Ocean eyes: Developing novel optical chemical measurements of trace elements


Ocean eyes: Developing novel optical chemical measurements of trace elements


Project Description


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

Dr Angela Milne (SoGEES, University of Plymouth)

Dr Will Homoky (School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds)

Dr Giorgio Dall’olmo (Plymouth Marine Laboratory)


Project Background

The availability of iron (Fe) plays a key role in carbon dioxide drawdown and climate regulation as it can limit phytoplankton growth and the ‘biological pump’ in vast ocean regions. Fe is critical for cellular functioning and is particle reactive, meaning its transport is tightly coupled to particle fluxes in the ocean. Marine particles can be lithogenic (e.g. silts, clays) or biogenic carbon-based (e.g. cells, detritus) but little is known of their composition. Furthermore, chemical analysis of particles is time consuming and expensive, meaning in situ sensor analysis is highly desirable.

This project addresses the important question of how in situ sensor systems (e.g. float networks, buoys and autonomous vehicles) can be used to estimate iron concentrations in the ocean. Successful outcomes will mean suspended particulate element distributions can be obtained autonomously and remotely in the future, using optical techniques.

Research methodology and management

You will collect and synthesise suspended marine sediment particles and use state-of -the-art analytical techniques to correlate particulate iron concentrations with optical and spectroscopic properties (e.g. transmittance, backscattering, absorbance and fluorescence). You will have the opportunity to conduct regular field surveys in shelf waters at the Western Channel Observatory (WCO) and work with scientists in Antarctica and Bermuda to ground-truth these proxies. Past and current sensor and satellite observations will be used to investigate the potential for mapping particulate element concentrations using the optical proxies.


You will become an expert in marine biogeochemistry and sensors and receive valuable training in ISO 9001 analytical laboratories at the University of Plymouth and the optics laboratories at PML. You will be trained in the field with state-of-the-art samplers, deploy novel in situ sensors and develop data analysis methods with programming (Ocean Data View, Python and R). Field campaigns will be focused at coastal and open ocean time-series sites with opportunities to network within international oceanographic programmes providing an important stepping-stone for a career in ocean science.

Person specification

Applicants should have a degree in an environmental or physical science subject and a passion for analytical and marine science.


  • 1) Ussher SJ, Achterberg EP, Powell C, Baker AR, Jickells TD, Torres R & Worsfold PJ (2013) Impact of atmospheric deposition on the contrasting iron biogeochemistry of the North and South Atlantic Ocean, Global Biogeochemical Cycles 27, (1), DOI: 10.1002/gbc.20056
  • 2) Tagliabue, A., Bowie, A. R., DeVries, T., Ellwood, M. J., Landing, W. M., Milne, A., Ohnemus, D. C., Twining, B. S. and P. W. Boyd (2019). Nature Communications 10:4960
  • 3) Briggs, N., Dall’Olmo, G., Claustre, H., (2020) Major role of particle fragmentation in regulating biological sequestration of CO2 by the oceans. Science, 367 (6479). 791-793.
  • 4) Homoky WB. 2017. Deep ocean iron balance. Nature Geoscience. 10(3), pp. 162-163
  • 5) Dall’Olmo, G., T.K. Westberry, M.J. Behrenfeld, E. Boss, W.H. Slade (2009). Significant contribution of large particles to optical backscattering in the open ocean. Biogeosciences, 6, 947–967.

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