Can extreme internal waves trigger turbidity currents and carbon transport in submarine canyons?


Can extreme internal waves trigger turbidity currents and carbon transport in submarine canyons?


Project Description


Dr Rob Hall (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia) – Contact me

Dr Mike Clare (National Oceanography Centre, Ocean BioGeosciences)

Dr Furu Mienis (Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Department of Ocean Systems)

Dr Dorothee Bakker (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia) – Contact me


Project Background

Submarine canyons play a key role in the transport of sediment and carbon from shelf seas to the deep ocean by funnelling sediment-laden turbidity currents and cold-salty density currents down the continental slope. These currents are sporadic and the processes that trigger them poorly understood, so their overall contribution to global sediment and carbon budgets remains uncertain. One proposed triggering mechanism involves large-amplitude internal (subsurface) waves, which are generated by ocean tides and focused into submarine canyons. Internal waves increase near-bed current speed and particularly energetic internal wave events may resuspend enough sediment to form turbidity currents.

Project objectives:

1) Investigate how internal waves resuspend sediment and carbon.

2) Identify triggering thresholds.

3) Determine down-canyon sediment and carbon transport.

Research methodology:

You will analyse long-duration hydrodynamic, sedimentological and biogeochemical data from Whittard Canyon, a large branching submarine canyon system that incises the Celtic Sea continental shelf. Using autonomous ocean glider and acoustic Doppler current profiler (ADCP) mooring data, you will first map the spatial and seasonal variability of internal waves within the canyon to identify where and when triggering events are most likely. Then, using data from sediment traps and biogeochemical sensors, you will investigate the mechanisms by which internal waves resuspend sediment and carbon, identify triggering thresholds, and quantify down-canyon sediment and carbon transport. Finally, you will compare your results from Whittard Canyon with other canyon systems worldwide.


You will gain first-hand experience in observational oceanography and marine autonomy, be trained in advanced methods for data processing, analysis and visualisation, and, as part of the UEA Glider Group (, be involved with the deployment and piloting of ocean gliders. You may have the opportunity to participate in a research cruise to Whittard Canyon, will collaborate with leading UK and international marine scientists, and present your research at conferences and workshops.

Person specification:

You will have a physical science degree or similar (e.g. oceanography, meteorology, geophysics, environmental sciences, natural sciences, physics, mathematics, engineering). Experience with a computer programming language (e.g. Matlab, Python) will be an advantage. This exciting project is suitable for candidates from numerical disciplines.


If you have any queries please contact Dorothee Bakker or Karen Heywood.


  • 1) Hall, R. A., T. Aslam, and V. A. I. Huvenne, 2017: Partly standing internal tides in a dendritic submarine canyon observed by an ocean glider. Deep-Sea Research Part I, 126, 73–84, doi:10.1016/j.dsr.2017.05.015.
  • 2) Aslam, T., R. A. Hall, and S. R. Dye, 2018: Internal tides in a dendritic submarine canyon. Progress in Oceanography, 169, 20–32, doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2017.10.005.
  • 3) Bailey, L. P., M. A. Clare, K. J. Rosenberger, M. J. Cartigny, P. J. Talling, C. K. Paull, R. Gwiazda, D. R. Parsons, S. M. Simmons, J. Xu, and I. D. Haigh, 2021: Preconditioning by sediment accumulation can produce powerful turbidity currents without major external triggers. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 562, 116845, doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2021.116845.
  • 4) Haalboom, S., H. de Stigter, G. Duineveld, H. van Haren, G.-J. Reichart, and F. Mienis, 2021: Suspended particulate matter in a submarine canyon (Whittard Canyon, Bay of Biscay, NE Atlantic Ocean): Assessment of commonly used instruments to record turbidity. Marine Geology, 434, 106439, doi:10.1016/j.margeo.2021.106439.
  • 5) Masson, D. G., V. A. I. Huvenne, H. C. de Stigter, G. A.Wolff, K. Kiriakoulakis, R. G. Arzola, and S. Blackbird, 2010: Efficient burial of carbon in a submarine canyon. Geology, 38, 831–834, doi:10.1130/G30895.1.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2022. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2022.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers 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. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to 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. 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 in the subject area.
  • 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 click on the “Apply now” link below.
  • 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

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