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B309: Blowing in the wind: atmospheric and biological connectivity in the Antarctic (Lead Supervisor: Pete Convey, British Antarctic Survey)

Supervisors: Pete Convey (British Antarctic Survey) Alex Archibald (Chemistry) Tom Bracegirdle (British Antarctic Survey)

Importance of the area of research:

Polar terrestrial habitats are ‘island like’, isolated on various geographical scales. Even though most probably became exposed from ice during post-Pleistocene glacial retreat, it is clear that successful dispersal events are not unusual, at least on short distance scales. However, the very strong biological regionalisation recently recognised in Antarctica also argues for strong dispersal limitation resulting in large-scale area isolation. Biological dispersal in the polar regions has yet to be placed in the context of physical (atmospheric) mechanisms and their possible future change. Further, risks in particular to the Antarctic biome of new colonisation events are of increasing concern. Combining atmospheric modelling and ecophysiology, this proposal will provide an integrated understanding of dispersal opportunities and routes in this rapidly changing region.

Project summary:

Passive aerial dispersal provides one of the most frequently postulated mechanisms of distribution in the polar regions for the dominant terrestrial biological groups (microbes, bryophytes, lichens, invertebrates). This project, through integrating analyses of the trajectories of air masses between different locations and regions within Antarctica and the Arctic, and with lower latitude islands and continental landmasses, and known ecophysiological characteristics of different biological groups, will provide a first robust assessment of potential colonisation routes and frequencies within and between the polar regions and their associated lower latitudes. Through integrating further with leading climate modelling approaches, predictions of how these biological linkages may change will be generated.

What the student will do:

The precise structure of the project will depend in part on the background of the student appointed, as the core questions can be approached from both biological and physical science perspectives, though we are aiming for a cross-disciplinary combination of approaches. Meteorological data from ECMWF analyses and regional climate modelling simulations conducted at BAS will be input to the Met Office’s Numerical Atmospheric-dispersion Modelling Environment (NAME) dispersion model. Using NAME, the relative connectivity between different regions will be quantified, along with further potential source regions at lower latitudes. These estimates will be refined by inclusion of boundary conditions derived from published and possibly experimental and field studies of ecophysiological survival limits and durations of the different Antarctic or Arctic terrestrial biological groups, and selected groups thought to pose a high risk of invasion in the future.

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Thomas, E.R. and Bracegirdle, T.J. 2014. Precipitation pathways for five new ice core sites in Ellsworth Land, West Antarctica. Climate Dynamics, in press, DOI: 10.1007/s00382-014-2213-6

Marshall, W.A. 1996. Biological particles over Antarctica. Nature, vol. 383, pp.680.

Pearce, D.A., Bridge, P.D., Hughes, K.A., Sattler, B., Psenner, R. & Russell, N.J. 2009. Microorganisms in the atmosphere over Antarctica. FEMS Microbiology Ecology, vol. 69, pp. 143–157.

Follow this link to find out about applying for this project.

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