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A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


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Professor Claudine Stirling, Associate Professor Helen Bostock, Dr Karin Kvale, Dr Matthew Druce


The Department of Geology has an opportunity for a fully-funded PhD project (with stipend) investigating how trace metal micronutrients regulate the Southern Ocean's carbon sink. This project involves collaboration between the University of Otago, GNS Science, the University of Queensland (Australia) and Nottingham University (UK) with off-campus exchange visits.

The expansive Southern Ocean controls global climate by drawing down atmospheric CO2 into the ocean's interior via marine primary production within the “biological pump”. This process is limited by the supply of trace metal “micronutrients”, such as iron and zinc, but future-climate projections are constrained by traditional “macronutrient”-based productivity tracers that are not ideally suited to Southern Ocean climate reconstructions.

This PhD project aims to generate records of trace metal uptake by marine phytoplankton (primary production) in the Southern Ocean over the “Last Glacial Cycle” (past ~140,000 years). Fossilised plankton extracted from sediment cores will be analysed for the iron, zinc and cadmium stable isotope systems. Results will be coupled with state-of-the-art Earth-system climate modelling to quantify the influence of trace metal micronutrients on marine productivity during the Last Glacial Cycle. The results will be used to assess the efficiency of Southern Ocean CO2 removal during major climate reorganisations and improve future-climate projections.

The project uses clean-room geochemistry and ICPMS-based mass-spectrometry (ICP-MS and MC-ICPMS) to quantify the concentrations and isotopic signatures of metal micronutrients.


Applicants with a strong background in the geosciences, marine sciences, chemistry, or related discipline at the BSc(Hons) or MSc level, are encouraged to apply. This PhD project is part of a “Marsden” research programme funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand. The selected candidate will receive a PhD Scholarship (NZ$35,000 per year for 36 months, tax free with a fee waiver).

How to apply

Please submit a cover letter, complete CV (including academic transcripts), and the names and contact information of at least two referees in a single PDF file to:



Claudine Stirling
Tel +64 21 058 1317

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