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The University of Southampton
Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute

SMMI PhD Funding


Scheme Outline:

SMMI has an annual allocation of funds to support cross-disciplinary PhD research studentships, spanning supervision between different Faculties/Schools/Departments.  These studentships are offered competitively across campus and are open to SMMI members whose proposed project centres on interdisciplinary research.  The candidate needs to have a First Class degree and be excellent as deemed by the selectors in the faculty where the student will primarily be based. The SMMI studentships are available to UK and EU students and in exceptional cases international students. The SMMI studentships will provide funding of up to £10k per year for three years, with the supervisors and their faculties finding the rest of the required funding. We expect students to be fully funded (fees, RCUK stipend, RTSG of £2000 per annum). PhD students should be recruited through open competition using the accepted processes of the host faculty or academic unit. All candidates should go through a formal interview process chaired by an independent representative of the host graduate school or the SMMI.  A representative of the SMMI must be invited to the formal interview.  It is anticipated that the SMMI will support up to 6 studentships per year.

PhD projects to commence October 2019 will be advertised soon.

The following past PhD projects are examples of the breadth of topics offered


Bayesian inversion of controlled source electromagnetic data for a laterally variable subsurface

Solving for subsurface models in geosciences often requires sophisticated mathematical inversion algorithms. A rigorous way of approaching ill-posed problems (due to, for example, limited physical data) are probabilistic (Bayesian) methods, where data is combined with physically meaningful prior information through sampling algorithms such as Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC). Bayesian techniques have been shown to rigorously quantify model parameters and their uncertainties, an advantage over standard schemes.

This project aims to develop an inversion algorithm for a depth and laterally-variable (two-dimensional, 2D) sub-seafloor electrical conductivity distribution using marine controlled source electromagnetic (CSEM) data. The CSEM method is a popular tool to detect conductivity contrasts in the seabed that may relate to, e.g., hydrocarbon reservoirs. We successfully implemented a Bayesian inversion for CSEM data for a model parametrisation where conductivity varies only with depth (one-dimensional, 1D). However, many areas cannot be sufficiently described in 1D. State-of-the-art algorithms and faster processing capabilities enable progress towards 2D algorithms. Hence, this project aims to develop a 2D algorithm that allows rigorous interpretation of CSEM data from geological targets for which a 1D approach is inadequate. It will be applied to real data sets, e.g., in the Black Sea and offshore Svalbard.

This project will evaluate, extend and develop state-of-the-art Bayesian approaches to geophysical data. It will build on existing 1D probabilistic (Bayesian) inversion techniques and CSEM forward simulators. Bayesian inversion has advantages over classical inversion techniques, because it only requires the forward simulator to sample the model space (usually via MCMC, a memoryless random walk). It does not need linearization or regularization, but allows inclusion of appropriate prior information and constraints, and does not get trapped in local minima. Most importantly, it can provide rigorous uncertainty quantification.

The student will develop new methods that extend current capabilities to address 2D inversion by involving (depending on the student’s interest) techniques such as efficient sampling algorithms, computation optimisation, statistical emulation methodology, data selection and automated adaptation of model complexity.

The algorithm will be applied to available CSEM data to estimate upper and lower bounds for the conductivity distribution. A combined geological interpretation will be obtained including other geophysical data (such as seismic reflection and in-situ petrophysical data) and collaborating with international researchers.


University of Southampton

All doctoral candidates will enroll in the Graduate School of NOCS (GSNOCS), where they will receive specialist training in oral and written presentation skills, have the opportunity to participate in teaching activities, and have access to a full range of research and generic training opportunities. GSNOCS attracts students from all over the world and from all science and engineering backgrounds. There are currently around 200 full- and part-time PhD students enrolled (~60% UK and 40% EU & overseas).

The student will be registered at the University of Southampton. The student will join the UK’s most active marine geophysics group and the Southampton Statistical Sciences Research Institute. The student will have the opportunity to participate in marine science at sea, and will have access to a range of relevant high-level courses, and state-of-the-art modelling hardware and software. The student will receive training in electromagnetic methods, inversion theory, Bayesian methods, and will attend the national “Academy for PhD Training in Statistics”. The student will be introduced to international experts on Bayesian inversion of geophysical data and develop strong communication skills and build contacts for future employment in research or industry.

Contacts for additional information:  Prof Tim Minshull, Dr Romina Gehrmann and Prof David Woods

Background Reading: 
S. C. Constable. Ten years of marine CSEM for hydrocarbon exploration. Geophysics, 75(5):75A67-75A81, 2010.

R. A. S. Gehrmann, J. Dettmer, K. Schwalenberg, M. Engels, A. Özmaral and S. E. Dosso. Trans-dimensional Bayesian inversion of controlled source electromagnetic data in the German North Sea. Geophysical Prospecting. Accepted (2015).

A. Ray, K. Key, T. Bodin, D. Myer, and S. Constable. Bayesian inversion of marine CSEM data from the Scarborough gas field using a trans-dimensional 2-D parametrization. Geophysical Journal International, 199: 1847-1860, 2014

Before ‘thalassocracies’: Reevaluating the boatbuilding tradition of the south Aegean islands and rethinking the Aegean maritime past during the Final Neolithic – Early Bronze Age period

This research will re-evaluate past interpretations of Neolithic seafaring in the Aegean, redefining misconceptions of primitive societies with poorly developed boat building techniques. Based upon new archaeological evidence and a re-evaluation of maritime connectivity, this research will adopt a more technologically rigorous analysis of vessel types and performance, to demonstrate that in fact, Neolithic societies were complex and connected, with wide reaching maritime networks and advanced maritime technologies.

