Long-term impacts of oil rigs on benthic food web structure in the North Sea
Lead supervisor: Dr Eoin O’Gorman
Location: School of Life Sciences, University of Essex
Duration: 10 weeks
Suitable undergraduate degrees: Biology, Chemistry, Maths, Computer Science, Engineering, Geology.
This is an exciting and engaging project, providing the successful REP student with the opportunity to advance their research, computational, data-literacy, and laboratory skills and experience. The project is aligned with an active NERC-funded grant (FuECoMMS – INSITE) led by Dr Natalie Hicks (UoE). The project will also give the student access to personal and professional mentorship from the FuECoMMS post-doc, Dr Gareth Thomas, who recently completed his PhD through the NERC-funded DTP, EnvEast. The student will be encouraged to engage with academics (UoE; University of St Andrews), government bodies (Cefas), industry (Shell, Repsol), and other stakeholders (Shetland Oil Terminal Advisory Group, SOTEAG; National Subsea Research Initiative, NSRI).
The primary aim of the REP project is to determine the impact of man-made structures (e.g. oil rigs) on the trophic structure of micro- and macrofauna on the surrounding seabed. This will be achieved through the collation and subsequent analysis of a large food web database, underpinned by the UK Benthos Survey: biodiversity surveys conducted by Oil & Gas UK over a 40-year period. This advancement will contribute to our understanding of how the placement or removal of man-made structures in the marine environment can impact the connectivity, geochemical processes, and food web structure of benthic ecosystems. In doing so, the student will have the opportunity to expand their research experience and contribute to science-led impact, whereby the FuECoMMS project aims to guide and advance OSPAR decommissioning guidelines.
To achieve the aims of the REP, the student will work on a number of different projects and tasks:
- Fieldwork design: due to current Covid restrictions, no work on research vessels is allowed, however, the student will have the opportunity to be involved with, and contribute their ideas to, the design of future fieldwork campaigns.
- Experimental work: the student will have the opportunity to assist in the design and running of a microcosm experiment, replicating the removal of man-made structures within the marine environment, which will investigate potential impacts on benthic ecology.
- Sample processing: the student will learn new processes and protocols that are not typically available to undergraduates (e.g. DNA extraction and sequencing, GC-MS). Mentorship from the post-doc (Dr Thomas) will provide the REP student with valuable access to a wealth of microbial and molecular ecology expertise.
- Computational work: the student will have the opportunity to expand their literature research skills whilst also gaining an understanding of how to work with “Big Data”. Additionally, the student will have the opportunity to learn some basic statistical coding in R, whilst completing statistical analysis, which is an increasingly desirable transferrable skill.
- Scientific communication: towards the end of their 10-week placement, the student will be encouraged to provide a short presentation on their experience and what they have learnt to the supervisory team, or if they wish, the Ecology Group Seminar Series.