Marine Sciences

  • Marine physics
  • Coastal processes and modelling
  • Coastal ocean and sediment transport engineering
  • Marine and coastal policy

  • Geomatics
  • Oceanography
  • Marine renewable energy
  • Marine biology and ecology

Postgraduate research programmes

Although you can do research in any of the areas above, you may wish to look at these programmes:

Measuring the storms

The violent winter storms that struck the UK coast in January and February of 2014 physically shook the cliffs more powerfully than anything recorded previously.

Dr Claire Earlie, who was then completing her doctoral studies in the Rapid Coastal Response Unit at Plymouth University, used laser scanners, seismometers and video cameras to evaluate the impact of massive waves that were up to eight metres high, enhancing our  understanding of coastal erosion.

Since completing her PhD here at Plymouth University Claire has continued her research in France, as a LabexMER and Marie Curie Prestige post-doctoral research fellow, measuring the effects of storm waves along cliffed coastlines.

Claire is now a Lecturer in Coastal Processes at Cardiff University where she teaches coastal geomorphology, oceanography and marine policy for the BSc and MESci Marine Geography programmes and continues her research on coastal erosion.

Dr Claire Earlie, Lecturer in Coastal Processes, Cardiff University. Claire is a former PhD student and member of the Coastal Processes Research Group

The proliferation of microplastics in our oceans

We live in a disposable society, where 30 per cent of the plastic we produce is used for packaging that we throw away within a year of manufacture. 

Microplastics are of increasing concern because of their widespread presence in the oceans and the potential physical risks they pose to ocean life.

These plastic bits have been found in organisms ranging in size from small invertebrates to large mammals, and are known to concentrate toxic chemicals already present in seawater.

Using archived plankton samples held at the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS), Professor Richard Thompson and his team have showed that the abundance of small fragments of plastic, which they describe as ‘microplastic’, has increased significantly since the 1960s. The findings of this first study on microplastics were published in the journal Science in 2004. There is now global scientific interest on the topic of microplastics, with hundreds of scientific publications. 

Since his first description of microplastics, and funded by bodies such as the Leverhulme Trust, Richard’s team have demonstrated that a range of organisms ingest these microplastics and that, in some contexts, these particles can transfer contaminants from seawater to marine life. With funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), one of Richard’s current lines of enquiry is establishing the extent to which microplastics might cause harm in the marine environment.

"Major unanswered questions remain about the amounts of microplastic debris that might be accumulating on the seafloor. We also know very little about where, geographically, are the largest inputs of plastic to the marine environment." 

Professor Richard Thompson

The Marine Conservation Society Wakefield Memorial Award

Marine Science PhD student Imogen Napper received the award for her project ‘The Sources and Fate of Plastic in the Marine Environment'

Understanding our dynamic coastline

Gerd Masselink is a Professor in Coastal Geomorphology with over 20 years’ experience in collecting and analysing coastal and nearshore morphodynamic data. Gerd obtained his MSc in Physical Geography from Utrecht University in 1989 and his PhD in Marine Science from Sydney University in 1994.


"Higher sea levels, as predicted with the continued onset of climate change, and perhaps also more stormy conditions, will undoubtedly pose a greater risk to our coasts. Our research will enable us to predict and demonstrate how sea conditions might impact on our rocky coastlines in future decades and centuries, providing a greater understanding of the potential threats we might face."

Gerd has led on projects involving:

  • rip current research conducted in collaboration with the RNLI and the Met Office focusing on understanding the dynamics of rip currents and the implication for beach safety
  • field and modelling efforts to understand storm impacts on gravel beaches and the development of a numerical model with a user-friendly interface with which coastal managers and consultants can assess the morphological response of extreme storms on gravel beaches
  • extreme storm impacts on sandy and gravel beaches and the importance of long-term weather forecasting.

All of these involved cutting-edge research and measurement methodologies, and an international team of researchers plus a strong application and involvement of end users.

Postgraduate Research Coordinators

If you are thinking about becoming a postgraduate researcher at the University of Plymouth, you are welcome to contact the Postgraduate Research Coordinators in your field of interest.

They will discuss potential supervisors with you and answer any questions you might have about embarking on a research degree in their research area.

Find out who to contact and how they can help you

How to apply for a research degree

Do you need more information about admissions requirements?

We offer a wide variety of degrees, including ResM research degrees, Professional Doctorates, MPhil and PhD doctorate opportunities.

Find more information and how to apply