co-developed with Fugro Marine GB. 
In year 2, you will apply your optimised methods for studying chemical transformations during controlled photodegradation and leaching experiments, with the opportunity to validate these findings during a research visit to SINTEF Ocean, Norway. 
Year 3 will focus on assessing the biological risk of degraded microplastics and microplastic leachate using recently developed standardised toxicity tests on marine copepods, generating ecotoxicological data within a dedicated microplastics facility at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

CDTS114: Shifting Seas- a gene landscape approach to understanding saltmarsh vulnerability and resilience to sea-level rise

PhD Project Reference: CDTS114
Lead Supervisor: Dr Mick Hanley
2nd Academic Supervisor: Angus Garbutt
Associate Partner: DEFRA

<p>Salt marsh<br></p>
Project description
Saltmarsh is a vital component of nature-based solutions to coastal defence, a role recognised in developing UK Government policy, which aims to better manage, protect and restore this habitat over the next 25 years. However, in order to deliver this policy objective and the wider ecosystem and societal benefits that accrue from it, research is needed to understand the risks and opportunities to coastal species and habitats due to sea level rise (SLR) and associated risk from coastal flooding and erosion. ‘Shifting Seas’ takes a gene to landscape scale approach to understand the response of saltmarshes to rising sea levels, incorporating state of the art approaches from a variety of scientific disciplines including tidal hydrodynamics, geomorphology and sedimentology, plant genetics, saltmarsh ecology, field experiments and ecological modelling. 
By combining these transdisciplinary techniques we investigate (1) how and why saltmarshes respond to SLR; (2) how genetic variation informs saltmarsh plant response; (3) how plant species will respond to predicted sea level change and so explore marsh adaptive potential; and (4) deliver a mapping tool to inform long-term, resilient nature-based solutions to coastal erosion and flooding. 
Not only will the successful candidate have access to a range of supporting facilities, equipment and technical advice (including use of, and training in, GPS and UAV surveys, sediment analysis and molecular laboratories), but they will be supervised by scientists at the University of Plymouth and UKCEH with the combined expertise and experience to ensure project delivery. In addition, we will work closely with our partners at Defra throughout to ensure the project is informed by, and delivers, relevant management recommendations to the people who have to implement government policy.