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Funded PhD Opportunity

Multi-method characterization of shipwreck sites

Subject: Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology



Modern shipwrecks act as a hidden pollution risk, as they may release toxic components into the environment depending on the state of preservation. These sites act as open systems, with the exchange of material (sediment, water, toxic fluids and solids) and energy (wave, tidal, storm) across system boundaries. Formation processes at these sites are therefore driven by a combination of chemical, biological and physical processes.

Around the coastlines of Europe, numerous WWI and WWII wrecks are slowly corroding, acting as nuclei for environmental contamination. WWI wrecks are also increasingly recognized from an archaeological perspective. The UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage provides protection for sites over 100 years old and strongly emphasises the use of non-destructive methods. WWI wrecks now fall under the protection of the Convention. Whilst 48 states have ratified the UNESCO 2001 Convention, the Republic of Ireland and the UK have not. In the Republic of Ireland, this is mitigated by blanket protection of all wrecks over 100 years. Consequently, approximately 400 wrecks have become protected and require governmental management. In contrast, the UK lacks blanket protection legislation, relying on the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973) which affords protection only to specific vessels based on their importance. As such, under this legal framework, there is additional pressure to ensure that WWI underwater cultural heritage in UK waters is documented, protected and managed to the best of our abilities.

This PhD project will examine the preservation state and evolution of select WWI wrecks in the Irish Sea. Greater understanding of the physical processes that effect the long term stability and evolution of these sites is paramount in their protection.


The PhD researcher will use an exceptional very high-resolution (circa 5 cm) mutlibeam echosounder (MBES) bathymetric and backscatter data, high-resolution seismics and sediments samples collected in 2015. The researcher will characterize these wreck sites from physical and bio-physical perspectives. Wreck site formation and evolution will be explored through the integration of high-resolution time-lapse MBES surveys and computational fluid dynamic (CFD) modelling.


The objectives are:

  1. To characterize WWI wreck sites through the processing and integration of acoustic remote sensing data and direct samples.
  2. To examine the physical processes occurring around these sites (on a local and regional scale) which are responsible for their preservation or destruction.
  3. To conduct CFD modelling at select wreck sites with a view to understanding fluid flow, scouring and preservation issues.
  4. To investigate the diversity of marine life on and around the unique ecological habitats created by the wrecks.
  5. To inform the long term management of the sites through detailed site characterization and predictions of site evolution.

Skills required

This project would suit a numerate researcher with a background in geoscience, marine science, archaeology or environmental science with interests in seabed mapping, wrecks, hydrodynamic processes, and GIS.

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.

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
Friday 29 June 2018

Interview Date
July 2018

Contact supervisor

Dr Ruth Plets

Other supervisors


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