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The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS, Belgium) is recruiting a PhD student (M/F/X). The PhD student will be engaged in the recently started project OUTFLOW (Quantifying the cOntribUTion of Fouling fauna to the Local carbon budget of an Offshore Wind farm, 2021-2025) funded by the Belgian Science Policy. The research will be conducted in full collaboration with the Marine Biology Research Group and the Isotope Bioscience Laboratory (ISOFYS) of Ghent University.

Context

This project is rooted in the society’s desire to combat climate change by reducing emissions of CO2. This can be done by using renewable energy sources, one of them being wind. As wind energy developments require considerable space and wind, they are often located in open, windy landscapes, which are widely available at sea, leading to a proliferation of offshore wind farms (OWFs). The wind turbines act as new artificial hard substrates and are rapidly colonised by fouling fauna in high densities, the majority of them (in terms of species, density and biomass) being suspension feeders, feeding on organic material from the water column. At the same time, in the immediate vicinity of turbines, strong changes in sediment characteristics and infauna have been revealed.

These changes encompass a fining and organic enrichment of the sediment, with increased anoxia in otherwise well-aerated sediment, and a shift in macrofaunal communities. These changes have been hypothesised to originate from the biodeposition of organic material, mainly in the form of faecal pellets and pseudofaeces produced by the fouling organisms on the turbines.

The overarching hypothesis of OUTFLOW is that the faecal pellet production by fouling fauna plays an important role in the local organic matter dynamics and carbon sequestration in sediments within offshore wind farms. This hypothesis will be tested through 6 objectives: (1) develop tracers for faecal pellets; (2) estimate the contribution of faecal pellets to the pelagic and sedimentary organic matter pool in OWFs; (3) model the spatial dimensions of enrichment of OWF sediments; (4) determine the fate of faecal pellets in the sediment; (5) estimate the carbon sequestration potential of altered offshore wind farm sediments, and (6) investigate the effect of offshore wind farms on organic matter dynamics and carbon sequestration at a larger geographical scale.

Tasks

The PhD student will directly contribute to objectives (1), (2), (4) and (5). This will be done through a combination of experimental research, field work, statistical processing of the data and modeling the biogeochemical response of the environment. More specifically, the PhD student will develop the tracers for faecal pellets and other contributors of the organic matter pool using stable isotope techniques and apply them in a combination of field-and experimental work involving the water column and the sediment. Data will be analysed using a combination of statistical techniques and ecological modelling.

Diploma

  • Master in Sciences (within the field of Biology, Biochemistry, Oceanography or equivalent) or Bio-engineering Sciences (within the field of Bioprocess Technology, Environmental Science and Technology, Land and Water Management or equivalent)
  • Strong interest in multidisciplinary research in relation to marine ecology
  • Open and collaborative attitude
  • Prepared to take initiative, but also to work in close collaboration with other team members
  • Prepared to participate in sampling campaigns at sea for several days
  • Prepared to participate in (inter)national conferences and symposia

Technical competence

  • Good insights in analysing and interpreting data

  • Knowledge of statistical processing of data

  • A good knowledge of R is an asset

  • Strong interest in experimental work

  • Excellent knowledge of English (written and spoken)

Generic competence

  • Excellent organisational, communication (both oral and written) and social skills
  • Capable of planning and organizing your own work and meeting deadlines imposed by the project

We offer

  • A full-time 4-year position as a PhD-student at RBINS

    Registration at UGent, offering access to courses in Doctoral School Program (https://www.ugent.be/doctoralschools/en) and opportunities to assist in practical and theoretical biology and ecology classes and supervision of bachelor- and master theses

    A dynamic, challenging, varied and stimulating research environment

    Free public commuting and/or bike fee

START : 1 May 2021

How to apply

If interested, please send your motivation letter, CV and a copy of the MSc diploma, with reference “OUTFLOW” before15 March 2021 to Yolande Maes (ymaes@naturalsciences.be).

For more information:

Interviews with pre-selected candidates will take place on 24 March 2021.

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