Sea-level rise and carbon storage in US Gulf Coast salt marshes

Saltmarsh habitat at "Grunge Bayou" in St. Joe Bay, Florida by Crabby Taxonomist CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr. Image cropped.

This project  will investigate how sea-level rise effects the rate of carbon uptake by salt marshes.

The studentship is part of the ACCE Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by NERC and starts October 2020.

Apply for this course

Read the eligibility criteria and application guidance below, then apply through the University of York's online application service.

Application deadline: 8 January 2020


Sea levels are rising and threaten many coastal environments, including salt marshes. These valuable environments absorb and store carbon at remarkably rapid rates, much faster than, for example, rain forests.

While future changes in sea level and wave climate may lead to erosion of salt marshes, it is also possible that increased rates of sea-level rise can stimulate more rapid carbon uptake and therefore help to reduce climate change. This project aims to test this hypothesis.

It will do this by establishing records of recent sea-level change from salt-marsh sediments and comparing these with changes in carbon accretion in cores. Research sites will be in Mississippi (USA) where some of the most productive salt-marsh ecosystems in the world are found. Parts of these coastal wetlands are already being lost due to a combination of factors, including sea- level rise, storm erosion and human impacts.


The project will include a significant amount of fieldwork, followed by micropalaeontological and geochemical analyses in the laboratory.

The objectives of the project are to:

  1. Establish vertical distributions of sea-level indicators (foraminifera and diatoms) across salt marshes.
  2. From these create transfer functions to reconstruct historical sea-level changes from sediment cores.
  3. Measure carbon in cores.
  4. Determine the relationship between carbon storage and sea-level rise over past centuries.

Supervision and training

The studentship will be based at the University of York with training opportunities at the Natural History Museum. Depending on skills and experience, the successful applicant will receive training in palaeoecology, dating methods, and field techniques. The supervisory team combines expertise in sea-level reconstructions (Gehrels), carbon cycling (Redeker), micropalaeontology (Hill), and coastal change along the Gulf Coast (Törnqvist).


The project is open to students with at least a 2/1 degree (and ideally a Masters) in Physical or Environmental Geography, Geology, Environmental Science or a closely-related subject. Relevant field and lab skills and interests in sea-level and climate change are obviously a plus. For informal discussion please contact the main supervisor Prof Roland Gehrels.

ACCE studentships are available to UK and EU applicants only.

Residency rules apply. UK and EU students with qualifying residence in the UK are eligible for full-cost awards. Non-UK students from the EU who do not have qualifying residence are eligible for fees-only awards, which covers the tuition fees and Research Training Support Grant (RTSG), but not stipend. 

All applicants need to comply with the registered university's English-language requirements.

How to apply

Applications for the PhD are processed though the University of York's online application service. More information about the application process and the documents you need to provide can be found on the university's Department of Environment and Geography webpages.

The deadline for applications is 8 January 2020. 

Any questions?

If you have any questions about the project please contact

Main supervisor: Prof Roland Gehrels

ACCE Doctoral Training Partnership

Joint PhD training partnerships between the Natural History Museum and the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool and York, and the NERC’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH).

Funded by