Based principally upon archaeological data, this research affords new insights to Neolithic seafaring and maritime societies. Previous scholarship (Marangou 2001; Wachsmann 1998) indicated that the so-called ‘Cycladic longboat’ was only introduced to the Aegean in the Early Bronze period, but new discoveries from the Cycladic islands (Televantou 2013) are challenging these interpretations and pushing ideas of more sophisticated boat building technologies back to the Neolithic era. Based upon analysis of these new data in combination with a re-evaluation of extant data, 3D models of prehistoric log boats and possible plank-build boats previously not identified until the later Bronze Age, will be determined. Using these 3D digital models this research will, for the first time, test the hydrostatics, stability and displacement of Neolithic boats of the Aegean. This re-evaluation of Neolithic technologies and thus, their seafaring capabilities, provides fresh opportunities for interpretations of maritime connectivity potentially reaching far beyond the Aegean Sea.

The research is based on a comprehensive re-analysis of the extant archaeological data relating to boat building and vessel types, essentially log boats, of the Neolithic Aegean. It will re-evaluate the corpus of iconographic images of boats on rock engravings and pictorials, decorations on pottery and metal and boat models, specifically addressing a variety of new and extensive datasets that have been discovered in the last few years. No direct evidence for Neolithic boats have been recovered from the Aegean but through comparison with other log boat finds from later periods and from Neolithic log boat discoveries from other regions of the Mediterranean and beyond, and with ethnographic parallels, new interpretations will be determined of vessel type and form of the Neolithic era. Visits to the region and in particular the archaeological sites of Vathy and Strofilas where these new discoveries  have been made, will further extend an understanding of the material. Once parameters of vessel type have been determined, a number of interpretations will be digitally modelled in three- dimensions, and tested using state-of-the-art equipment and analysis provided by Engineering. This could include development of representative lines plane,  mass distributions and so forth. From this an understanding can be gained of the static stability, hydrodynamic performance as well as their behaviour in waves. For the first time, it will be possible to test a range of possibilities to determine realistic aspirations of Neolithic boat construction and shape, assessing hydrostatics, stability and displacement Subsequently comparisons between these newly hypothesized vessel types with previous interpretations of prehistoric boats in the Aegean, will be undertaken. As such this research aims to address some of the following questions:

What are the main types of boats that can be discerned based on iconography and archaeological data during the Neolithic in the Aegean?

What can digital reconstruction and testing tell us about performance of Neolithic boats? What are their functions beyond the technical?

What does a re-interpretation of Neolithic seafaring in the Aegean tell us about maritime societies, connectivity and complexity at the time?

The student will collate basic extant published data and will visit relevant archaeological sites in the Aegean, undertaking first hand observation and digitally record the images (permission from most of the excavators has already been granted). The results of this data collation will be modelled, tested and evaluated through experimentation in the Engineering laboratories. Finally, by comparison to other archaeological data sets, a re-evaluation will be undertaken.

The student has already a good grasp of the archaeological data, having undertaken some initial research and has already visited many of the new sites in the Aegean where boat iconography has been discovered. His knowledge of the archaeology of the region is comprehensive. More training will be required with the scientific applications of modelling, testing and experimentation for which he has only limited exposure to date, experimenting with freely downloadable software such as Rhinoceros and Orca 3D. Knowledge of Naval Architecture codes available via iSolutions of MaxSurf (for stability, performance and seakeeping) would also be gained.

Contacts for additional information: Dr Lucy Blue and Prof Stephen Turnock


The impact of sea level rise on the Solomon Islands



Islands in the Pacific, Indian and Caribbean Oceans and their inhabitants have been identified in numerous assessments as having high physical, social and economic vulnerability to sea-level rise, natural hazards and other climate change impacts. Many islands are classified as Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which were first recognised at the 1992 Earth Summit as a distinct group of developing countries facing unique vulnerabilities. Although SIDS vary in physical characteristics, they share similar developmental challenges due to: small but growing populations (in some case populations are reducing due to migration); remoteness; heavy dependence on trade and aid; high energy-costs; and disproportionally expensive infrastructure and administration due to their small size. Many Islands have fragile physical, biological and chemical environments that are susceptible to natural disasters, particularly from extreme sea levels and cyclone events. Accelerating sea-level rise and coral reef decline associated with increasing ocean temperatures and acidification are among the most certain consequences of climate change. This will increasingly exacerbate coastal flooding, erosion and saline intrusion of small islands, thus compromising vital infrastructure and the socio-economic well-being of island communities. Already people are migrating from some of the smaller islands to larger islands and villages are being lost to the sea. For example, Walande in the Solomon Islands was once a thriving island village with a population of 1,000 people. It is now virtually uninhabited, following a major storm and coastal flood in 1997.

Aims, Objectives and Methodology:

The Paris climate agreement in 2015 was strongly driven by SIDs who rightly feel especially threatened by sea- level rise. However, understand of how exactly sea-level rise is and will affect SIDs in the future is currently very poorly understood. Therefore, the aim of this PhD research is to assess the impact sea-level rise is having (and will have in the future) on SIDs, using the Solomon Islands in the south Pacific as an example. At a recent special seminar event, held in September 2017 at NOC, we made excellent contacts with community leaders in the Solomon Islands, and this PhD will build on those links. To address the overall aim there are three objectives:

1.     To map and quantify the extent of shoreline and vegetation changes, erosion rates and development changes along the coastline (and in estuaries) of small islands around the Solomon Islands over a range of timescales (100 years, decadal and annual);

2.     To assess rates of sea level rise in the South Pacific, and specific storm events, that have led to major inundation and coastal erosion events in the past; and

3.     To investigate how island communities are being impacted, and to document migration and associated issues.

Objective 1 will involve field work and an analysis of aerial and satellite imagery, building on work by Dr Simon Albert, University of Queensland Australia, who will partner with us on this PhD. Historical aerial photographs will be sourced from the Solomon Islands Government Ministry of Housing, Lands and Survey archives for the period 1947 to 1962, and historic charts from the UK Admiralty Office. In addition, high resolution satellite imagery will be sourced for each site for more recent periods, post 2000. Historical photos will be georeferenced against stable features, in the most recent high-resolution satellite image for each site, and the vegetation edge of each island will be digitised and used as a long-term shoreline change proxy. For objective 2, observational datasets including back barrier/lagoon storm overwash records, water level and wave model hindcast of sea level and waves will be analyzed. We will assess rates of sea-level rise and examine the characteristic of larger storm surge and wave events across the Solomon Islands. Objective 3 will involve interviewing communities in the Solomon Islands, and collating historic insights from local knowledge. We anticipate two visits to the Solomon Islands during the PhD, to conduct field work and interviews, working in close partnership with local community leaders from the Solomon Islands and the Melanesian Mission (who have worked in the Solomon Islands for >150 years).


