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Summer undergraduate research experience: What controls the location of two remote, open-ocean top predator habitats?

British Antarctic Survey

The NERC Research Experience Placement scheme

Research Experience Placements (REPs) are paid Summer internships for Home/EU undergraduates from any university studying Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, Computing, or other quantitative disciplines, who wish to gain experience of research in the Environmental Sciences.

Successful undergraduate applicants are paid a stipend of £200 per week for a placement of 8-10 weeks during the Universities' summer recess. Up to £500 funding is also available to supervisors to use for expenses incurred by the research project. Successful candidates will later be encouraged to apply for a NERC-funded PhD in the Environmental Sciences.

How to apply: 

1. Check your eligibility. 

2. Choose up to two projects to apply for from the list below. 

3. Apply for your chosen projects by sending a CV (to include an academic referee) and covering letter (maximum 200 words) to, by the end of 12 May 2017. Separate covering letters should be sent for each project applied for.


Preferred background of the student

Excellent mathematics and/or statistics skills. Some knowledge of physics, chemistry, and/or biology is desirable but is not essential.  Experience with MATLAB, Python, and/or R would be an advantage. Applicants must meet the eligibility criteria.

Main supervisor: Dr Dan Jones

Co-supervisor: Prof Eugene Murphy 

Location: British Antarctic Survey (Cambridge)



Ocean circulation connects geographically distinct regions such that marine ecosystems can be influenced by both local and remote physical, biogeochemical, and ecological properties. Understanding these connectionsrequires close interdisciplinary collaboration, e.g. through novel combinations of existing datasets. In this study, we will perform cross-disciplinary analysis to better understand what sets the location of two unique open-ocean habitats in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. These two regions are characterised by low primary productivity, but they nevertheless host top predator populations for extended periods of time. We will use an existing numerical ocean circulation model (MITgcm) in adjoint mode to identify the source waters for these habitats,biogeochemical model data (BLING) to explore spatial and temporal correlations that may indicate connectivity between ocean regions, and population data to better understand competition pressure in the habitats. The interdisciplinary analysis techniques developed and applied during this work will be generally applicable to other open ocean ecosystems. 


What will you do?

You will prepare a guided literature review on the subject, starting with papers identified by the supervisors, to put the work into a broader scientific context. Next, you will work with adjoint model data to identify the source waters of the two petrel habitats. You will examine biogeochemical model data and prey data to look for spatial and temporal correlations. The focus of the project is on exploratory data analysis, visualisation, and statisticalanalysis applied to an interdisciplinary suite of data. There is also scope for you to help develop the trajectory of the project. Finally, you will give a short internal presentation on your work to a small audience at the British Antarctic Survey.


What will you learn?

You will develop a better understanding of some of the major interdisciplinary challenges facing physical, biogeochemical, and ecological oceanography. You will gain experience in exploring, visualising, and analysingdata sets from a variety of sources (e.g. adjoint models, forward models, observational data) in a scientific context. You will work as part of both the Polar Oceans and the Ecosystems teams and will be exposed to a variety of oceanographic and ecosystems projects, many of which involve complex numerical analysis and/or modelling. You will be encouraged to attend seminars and science meetings for both teams. This will include meetings with colleagues who provide scientific analysis and advice to international conservation fora and fisheries management bodies.


Duration: 8-10 weeks (start date and duration TBC and by arrangement with the supervisors)

To apply for this project, please send a CV and covering letter to by the deadline of 12 May 2017.

We recommend you read our eligibility criteria before applying.

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