How will changing shipping emissions affect the atmospheric deposition of trace elements to the surface ocean?


How will changing shipping emissions affect the atmospheric deposition of trace elements to the surface ocean?


Project Description


Dr Simon Ussher (University of Plymouth)

Dr Angela Milne (University of Plymouth)

Dr Tom Bell (Plymouth Marine Laboratory)

Prof Alex Baker (University of East Anglia)

Scientific background

Airborne particles are often natural in origin (e.g. sea salt, dust) but there is concern that modern anthropogenic aerosols have significant effects on sensitive marine ecosystems and human health. A major contributor to atmospheric pollutants is shipping traffic, which is continually increasing due to expanding populations and global trade. Atmospheric emissions are set to undergo significant global reform in the coming decades, including a change to international shipping regulations in 2020 banning the emissions of high sulfur fuel. The environmental impact of these changes remains unknown.

In this project you will determine trace elements in ship emissions and aerosol/rainwater samples collected at coastal and open ocean sampling sites in Cornwall (UK) and Bermuda. Laboratory simulations will be used to study the dissolution of aerosol trace elements into seawater, using established trace techniques. Using these data, the project will address the impact that changing maritime shipping emissions can have on ocean ecosystems either by deposition of nutrient-type trace elements (P, N, Fe) or harmful toxic heavy metals, (e.g. Cu and Cd). The final goal is to use the results to inform the shipping industry and governments of best practice and the impact of the changing chemistry of aerosols and gases released from ships.

Research methods, training and supervision

You will become an expert in cutting-edge techniques to sample and analyse marine aerosols and rainwaters conducting fieldwork on ships, at a coastal atmospheric observatory (Penlee Point, Cornwall) and in the subtropical North Atlantic Ocean (Bermuda). Alongside this, you will receive comprehensive, hands-on training in advanced analytical techniques, including mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and X-ray techniques (XRF and SEM-EDX) within the University of Plymouth Marine Institute’s Biogeochemistry Research Centre.

You will benefit from a team of experienced supervisors from the University of Plymouth, University of East Anglia, and Plymouth Marine Laboratory, as well as the scientific networks and career opportunities associated with these institutes.

Person specification

We are looking for a motivated graduate with a BSc or Master’s degree in Environmental Science, Marine Science or Chemistry (or similar), with a genuine passion for marine and atmospheric science.


  • Ussher, S.J, Achterberg, E.P., Powell, C., Baker, A.R. Jickells, T.D., Torres, R., Impact of atmospheric deposition on the contrasting iron biogeochemistry of the North and South Atlantic Ocean, P.J. Worsfold, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 27(1), (2013), 1096–1107, doi:10.1002/gbc.20056.
  • Fishwick, M. P., P. N. Sedwick, M. C. Lohan, P. J. Worsfold, K. N. Buck, T. M. Church, and S. J. Ussher (2014), The impact of changing surface ocean conditions on the dissolution of aerosol iron, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 28, 1235–1250, doi:10.1002/2014GB004921.
  • Powell, C. F., Baker, A. R., Jickells, T. D., Bange, H. W., Chance, R., and Yodle, C.: Estimation of the atmospheric flux of nutrients and trace metals to the eastern tropical North Atlantic Ocean, Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, 72, 4029-4045, 10.1175/JAS-D-15-0011.1, 2015.
  • Baker, A. R., Thomas, M., Bange, H. W., and Plasencia Sánchez, E.: Soluble trace metals in aerosols over the tropical south-east Pacific offshore of Peru, Biogeosciences, 13, 817-825, 10.5194/bg-13-817-2016, 2016.
  • Bell, T.G., Poulton, A. and Malin, G. (2010) Strong links between phytoplankton community physiology and dimethylsulphoniopropionate (DMSP) concentrations in the sub-tropical/tropical Atlantic. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 24, art. no.-GB3009. doi:10.1029/2009GB003617.

Open for applications

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