The student will receive broad training in coastal hydrodynamics, morphodynamics and statistics from staff in Ocean and Earth Science, Engineering and the Environment and Geography and the Environment. The student will develop programming skills in packages like Matlab and R. They will hone important research skills such as scientific writing and oral presentation by attending appropriate University courses. These skills will be developed further by presenting their research at international conferences/workshops as well as writing up their results in peer-reviewed journals. The student will work the stimulating interdisciplinary research environment of the SMMI, preparing them for a successful career in academia or industry.

Contacts for additional information: Dr Ivan Haigh, Prof Robert Nicholls and Prof David Sear

Background Reading: 
Albert, S., Leaon, J.X., Grinham, A.R., Church, J.A., Gibbes, B.R., and Woodroffe, C.D. (2016). Interactions between sea-level rise and wave exposure on reef island dynamics in the Solomon Islands. Environmental Research Letters, 11, 054011.

Mimura, N. (1999). Vulnerability of island countries in the South Pacific to sea level rise and climate change, Climate Research, 12, 137-143.

Nicholls, R.J., et al., (2007) in Climate Change: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M. L. Parry et al., Eds. (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2007).

Influence of stress and fatigue on crew performance training requirements


Despite significant investment in training, maritime accidents still occur with a very high number attributed to failing to following procedures. An analysis of the most severe incidents of ship operated by Shell International Trading and Shipping Company Ltd, carried out by the University showed that more than 25% of all serious incidents were due to lack of knowledge/ skills and failure to follow procedures, which are both issues related to training. The usual response to this is to increase training.

The MARTHA project, of which SMMI was a partner, looked into fatigue and sleepiness onboard ships. This project concluded that although all crew showed increased levels of fatigue by the end of a voyage, certain crew member (particularly 2nd Officers) were more susceptible to tiredness and that fatigue and stress were inter-related. Following on from the main MARTHA project two PhD students have been looking at the psychological effects of stress and fatigue on cognition under controlled laboratory conditions.


The aim of this project will be to measure the levels of fatigue and stress in targeted Deck Officers from modern LNG ships. This will be carried out using modern fitness trackers which can record activity, heart rate and track sleep in an unobtrusive manner. This will be combined with vessel tracking data from AIS and ship motions data and wave buoy data to identify the periods when the vessel is at sea or in port. Data fusion techniques can then be used to determine periods of acute stress and poor sleep leading to fatigue. This information can then be used to develop more realistic training programmes which incorporate appropriate stressors, which could potentially reduce the negative effects of stress/ fatigue as the trainees become habituated to the stressors. The project will also investigate the levels of activity and stress when off watch and when not at sea, in particular the periods before and after a long sea voyage.


Depending on the background of the successful PhD student, suitable training will be provided from specialist modules across Engineering and Health Sciences. In particular Ship Design and Economics and Research Methods for Evidence Based Practice. The student will also be given the opportunity to learn about ship operation and crew training from Shell. Training in relevant analysis software will also be provided.

Contacts for additional information: Dominic Hudson, Dominic Taunton and Lesley Collier


Emergent relationships between coastal risk and coastal protection


The 2017 UK Climate Change Risk Assessment lists "flooding and coastal change" first among climate-change risks to the country. The national assessment reflects the major issues facing low-lying coastlines around the world: physically dynamic and rapidly developing, these environments host disproportionately large percentages of population, infrastructure, and critical habitat. Coastal flooding in the UK costs approximately

£250–320M annually, accounting for over 20% of yearly total flood damages. In 2013/14 and 2015/16, major storms nearly doubled annual expenditures, deepening concerns that current maintenance costs are likely unsustainable as storm impacts become more severe with advancing climate change. With coastal infrastructure systems (i.e., residential development, transportation networks, and hazard defences) increasingly exposed to potential storm damage, dependence on effective coastal management is intensifying.

Paradoxically, historical patterns along developed coastlines (and in a variety of other hazard zones) suggest a counterproductive, if unintentional, relationship between development and hazard defences, in which protection indirectly encourages development in especially vulnerable areas. Research into how development and hazard defence have co-evolved in space and time is essential to making effective policy strategies for reducing coastal risk – and, in the UK, is especially relevant to upcoming reviews of Shoreline Management Plans.

This project will examine historical patterns and change in coastal zone development, hazard defence, and risk- mitigation policy around the UK, from the late 19th century to the present. The project bridges two coastal research groups at the University of Southampton (one in Geography [Lazarus], the other in Engineering [Nicholls]), and partners with the Channel Coastal Observatory (CCO) and GeoData (both at Southampton).

Quantifying how patterns of development and coastal protection have changed relative to each other, and linking those changes to government policy actions, will support future efforts to ensure that future strategies for coastal management address changing profiles of coastal risk.


