University of St Andrews

PhD Funding Opportunities

For a complete list of current funding opportunities please see the database maintained by the University’s Fees and Funding Team.

Enquiries from self-funding students are welcome. Information on tuition fees and other costs of studying at St Andrews can be found on the University’s Fees and Funding page.

Details of any funding opportunities that are especially suitable for Geography/Sustainable Development students will also be posted below as they arise.

 Please select from the list below:

Fully Funded (3.5 years) PhD project available

Title: A national inventory of sedimentary Blue Carbon for Scotland, UK

Funding: MASTS CASE award with funding from Marine Scotland + University of St Andrews

Supervisors: Professor William Austin (University of St Andrews), Dr Ian Davies (Marine Scotland Science), Professor John Baxter (Scottish Natural Heritage), Dr John Howe (Scottish Association for Marine Science), Dr Sophie Green (British Geological Survey).

Eligibility and funding amount: UK/EU students are eligible to apply for full funding. Successful candidates will receive an annual stipend in line with RC-UK rates, and payment of their (UK/EU) tuition fees. Studentships will be awarded on the basis of academic quality and research promise.


Blue Carbon is defined by Nelleman et al (2009) as carbon stored and sequestered in coastal and marine ecosystems, including tidal and estuarine salt marshes, seagrass meadows, and mangrove forests. For the purposes of this study, this definition has been extended to include the geological substrate (sediments) on which the marine ecosystem has developed. The rate at which carbon is sequestered by natural systems is a critical factor in mitigating anthropogenic release of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion as is a proper understanding of the Blue Carbon stocks themselves. Previous studies (Burrows et al 2014) have identified that up to 7.7 Mt C is sequestered in the 470,000 km2 across Scotland’s seas. However, Burrows et al (2014) acknowledged that their assessment of sedimentary Blue Carbon was likely a significant underestimate (Burrows et al., 2016) and our work has recently demonstrated that previously unrecognized, yet significant stocks of carbon exist in the coastal ocean (Smeaton et al., 2016).

The objectives of this research are: (1) To establish the first, first-order sedimentary Blue Carbon inventory of Scotland’s territorial waters. (2) To evaluate the long-term development of this significant Blue Carbon store and to assess its potential significance, including a ‘mind the gap’ approach that will inform future research priorities. (3) To evaluate the relative proportion of organic and inorganic carbon sequestration in Scotland’s offshore sediments. (4) To identify vulnerabilities in the Blue Carbon sequestration potential of Scotland’s offshore sediments due to changing environmental conditions.

Project aims and outputs

The main aim of this project is to produce the first quantitative assessment of Sedimentary Blue Carbon stocks in Scottish territorial waters, developing a new collaborative effort with Scottish Government through a funding partnership with Marine Scotland Science. The project will extend work which was led by Professor Mike Burrows (SAMS) to assess Blue Carbon resources in Scotland’s inshore Marine Protected Area Network (a collaboration with SNH, including William Austin (St Andrews/SAMS) and NERC-funded PhD student Craig Smeaton (St Andrews)). We will work with Scottish Natural Heritage and the British Geological Survey (and potentially the International Union for Conservation of Nature) to deliver a comprehensive assessment of these stocks.

With this new understanding of the scale and geographical/temporal pattern of Blue Carbon storage in our shelf seas, the project will develop a new framework within which advice on the role of Blue Carbon can be extended beyond the coastal ecosystems in order to provide new understanding of these important carbon sinks and stores and a more systematic assessment of the whole system. Our ultimate aim is to contribute new evidence that will have policy resonance with the Scottish Government and that will help Marine Scotland Science, Scottish Natural Heritage, British Geological Survey and others to deliver effective advice on the threats to Scotland’s Blue Carbon resources. Such advice will offer the potential for global signalling of the value of sedimentary Blue Carbon resources.

Research Training: in sediment analysis and geophysical interpretation methods will be integral to the project and will include close collaborative links with SNH and the BGS. Laboratory based training in sedimentology, geochronology and spatial analysis will be an important element of the project to build the first sedimentary Blue Carbon inventory for Scottish territorial waters. There is significant scope to work with colleagues at Scottish Natural Heritage in developing policy-relevant advice in, for example, the assessment of vulnerable Blue Carbon stocks. You will be a member of the MASTS Graduate School and will also be eligible to participate as an affiliate member of the SAGES Graduate School.

Application Enquiries: For informal enquiries, please contact Professor Bill Austin, University of St Andrews or visit our Postgraduate Opportunities page.

Application Process: All interested applicants should submit (1) a cover letter outlining their interest in the project and relevant skill-sets, and (2) a full CV. Please send these to Mrs Helen Olaez.