School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

Staff Profile

Professor Robert Upstill-Goddard

Professor of Marine Biogeochemistry



My early studies concerned sediment–water solute exchange and the estuarine chemistry of the halogens and the rare earth elements (REEs). I subsequently developed an interest in climatically active trace-gas cycling and in quantifying air–sea gas exchange rates. I was part of a small team at The Marine Biological Association of the UK (later Plymouth Marine Laboratory) and the University of East Anglia that developed the so-called ‘dual-tracer technique’ for estimating gas transfer velocities at sea using sulphur hexafluoride and helium-3, a method now regarded as the ‘gold standard’ for measuring air–sea gas exchange rates on short timescales. My current work includes evaluating the environmental controls of air–sea gas transfer, especially the role of surfactants and the microbiology of the sea-surface microlayer, and the biogeochemical cycling and air–sea exchange of methane and nitrous oxide in estuaries and mangroves, on coastal shelves, and in the open ocean. I also maintain an interest in the role of terrestrial dissolved organic matter in marine trace gas and ‘available nitrogen’ photo-production. I have served on a number of UK and EU Committees, contributed to the European Nitrogen Assessment and the CARBOEUROPE report on greenhouse gas emissions from the European Coastal Zone.  Until 2019 I was a member of two SCOR working groups now concluded: WG141 Sea Surface Microlayers and WG143 Establishing a methane and nitrous oxide global measurement network

Visit the methane and Nitrous oxide webpage and see a video about the methane and nitrous oxide network 

Find out more about my research at Google ScholarORCID and SCOPUS

See a video showing our experimental air-water gas exchange tank on AMT Cruise 24

Roles and Responsibilities

School Director of Expertise: Ecosystem Change 
Member: School and Faculty Research and Innovation Committees
Member: School Executive Board

Past President (2018-2020): Challenger Society for Marine Science

Member: European Research Foundation Community of Experts


PhD University of Leeds 1985: Geochemistry of the halogens in the Tamar estuary  
MSc University of Southampton 1981: Oceanography 
BSc University of Lancaster 1979: Environmental Sciences

Previous Positions

PGRF: MBA/Plymouth Marine Laboratory; 1987-1993

PGRF: University of East Anglia, Environmental Sciences; 1987-2001

PGRA: University of Cambridge, Earth Sciences; 1984-1987


Professional Scientific Societies:

UK Challenger Society for Marine Science

Informal Interests

Triumph Sports Six Club


Undergraduate Teaching

MST1104: Marine Research Skills

MST2104: Marine Research and Employability Skills

MST2103: Marine Processes and Cycles

MST3103: Advanced Oceanography (Module Leader)

MST3104 Research Project: Marine Biology

MST3105 Research Project: Marine Zoology

MST3106 Research Project: Marine Biology and Oceanography

MST3107 Research Project Overseas


Research Interests

I am a member of Earth, Ocean and Planetary Sciences Research Group. My research is primarily supported by NERC and The Leverhulme Trust   I currently address the following research questions:

How important are marine systems, especially coastal systems, to the global cycles of climate-active trace gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane?

What factors control the air-sea gas exchange process and can we parameterise them in a robust way?

What roles do bacteria at the sea surface (the Bacterioneuston) play in air-sea trace gas exchange?

How do surfactants influence air-sea trace gas exchange, and can these surfactants be identified and quantified?

How reactive is Chromophoric Dissolved Organic Matter (CDOM) in coastal waters and what are the implications of this reactivity for global biogeochemical cycles?

See a Press Release about my recent research findings

Current Work 

2019-2012: Surfactant control of air-water gas exchange in freshwater lakes. (Leverhulme Trust: £173,229)

Click here to see a video showing our experimental air-water gas exchange tank that we will use in this study


2013-2017: RAGNARoCC: Radiatively active gases from the North Atlantic Region and Climate Change. (NERC: £125,657); part of a consortium proposal lead by the University of East Anglia (UEA) and also involving the University of Southampton, the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)

2012-2015: Is denitrification a nitrous oxide sink? (Leverhulme Trust: £111,183).