Our method will expand upon work by Armstrong et al. (2016), who correlate  shorefront house size, number, and year built with beach nourishment activity for thousands of km of shorefront around the state of Florida, USA. Work by Stevens et al. (2015), who track cumulative coastal flood exposure in Portsea and Hayling Islands, will also motivate analyses in this project. The novelty and significance of this project will be in its combination of comprehensive spatial scale and historical reach. The CCO holds a coastal-defence data set (e.g., coastal protection sites, types, and dates) that spans nearly all of the UK south and east coasts; the spatial coverage of those data will determine the spatial coverage of the project overall. Using housing and census data from the Office of National Statistics, we will quantify the number, density, and size of individual  coastal  properties, and relate those development patterns to corresponding patterns of defences. This comparative dataset will involve extracting multiple layers of information from historical and current maps, aerial imagery, and existing geospatial archives.


The student selected for this studentship will gain experience with a variety of research methods (e.g., archival synthesis, GIS/remote-sensing) and analytical techniques (geospatial processing, time series analysis); build skills in writing and presentation; work as part of a vibrant, cross-disciplinary research group; and develop an international professional network of collaborators and colleagues. The student will be based in the University of Southampton's Geography & Environment department, working in close collaboration with the Coastal Engineering group and with technical experts in GIS/remote-sensing at the CCO and GeoData. The student will also take GeoData's professionally accredited development courses in geospatial processing.

The student will join an active postgraduate community at the University of Southampton focused on coastal topics. Community-led activities include a regular seminar series, network and outreach events coordinated by the "SoCo" research group (spanning at least four University Faculties), conference and meeting coordination, and more.

We encourage applications from enthusiastic candidates with strong analytical skills in GIS and remote sensing. Facility with Python a plus. Master’s-level experience is preferred (but not necessarily required), along with a strong academic record. A background in physical geography is invited but not required.

Contacts for additional information: Dr Eli Lazarus, Prof Robert Nicholls, Chris Hill

Electronic documents of title and blockchain technologies


Bills of lading are key documents for international trade, shipping and banking. Their most important function is that of being a document of title at common law, and hence of giving constructive possession of the goods they represent to the physical holder of the document. Like banker’s drafts and banknotes they can be negotiable, i.e. by transferring physical possession of the bill its current possessor transfers constructive possession of the credit with no need to inform the debtor. This is a much needed feature of commercial law worldwide enabling the constructive possession of goods to be transferred by mere indorsement and transfer of a simple piece of paper. Transferring constructive possession further allows bills of lading to be pledged as security for loans and to be exchanged for the redelivery of the cargo at destination. This system has been in place, with small variants, for thousands of years and has stood extremely well the test of time.

However, in a world moving towards autonomy and automation, the notion that physical documents of titles cannot be substituted by electronic ones has come under close scrutiny although any attempt to devise a way to achieve an electronic document of title has failed so far. The e-bills currently available for use in the market have a number of flaws which make them unattractive to the big commodity houses and the small traders alike. All of them are subscribers-only systems whereby e-bills can only be traded among institutions belonging to a restricted group; they involve a continuous flow of information between the traders and the carrier who must be notified of any change of ‘hands’ of the bill; and most importantly they cannot confer constructive possession of the goods – a physical aspect – as they are perceived as unable to do so.

The recent rise of cryptocurrency systems like Bitcoin and the perceived safety of blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) however may be set to change this and the electronic document of title may become a concrete possibility. If cryptocurrencies are to be treated as a real currency, the mere change of “hands” of which transfers the credit therein contained, it may be possible to use a similar technology to create e-bills which could be traded as documents of title. Trustworthy decentralised ledgers would then make it possible to self-execute transfers of constructive possession of goods without any trusted third party involved.

The proliferation of DLT systems has indeed sparkled new discussion about using technology to enforce contracts between individuals by using so-called “smart contracts”, immutable logics deployed on a blockchain that can self-execute. The novelty of smart contracts is that they are self-executing and non-repudiable: complaints cannot be heard as their execution process is carried out in an accountable and distributed agreement manner. The whole challenge is then to embed within smart contracts key components of contract formation, performance, modification, and remedies. At the same time, blockchain and DLT give promise as to better provenance tracking by coding e-bills into smart contracts and by avoiding a priori disputes e-bills ownership.


As regards the research methods, it will be done through reviewing the relevant literature on both technical and legal matters; through desk research, taking into account the regulatory framework of bills of lading and cryptocurrencies, as well as the technical data on systems and networks; and finally semi-structured interviews will be conducted with experts on the fields of Law, cryptocurrencies and blockchain.

The research will attempt to address the matter, by examining first the legal infrastructure of documents of title from an evolutionary perspective. Thus reference needs to be made to all the recent attempts to develop e-bills and their shortcomings. Then the research will focus on the technical side providing possible solutions to the legal obstacles identified. To this aim, the research will take benefit from the technical and legal framework of the Corda blockchain system for decentralised recording and management of financial contract ( The research will then aim to develop a technical framework for e-bill smart contract matching the identified legal requisites.


Training requirements will depend on the candidate’s abilities and background as it is the case for every multidisciplinary project. Someone with a legal background, will have to delve into more technical details, both on quasi-technical issues, like the law behind bitcoins, and on purely technical aspects on blockchain technology. Someone with a more technical background, will need training on Maritime Law, issues relating to the documents of title in general and bills of lading in particular.

