How do natural and ship emissions influence marine atmospheric sulfur, aerosol composition and acidity?


How do natural and ship emissions influence marine atmospheric sulfur, aerosol composition and acidity?


Project Description


Prof. Thomas Bell (Plymouth Marine Laboratory) – Contact me

Dr Mingxi Yang, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Simon Ussher, University of Plymouth

Prof. Alex Archibald, University of Cambridge


Project background

Sulfur plays a key role in the marine atmosphere, and has a major influence on atmospheric particles and climate. Marine sulfur emissions result from natural biological processes as well as anthropogenic activities. Sulfur impacts the composition and acidity of atmospheric particles (aerosols), which is fundamental in atmospheric chemistry and relevant to air quality, ecosystems, and climate.

The marine atmosphere is changing profoundly: Terrestrial regulations since the 1980s and a 2020 global mandate to reduce ship emissions seven-fold aimed to improve air quality and have significantly reduced anthropogenic sulfur emissions. Furthermore, recent discoveries of new atmospheric sulfur molecules are forcing a radical re-examination of the role of natural marine sulfur in the climate system. Natural/anthropogenic contributions to the marine sulfur burden and impacts on aerosol acidity are poorly understood because there has been no post-2020 assessment of the marine sulfur cycle.

Project aim

Constrain natural and anthropogenic sulfur emissions, understand present-day atmospheric sulfur cycling, and determine the impacts upon the marine atmosphere.

Research methodology

The student will analyse marine sulfur gas concentrations and fluxes on a dedicated research campaign in the Atlantic, and will assess aerosol composition and natural/anthropogenic sources using isotope ratios in samples from Penlee Point (UK), the Azores (ACE-ENA), and Bermuda (Tudor Hill). All data will be evaluated against the UKCA model to improve understanding of marine aerosol, acidity and the impacts on biogeochemical cycles.


The student will gain field experience (research cruise and observatory site visits) and analytical lab experience in ISO accredited labs (PML Air-Sea Exchange group: Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry, and UoP: Ion Chromatography and Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry). They will attend the annual UKCA training course, gain data interpretation skills (Python), and learn valuable academic, industrial and consultancy career skills (e.g. transferable writing and presentation skills, good laboratory practice, quality assurance and safety procedures).

Person specification

Suited for someone passionate about multidisciplinary environmental research and field work, with an aptitude for operating scientific instrumentation and degree-level qualifications in Environmental, Chemical, Marine or Atmospheric Sciences. Those with other numerate degrees (e.g. Physics, Engineering) are also encouraged to apply.


  • Yang et al. (2016). Attribution of atmospheric sulfur dioxide over the English Channel to dimethyl sulfide and changing ship emissions, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics
  • Veres et al. (2020). Global airborne sampling reveals a previously unobserved dimethyl sulfide oxidation mechanism in the marine atmosphere, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
  • Baker et al. (2021). Changing atmospheric acidity as a modulator of nutrient deposition and ocean biogeochemistry, Science Advances
  • Hattori et al. (2021). Isotopic evidence for acidity-driven enhancement of sulfate formation after SO2 emission control, Science Advances
  • Yu et al. (2020). Characterizing the particle composition and cloud condensation nuclei from shipping emission in Western Europe. Env. Sci. & Tech.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2023. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 11th January 2023.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£17,668 p.a. for 2022/23) and research funding. International applicants are eligible for fully-funded ARIES studentships including fees. Please note however that ARIES funding does not cover additional costs associated with relocation to, and living in, the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences, on top of all Research Costs associated with the project. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship follow the instructions at the bottom of the page or click the 'apply now' link.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.

Applications are open

Apply now