Imaging Plankton Dynamics in a Changing Arctic


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We have designed our application systems to identify candidates who are likely to be successful in research regardless of what opportunities may have been available to them prior to their application.

Various support and guidance on applying for an ACCE DTP studentship, including how to apply; what we’re looking for (including our assessment rubric); details of financial support, training, and placement opportunities available; and details of our recruitment process, can be found at, in the ‘prospective applicants’ tab.

Project overview


Microscopic plankton form the base of marine ecosystems. Thus, changing the composition of these populations has profound impacts on fish and the macrofauna (birds, whales etc.) which consume them. As the planet warms due to climate change, planktonic ecosystems are shifting; both in the composition of species and in their rates of growth and nutrient cycling. Nowhere are these changes more apparent than in the Arctic Ocean. If we are to correctly predict how the composition and production of this marine system will change as the Arctic ice recedes, we need to understand how it works in the present. To do this, we seek to combine field observations with insights from computer models. This project will leverage datasets taken from a research cruise to the Arctic Ocean in July-August of 2023. The student will combine the analysis of semi-continuous imaging data from a robotic flow-cytometer, with computer-based ecosystem models to help us understand how these populations work together and how they will be further modified by climate change.


  1. The student will work with clustering and other machine learning based image processing techniques to compare the physical structure of the population (size, morphology, etc.) against other surface fields like nutrients and temperature to build predictions about how the two may interact.
  2. The student will use a simplified ecological, computer-based, model of plankton and their interactions to interpret the measured population structure from field observations.
  3. The student will combine their data analysis and modelling insights to build a better understanding of the current ecosystem and to make predictions for how Arctic communities will change as the water warms.


To our knowledge, this project will be the first to use imaging flow cytometer data in this critical region of the world's ocean. The combination of size resolved plankton composition data with computational models has proven extremely useful in uncovering key mechanisms underlying planktonic distributions in other parts of the ocean (like the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre north of Hawaii), and we believe that this combination will uncover critical insights in the Arctic.


The Arctic is changing at a rapid pace and understanding how ecosystems in this region function is critical as we seek to preserve and exploit them. Additionally, this project leverages a large dataset and consortium set up for the NERC funded N-ARC arctic project as well as the expertise from a Simons Foundation funded program (Computational Biogeochemical Modeling of Marine Ecosystems (CBIOMES)).

Essential and desirable criteria


  • Scientific Programming - ex. Matlab, Python, Julia
  • Mathematics => through Linear Algebra and Single variable Calculus


  • Plankton Ecology
  • Oceanography


How to apply

Notes and details of how to apply are available here:

All applicants to ACCE must complete the ACCE personal statement proforma. This is instead of a personal/supporting statement or cover letter. The proforma is designed to standardise this part of the application to minimise the difference between those who are given support and those who are not. Candidates should also submit a CV and the contact details of 2 referees.

Part-time study options

All ACCE PhDs are available as part time or full time, with part time being a minimum of 50% of full time. Please discuss potential part time arrangements with the primary supervisor before applying to the programme.

Project CASE status

This project is not a CASE project. While individual applicant quality is our overriding criterion for selection, the ACCE DTP has a commitment for 40% of all studentships to be CASE funded - as such, CASE projects may be favoured in shortlisting applicants when candidates are otherwise deemed to be equal or a consensus on student quality cannot be reached. This will only be done as a last resort for separating candidates.


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

NERC ACCE DTP programme starts from October 2024.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:

  • Stipend (2023/24 UKRI rate £18,622)
  • Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2023/24 rate £4,712)
  • Research support and training grant (RTSG)

Note - UKRI funding only covers UK (Home) fees. The DTP partners have various schemes which allow international students to join the DTP but only be required to pay home fees. Home fees are already covered in the UKRI funding, meaning that successful international candidates do not need to find any additional funding for fees.



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3.Jardine, J. E., M. Palmer, C. Mahaffey, J. Holt, S. Wakelin, and Y. Artioli. "Climatic controls on the spring phytoplankton growing season in a temperate shelf sea." Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans 127, no. 5 (2022): e2021JC017209.-

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