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Atmosphere-Ocean Exchange in the Anthropocene – How Air Pollution Modifies the ‘Smell of the Sea’ (YANG_UPML17EE) – CASE studentship with Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Project description


The atmosphere contains a rich cocktail of gases.  They give us smell (e.g. aromatics in coffee), protect us from harmful ultraviolet radiation (ozone), signal our intentions (pheromones), and of course enable you to read this paragraph (oxygen).  Not all gases are pleasant, however.  Air pollution contributes to millions of premature deaths worldwide. 

The ocean emits many gases that contribute to the ‘smell of the sea’.  It also absorbs gases from the atmosphere, including pollutants emitted from anthropogenic activities.  This PhD project examines the interaction between air pollution and coastal seas.  Specifically, the project focuses on the chemical reactions of oxidants (including ozone) and acid precursors (including sulphur dioxide) in seawater, and subsequent production of organic compounds.

Research Methodology

This PhD project has three components:
1) field observations at 
Penlee Point Atmospheric Observatory (see image)
2) laboratory measurements. Oxidant and pollutant gases will be added to seawater.  Both removals of pollutants and production of organics will be monitored, and reaction rates quantified.
3) numerical modelling to direct and consolidate results from Parts 1 and 2.  


The student will receive training in measuring trace gases and learn about atmospheric chemistry and marine biogeochemistry.  He/she will learn good laboratory practice, quality assurance, and receive training in health and safety. These skills will be valuable towards careers in academia, industries, and consultancy.

The student will join a dynamic group at PML (and a cohort of fellow PhD students) undertaking topical research in areas including air-sea transfer, photochemistry, and carbon cycling.  The student will further benefit from guidance from Dr Johnson and Emeritus Prof Liss (UEA), international experts on air-sea exchange. 

Person Specification

We seek an enthusiastic, numerate student who welcomes instrumental and programming challenges. He/she must have achieved at least a 2:1 BSc Honours in a physical science (physics, chemistry, maths, or environmental science) and be capable of independent/team work.  Please contact supervisors with any enquiries


This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with twenty other research partners.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 14/15 February 2017.

Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award. In 2016/17 the stipend was £14,296.

For further information, please visit


(i) Yang, M. et al. Atmos. Chem. Phys., 14, 7499-7517, 2014.

(ii) Yang, M. et al. Atmos. Chem. Phys., 16, 4771-4783, 2016.

(iii) Yang, M. et al. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. doi/10.1073, 2013.

(iv) Martino M. et al. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, doi10.1029/2011GL050282, 2012.

(v) Zhou, S. et al. Atmos. Chem. Phys., 14, 1371-1384, 2014.

  • Start date 1 October 2017
  • Programme PhD
  • Mode of Study full time
  • Studentship Length 3.5 years
Entry requirements
  • Acceptable First Degree physical science (physics, chemistry, maths, or environmental science)
  • Minimum Entry Standard 2:1 Honours degree