Dr Susan Kimmance, Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)
Ms Rachel Parsons, Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS)
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.
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.
Applicants should have a degree in Earth, Biological or Environmental Science, or Chemistry with a genuine passion for marine science.