Impact of mesoscale eddies on the plankton communities of the Polar Frontal zone


Impact of mesoscale eddies on the plankton communities of the Polar Frontal zone


Project Description

Prof Geraint Tarling (British Antarctic Survey)

Dr Carol Robinson (UEA Environmental Sciences)

Prof Willie Wilson (Marine Biological Association)

Dr Sally Thorpe (BAS)


Scientific background

This PhD will provide the opportunity to study the remote and isolated Southern Ocean. Isolation is believed to make the fauna of the Southern Ocean unique but recent evidence of encroachments of pelagic fauna across the Polar Front challenges this view. It has further been suggested that collapses in penguin and seal recruitment result from such encroachments. The fishery for Antarctic krill may also be impacted. Although the Polar Front may be faunal boundary at large scales, at mesoscales (10-100s km), it is a highly complex zone and eddies may transport a considerable amount of fauna across the front. This project will use state of the art of satellite observations combined with field measurements to determine the influence of eddies on faunal transport across the Polar Front. It will build towards being able to predict when predator colonies may be at risk and when commercial fishing efforts should be constrained.

Research methodology

The student will become a skilled analyst of both Southern Ocean field data and of remotely-sensed image data. Furthermore, subject to the availability of berths, it may be possible for them to participate in Southern Ocean cruises, carrying out numerous deployments of different oceanographic instrumentation. They will receive specialist training in analysing satellite data to determine ocean colour, dynamic height, advection and surface temperature. The student will also consider census data of seal and penguin colonies to identify any correlations between eddy activity, plankton faunal displacement and higher predator recruitment.


The student will be trained in taxonomic analyses of Southern Ocean zooplankton and phytoplankton and physical oceanography. If fieldwork is possible, and they choose do so, they will undergo personal survival training and be instructed on how to deploy oceanographic equipment, including nets, Continuous Plankton Recorders and “Planktags” (satellite linked environmental sensors). They will also be trained in remote-sensing image analysis and statistical techniques.

Person specification

The ideal candidate will have at least an upper second Degree and/or Masters in a biological or oceanographic subject combined with evidence of numerical competence, particularly in statistical analysis. Experience in taxonomic analyses are also desirable.

The successful candidate will be registered for a PhD in the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences.


  • Clarke, Andrew, David KA Barnes, and Dominic A. Hodgson. "How isolated is Antarctica?." Trends in Ecology & Evolution 20.1 (2005): 1-3.
  • Tarling GA, Ward P, Thorpe SE (2018) Spatial distributions of Southern Ocean mesozooplankton have been resilient to long-term surface warming. Global Change Biology 24:132-142 doi: 10.1111/gcb.13834
  • Freer JJ, Partridge JC, Tarling GA, Collins MA, Genner MJ (2018) Predicting ecological responses in a changing ocean: The effects of future climate uncertainty. Marine Biology 165:7 doi: 10.1007/s00227-017-3239-1
  • Thorpe, S. E., Heywood, K. J., Brandon, M. A., & Stevens, D. P. (2002). Variability of the southern Antarctic Circumpolar Current front north of South Georgia. Journal of Marine Systems, 37(1-3), 87-105.
  • Thorpe, S. E., Heywood, K. J., Stevens, D. P., & Brandon, M. A. (2004). Tracking passive drifters in a high resolution ocean model: implications for interannual variability of larval krill transport to South Georgia. Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers, 51(7), 909-920

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