Master Thesis: Assessing the biodeposition effects of shellfish on microplastic distribution under future environmental conditions
Alfred Wegener Institut
vor 2 Tg.

The Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) is a member of the Helmholtz Association (HGF) and funded by federal and state government.

AWI focuses on polar and marine research in a variety of disciplines such as biology, oceanography, geology, geochemistry and geophysics thus allowing multidisciplinary approaches to scientific goals.


Climate-change model predictions indicate that the North Sea will continue to experience an increase in average and maximum yearly water temperatures over the coming century, with isotherms shifting northwards and biogeographic ranges for marine organisms following a similar trend.

Concurrently, levels of microplastic pollution in the marine environment have risen steadily since the advent of industrial plastic production.

Despite recent public awareness and legislative efforts, this trend is also set to continue unabated due to the persistent and fragmentary nature of environmental plastic pollution.

The OMAP (Oysters and Mussels under Anthropogenic Pressure) project is exploring the combined effects of increased water temperature and increased microplastic pollution on three species of filter-feeding bivalve mollusks : blue mussels, Pacific oysters, and European oysters.

Using a novel multi-stressor mesocosm system, shellfish are maintained in natural flowing seawater conditions, with or without increased temperature or increased microplastics, over a multi-seasonal chronic exposure timeframe.

With regular sampling of a range of parameters, a deep holistic insight will be generated, from the whole organism, down to biochemical and genetic levels.

This will enable a greater understanding of the threat posed to future ecosystem functioning, as well as food security, by these two distinct stressors.


The proposed Master’s thesis will examine how shellfish affect the distribution of microplastics under climate-change conditions.

As filter feeders, these species actively remove suspended particulate matter from the water column, generating biodeposits and functioning as an important link between the pelagic and benthic compartments of the marine environment.

Small microplastics, visually indistinguishable from natural particles, have been shown to be included in this deposition process.

Within the experimental system, sampling will be routinely conducted for microplastics distributed in the water, sediment, and species-specific biodeposits, for each of the stressor treatments.

Using a combination of fluorescence imaging microscopy and µFTIR spectroscopy, microplastics will be quantified and their chemical composition determined, and then related back to the stressors, organisms, and seasonal environmental conditions.


  • Must be studying for a Master degree
  • In marine biology, marine ecology, environmental science or a related field)

  • Excellent English language skills
  • Willing to relocate to Helgoland for the duration of the thesis project
  • Further Information

    The position is limited to : 6 months

    The place of employment will be : Helgoland, Germany.

    Work time : Full time (possibility of evening and weekend working hours)

    Start : 10th August 2020

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