At the end of May, Benjamin Merkel successfully defended his PhD on the migration of common and Brünnich’s guillemots in the North-Atlantic Ocean. His thesis is based exclusively on data from SEATRACK, and Merkel is officially the first doctor to come out of the project.

Formidable dataset

Benjamin Merkel was employed as PhD student within the SEATRACK project in spring 2015. As tracking data started pouring in from the various colonies covered by the project, Merkel could start his research and decided to focus his work on Brünnich’s and common guillemots. His dataset consisted of 1740 series (from one breeding season to the next) of position data from 887 individual birds breeding in 16 colonies in the Northeast Atlantic over a decade.

Developed his own method of analysis

Merkel’s thesis consists of four scientific articles – three of which deal with various features of and drivers behind migration patterns and behaviour in the two guillemot species in the North Atlantic. In the fourth article, Merkel presents a method for processing light logger data that he developed himself. This method will, among other things, make it possible to correct biased position estimates and thereby utilize larger amounts of position data from each logger.

Read the thesis:

Bright future

Merkel was honoured for his work by his supervisors and opponents after the PhD defence, and his efficiency, descriptive power and excellent analytical skills were emphasized. In his speech to the new doctor, first opponent Tim Guilford from the University of Oxford said that the future is looking bright for modern seabird research with young “recruits” like Benjamin. In addition to Guilford, Stephen Votier from the University of Exeter in the UK was invited to be second opponent. Merkel’s supervisors were Sébastien Descamps and Hallvard Strøm from the Norwegian Polar Institute and Nigel Yoccoz from UiT, The Arctic University of Norway.

Contact person: Hallvard Strøm, Norwegian Polar Institute

From the left: First opponent Tim Guilford, second opponent Stephen Votier, supervisor Nigel Yoccoz, Benjamin Merkel and supervisors Hallvard Strøm and Sébastien Descamps.
Photo: Rudi Caeyers
Benjamin Merkel could celebrate his PhD with SEATRACK cake. Benjamin designed the logo for the project himself at the start of his work as Phd student in 2015.
Photo: Erlend Lorentzen