Oceanographic drivers of habitat use in tropical atoll lagoons: a hydrodynamic numerical modelling approach

Applications are invited for a four-year PhD studentship. The studentship is available for 3.5 years and will aim to start on 1 October 2022.


To apply please use the online application form. Simply search for PhD Marine Sciences (and select the entry point of October 2022), then clearly state that you are applying for a PhD and name the project at the top of your personal statement.

Online application

Before applying, please ensure you have read the Doctoral College’s general information on applying for a research degree.

For more information on the admissions process please contact doctoralcollege@plymouth.ac.uk.

Director of Studies: Dr Vasyl Vlasenko 

2nd Supervisor: Dr Nataliya Stashchuk 

3rd Supervisor: Dr Phil Hosegood 

Applications are invited for a four year PhD studentship. The studentship (funding) is available for 3.5 years and will aim to start on 1 October 2022.

Project description

The dynamics controlling circulation within tropical atoll lagoons are critical to the marine ecosystem due to their influence on local productivity, biomass accumulation and the creation of biophysical environments exploited by apex predators. The complexity of the bathymetry and tidal forcing throughout these systems, however, renders efforts to accurately predict the currents arising throughout them challenging. Previous atoll hydrodynamic studies have considered a range of different morphologies with varying degrees of reef enclosure, which in turn influence the total exchange between lagoon waters and the open ocean. Closed atoll lagoons are virtually separated from the open ocean, which can cause lagoon water levels to remain higher than offshore at all phases of the tide, while semi-enclosed atolls have channels or wide reef flats through which water exchange may occur. As a result, circulation is driven by a combination of atoll morphology and the surrounding oceanic environment (wave-climate, tidal regime, and winds).

This studentship will investigate the hydrodynamics of tidally forced, semi-enclosed, coral reef atolls in the Western Indian Ocean using the Delft3D model numerical model. The model will be initialised and validated with a wide range of field observations collected during research cruises to the region during 2019 – 2022. Of wider interest is the impact of the highly localised currents in driving habitat use; this project is one of several recently funded by the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science within which researchers are interested in understanding how the physical oceanographic regime influences the movements of animals including foraging seabirds, sea turtles, and manta. You will work directly with collaborators in South Africa (University of Cape Town) and the United States (Stanford University) where complementary numerical models are being developed to study the basin- and regional-scale dynamics throughout the region. Together, this project will contribute to one of the first multi-scale modelling approaches to understanding these complex, but critically endangered, marine systems.


Applicants should have a first or upper second class honours degree in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths) subject and, preferably, a relevant masters qualification in marine science. This position would suit a student with strong numerical and/or computing skills, and experience in MATLAB or similar computational environment. Good communication skills, and an ability to work within a culturally diverse team are expected.

The studentship is supported for 3.5 years and includes full international tuition fees plus a stipend of £16,062 per annum (2022/23 rate).

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Dr Vasyl Vlasenko.

Please see a list of supporting documents to upload with your application.

For more information on the admissions process generally, please contact doctoralcollege@plymouth.ac.uk.

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on 27 June 2022. 

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview during the week beginning 11 July 2022. We regret that we may not be able to respond to all applications. Applicants who have not received a response within six weeks of the closing date should consider their application has been unsuccessful on this occasion.