Contacts for additional information: Filippo Lorenzon, Sophie Stalla-Bourdillon and Vladimiro Sassone


Detection and quantification of CO2 leakage from a sub-seafloor CO2 storage reservoir using artificial and natural tracers

Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage (CCS) is seen as a key technology to reduce anthropogenic  greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% by 2050 and keep the global climate change derived temperature increase below 2 °C (IPCC, 2014). Geologic storage of carbon dioxide (CO2), injection of captured CO2 emissions, into offshore storage reservoirs, such as depleted oil and gas reservoirs, and saline aquifers, is one of the options of choice for many countries. In order to apply offshore geologic CO2 storage on a large scale for offsetting CO2 emissions, the risk of potential leakage from a potential storage reservoir has to be defined and quantified. Environmental monitoring as well as CO2 emissions monitoring are therefore key for assessing this risk. The STEMM-CCS project, a Horizon 2020 funded ambitious Research and Innovation Action on geologic CO2 storage, will deliver new insights, guidelines for best practice, and monitoring/verification tools for all phases of the CO2 storage cycle at offshore CCS sites. This will be accomplished by a combination of a demonstration release experiment  near the Goldeneye depleted reservoir in the North Sea and the development and application of new geophysical and geochemical techniques. The relevant objectives addressed are: (1) to develop a suite of cost effective tools to identify, detect and quantify CO2 leakage from a sub-seafloor CCS reservoir, including precursors of leakage, (2) asses the applicability of artificial and natural tracers for detection, quantification and attribution of leakage of sequestered CO2 in a marine environment, and (3) to model and assess the local, regional and wider impacts of reservoir leaks and provide decision support tools for monitoring, mitigation and remediation actions. The proposed studentship will focus on the applicability of artificial and natural tracers for CO2 leakage detection.

Tracers that track movement of CO2 out of the reservoir and into the surface environment have been used in many terrestrial CCS projects (e.g. Freifeld et al. 2005; Wells et al., 2013) but they have not been applied in offshore CCS settings and thus there is a fundamental lack of knowledge about the behaviour of different tracers in the marine environment.

The project combines field studies on-board research ships in the North Sea, laboratory experiments, and analytical work on collected fluid, gas and sediment samples in the laboratory. Benthic lander systems equipped with sensors, multichannel loggers, micro-profiling systems, ROVs, and CDTs will be used to monitor pH, CO2, redox, O2, NO3, and to retrieve fluid and gas samples in the water column as well as directly above the CO2 release point (sediment-water interface). Fluid and gas samples will be analysed either on-board the  research ship or back in the laboratory using gas chromatography and mass spectrometery. The postgraduate student will join a multidisciplinary team with interest in carbon storage (Juerg Matter, Rachael James, Paul White), monitoring, verification and accounting of CO2 storage using geochemical tracers (Juerg Matter), acoustic monitoring of gas leakage from marine reservoirs (Paul White), and geochemical cycles (Rachael James). The student will be trained in hydrochemical/geophysical methods for characterising gas and solute transport in geologic reservoirs and fluid-gas-rock interaction. The student will also receive training in sample collection from sub-seafloor and seafloor devices and sample analysis. The student will participate in sample collection cruises in the North Sea.


Freifeld, B.M., Trautz, R.C., Kharaka, Y.K., Phelps, T.J., Myer, L.R., Hovorka, S.D. and Collins, D.J. (2005) The U-tube: A novel system for acquiring borehole fluid samples from a deep geologic CO2 sequestration experiment. J. Geophys. Res.-Solid Earth 110, 10.

IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Wells, A.W., Diehl, J.R., Strazisar, B.R., Wilson, T.H. and Stanko, D.C. (2013) Atmospheric and soil-gas monitoring for surface leakage at the San Juan Basin CO2 pilot test site at Pump Canyon New Mexico, using perfluorocarbon tracers, CO2 soil-gas flux and soil-gas hydrocarbons. International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control 14, 227-238.

Contacts for additional information: Juerg Matter, Paul White and Rachael James



Morphological evolution of tidal inlets: past, present, future. Case study of Portsmouth, Langstone and Chichester Harbour inlets


Predicting the evolution of coastal morphology is an important aspect in coastal engineering, because of its implications for safety, environment and economy. For instance, coastal morphodynamics influence beach width affecting flood and erosion risks during storms, the environment and the economy through tourism. Besides that, coastal morphodynamics also influence the occurrence of swimmer threatening rip currents and current velocities in channels influencing navigation and dredging requirements. Tidal inlets are coastal features characterized by complex morphodynamics as well as environmental aspects. These systems are highly dynamic, hence adjustment to changes such as sea-level rise or changing littoral drift are relatively fast.

The Portsmouth, Langstone and Chichester tidal inlets play an important role in sediment transport in the eastern Solent, influencing beach size and hence erosion and flood risk, as well as adaptation needs (Harlow, 1979; 1982; Bray et al., 2000). Several hundred years ago, sediment transport occurred from Selsey Bill to Gilkicker Point, Gosport with bypassing of all these three inlets. This bypassing first failed at Portsmouth Harbour inlet, but this is poorly understood and the precise timing is not known. It then failed at Langstone Harbour inlet in the 20th Century and this is well documented and had important morphodynamic implications for the beaches in Portsmouth, both now and into the future. It has been hypothesized that falling littoral drift may be responsible for this and further that the bypassing at the Chichester Harbour inlet is also failing. This would have major implications for the beaches at Hayling Island, especially at Eaststoke, which already requires major nourishment to manage flooding (this is the most floodprone site in the Solent since 1935). Hence, the aim of this research is to understand the morphological evolution of these inlets with a strong focus on bypassing and its sensitivity to littoral drift rates and other factors (e.g., sea-level rise). In particular, what caused bypassing to stop for Portsmouth and Langstone Harbours and might stop bypassing at Chichester Harbour.

The research will be conducted in collaboration with the East Solent Coastal Partnership who manage most of this coastal length and are interested in inlet stability and sediment supply when planning shoreline management strategies over timescales up to a century. The management of the Eaststoke frontage is of particular interest, including innovative nourishment strategies that might be developed that are in harmony with the inlet morphodynamics. In addition, the understanding of morphological evolution of these inlets will be generalised to consider the wider and transferable lessons for the stability of tidal inlets nationally and globally.


The proposed Methodology of the project will consist of three main steps:

1. Compilation of available data on water level, waves, wind, currents, bathymetry, shoreline position and sedimentology. The data will be collected from available measurement campaigns as well as global models.

