Global Doctoral Scholarship - St Andrews and Bonn - Geography and Earth Science

Application period opens
Thursday 4 January 2024
Application period closes
This scholarship deadline has now passed (Friday 9 February 2024)

The University of St Andrews and the University of Bonn are pleased to offer a scholarship funded by both institutions, to support an exceptional student undertaking doctoral research in the following project:

Marine mass transport processes: Poorly quantified shuttles of organic carbon to the deep ocean

It is planned that the successful student will spend the first 21 months at Bonn to initiate the research and move to St Andrews to complete the programme of research and graduate. The student may start their degree at any point in the academic year 2024-2025 prior to a final entry date of 27 May 2025 subject to agreement with the supervisory team.

Doctoral Research at St Andrews

As a doctoral student at the University of St Andrews you will be part of a growing, vibrant, and intellectually stimulating postgraduate community. St Andrews is one of the leading research-intensive universities in the world and offers a postgraduate experience of remarkable richness.

St Leonard’s Postgraduate College is at the heart of the postgraduate community of St Andrews. The College supports all postgraduates and aims to provide opportunities for postgraduates to come together, socially and intellectually, and make new connections.

St Leonard’s Postgraduate College works closely with the Postgraduate Society which is one of the most active societies within the Students’ Association. All doctoral students are automatically welcomed into the Postgraduate Society when they join the University.

In addition to the research training that doctoral students complete in their home School, doctoral students at St Andrews have access to GRADskills – a free, comprehensive training programme to support their academic, professional, and personal development.

Doctoral Research at the University of Bonn

As a doctoral student at the University of Bonn you will be part of a vibrant and intellectually stimulating academic community. The University of Bonn is one of the leading research-intensive universities in the world. It is one of only 11 German Universities of Excellence and the only German university with six Clusters of Excellence.

In addition to the research training that doctoral students complete in their home Department, doctoral students at the University of Bonn have access to the Bonn Graduate Center, which is the central service department for doctoral candidates. It offers guidance on training and funding opportunities and offers a free and comprehensive training programme to support their academic, professional, and personal development.


As the major greenhouse gas contributing to ongoing climate change, CO2 is only one component of the global carbon cycle. To fully comprehend global climate change, its potential drivers, and potential feedback mechanisms, it is essential to understand the entire carbon cycle in as much detail as possible. The ocean plays a major role in this respect. It is actively sequestering carbon by both CO2 dissolution and by photosynthetic biomass production, but it also is the ultimate “collection point” of any carbon coming off the continents. As such, the deposition, and ultimately burial, of organic carbon (OC) in ocean sediments is one of the most important long-term processes removing the greenhouse gas CO2 from the ocean-atmosphere system. This project aims to understand and quantify the role of marine mass transport processes in global OC burial and climate regulation. Marine mass transport processes are currently poorly constrained, yet they have the potential to be one of the most efficient mechanisms by which OC is rapidly transported into the deep oceans and buried in the seafloor.

Background on marine organic carbon cycle and mass transport

Mass wasting (the movement sediment down slope) occurs along all continental margins (active or passive) where the seafloor becomes episodically unstable, e.g., due to oversteepening, isostatic rebound, changing sea level, or earthquakes (Fig. 1). Large masses of nearshore seafloor sediments, often rich in organic material from algal productivity or input from land, get remobilized and quickly shuttled to the deep ocean where the material gets redeposited. By this process, fresh organic material (that is prone to microbial degradation and transformation back into CO2) gets mixed deeper into the mass transport deposit, removing it from oxygen-containing seawater and thereby increasing its preservation potential (Fig. 2). However, it has also been argued that mass transport processes can inject oxygen-rich water and material into otherwise oxygen-poor sediments, which would lead to decreased carbon preservation. These two contrasting effects on carbon burial are poorly understand, and even less well quantified.


Due to the world-wide distribution of submarine mass transport deposits, this project will focus on samples from two key areas that represent some of the most prevalent depositional settings globally: Earthquake-remobilized sediments from the Japan Trench, and uplift-/melting-triggered mass transport deposits in (sub-)Arctic fjords. Sediment samples are available at Bonn and St Andrews (e.g., from IODP Expedition 386), and new samples will be taken from curated sediment cores during this project (e.g., Norwegian collaboration partners). Additionally, possibilities exist to also join future sea-going expeditions to the East Greenland fjords (autumn 2024) and/or Norwegian fjords (regular coring activities) to collect new cores.

