How do ship-emissions impact marine microbial communities in the North Atlantic Ocean?


How do ship-emissions impact marine microbial communities in the North Atlantic Ocean?


Project Description


Dr Angela Milne (School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Plymouth) – Contact me

Dr Susan Kimmance, Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)

Ms Rachel Parsons, Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS)


Project Background

A major contributor to atmospheric pollution in the marine environment comes from shipping; this includes small atmospheric particles (aerosols) and harmful gases. To protect air quality, measures have been introduced to reduce pollutant emissions from ships. Specifically, from January 2020, emissions of sulphur from ships had to be reduced to 0.5% by mass. To achieve this, shipping companies have either switched to a low-sulphur fuel type or installed exhaust treatment systems known as scrubbers. This change will impact the chemical character of exhaust-emitted aerosols and result in localised surface water chemical changes from scrubber-wastewater inputs. Exhaust-emissions are typically enriched in metals, including iron and copper, which can be either advantageous or deleterious to the marine microbial community. Work is urgently needed to investigate how changes in shipping practice impacts microbial communities.

Research methodology

Surface seawater from contrasting ship-affected environments will be used for incubation experiments where microbial communities are exposed to aerosols and/or scrubber water. Surface waters of the UK (near Plymouth) will be compared with a more ‘pristine’ environment (Bermuda). The response of the local microbial community will be assessed for impacts and/or acclimation to shipping traffic.  Clean handling techniques will be used to collect and manipulate aerosol samples, scrubber water and the required surface seawater. Shipboard expeditions will collect seawater while experiments will be laboratory-based. Appropriate analytical techniques will be used to evaluate aerosol chemical character, availability of nutrients/metals, and the in-situ microbial community (e.g., abundance, growth, diversity, and community composition using molecular profiling).


The student will gain expertise in trace-metal marine biogeochemistry and skills for a career in ocean science. In world class laboratory facilities in Plymouth and Bermuda, the student will receive training in clean handling, experimental design, atmospheric and marine field sampling, advanced analytical techniques to characterise particles and assess nutrient/metal availability.  Training in DNA/RNA extractions, qPCR assays, microscopy, Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridization and Catalysed Reporter Deposition-FISH will be gained through incubation experiments.

Person specification

Applicants should have a degree in Earth, Biological or Environmental Science, or Chemistry with a genuine passion for marine science.


  • 1) Wyatt, N. J., Milne, A., Achterberg, E. P., Browning, T. J., Bouman, H. A., Woodward, E. M. S., & M. C. Lohan (2021). Seasonal cycling of zinc and cobalt in the south-eastern Atlantic along the GEOTRACES GA10 section. Biogeosciences 18(14):4265-4280.
  • 2) White, C., Ussher, S. J., Fitzsimons, M. F., Atkinson, S., Woodward, E. M. S., Yang, M. & T. G. Bell (2021). Inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus in Western European aerosol and the significance of dry deposition flux into stratified shelf waters. Atmospheric Environment 261: 118391.
  • 3) Schmidt, K., Birchill, A. J., Atkinson, A., Brewin, R. J. W., Clark, J. R., Hickman, A. E., Johns, D. G., Lohan, M. C., Milne, A., Pardo, S., Smyth, T. J., Tarran, G. A., Widdicombe, C. E., Woodward, E. M. S., & S. J. Ussher (2020). Increasing picocyanobacteria success in shelf waters contributes to long-term food web degradation. Global Change Biology 26 (10): 5574-5587.
  • 4) James, A., Carlson, C., Passow, U., Brzezinski, M., Parsons, R.J. and Trapani, J.N. (2017). Elevated pCO2 enhances bacterioplankton removal of organic carbon. PLoS ONE 12(3):e0173145.
  • 5) Polimene, L., Clark, D., Kimmance, S., & McCormack, P. (2017). A substantial fraction of phytoplankton-derived DON is resistant to degradation by a metabolically versatile, widely distributed marine bacterium. PloS one, 12(2), e0171391.

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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