Causes, character and consequences of Antarctic turbidity currents


Causes, character and consequences of Antarctic turbidity currents


Project Description


Dr Jenny Gales, University of Plymouth – Contact me

Dr Katie  Maier, NIWA, New Zealand

Professor Daniel  Conley, School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth

Scientific background

Turbidity currents are the equivalent of underwater avalanches – rapid, sediment-rich bodies of water that flow down-slope. They occur globally and transport the greatest volumes of sediment on the planet [1]. They are frequent, powerful and destructive events that, like other seafloor processes, can destroy seafloor equipment and lead to significant seafloor changes [1,2,3]. They transport organic carbon and pollutants offshore, affecting ecosystems and climate [1,4]. A major challenge is understanding what causes turbidity currents as we cannot predict when and where they will occur [1]. It is logistically challenging making direct measurements in the deep ocean so very few turbidity currents have been measured directly [1,4]. The goal of this PhD is to better understand the causes and future risks of seafloor processes such as Antarctic turbidity currents, their role in the global carbon cycle, and how they will respond to future climatic change. This will provide crucial scientific advances with environmental, societal and economic implications.


You will use novel and multidisciplinary approaches to combine direct measurements of seafloor processes such as turbidity currents from oceanographic moorings deployed in Antarctic submarine canyons, with past records from Antarctic sediment cores recovered during International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 374 ( You will use geophysical and paleo-climate data to understand turbidity current behaviour and response to past climatic changes over millennial-timescales allowing risks posed by future climatic changes to be assessed.


The multidisciplinary project will provide training in physical oceanography, geophysical and sedimentological data analysis. You will have the opportunity to participate in a research placement at NIWA, New Zealand to collaborate with expert scientists and learn to integrate multidisciplinary datasets. You will join the international IODP Expedition 374 team and collaborate with scientists from a range of global institutions. You will become an active member of the internationally recognised University of Plymouth Coastal Processes Research Group. The project will equip you for a career in geophysical/ocean research, the hydrographic industry and consultancy.

Person Specification

We seek an enthusiastic individual with an Earth/Ocean Science-related degree with good numerical skills.


  • 1 Paull, C., Talling, P., Maier, K., Parsons, D., Xu, J., Caress, D., Gwiazda, R., Lundsten, E., Anderson, K., Barry, J., Chaffrey, M., O’Reilly, T., Rosenburger, K., Gales, J., Kieft, B., McGann, M., Simmons, S., McCann, M., Sumner, E., Clare, M., Cartigny, M. 2018. Powerful turbidity currents driven by dense basal layers. Nature Communications 9, 4114.
  • 2 Gales, J., McKay, R., De Santis, L., Rebesco, M., Laberg, J. S., Shevenell, A., Harwood, D., Leckie, M., Kulhanek, D., King, M., Patterson, M., Lucchi, R., Kim, S., Kim, S., Dodd, J., Seidenstein, J., Prunella, C., Ferrante, G., IODP Exp. 374. 2023. Climate-controlled submarine landslides on the Antarctic continental margin. Nature Communications 14, 2714.Gales, J., McKay, R., De Santis, L., Rebesco, M., Laberg, J. S., Shevenell, A., Harwood, D., Leckie, M., Kulhanek, D., King, M., Patterson, M., Lucchi, R., Kim, S., Kim, S., Dodd, J., Seidenstein, J., Prunella, C., Ferrante, G., IODP Exp. 374. 2023. Climate-controlled submarine landslides on the Antarctic continental margin. Nature Communications 14, 2714.
  • 3 Gales, J., Rebesco, M., De Santis, L., Bergamasco, A., Colleoni, F., Kim, S., Accettella, D., Kovacevic, V., Liu, Y., Olivo, E. 2020. Role of dense shelf water in the development of Antarctic submarine canyon morphology. Geomorphology 372, 107453.
  • 4 Maier, K. L., Rosenberger, K., Paull, C.K., Gwiazda, R., Gales, J., Lorenson, T., Barry, J. P., Talling, P. J., McGann, M., Xu, J., Lundsten, E., Anderson, A., Litvin, S., Parsons, D., Clare, M., Simmons, S., Sumner, E., Cartigny, M. 2019. Sediment and organic carbon transport and deposition driven by internal tides along Monterey Canyon, offshore California. Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers 153, 103108.
  • 5 Meredith, M. P. 2022. Carbon storage shifts around Antarctica. Nature Communications 13, 3400.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2024. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 10th January 2024.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£18,622 p.a. for 2023/24) 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. We expect to award between 4 and 6 studentships to international candidates in 2024.
  • 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.
  • ARIES funding is subject to UKRI terms and conditions. Postgraduate Researchers are expected to live within reasonable distance of their host organisation for the duration of their studentship. See for more information

Applications open

Click this link to apply to University of Plymouth