2. Morphodynamic characterization of past and present situation of the inlets:

Data based – A sediment budget will be developed from Selsey Bill to Lee-on-Solent, including the three inlets (Portsmouth, Langstone and Chichester). The sediment budget will provide estimates of longshore sediment transport rates, bypass rates and erosion and deposition volumes. The estimation is obtained mainly from bathymetric surveys difference as well as current velocity information. The sediment budget will ideally cover different time periods reflecting available data (1) the last 20 to 30 years, when maximum data is available, including the Channel Coastal Observatory; (2) the mid 19th Century to present based on OS historic maps and Admiralty charts; and (3) the last 500 years drawing on geological data. The pre-19th century analysis will be exploratory.

Model based – A morphodynamic model will be set-up using the software Deflt3D. The set-up of the model comprises steps such as definition of numerical grid, interpolation of bathymetry on the numerical grid, definition of boundaries and forcings and tuning of parameters. In the definition of boundaries and forcing phase, input reduction techniques will be carried out in order to allow the simulations to have a feasible run time. The tuning of parameters is made to adjust the model to the specificities of the study area and it occurs together with the calibration of the model. The model will be calibrated hydrodynamically and morphologically. The hydrodynamic calibration will be performed by comparison of measured water level, waves and currents time- series. The comparison will be evaluated qualitatively and quantitatively through statistical errors. Whereas the morphological calibration will be performed by qualitatively comparison of erosion and sedimentation pattern as well as quantitatively comparison of transport and volume change curves. The calibration is performed for a certain period of time which for the hydrodynamic calibration is approximately ten days and for the morphological calibration is around 1 year. With the calibration, the parameters of the model are defined. This is further evaluated throughout a validation, which is the simulation of the model with the parameters previously defined in the calibration for a different time interval; it aims to further evaluate the parameters previously defined.

The Delft3D model will be used to simulate the present conditions and explore earlier inlet configurations, identified in the sediment budget analysis. Hence, we can test the hypotheses on different drivers of bypass collapse for Portsmouth and Langstone Harbours.

3. Future predictions of difference scenarios of climate change with the fully calibrated and validated Deflt3D morphodynamic model – After calibration and validation, the model has the most appropriate set-up for the study area and has prediction capability, thus can be used to investigate different scenarios for the inlets such as continued decline in sediment availability, sea-level rise, and also large-scale management interventions. This will be discussed and guided by ESCP.

Background Reading:

Harlow, D.A. 1979. The littoral sediment budget between Selsey Bill and Gilkicker Point and its relevance to coast protection works at Hayling Island. Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology, 12, 257-265.
Harlow, D.A. 1982. Sediment Processes: Selsey Bill to Portsmouth, PhD Thesis, University of Southampton.
Bray, M. Hooke, J. M., Carter, D. J. & Clifton, J. (2000) Littoral sediment transport pathways, cells and budgets within the Solent. In Collins, M. & Ansell, K. (eds.). Solent science - a review. Oxford: Elsevier, p. 103-106.


To achieve the best prediction and results, training on analysis of oceanographic data and on Deflt3D model will be conducted. Furthermore, participation in workshops, seminars and events such as the Delft Software Days, training by the Channel Coastal Observatory on coastal datasets, and the Coastal Seminars in the University of Southampton, as well as SMMI events are foreseen. The aim is to exchange knowledge by communicating this research and learning from others.

Contacts for additional information: Robert Nicholls and Charlie Thompson

Intelligent Big Data Analytics for Safer Ship Navigation in the Arctic Environment


While the Arctic is an extremely harsh environment, the effects of climate change and global warming are reducing its extent of sea ice very rapidly, therefore transforming it into a navigable ocean. Nevertheless, only four cargo ships navigated the Northern Sea Route off Russia’s northern coast in 2010, while it increased to 46 in 2012, and 71 ships during 2013. The latter clocked a total carrying capacity of 1.35 million tonnes of cargo. The potential for the northern shipping route is very large. Specifically, substantial savings in voyage times and fuel consumption can be made if the Arctic routes become safer to taken on. The voyage time, under such case can be around 22 days from China to Europe, when compared to 35 days via Singapore and the Suez Canal or 46 days around the African continent via South Africa. With a modest volume of ship traffic, the steady growth with increasing number of ships navigating the arctic is becoming a serious concern. New safety measures and regulations for operating in the arctic region should be improved. The Arctic is an unforgiving environment with its highly complex and variable ice cover and ice build-up on board vessels, notwithstanding its changing wave climate. Almost complete 24hours of darkness in winter with extreme cold water and air temperatures constitute a very challenging environment for ships voyages. Further, the difficulty of safely operating in such harsh environment has already resulted in increases of marine casualties. There were only 3 recorded accidents in 2005, while it has reached 71 accidents by 2015; up 29% year on year. Following the above, and in order for the maritime industries to realise the international trade, environment and economic benefits of Arctic shipping would require a transformational technological approach. This should provide integrated solutions for assuring safety of ship navigation in the Arctic region. Among those solutions in mind one focusses in advances of research and engineering concerning ship design and the use of big data research and information technologies, for achieving: 1) Safer ship navigation and; 2) Optimized ship voyages and fuel consumption. The key safety challenges for ships and their crews operating in the Arctic are simply due to current navigation technology limitations. Bridge teams operating in the Arctic are at increased risk of making dangerous decisions as a result of the challenges posed by inherent lack of accurate navigational information concerning the environment and the accurate forecast of its rapidly changing states ahead in time and geospatially. The presence of types of ice has a major impact on the safety, operability and efficiency of Arctic operations and navigation. While sea ice charting based on satellite imagery is used for tactical ice management, the maritime industry does not make use of operational research sea methods for ice forecasting and integrate them as a knowledge base in their navigation systems. Moreover, vessels operating in the Arctic have bridges that are largely the same in layout and equipment fit as vessels operating elsewhere i.e. they are consequently not fit for purpose for Arctic operations. Operating a ship in Arctic waters is complex and hazardous; the difficulties of navigating a vessel in the harsh environment of the Arctic, with its extreme weather and the presence of ice, put the crew under severe stresses. Being overwhelmed by lots of information and observations from various heterogeneous sources could exacerbate navigation in the Arctic too. This leads to poor situational awareness and exposure to higher risks of accidents. Approximately 60% of all accidents are related to poor navigation and decision making. These continue to occur despite the development and availability of technologies that aim to improve situational awareness and decision making in many domains. When focussing on ship navigation at bridge level, the key challenge is how to improve human-machine interaction and critically provide timely and intelligently processed knowledge for decision-support with augmented situation awareness. Arctic ship navigation is a highly specialised and complex activity that demands particular skillsets from bridge crews to be safe. Inexperienced bridge teams without Arctic specific knowledge and training will significantly increase the risk profile for vessels operating in the Arctic.

