Factors controlling microbial nitrogen cycling and nitrogen pollution from farm to coast

To apply please use the online application form, simply search for PhD Physical Geography and clearly state that you are applying for an ARIES PhD studentship and name the project SOGEES-1022-S1-P5 (ARIES, Tait), 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.


Dr Karen Tait

Professor William Blake

Dr Andy Rees

Dr Laura Cardenas

Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)


Project details

Project background: The leaching of nitrate into waterways from farmland causes problems for drinking water quality, fisheries and bathing waters and dramatically impacts the biodiversity of waterways. Agriculture is also a major source of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O). Progress has been made in controlling these emissions, but to reduce them further, we need to fully understand the factors influencing nitrogen pollution along the gradient between land and sea, particularly within the context of changing land use and increasing extreme weather events.

Project aims: The key to unlocking the flow of nitrate and N2O is to study the actions of the soil, sediment and water dwelling nitrogen cycling microbes that are responsible for the conversion of nitrate to N2O. In this PhD you will provide detailed insight of key sources of nitrate and N2O entering the Tamar catchment (local to Plymouth) and how nitrogen cycling microbes can influence their removal, turnover, or production. You will also determine the influence of changing land use, extreme weather and season on nitrogen cycling microbes to understand and predict the biological sensitivities of nitrogen pollution to anthropogenic and environmental pressures from farm to coast.

Training: The supervisory team are committed to providing you with a comprehensive training experience, providing you with the skills required for a future in scientific research. Most of your time will be spent at Plymouth Marine Laboratory making use of PML’s research vessels, and state-of-the-art molecular biology and analytical chemistry laboratories. You will have access to facilities at Rothamsted's North Wyke Farm Platform. You will learn a range of readily transferable skills including rigorous experimental design, molecular biology (quantitative PCR, sequencing, bioinformatics), analytical chemistry, training in the biogeochemistry of riverine, estuarine and coastal systems and catchment hydrological processes. You will also be taught a wide range of professional skills (statistics, writing, communication).

Requirements: We seek an enthusiastic, self-motivated candidate, with a strong attention to detail. This project requires a student willing to undertake both land and boat-based field work. You will have a BSc in biology, chemistry or a suitable branch of environmental sciences.

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 https://www.aries-dtp.ac.uk/


Rees AP, Brown IJ, Jayakumar A, Lessin G, Somerfield PJ, Ward BB.(2021) Biological nitrous oxide consumption in oxygenated waters of the high latitude Atlantic Ocean. Communications Earth & Environment doi:1038/s43247-021-00104-y

Blake WH, Kelly C, Wynants M, Patrick A, Lewin S, Lawson J, Nasolwa E, Page A, Nasseri M, Marks C, Gilvear D, Mtei K, Munishi L, Ndakidemi P (2020) Integrating land-water-people connectivity concepts across disciplines for co-design of soil erosion solutions. Land Degradation and Development doi: 10.1002/ldr.3791

Cardenas LM, Bhogal A, Chadwick DR, McGeough K, Misselbrook T, Rees RM, Thorman RE, Watson CJ, Williams JR, Smith KA, Calvet S. (2019) Nitrogen use efficiency and nitrous oxide emissions from five UK fertilised grasslands. Science of the Total Environment doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.01.082

Kitidis V, Tait K, Nunes J, Brown I, Woodward EM, Harris C, Sabadel AJ, Sivyer DB, Silburn B, Kröger S. (2017) Seasonal benthic nitrogen cycling in a temperate shelf sea: the Celtic Sea. Biogeochemistrydoi:10.1007/s10533-017-0311-3

Chadwick D, Sommer S, Thorman R, Fangueiro D, CardenasL, Amon B, Misselbrook T. Manure management: Implications for greenhouse gas emissions. (2011) Animal Feed Science and Technologydoi:10.1016/j.anifeedsci.2011.04.036