PhD - Investigating the Distribution and Diet of Snow Petrels to Understand Antarctic Sea-Ice Ecosystems, and Palaeoclimate

richard-phillipsRichard Phillips
  • 23 Jan

Fully-Funded ERC Research PhD Studentship: 'Investigating the Distribution and Diet of Snow Petrels to Understand Antarctic Sea-Ice Ecosystems, and Palaeoclimate'
(23 January 2020)

This project, funded by the European Research Council (ERC), aims to understand the links between snow petrel (Pagodroma nivea) distributions at sea, their diet, and the biochemical signal recorded in their tissues and stomach oils. The PhD student will undertake a new programme of snow petrel tracking, combined with biochemical analysis of their prey and stomach oil, from birds feeding in the eastern Weddell Sea. The project includes fieldwork in Antarctica (Heimefrontfjella) during the 2020 / 21 field season, in collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). The student will be based in the Department of Geography at Durham University, UK, but will also spend periods at BAS analysing tracking data and characterising diet composition.

Snow petrels nest in crevices and exposed cliffs on islands, and high above the Antarctic ice-sheet, but feed year-round largely in the marginal sea ice zone. At their nests, there are accumulated deposits of regurgitated stomach oils ('mumiyo') which preserve a record of their diet, and which can be tens of thousands of years old. The results from the PhD project will not only provide insights into contemporary distribution, habitat use, diet and other aspects of foraging ecology of snow petrels, but also validate the use of sea ice biomarkers in stomach oils and mumiyo as a way of reconstructing the evolution of Antarctic sea ice over the last ~30,000 years. The studentship is a component of the ERC-funded project 'ANTSIE' (ANTarctic Sea Ice Evolution from a novel biological archive), led by Professor Erin McClymont at Durham University.

The studentship is tenable for 36 months from October 2020, and covers UK / EU fees, a tax-free maintenance grant (set at the UK Research Council's national rate: currently £15,009), and all analytical and fieldwork costs. Funding is available to support attendance at national and international conferences. The student will have access to training support through Durham University and the host department, as well as bespoke training from the supervisory team in the Department of Geography and at British Antarctic Survey.

The studentship is open to UK / EU candidates who hold a First or 2:1 undergraduate degree (or equivalent). English language evidence may also be required if applicants are not native speakers of English.

The deadline for applications is Wednesday 5th February, 2020.

To apply, please send the following documents to with the reference "Snow-petrel-PhD":

a current CV
a cover letter (2 pages A4 max) which describes your motivation for applying and your previous research experience
letters from two references (can be sent directly to by referees)
transcripts of previous qualifications
Applications will be reviewed and shortlisted. Interviews will take place between 21st February and 4th March.

Queries about the project should be directed to Professor Erin McClymont (