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Funded PhD Opportunity

Remote sensing for ecological monitoring in the marine environment: advancing best practice

Subject: Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology


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.


*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). || Kostylev, V. (2012). DOI: 10.1002/9781118311172.ch20 || Lamarche, G., & Lurton, X. (2017). || Lurton, X. (2002). An introduction to underwater acoustics: principles and applications. Springer Science & Business Media. || McGonigle, C. et al. (2010).

Essential criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • 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


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £14,777 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 14,777 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University


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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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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Key dates

Submission deadline
Monday 19 February 2018

Interview Date
March 2018


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Contact supervisor

Dr Chris McGonigle

Other supervisors

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