How do ship-emissions impact marine microbial communities in the North Atlantic Ocean?

To apply please use the online application form, simply search for PhD Environmental Sciences and clearly state that you are applying for an ARIES PhD studentship and name the project SOGEES-1022-S1-P3 (ARIES, Milne), at the top of your personal statement.

Online application

Whilst you can apply for up to three ARIES projects, you must submit a separate application for each.

Take a look at the Doctoral College information on applying for a research degree.

Supervisory team

Dr Angela Milne

Dr Simon Ussher

Dr Susan Kimmance

Ms Rachel Parsons (BIOS)

Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)


Project details

Scientific background

A major contributor to atmospheric pollution in the marine environment comes from shipping; this includes small atmospheric particles (aerosols) and harmful gases. To protect air quality, measures have been introduced to reduce pollutant emissions from ships. Specifically, from January 2020, emissions of sulphur from ships had to be reduced to 0.5% by mass. To achieve this, shipping companies have either switched to a low-sulphur fuel type or installed exhaust treatment systems known as scrubbers. This change will impact the chemical character of exhaust-emitted aerosols and result in localised surface water chemical changes from scrubber-wastewater inputs. Exhaust-emissions are typically enriched in metals, including iron and copper, which can be either advantageous or deleterious to the marine microbial community. Work is urgently needed to investigate how changes in shipping practice impacts microbial communities.


Research methodology

Surface seawater from contrasting ship-affected environments will be used for incubation experiments where microbial communities are exposed to aerosols and/or scrubber water. Surface waters of the UK (near Plymouth) will be compared with a more ‘pristine’ environment (Bermuda). The response of the local microbial community will be assessed for impacts and/or acclimation to shipping traffic. Clean handling techniques will be used to collect and manipulate aerosol samples, scrubber water and the required surface seawater. Shipboard expeditions will collect seawater while experiments will be laboratory-based. Appropriate analytical techniques will be used to evaluate aerosol chemical character, availability of nutrients/metals, and the in-situ microbial community (e.g., abundance, growth, diversity, and community composition using molecular profiling).



The student will gain expertise in trace-metal marine biogeochemistry and skills for a career in ocean science. In world class laboratory facilities in Plymouth and Bermuda, the student will receive training in clean handling, experimental design, atmospheric and marine field sampling, advanced analytical techniques to characterise particles and assess nutrient/metal availability. Training in DNA/RNA extractions, qPCR assays, microscopy, Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridization and Catalysed Reporter Deposition-FISH will be gained through incubation experiments.


Person specification

Applicants should have a degree in Earth, Biological or Environmental Science, or Chemistry with a genuine passion for marine science.


Funding notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1 October 2022.

Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship for 3.5 years, covering fees, stipend (£15,609 p.a. for 2021-22) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships.

ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and £2,500 for external training, travel and conferences.

ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience. Our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.

For information and full eligibility visit


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