2012-2015: What is the surfactant control of air-sea gas exchange across contrasting biogeochemical regimes? (Leverhulme Trust: £138,544). Research Associate: Dr Ryan Pereira.

2011-2013:  Influence of offshore-onshore surfactant gradients on air-sea gas exchange:  Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) Research Fellowship to Dr Klaus Schneider-Zapp (salary only).

Surfactant control of air-sea gas exchange in coastal waters (NERC: £49,940; 2011-2012:).

Source variability of WSOC in atmospheric precipitation (NERC: £45,114; 2010-2011).

Trace gases in tropical coastal zones (Leverhulme Trust: £124,887; 2006-2009).

DOGEE-SOLAS: The UK SOLAS Deep Ocean Gas Exchange Experiment (NERC: £134,654; 2005-2008).
D313 Cruise Report DOGEE-SOLAS: Nov-Dec 2006
D320 Cruise Report DOGEE-SOLAS: June-July 2007

The role of the bacterioneuston in the air-sea exchange of trace gases (NERC: £87,450; 2005-2008.). Find out more about International SOLAS Activities.

The Joint SOLAS Bergen Mesocosm Experiment(NERC: £11,569; 2008-2009). Read more about the Bergen Mesocosm Facility

Sources of methane to the coastal Arctic Ocean (NERC: £23,103; 2005-2006).

Atlantic Meridional Transect Programme (NERC:£47,601; 2001-2006).

The contribution to atmospheric methane from coastal marine sources NERC: £348,162; 2002-2005).

Nitrification, denitrification and nitrous oxide in Indian mangrove ecosystems (NERC: £274,524; 2002-2006)

The role of photo-ammonification and photochemical formation of phosphate in oligotrophic seas (NERC: CYCLOPS).


Postgraduate Supervision

Completed research supervisons/co-supervisions 

Philippa Rickard (2019): Photochemistry of surfactants in marine systems.

Aisha Al Wahaibi (PhD 2019): Characterisation of marine gel particles and their associated bacterial communities.

Bita Sabbaghzadeh (PhD 2018): Surfactants and chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM) in the Atlantic Ocean surface microlayer and the corresponding underlying waters.

Susan Fitzer (PhD 2011): Sensitivity and Predicted Population Level Effects of CO2-induced Ocean Acidification in the Benthic Harpacticoid Copepod, Tisbe holothuriae.

Matt Salter (PhD 2010): DOGEE-SOLAS: The UKSOLAS Deep Ocean Gas Exchange Experiment.

Jenna Robinson (M.Phil 2010): Basin-scale variability of coloured dissolved organic matter photobleaching and photoreactivity.

Lynsay Watson (PhD 2010): Methanogenesis in a coastal estuarine environment: a combined molecular ecological and biogeochemical approach.

Louise Tizzard (PhD 2008): A GIS database of gassy sediments on the UK continental shelf.

Tassos Anestis (PhD 2008): Origins and transformations of inorganic and organic nitrogen in river-estuarine systems.

Julian Pillans (PhD 2007): Photochemical and photobiological controls of the marine sulphur cycle.

Grant Forster (PhD 2006): Nitrous oxide and methane in the Atlantic Ocean: transects from 52o S to 50o N during AMT.

Ibrahim Al-Ansari (PhD 2006). A hydrographic and biogeochemical study of waters and sediment of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Qatar (Arabian Gulf).

Robert Spencer (PhD 2005): Biogeochemistry of dissolved organic matter and inorganic nitrogen in two N.E. UK estuaries

Philip Percival (PhD 2004): Impacts of trawl fisheries on marine benthic biogeochemistry.

Pedro Watts-Rodrigues (PhD 2003): Modelling nitrous oxide production in two contrasting British estuaries: The Forth and the Tyne.

Jon Barnes (PhD 2003): Nitrous oxide in UK estuaries.
Vas Kitidis (PhD 2002): CDOM dynamics and photoammonification in the marine environment.

Aron P. Stubbins (PhD 2001): Aspects of aquatic CO photoproduction from CDOM.

Tom Frost (PhD 1999): Environmental controls of air-water gas exchange.


