How have major changes in marine atmospheric sulfur emissions influenced aerosol composition and acidity?


How have major changes in marine atmospheric sulfur emissions influenced aerosol composition and acidity?


Project Description


Dr Thomas Bell (Plymouth Marine Laboratory) – Contact me

Dr Mingxi Yang (Plymouth Marine Laboratory)

Dr Simon Ussher (University of Plymouth)

Dr Tomás Sherwen (NCAS Research Scientist and GEOS-Chem model expert), University of York


Project Background

Sulfur plays a key role in the marine atmosphere, and has a major influence on atmospheric particles and climate. Sulfur emissions result from natural seawater processes and anthropogenic activities. The marine atmosphere is undergoing a period of profound change. A series of regulations aimed at improving air quality have reduced anthropogenic sulfur emissions, which impact the composition and acidity of atmospheric particles (aerosols). Aerosol acidity is fundamental in atmospheric chemistry and is relevant to air quality, ecosystems, and climate.

Terrestrial anthropogenic sulfur emissions have steadily declined since the 1980s. In contrast, a global mandate in 2020 led to an abrupt seven-fold drop in emissions from international shipping. Natural/anthropogenic contributions to the marine sulfur burden and impacts on aerosol acidity are poorly understood because there has been no post-2020 assessment of the global implications of sulfur emission changes.

Project aim

Constrain natural and anthropogenic sulfur emissions, improve understanding of atmospheric sulfur cycling post-2020, and assess the impacts upon the marine atmosphere.

Research methodology: The student will analyse marine sulfur gas and aerosol samples, and measure natural/anthropogenic contributions using isotope ratios. Samples will be collected at the southwest UK (Penlee Point), the Azores (ACE-ENA), and Bermuda (Tudor Hill) field sites, then data compared and evaluated against the GEOS-Chem model to improve understanding of marine aerosol, acidity and the impacts on biogeochemical cycles.

Training opportunities

The student will gain field experience (observatory site visits) and specialist analytical lab experience (PML Air-Sea Exchange group: novel method development to trap sulfur gases for fluorescence detection; and UoP: analysing aerosol samples with Ion Chromatography and Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry). They will visit the BGS Isotope facility, attend the NCAS summer school, gain data interpretation skills (Python), and learn valuable academic, industrial and consultancy career skills (e.g. transferable writing and presentation skills, good laboratory practice, quality assurance and safety procedures).

Person specification

Suited for someone passionate about environmental research and field work, with an aptitude for operating scientific instrumentation and degree-level qualifications in Environmental, Chemical, Marine or Atmospheric Sciences. Those with other numerate degrees (e.g. Physics, Engineering) are also encouraged to apply.


  • 1) Yang et al. (2016). Attribution of atmospheric sulfur dioxide over the English Channel to dimethyl sulfide and changing ship emissions, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics
  • 2) White et al. (2021). Inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus in Western European aerosol and the significance of dry deposition flux into stratified shelf waters, Atmospheric Environment
  • 3) Baker et al. (2021). Changing atmospheric acidity as a modulator of nutrient deposition and ocean biogeochemistry, Science Advances
  • 4) Hattori et al. (2021). Isotopic evidence for acidity-driven enhancement of sulfate formation after SO2 emission control, Science Advances
  • 5) Yu et al. (2020). Characterizing the particle composition and cloud condensation nuclei from shipping emission in Western Europe. Env. Sci. & Tech.

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

Apply now