Postgraduate Research Opportunity

Quantifying ‘Blue Carbon’ stores around Man-Made Structures


Title: Quantifying ‘Blue Carbon’ stores around Man-Made Structures

Funding: Full time Home fees and a standard tax-free stipend for three years equivalent to the Research Councils UK National Minimum Doctoral Stipend (£15,609 in 2021-22). This studentship is a 3 year + 1 year award that may be taken full-time or part-time. To be eligible for this award you must be a Home student (i.e. UK national meeting residency requirements).

Application deadline: 11.59pm, 31st January 2022.

Start date: April 2022.

Duration: 3 years (full time)

Location: Colchester Campus

Based in: School of Life Sciences

Scientific background

The North Sea has >1300 oil and gas installations, and a further 1800 offshore wind turbines all of which will require full removal, as part of decommissioning, at the end of their service.

However, in some areas of the world, decommissioning practice has led to a ‘rigs-to-reefs’ approach, where these man-made structures (MMS) are left in situ, to form artificial reefs.

This approach however, has not yet been approved for the North Sea, largely due to a lack of scientific knowledge about how MMS removal (i.e. full vs partial) impacts on the marine ecosystem, and how this may impact the vital carbon stores in the marine sediment.

The project

This PhD Studentship funded by the NERC-INSITE programme, University of Essex and the National Decommissioning Centre (University of Aberdeen) will be the first to quantify the ‘blue carbon’ stored in marine sediments, specifically in the exclusion zones around oil and gas infrastructure. This will include collection of new data through direct sediment sampling, using radioisotope and stable isotope measurements, to evaluate the extent and age of carbon stores.

This project is likely to have direct policy impact, and data collected through this studentship will provide the first knowledge of the carbon sequestration potential around man-made structures. The project data will feed directly into the national carbon budgets, and inform future decommissioning guidelines.


Combining lab and fieldwork, the student will receive a comprehensive package of training on diverse analytical chemical techniques (radioisotopes and stable isotopes), and direct experience of sampling on research vessels around man-made structures.

The student will also have the opportunity to spend time within the research labs of collaborative institutes (National Decommissioning Centre, Aberdeen, and University of St Andrews), and gain business and policy experience (at Cefas, Shell).

The student will also present their research at national and international conferences and publish their findings for data dissemination and to build their research profile. 

Collaborative Partners

Based at the School of Life Sciences, University of Essex, the student will join the internationally recognized Ecology and Environmental Microbiology Research Group and is supported by the supervisory team at the collaborative partners: National Decommissioning Centre (University of Aberdeen), University of St Andrews, Centre for Fisheries, Aquaculture and Environment Science (Cefas), and Shell (Case Partner).

The student will become empowered in their path to become an independent researcher by a supportive and experienced supervisory team.


To be eligible for this award you must be a Home student (i.e. UK national meeting residency requirements). The funding covers Home student tuition fees plus a stipend of approximately £15,609, increasing each year for the 3 years of funding.

Contact the lead supervisor for more information.

Person specification

To be eligible for this award you must:

  • Be a Home student (i.e. UK national meeting residency requirements).
  • Have a first or upper second class BSc (or equivalent) or Masters in a relevant area.
  • We welcome applicants from environmental science, chemistry or molecular biology backgrounds.

How to apply

To apply for this studentship please email your CV to Emma Revill (

The deadline is 11.59pm on Monday 31st January 2022. 

Please contact Dr Natalie Hicks ( for further information about the project.