The proposed research focuses on the development of an integrated “Intelligent knowledge base for Arctic ship navigation with a Common Operation Picture Interface” that provides query-able knowledge on navigation routes in context of changing meteorological conditions in the harsh arctic environs. The navigation routes with overall geospatial traffic risks and machine intelligent reasoning with augmented real-time situation awareness and visualisation will be investigated and developed. Satellite observations from the UK Met Office will be fused with modelling optimised voyage and fuel consumption predictors including controlled uncertainties in the geospatial and temporal scales. These will be will be captured in real-time in order to advance the safety of Arctic shipping and optimised shipping routes. Big data and information from heterogeneous sources should be coherently aggregated using advanced semantic knowledge modelling to machine embedding of ships design methods and international safety regulations for the Arctic case. Pre-processing and fusion of Big data for further analytics and forecasting with estimated uncertainties will be needed. The underlying big data processing algorithms shall be transformed into web processing services using OGC (open geospatial consortium) standards for assuring interoperability with existing operational shipping systems.

Experience in python and/or java programing is essential. Also early experiences on, with great interest in furthering them, semantic modelling, machine learning and/or software system design will be required. Knowledge of Hadoop, Spark and DOCKER technologies, R and OWL programming languages are also desirable.

This PhD work will provide a training and learning base under the SEDNA project ( It also gives the unique opportunity for the student to interact with ship science group staff at FEE and also computer science staff at IT Innovation/ECS. Furthermore, it will enable the student to interact with research partners around Europe (UK, Finland, Norway and Sweden) as well as China. This includes for example: Lloyds Register in Southampton for learning about safety regulations for ship navigation, BMT Group Ltd (UK) for ship design, the UK Met Office for environmental data acquisition, the University of Oslo (Norway) for bridge augmented reality, Dalian University of Technology and Harbin University of Engineering (China) for Artic shipping routes scenarios and direct contact with shipping companies. Furthermore, there will be a great opportunity for the student to get involved in OGC Domain Working Group activities concerning the advancement of Web Processing Services (WPS) and Digital Global Grid System (DGGS) standards.


1. Zlatev, Z., Veres, G. and Sabeur, Z.(2013). Agile data fusion and knowledge base architecture for critical decision support. International Journal of Decision Support System Technology (IJDSST), 5, (2), 1-20

2. Middleton, S., Sabeur, Z., Lowe, P., Hammitzsch, M., Tavakoli, S. and Poslad, S. (2013). Multi-disciplinary approaches to intelligently sharing large-volumes of real-time sensor data during natural disasters. Data Science Journal, Vol. 12, 109–113.

3. G. Correndo, B. Arbab-Zavar, Z. Zlatev, and Z. Sabeur (2015). ‘Context Ontology Modelling for Improving Situation Awareness and Crowd Evacuation from Confined Spaces’, in Environmental Software Systems. Springer Science Publishing.

4.  Shenoi, R. A et al (2015). Global Marine Technology Trends 2030.

5. A J Sobey, J I R Blake, R A Shenoi: “Implementation of a generic concurrent engineering environment framework for boatbuilding”, Journal of Marine Science and Technology, Vol. 18, 2013. (pp 262-274)

Contacts for additional information: Dr Zoheir Sabeur and Prof Ajit Shenoi

Ocean boundary-layer surveying robots

Research Statement:

The proposed project aims to provide a proof-of-concept prototype (TRL 1 to 2) long-range autonomous vehicle especially suited for measurement of oceanographic data at very close proximity with the sea bottom in environmentally complex or sensitive regions.


In the understanding of the ocean general circulation, a fundamental question still remains unanswered: what are the leading dissipative terms that regulate the overall dynamical balance of the ocean? (Naveira, Garabato, 2012) The decelerating action of topographic form drag is associated with prominent features of the bottom topography typically measuring 500–1000 km, as well as smaller-scale elements O(10 km) involved in the formation of internal wave generation (Naveira-Garabato et al., 2012). The availability of oceanographic data is too sparse, at present, to adequately characterize the relative importance of these terms, as this would require high-resolution flow measurements in remote and topographically complex areas. This limit is largely ascribed to the lack of ocean observing systems suitably designed for the survey of extended regions of the ocean bottom boundary layer. Existing AUVs are not capable of performing long-range operation at very close proximity to the ocean's bottom, thus highlighting the need for a purposely,designed system especially suited for persistent navigation immediately adjacent to the sea bottom.

