Ocean current variability on the Antarctic continental shelf_REP2023

Ocean current variability on the Antarctic continental shelf_REP2023

Ocean current variability on the Antarctic continental shelf 

Lead Supervisor: Professor Karen Heywood 

Location: University of East Anglia, School of Environmental Sciences

Duration:  8 weeks

Suitable undergraduate degrees: Physics, Natural Sciences, Ocean Sciences or similar numerate physical science degree 

Project background

This project will investigate the ocean currents on the Antarctic continental shelf in the western Weddell Sea, and address the following questions: 

  1. How tidal are the currents? 
  1. How accurate are the best available tidal models for this region? 
  1. What do the residual currents look like? 
  1. What processes might cause the residual currents? 

These questions are important in Antarctic ocean science because the currents transport water masses, and therefore physical, chemical and biological properties such as salinity, carbon, or krill. Very few observations have ever been made in our area of study.  

In February-March 2023, we undertook fieldwork during the Polar Science Trials of the UK’s polar research ship, RRS Sir David Attenborough.  We collected oceanographic observations on the Antarctic continental shelf, in preparation for our PICCOLO process cruise in 2024.  This REP will investigate the ship-borne Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) data collected as the ship surveyed the PICCOLO study region for about a week.  

First we will plot the ship’s track for the PICCOLO survey, on a map of the best available bathymetry.  Next we will read the ADCP data for study region, and plot a time series of the currents.  The study region has semi-diurnal tides so we should be able to identify the tidal currents by eye.  We will use a tidal model to generate predicted tidal currents for the ship’s location, and compare the two.  Subtracting the tide model currents from the ADCP currents will allow us to map the currents driven by other oceanographic mechanisms. 


Where the project goes next will depend on the REP student’s interests and expertise.  Some options might include: 

  • Investigate how the de-tided currents vary vertically and on what timescales. 
  • Running time series analysis (e.g. FFT or wavelets) on the dataset. 
  • Investigate whether satellite remote sensing (e.g. Worldview sea ice imagery or altimetry) can explain the observed currents, e.g. associated with eddies. 
  • Explore whether tides can explain the variability that we see in the temperature and salinity profiles collected. 


For this project, the student will work together with Karen Heywood (lead supervisor), Rob Hall and Yixi Zheng. 


This is a two tiered application process.  Initial applicant selection will be made by project supervisors and a further interview (online) will be conducted by UEA members of ARIES on the afternoon of Tuesday 13th June.

Apply now

Click here for eligibility details and how to apply