Esteem Indicators

Past President (2018-2020): UK Challenger Society For Marine Science

Recent member: National Oceanography Centre Association Steering Board

Member, Editorial Board: Journal of Marine Science and Engineering.

Invited member: SCOR (Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research) International Working Group on Sea Surface Microlayers; 2013-2019..

Invited member: SCOR (Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research)  International Working Group on Dissolved N2O and CH4 measurements: Working towards a global network of oceantime series measurements of N2O and CH4; 2013-2019

Invited contributor (2009) The European Nitrogen Assessment

Member(2009-2011) MethaneNet (NERC)

Invited contributing author: Treatise on Coastal and Estuarine Science

Member (since 2008): International Management Committee of EU COST (European cooperation in the field of scientific and technical research) Action 735: Tools for assessing global air-sea fluxes of climate and air pollution relevant gases.

Member: COST (European cooperation in the field of scientific and technical research) Action 735: Tools for assessing global air-sea fluxes of climate and air pollution relevant gases. Working Group 3:Development of global flux estimates of long-lived climate relevant gases

Member of the UK SOLAS (Surface Ocean Lower Atmosphere Study) Steering Committee, 2004-2009. Information on the International SOLAS programme can be found here

Invited expert peer reviewer (2011-): European Research Council

Invited member of the CARBOEUROPE group of experts on greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere from the European Coastal Zone (European Commission DG Research - Vth Framework Programme: Key Action Global Change, Climate and Biodiversity). 

Nominated co-convenor: "Gas Hydrates and the Role of Methane in the Marine Environment"; European Geosciences Union 1st General Assembly, Nice, France, April 2004

Member of the Scientific Committee of the 37th Liège Colloquium on Gas Transfer At Water Surfaces, Liège, Belgium, April 2005

Invited Speaker: International Symposium on Greenhouse Gas and Carbon Balances in Mangrove Coastal Ecosystems, Tsukuba, Japan, October 2005, and co editor of published conference proceedings 

Invited Speaker: Zero Carbon City, A global campaign by the British Council to raise awareness and stimulate debate around greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and energy challenges facing the world’s largest cities: Chennai, India, January 21-28, 2006


2019-2022: £173,229. Leverhulme Trust. Surfactant control of air-water gas exchange in freshwater lakes.

2013-2017: £125,657. NERC.  RAGNARoCC: Radiatively active gases from the north Atlantic Region and Climate Change.

2012-2015: £138,544. Leverhulme Trust. What is the surfactant control of air-sea gas exchange across contrasting biogeochemical regimes?

2012-2015: £111,183. Leverhulme Trust. Is denitrification a nitrous oxide sink?

2011-2012: £49,940. NERC. Surfactant control of air-sea gas exchange.

2010-2011: £45,114. NERC. Source variability of WSOC in atmospheric precipitation.

2008-2009: £11,569. NERC. Joint SOLAS Bergen Mescosm.

2006-2009: £124,887. Leverhulme Trust: Trace gases in Mangroves.

2005-2008: £87,450. NERC. Bacterioneuston and trace gases.

2005-2008: £134,654. NERC. DOGEE-SOLAS:Air-Sea Gas Exchange.

2005-2006: £23,103. NERC. Arctic Methane.

2002-2006: £274,524. NERC. Nitrogen cycling in mangroves.

2002-2005: £7,804. NERC. Atlantic photochemistry.

2002-2005: £348,162. NERC. Coastal methane sources.

2001-2006: £47,601. NERC. Atlantic Meridional Transect.

1999-2002: £142,059. NERC. Photochemistry and dissolved nitrogen.

1999-2002: £36,460. NERC. Organic nitrogen cycling.

1999-2002: £217,126. NERC. Trace Gas Photoproduction.

1997-2000: £120,938. NERC: Role of the Bacterioneuston in the air-sea exchange of trace gases

1995-1997: £8,792. NERC. Thermal stability and air water gas exchange.

1995-1996: £74,151. NERC. Measuring dissolved sulphur gases in seawater.

1995-1996: £19,248. NERC. Invasive and evasive gas transfer.