Soft-robots are being regarded across several fields of application as a viable tool for enhanced safe human-robot interaction and simplified control (Kim et al., 2013). In the aquatic  environment,  the inherent flexibility of soft-bodied vehicles could be exploited as a mean to address the problem of robot, environment interaction. Soft machines are less prone to cause damage or suffer damage from impacts, thus providing an inherently safe tool for navigation at close quarter with the sea bottom. We have developed state-of-the-art underwater robots which are manufactured with as much as 90% of volume consisting of elastic materials (Giorgio-Serchi et al., 2013; Weymouth et al., 2015), bringing evidence that highly flexible aquatic vehicles can indeed be produced. The work performed by the authors demonstrates that enhanced propulsion efficiency can be obtained in pulsed-jetting vehicles by  exploiting the augmented thrust due to the external shape-variation of the vehicle (Giorgio-Serchi & Weymouth, 2016). This contribution alone was found to enhance thrust as much as 100%, but relies extensively on high, power hydraulic actuators which preclude long-range operations.


The student will be required to devise a potential bottom boundary-layer surveying mission in the context of one of those small-scale topographic elements which are known to play a role in ocean  dynamic balance. He/she will investigate the issues surrounding a new design concept for a vehicle capable of performing mapping of internal wave momentum fluxes in the vicinity of one of these abyssal hills. Based on mission specification, accurate dimensioning of the new actuators will be performed. The design will be based on a controllable-stiffness actuator consisting of compliant hydraulic systems (Xiang et al., 2016), aligned with studies in bio-locomotion and  bio-mechanics. These  variable-stiffness actuators will enable the vehicle to consistently utilize resonant fluid-structure interaction massively increasing mechanical efficiency and range, and thereby enabling laboratory and preliminary field studies of soft-robot’s environmental advantages.


This project provides state-of-the-art, highly interdisciplinary training in the application and development of cutting-edge Smart and Autonomous Observing Systems for the environmental sciences. The candidate will be supervised by a team with varied background (oceanography, hydrodynamics and robotics) which will foster the adoption of an interdisciplinary approach to project development. The candidate will be given extensive opportunities to expand his/her multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/government/policy partners.

The student will be registered at The Fluid Structure Interaction Research Group of the University of Southampton and hosted at National Oceanographic Institution Southampton. The candidate will be encouraged to attend MSc classes from many of the course offered at the University of Southampton or of the partner institution which he/she considers beneficial to the accomplishment of his/her doctoral training.

Contacts for additional information: Gabriel Weymouth, Francesco Giorgio-Serchi and Alberto Naveira Garabato

Coral Arks: Innovative technologies to promote coral reef resilience


Coral reef ecosystems, sustaining the livelihoods of half a billion people in >100 countries around the globe, are critically threatened by climate change (1, 2). The project will address calls for interventional conservation approaches to promote the long term adaptation of these ecosystems to warming sea water temperatures. In particular, it will explore the technical and biological challenges associated with the development of a novel concept of coral refuges in which critical parameters such as temperature can be controlled in the natural environment. The so-called Coral Arks will be floatable devices that can support an artificial reef inside, populated with key coral species, in particular with heat tolerant variants. During episodes of elevated temperatures or other forms of environmental stress, the organisms in the refuge will be temporarily isolated from the detrimental conditions outside. Mitigation technology operated by electronic sensors will adjust the conditions inside the Coral Ark to ensure survival of the inhabitants. Once the acute stress outside subsides, the Coral Ark will be opened and the contained reef will help to recolonize nearby reefs by natural and / or assisted dispersal.

In this project, a PhD student will explore engineering solutions to realise the Coral Arks concept and provide technical specifications and requirements for the structures to function as life support system for reef corals. Proof of concept will be delivered by building and testing of small scale models. The insights provided by this project will be critical to secure future funding for the development and deployment of prototypes. The project will benefit from the supervision by an interdisciplinary team that provides essential expertise in coral biology (Faculties of Natural and Environmental Science, J. Wiedenmann, C. D’Angelo, G. Foster) and engineering and technology (Faculty of Engineering and the Environment, R.A. Shenoi). The team will collaborate closely with Profs. J. Roberts and J. Armitage from the Faculty of Business, Law and Art to test how technological functionality can be combined with aesthetically pleasing designs.


The coral arks need to sustain the survival of corals and associated organisms during episodes of stress. Therefore, the organisms inside the structure need to be temporarily isolated form the external environment. The project will develop and test mechanism by which the systems can be closed by motile elements such as gates. Given the physical, chemical and biological challenges of the marine environment, careful considerations needs to be given to the choice of materials and mechanisms to ensure a sufficient life time of the structure. In their closed operational state, the systems need to provide sufficient current and filtration to maintain the water quality that sustains the survival of the enclosed organisms. Importantly, technological solutions to control the internal temperature need to be developed and tested. Potential solutions may include shading or chilling through controlled evaporation. The structure should autonomously generate renewable energy to operate the closing mechanisms and the technology that controls the environmental conditions within the Coral Arks, for example through the use of solar energy. Finally, the design should meet aesthetical principles to ensure social acceptance of the Coral Arks as tool for interventional conservation in the natural environment. Small scale models (~1X0.5X0.5 m3) of Coral Arks will be built and tested in larger basins. These models will be populated with a range of coral species and their survival under the impact of simulated heat stress events will be tested in long-term experiments. Based on the findings of these tests, the technical requirements and limitation of large scale versions will be calculated.


A broad range of skills will be developed in the areas of mechanical engineering, marine material science and energy supply systems. The student will also be trained in coral aquaculture, in monitoring of physiological processes corals to quantify the effects of environmental stress, and testing of water chemistry parameters. Finally, GSNOCS and the University of Southampton offer an attractive portfolio of trainings opportunities which will be available to the candidate to enhance their experimental and communication skills.


(1) D’Angelo et al, 2014. Curr Opin Environ Sustain, 7: 82-93.

(2) Hughes et al, 2017. Nature, 546: 82-90.

(3) Obura, 2017. Science, 357: 1215-1215.

(4) van Oppen et al, 2015. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 112: 2307-2313.

Contacts for additional information: Prof Jorg Wiedenmann, Prof Ajit Shenoi, Dr Cecilia D'Angelo and Prof Gavin Foster

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