UK/EU students

PhD studentship - Plastic Dispersion in the Global Ocean

Value of award

This studentship includes: UK/EU tuition fees, an annual tax-free stipend of (up to) £14,553 (17/18 level) and use of a desktop computer.

Number of awards


Start date and duration

The studentship commences in September or October 2017 for 3.5 years

Application closing date

21 July 2017


Almost 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally every year. Of these, about 20 million tons find their way into the ocean. The mass of plastic floating in the ocean is estimated at under than a quarter of a million tons, which means that probably less than about 0.1% of oceanic plastic is currently accounted for. Possible explanations for this mismatch are that the bulk of marine plastic ends up being washed ashore, is entrained into deeper layers below the ocean surface as a result of turbulence, downwelling and loss of buoyancy, or sinks to the seafloor, possibly becoming incorporated into the sediments.

In this project, a state-of-the-art ocean model at a resolution of 25 km × 25 km will be used to calculate the global distribution of plastics of different types. The student will work in the refinement of existing formulations of plastic transformation, notably loss of buoyancy and sedimentation, in the model. A key process affecting plastic buoyancy is biofouling, namely the accumulation of marine organisms on wet surfaces. As plastic undergoes biofouling, it loses buoyancy and sinks but, at depth, it undergoes de-fouling, becomes buoyant and ascend to the surface again. You will explore these processes with conceptual models and will test biofouling parameterisations in the global model.

You will gain skills in ocean modelling, time series analysis and large dataset management. There will be opportunities to travel to scientific meetings to present results, and we aim to see all students publish 1-2 papers in leading journals. Upon completion, the you will be well equipped for a career in academia or industry.


Newcastle University

Name of supervisor(s)

Dr Miguel A. Morales Maqueda and Professor Andrew J. Willmott (with support from Professors Grant Burgess and Tony Clare)

Eligibility Criteria

This studentships is available to UK/EU candidates only, who have/expect a 2:1 honours degree in environmental science, oceanography or a related discipline, or an international equivalent. A Masters qualification in a relevant subject area will be advantageous.

Applicants whose first language is not English require a minimum of IELTS 6.5. International applicants may require an ATAS (Academic Technology Approval Scheme) clearance certificate prior to obtaining their visa and to study on this programme.

How to apply

You must apply through the University’s online postgraduate application form:

Please include the following information:

Attach degree transcripts and certificates, and if English is not your first language, a copy of your English Language qualification.


Dr Miguel A. Morales Maqueda or Professor Andrew J. Willmott