The Origin and Fate of Blue Carbon in Coastal Habitats


The Origin and Fate of Blue Carbon in Coastal Habitats


Project Description


Dr Natalie Hicks (School of Life Sciences, University of Essex) contact me

Professor Graham Underwood (School of Life Sciences, University of Essex)

Dr Alina Marca (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia)

Project Background

‘Blue carbon’, or carbon in marine environments, is receiving increasing attention from scientists and policy makers. The capacity of marine systems to mitigate against CO2 emissions by storing carbon, provides the potential to value these systems as a method of off-setting carbon emissions. However, significant uncertainty remains around the size of carbon stocks, their sources and burial. This studentship will fill critical gaps in understanding of the fluxes of carbon across coastal transition zones and into shelf sediments.

Research Methodology

The project will focus on the salt marsh, intertidal mud flats and offshore shallow seas along the East Anglian coastline, benefitting from existing datasets, and strong relationships between supervisors and regional stakeholders (Conservation organisations, Government Agencies, Local Authorities). Hypotheses concerning the different sources and sinks for carbon across gradients from the upper intertidal to sub-littoral zones along estuaries, including vegetated and unvegetated sediment, will be tested. Fieldwork will include spatial and temporal sample collection (sediment cores), identification of sources and burial rates of carbon using isotopic analysis (including δ13C and δ15N), and associated biological and environmental parameter. These data will be used in an estuary-coast-shelf observational and modelling (OMEXDIA) approach (Cefas) to estimate carbon budgets.


The candidate will be based at Essex, but have opportunities to spend time at Cefas (data modelling; links to coastal policy development) and UEA (stable isotope analysis), equipping them with a relevant set of skills and wider network. There will be a significant amount of coastal fieldwork, and the opportunity to participate in Cefas-led research cruises on the North Sea, providing key fieldwork skills (project management, sampling in the field, organisation and coordination of fieldwork logistics). Support will be provided for participation in national and international conferences at the discretion and approval of the supervisory team.

Person Specification

The successful candidate will have a degree in a relevant scientific discipline (marine sciences, earth sciences, environmental sciences). Some experience of chemical laboratory analyses and coastal or estuarine fieldwork experience would be preferred.


  • 1. Legge, O., Johnson, M., Hicks, N., Jickells, T., Diesing, M., Aldridge, J., Andrews, J., Artioli, Y., Bakker, DCE., Burrows, MT., Carr, N., Cripps, G., Felgate, SL., Fernand, L., Greenwood, N., Hartman, S., Kröger, S., Lessin, G., Mahaffey, C., Mayor, DJ., Parker, R., Queirós, AM., Shutler, JD., Silva, T., Stahl, H., Tinker, J., Underwood, GJC., Van Der Molen, J., Wakelin, S., Weston, K. and Williamson, P., (2020). Carbon on the Northwest European Shelf: Contemporary Budget and Future Influences. Frontiers in Marine Science. 7
  • 2. Hicks, N., Ubbara, GR., Silburn, B., Smith, HEK., Kröger, S., Parker, ER., Sivyer, D., Kitidis, V., Hatton, A., Mayor, DJ. and Stahl, H., (2017). Oxygen dynamics in shelf seas sediments incorporating seasonal variability. Biogeochemistry. 135 (1-2), 35-47
  • 3. Luisetti, T., Turner, KR., Andrews, JE., Jickells, TD., Kröger, S., Diesing, M., Paltriguera, L., Johnson, MT., Parker, ER., Bakker, DCE, Weston, K. (2019) Quantifying and valuing carbon flows and stores in coastal and shelf ecosystems in the UK. Ecosystem Services 35, 67-76,
  • 4. Bristow, L., Jickells, T., Weston, K., Marca, A., Parker ER., Andrews, J. (2013) Tracing estuarine organic matter sources into the southern North Sea using C and N isotopic signatures Biogeochemistry. 113, 1-3, 9-22
  • 5. Cousins, LJ., Cousins, MS., Gardiner, T, Underwood, GJC. (2017). Factors influencing the initial establishment of salt marsh vegetation on engineered sea wall terraces in south east England. Ocean & Coastal Management, 143, 96-104.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2021. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2021.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) and research funding. For the first time in 2021/22 international applicants (EU and non-EU) will be 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 significant relevant non-academic 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.

Applications are Open

To apply, Send an email to Emma Revill  by 23:59 12th January 2021 with:

  • your CV (including contact details of two academic references)
  • a cover letter explaining your motivation and suitability for the PhD
See other ARIES studentships at University of Essex