Using novel techniques to understand biological controls on volatile sulfur in the ocean


Using novel techniques to understand biological controls on volatile sulfur in the ocean


Project Description


Dr Frances Hopkins, Plymouth Marine Laboratory – Contact me

Professor Carol Robinson, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

Professor Tom Bell, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Dr Helen Powley, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Scientific Background

The oceans release huge quantities of a gas called dimethylsulfide (DMS), which plays a key role in regulating Earth’s climate via the formation of atmospheric particles and clouds. DMS is produced when marine phytoplankton die and break apart, or by bacteria as they feed on the substances that phytoplankton excrete.

We know the products of DMS have an important influence on climate – their cooling effect is similar in size (but opposite in sign) to the global warming caused by human CO2 emissions. But gaps in our understanding remain, some of which relate to short term bloom events often associated with intense DMS production. Complex phytoplankton community dynamics are likely to be critical during such events, but models still do not include a suitable level of detail to capture this.

Project Aim

Assess how phytoplankton community composition drives short term fluctuations in DMS to better understand and improve global emission predictions.

Research Methodology

You will measure seawater DMS, developing established methods (gas chromatography) to measure at higher frequency using mass spectrometry, and collect phytoplankton community data (samples for pigments, flow cytometry, microscopy), on a DMS-focused international North Atlantic aircraft and ship-based campaign.

You will use the Western Channel Observatory (WCO) to assess seasonal DMS dynamics, taking advantage of exciting autonomous technologies to increase sampling capability. Data will be integrated with detailed phytoplankton community data routinely collected at WCO, including novel methods such as automated, in situ plankton imaging/classification.

You will compare your data with output from the European Regional Seas Marine Ecosystem Model (with embedded DMS dynamics module) to assess the mechanistic understanding and predictive capability of the model.


You will gain sea-going field experience and be trained in a range of state-of-the-art instruments and novel techniques in ISO accredited labs. You will gain data analysis, coding and modelling skills (Python), and transferable career skills (writing/communication, good laboratory practice, quality assurance and safety procedures). You will be encouraged to participate in a summer school, and to attend relevant international workshops and meetings.

Person Specification

Suited for someone passionate about multidisciplinary environmental research and field work, with degree-level qualifications in Environmental, Chemical, Marine or Atmospheric Sciences.


  • 1 Hopkins, F. E., Archer, S. D., Bell, T. G., Suntharalingam, P., & Todd, J. D. (2023). The biogeochemistry of marine dimethylsulfide. Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, 4(6), 361-376.
  • 2 Bock, J., Michou, M., Nabat, P., Abe, M., Mulcahy, J. P., Olivié, D. J., ... & Séférian, R. (2021). Evaluation of ocean dimethylsulfide concentration and emission in CMIP6 models. Biogeosciences, 18(12), 3823-3860., J., Michou, M., Nabat, P., Abe, M., Mulcahy, J. P., Olivié, D. J., ... & Séférian, R. (2021). Evaluation of ocean dimethylsulfide concentration and emission in CMIP6 models. Biogeosciences, 18(12), 3823-3860.
  • 3 Bell, T. G., Porter, J. G., Wang, W. L., Lawler, M. J., Boss, E., Behrenfeld, M. J., & Saltzman, E. S. (2021). Predictability of Seawater DMS During the North Atlantic Aerosol and Marine Ecosystem Study (NAAMES). Frontiers in Marine Science, 7, 596763.
  • 4 Polimene, L., Archer, S. D., Butenschön, M., & Allen, J. I. (2012). A mechanistic explanation of the Sargasso Sea DMS “summer paradox.” Biogeochemistry, 110(1–3), 243–255.
  • 5 Bolas, C. G., Ferracci, V., Robinson, A. D., Mead, M. I., Nadzir, M. S. M., Pyle, J. A., ... & Harris, N. R. (2020). iDirac: a field-portable instrument for long-term autonomous measurements of isoprene and selected VOCs. Atmospheric Measurement Techniques, 13(2), 821-838.

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

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