Funded PhD research studentship!

Come do a PhD with the Plankton team at University of Plymouth!

Applications are invited for a three and a half years PhD studentship. The studentship will start on 1 October 2019.

Director of Studies: Professor Philip (Chris) Reid

Second Supervisor: Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop

Additional supervisors: 

  • Professor Gregory Beaugrand, CNRS, Wimeroux, France
  • Dr Eric Gobberville, Sorbonne Université, France

Project description

Rationale: The studentship will research how the development and propagation of warm sea surface temperature anomalies from tropical seas towards the poles contributes to rapidly rising global temperature with consequent risks to marine ecosystems, fisheries and sea level rise, and with downstream effects on polar seas, society, the global economy and the insurance industry. This joint project between the Marine Biological Association (MBA) – Continuous Plankton Recorder Survey and the University of Plymouth is funded by the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences as part of AXA XL’s Ocean Risk Scholarships to examine and quantify risks to ecosystems, businesses and people from the changes taking place in the ocean.

Scientific context: The Earth is taking in more energy as heat than is reflected back into space with ~93% taken up by the ocean; a rapidly increasing uptake with large consequences for the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and biosphere, including the occurrence of extreme events. Extreme weather was one of the three top risks in the Global Risks Report 2018 of the World Economic Forum. The report followed the most intense month on record for extreme weather events (September 2017) and the most expensive US hurricane season since 2005. Also in 2017 large wildfires in the USA, Chile and Portugal, after a major El Niño, led to casualties and large economic costs. The term ‘ecological Armageddon’ was used in the same year by researchers to highlight the scale of global biodiversity loss and its consequences for fishery resources and agricultural systems. There is an urgent need to assess the broader implications of ocean warming and improve understanding of processes to better mitigate and manage change and evaluate possible future impacts on the insurance market.

Main objectives: The successful student will:

• 1. Update Reid and Beaugrand (2012) for the whole ocean, including its western boundary current ‘heat motorways’ and response to the 2014/16 El Niño, as an introduction to the manipulation and statistical analysis of large gridded datasets.

• 2. Examine non-linear step-like changes over time in regional and global temperatures and explore mechanisms and consequences of these shifts, such as trophodynamic changes and impacts on exploited resources.

• 3. Evaluate possible links to increases in extreme events and natural disasters using e.g. the OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database.

• 4. Utilise the Argo database that enables a 3D view of the changing status of upper ocean temperature, salinity and water circulation to investigate risks associated with the accelerated growth in ocean heat content from ~1990.

Links to risk and the insurance industry

Risk is the chance of something harmful or unexpected happening – in the case of this project from the speed and severity of rising temperature. The project will be of benefit to insurers through improved understanding of processes and planning for future ocean risk. AXA XL will act as a risk supervisor providing opportunities for the student to work with industry professionals on the translation of regional consequences of ocean warming to a risk scale relevant to the insurance industry.

Training, research facilities and working environment

Hosted jointly by the MBA and the University of Plymouth the student will be primarily based at the superbly located and friendly MBA Laboratory. Both institutions have excellent computing and other facilities. Training in the use of a high-level programming language such as Matlab and compatible database programs will be provided and are essential for the success of the research. A wide range of standard and innovative statistical techniques and data processing tools will be available. Networking with other graduates in the MBA and University will be encouraged. Opportunities to help with lecturing, practicals and assessment and to gain experience in science-policy issues and analysis techniques will be available with training in risk analysis techniques and the science-policy interface.

Selection criteria

Applicants should have (at least) a first or upper second class honours degree in an appropriate subject and preferably a relevant MSc or MRes qualification. A high degree of computer literacy is required preferably with experience of Matlab programming and working with Matlab and/or R statistical packages.


The studentship is supported for three and a half years and includes full home/EU tuition fees plus a stipend of £14,553 per annum. The studentship will only fully fund those applicants who are eligible for home/EU fees. Applicants normally required to cover overseas fees will have to cover the difference between the home/EU and the overseas tuition fee rates (approximately £12,285 per annum).

Further information

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Philip (Chris) Reid at McQuatters-Gollop, Gregory Beaugrand at or Eric Gobberville at However, applications must be made in accordance with the details shown below.

General information about applying for a research degree at the University is available at:

Please apply via the online application form.

Please mark it FAO Aimee McNeillie, clearly stating that you are applying for a PhD studentship within the School of Biological and Marine Sciences. Please attach a covering letter detailing your suitability for the studentship, a CV and two academic references.

For more information on the admissions process, please contact Aimee McNeillie.

The closing date for applications is 12 noon, Monday 22 July 2019. 

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview within two weeks of the closing dates.  Applicants who have not received an offer by 30 July 2019 should consider their application has been unsuccessful.


Desbruyères D. et al. 2017. Journal of Climate, 30, 1985-1997, doi: 10.1175/jcli-d-16-0396.1.

Reid, P. C. 2016. In Explaining ocean warming:causes, scale, effects and consequences, pp. 17-45. Ed. by D. Laffoley, and J. M. Baxter. IUCN (see: doi: 10.2305/IUCN.CH.2016.08.en).

Reid, P. C. and Beaugrand, G. 2012. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 92: 1435-1450, doi:10.1017/S0025315412000549.

Wijffels, S. et al. 2016. Nature Climate Change, 6: 116-118, doi: 10.1038/nclimate2924.

Beaugrand et al. 2019 Nature Climate Change, 9: 237-243, doi: 10.1038/s41558-019-0420-1.

About Abigail McQuatters-Gollop

Marine biologist, guitarist, cat lover, red wine drinker. I like plankton.
This entry was posted in PhdShip, students and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s