Digging into anthropogenic vibrations: investigating the impacts of noise on the physiology and behaviour of benthic and infaunal invertebrates


The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Net Zero Maritime Energy solutions (N0MES) has a 4-year funded PhD place available for an exceptional researcher. With the support of the University of Liverpool (UoL), Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and 33 maritime energy sector partners, N0MES PGRs will pursue new, engineering-centred, interdisciplinary research to address four vital net zero challenges currently facing the North West, the UK and beyond:

a) Energy generation using maritime-based renewable energy (e.g. offshore wind, tidal, wave, floating solar, hydrogen, CCS);

b) Distributing energy from offshore to onshore, including port- and hinterland-side impacts and opportunities;

c) Addressing the short- and long-term environmental impacts of offshore and maritime

environment renewable energy generation, distribution and storage; and

d) Decommissioning and lifetime extension of existing energy and facilities.


Project Description

Underwater noise produced by human activities such as shipping, fishing, and offshore developments is a major environmental concern in the oceans. Many noise-producing operations, such as drilling and construction, directly contact the seabed and seashore producing ground-borne vibrations and potentially impact animals associated with the benthos. These impacts include stress, but may also interfere with an organism’s typical behaviour, including the masking of signals and communication. Vibrations propagate long distances on the seafloor and seashore, and a large proportion of infaunal organisms, many of which are commercially/recreationally important, may be too small, or lack the mobility, to escape. Instead, these organisms will require appropriate behavioural changes mediated by physiological stress responses. In combination, these effects may result in disruption to benthic ecosystem functioning. Little is currently understood about the short and long-term impacts of anthropogenic noise and vibrations on these organisms and their ecosystem, or the mechanisms individuals utilise to cope.


Development of marine environments, including for renewable energy, whilst maintaining ecosystem health is a current hot topic with significant UKRI investment (e.g. ECOWind (specific focus on vibration in BOWIE), INSITE). Knowledge of how organisms within these ecosystems respond to such development is critical to understanding impacts to ecosystem health.


The objectives of the study are therefore to:

  • determine vibrational ‘hearing’ sensitivities in laboratory and field conditions;
  • quantify physiological responses (dependent on study organism) to vibrational noise over short and long-term experiments;
  • determine behavioural responses to noise using standard ethological techniques;

We will use advances in our ability to experimentally induce marine vibrations in laboratory settings to explore the behavioural and physiological responses of commercially-important organisms. In particular, we are able to simulate the action of marine piledrivers; thus, the organisms’ responses are likely to be authentic to these challenges in the marine environment. The specific organism(s) studied will be decided by the student and their supervisors.


We want all of our staff and Students to feel that Liverpool is an inclusive and welcoming environment that actively celebrates and encourages diversity. We are committed to working with students to make all reasonable project adaptations including supporting those with caring responsibilities, disabilities or other personal circumstances. For example, if you have a disability you may be entitled to a Disabled Students Allowance on top of your studentship to help cover the costs of any additional support that a person studying for a doctorate might need as a result.

We believe everyone deserves an excellent education and encourage students from all backgrounds and personal circumstances to apply.

Applicant Eligibility

Candidates will have, or be due to obtain, a Master’s Degree or equivalent from a reputable University in an appropriate field of Engineering. Exceptional candidates with a First Class Bachelor’s Degree in an appropriate field will also be considered.


Application Process

Candidates wishing to apply should complete the University of Liverpool application form [How to apply for a PhD - University of Liverpool] applying for a PhD in Environmental Sciences and uploading: Degree Certificates & Transcripts, an up-to-date CV, two academic references and a supporting statement [maximum 300 words] detailing; what inspires you within this project, how your skill set matches the project, up to 3 examples showing your commitment to science, piece of science that excites you & anything else to support your application.


Candidates wishing to discuss the research project should contact the primary supervisor, Jack Thomson [jthomson@liverpool.ac.uk], those wishing to discuss the application process should discuss this with the CDT Manager Matt Fulton [n0mescdt@liverpool.ac.uk].

Tel. No. for Enquiries:  0151 794 3594


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

The EPSRC funded Studentship will cover full tuition fees of £4,786 per year and pay a maintenance grant for 4 years, starting at the UKRI minimum of £19,237 pa. for 2024-2025. The Studentship also comes with access to additional funding in the form of a research training support grant which is available to fund conference attendance, fieldwork, internships etc.

EPSRC Studentships are available to any prospective student wishing to apply including international students. Up to 30% of our cohort can comprise of international students and they will not be charged the fee difference between UK and international rate.



1.Maskrey DK, Killen SS, Sneddon LU, Arnold KE, Wolfenden DCC, Thomson JS (in review) Differential metabolic responses in bold and shy sea anemones during a simulated heatwave. Journal of Experimental Biology.
2.Maskrey DK, Sneddon LU, Arnold KE, Wolfenden DCC, Thomson JS (2021) Temperature-driven changes in behavioural unpredictability and personality in the beadlet sea anemone, Actinia equina. Animal Behaviour: 181: 13-27.
3.Roberts, L., and Howard, D. (2022). Substrate-borne Vibrational Noise in the Anthropocene: From Land to Sea. In Hill, P.S.M., Mazzoni, V., Stritih-Peljhan, N., Virant-Doberlet, M., and Wessel, A. (Eds.) Biotremology: Physiology, Ecology, and Evolution. Springer Cham, pp. 123-155.
4.Popper, A.N., Hice-Dunton, L., Jenkins, E., Higgs, D.M., Krebs, J., Mooney, A., Rice, A., Roberts, L., Thomsen, F., Vigness-Raposa, K., Zeddies, D., and Williams, K.A. (2022) Offshore Wind Energy Development: Sound and Vibration Effects on Fishes and Aquatic Invertebrates. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 151: 205.