Based on a detailed visual and/or microscopic sediment description, various geochemical techniques will be applied to characterize the quantity and nature of the OC within different portions of the mass transport deposits. This will include bulk as well as molecular analyses of the OC pool within the sediments. Where possible, pore waters (water contained in the pore space of aquatic sediments) will be extracted as well (like during IODP Expedition 386) to characterize the biogeochemical status within the sediments, providing a fingerprint of ongoing OC degradation processes. In addition, inorganic geochemical proxies will be used to unravel the past oxidation history of the OC by, e.g., oxygen, metal oxide, or sulfate reduction.

From these data, we will derive (i) how much fresh OC has been buried by the various mass transport deposits vs how much has been degraded, (ii) evaluate similarities and differences between the different types and locations of mass transport deposits, and (iii) attempt to upscale the potential from fresh OC burial by mass transport processes for continental margins globally. In the upscaling step, there is a potential to apply numerical modelling with collaboration partners in Belgium (Prof. Dr. Sandra Arndt) and the UK (Dr. Jack Longman).

The project will be managed jointly between the School of Geography & Sustainable Development at St Andrews and the Institute for Geosciences at Bonn. The student will be supervised by Dr Craig Smeaton, and Prof. William Austin (St Andrews) and Prof. Dr. Christian März (Bonn).

Informal enquiries regarding this scholarship may be addressed to the co-supervisors (Dr Craig Smeaton – and Prof. Dr. Christian März –

Value of award (per year)

The funding comprises a scholarship equivalent of a full-fees award and stipend for a period of up to 3.5 years. It is expected that the student will spend half of the scholarship term at the University of St Andrews and half at the University of Bonn:

  • For the period spent at the University of St Andrews, the scholarship will comprise a full fees award and a stipend paid at the current UK Research Council rate (£18,622 each year in 2023–2024). The School of Geography and Sustainability will provide a research training and support grant of £750 per annum for the period spent at St Andrews (21 months).

For the period spent at the University of Bonn, the scholarship will comprise a monthly maintenance grant of €1,500. The University of Bonn does not charge any tuition fees, but students must pay a so-called social contribution once per semester (currently €315 per semester).

Duration of award

Up to 3.5 years. The student will be expected to spend approximately half of the award term at the University of St Andrews and half at the University of Bonn. The successful candidate will be expected to have completed the doctorate degree by the end of the award term. The award term excludes the continuation period and any extension periods.

Application restrictions

Study level

Available to students studying at:


Domicile for fee status

No restrictions


Available to faculty members from:

Geography and Sustainable Development

Application assessment

Academic merit

Available to

Prospective students

Mode of study

Full time

Geographical criteria

No restrictions

Additional criteria

Applicants must not already (i) hold a doctoral degree; or (ii) be matriculated for a doctoral degree at either the University of St Andrews or the University of Bonn (or another institution).

How to apply

Please indicate in your application that you wish to be considered for this Global St Andrews scholarship (reference Smeaton_Austin_März).

Terms and conditions of scholarships for St Andrews can be found here: Awards general terms and conditions.

Please contact us should you have any questions regarding the scholarship:

Applicants should submit their application to the co-supervisors by 9 February 2024. Please send your application to Dr Craig Smeaton,  Prof. Dr. Christian März (Bonn) and  postgraduate research administrators at the following email addresses:,,

Your application should include the following:

  • Statement why you are the right candidate for the project (max. 800 words)
  • CV
  • Two original signed academic references

Next steps

Once notified, successful candidates should proceed to fulfil the application requirements for each University and must meet all normal entry requirements for admission – please see the advice on applying for research degree programmes. Applications should indicate that the applicant is the recipient of a Global PhD Scholarship St Andrews and Bonn (reference Smeaton_Austin_März).

Terms and conditions

Please read the University of St Andrews scholarships terms and conditions (opens in new tab).

These are applicable during the St Andrews duration of the award; please consult the partner institution for their terms and conditions relating to scholarships.

When will I know the outcome?

You will be notified of the outcome of your application by 30 April 2024. Awards are subject to final signatures of contractual relationships between the parties, and are not an indication of admission to the doctoral programme. Successful scholarship applicants must apply to both institutions and meet all relevant entry requirements for admission including any immigration requirements that may be in place.


Please contact us should you have any questions regarding the scholarship:

Informal enquiries regarding this scholarship may be addressed to the co-supervisors (Dr Craig Smeaton – and Prof. Dr. Christian März –