Summary

Acoustic techniques are the mainstay of mapping in the marine environment, frequently applied to a range of activities, including: hydrography, civil and military applications and increasingly the development of offshore renewables (Lurton, 2002). These technologies are routinely used to map a wide range of seafloor environments in terms of their geology and geomorphology and they are increasingly being applied to the survey and monitoring of benthic habitats (Brown et al., 2011). In spite of this increasing use, there remains a lack of consensus about whether they can be used to predict ecologically significant boundaries (Kostylev, 2012) or detect environmental change for monitoring purposes (McGonigle et al. 2010).

The ecological significance of acoustic classifications has not yet been adequately explored because many previous studies are limited by a lack of; 1) spatial and temporally relevant ground-truth data at a comparable scale, 2) repeat acoustic surveys, and 3) true independence between ground-truth data and acoustic classifications. Recent international efforts to standardise the acquisition of MBES backscatter data (Lamarche and Lurton, 2017) need to be evaluated in the ecological context in order to understand if these techniques are fit for the purpose of habitat characterisation. Against this backdrop, there are increasingly sophisticated methodologies emerging from several different perspectives, in terms of data acquisition (multi-frequency acoustics; laser scanning) and processing (Object Based Image Analysis, photogrammetry), all of which would advocate a multi-disciplinary approach to best practice for benthic habitat characterisation.

This PhD project will investigate the use of novel approaches to data acquisition and processing for habitat characterisation in the marine environment. It will also seek to refine protocols for the acquisition and processing of temporally coincident ground-truth data at a range of scales, using the best available technologies. This will allow us to refine and enhance current methods used to characterise seabed features and benthic habitat with maximum efficacy in areas of national and international significance.

Objectives

*To critically examine the use of multi-frequency MBES backscatter data optimised for benthic community analysis.

*To explore techniques to optimise the analysis of spatially and temporally relevant optical ground-truth data for the fine scale characterisation of geomorphological complexity and epifaunal community structure.

*Examine the links between sedimentary composition and infaunal community structure, and to explore the interrelationships and surrogacies with acoustic response.

*To determine the utility of novel technologies for the fine scale characterisation of geomorphological complexity and community structure over a range of contrasting features in the sublittoral marine environment.

*To explore the optimal analytical frameworks for the modelling of ecological communities that can account for spatial and temporal dependency structures inherent in many existing datasets.

References: Brown, C. et al. (2011). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecss.2011.02.007 || Kostylev, V. (2012). DOI: 10.1002/9781118311172.ch20 || Lamarche, G., & Lurton, X. (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11001-017-9315-6 || Lurton, X. (2002). An introduction to underwater acoustics: principles and applications. Springer Science & Business Media. || McGonigle, C. et al. (2010). https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsq015


Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 65%
  • Research project completion within taught Masters degree or MRES
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Experience of presentation of research findings

Funding

    The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:

    Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)

    Full award (full-time PhD fees + DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,000 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)

    Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £7,500 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)

    Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Department for the Economy (DFE)

    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,285 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to: www.ulster.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/postgraduate-research/fees-and-funding/financing-your-studies


Other information


The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Reviews

Profile picture of Michelle Clements Clements

Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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Profile picture of Carin Cornwall

I would highly recommend Ulster University as you get so much support.  Coleraine is a beautiful town and the people are so friendly. It was a really positive experience.

Carin Cornwall - PhD Environmental Sciences

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Profile picture of Rory McNeary

I am a senior archaeologist and work for government in Northern Ireland. My PhD looked at the archaeological applications of high resolution airborne laser scanning or LiDAR at the Knockdhu Area of Significant Archaeological Interest (ASAI) in County Antrim. The research highlighted the importance of LiDAR analysis for the characterization and interpretation of historical landscapes, with an obvious application in supporting archaeological survey and settlement pattern research. It also reinforced the practical application of LiDAR data for cultural heritage management initiatives, such as, historic environment record augmentation, as well as, revealing patterns of change and threats to the archaeological resource at a landscape level.I am very grateful to the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) who part-funded this research through their HR Centre for Applied Learning’s ‘Assistance to Study’ scheme. I would also like to thank my academic supervisors who were

Rory McNeary - PhD in Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology