Reference no.
Closing date

Professor Andrew K. Sweetman


Since the mid-20th century, pressure from fishing has increased along continental margins and offshore banks and seamounts worldwide, with many pelagic and benthic ecosystems having already been heavily impacted by trawling and substantial international concerns raised over the potential impacts of deep-water hydrocarbon exploration and production. Future exploitation from mining for seafloor massive sulphide (SMS) deposits could have further significant adverse impacts through the generation of mine tailings and sediment plumes dispersing across vast areas. Encroaching human activities will therefore be happening in parallel with ocean warming, acidification, and in some regions, reduced oxygen levels, food supply and quality to the ocean’s interior.  This PhD project will focus on quantifying how various multiple stressors (e.g., temperature and organic matter quality) impact key benthic ecosystem processes (e.g., faunal and microbial C-cycling rates, bioturbation) using shipboard incubations experiments.  The student will also assess how abyssal seafloor and demersal ecosystem functioning changes across environmental gradients in the North and South Atlantic to inform how changes in organic matter fluxes and changes in oxygen levels will impact deep-sea ecosystems in the Atlantic Ocean over the next century.   The student will gain knowledge on a variety of methodologies to explore ecosystem function at the seafloor, and experience in using advanced in-situ lander technologies. 

The PhD student will be based in the Marine Benthic Ecology, Biogeochemistry and In-situ Technology group at the Lyell Centre for Earth and Marine Science and Technology – a new pioneering global research centre set up between Heriot-Watt University and the British Geological Survey (BGS).  The studentship will be a part of a major deep-sea project (2019-2023) called iAtlantic – Integrated assessment of Atlantic marine ecosystems in space and time, funded by the European Commission Horizon 2020 program.  The student will be required to attend multiple 35-day research cruises to the Cape Verde abyssal basin in the N. Atlantic, the Santos Basin in the S. Atlantic in 2020, and a deep-diving submersible cruise to the  N. Atlantic in 2021.  The student will also be required to conduct periodic research exchange trips to Brazil and within Europe, as well as attend national and international research conferences and project meetings.


This scholarhsips is avilable to UK, EU and Overseas candidates.

To be eligible, applicants should have a first-class honours degree or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. Applicants must be highly motivated with a marine biology, ecology or biogeochemistry background. Applicants with an interest in advanced isotope geochemistry, and mathematical modelling are particularly encouraged to apply. Scholarships will be awarded by competitive merit, taking into account the academic ability of the applicant.  


This is a full scholarship, which will cover tuition fees and provide an annual stipend of £15,009 for the 36-month duration of the project. Full funding is available to UK, EU and international students.

How to apply

To apply you must complete our our online application form. Please select PhD programme Marine Biology and include the full project title, reference number and supervisor on your application form.
In the section for project proposal, upload a supporting statement documenting your reasons for applying to this particular PhD, and why you are an ideal candidate for the position. You will also need to provide a CV, a copy of your degree certificate and relevant transcripts and one academic reference.  You must also provide proof of your ability in the English language (if English is not your mother tongue or if you have not already studied for a degree that was taught in English within the last 2 years). We require an IELTS certificate showing an overall score of at least 6.5 with no component scoring less than 6.0 or a TOEFL certificate with a minimum score of 90 points.


Informal enquiries should be addressed to Professor Andrew K. Sweetman, head of the Marine Benthic Ecology, Biogeochemistry and In-situ Technology research group at the Lyell Centre:



Complete applications must be submitted by 5th December 2019 and applicants must be available to start in May 2020.