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  Contaminants in saprolite: an overlooked hotspot of environmental concern PhD


   School of Water, Energy and Environment (SWEE)

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  Prof Wilfred Otten  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Increasing attention is being placed on the transfer and storage of contaminants in soils, including microplastics, pharmaceuticals (PPCPs), bacteria, and hydrocarbons (PAHs). Recent research has developed methods to detect the presence of these contaminants in, and track their movement through, the soil profile. However, much of this work has ignored the underlying parent materials (saprolite) from which soils are formed. This fully-funded NERC CENTA PhD Studentship (3.5 years) represents a ground-breaking project using a combination of digital mapping, laboratory analyses, and field-based experiments to assess the extent to which contaminants are accumulating in saprolite. It will be an exciting opportunity to gain valuable experience in the waste management sector. CENTA is a consortium of Universities and research institutes that are working together to provide excellence in doctoral research training within the remit of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Successful home-fees-eligible candidates will receive an annual stipend, set at £15,609 for 2021/22, paid directly to the student in monthly increments, full university fees, and a research training support grant (RTSG) of £8,000. 

Project Highlights: 

·       A ground-breaking project to assess the extent to which saprolite is a reservoir of contaminants, and a potential hotspot for environmental concern.

·       A combination of digital mapping, controlled laboratory analyses, and field-based experiments. 

·       An exciting opportunity to network with industry, gain valuable experience in the sector, and enhance future career prospects. 

Overview

With millions of tonnes of sewage sludge being spread on farmland every year, increasing attention is being placed on the transfer and storage of contaminants in soils, including microplastics, pharmaceuticals (PPCPs), bacteria, and hydrocarbons (PAHs). Recent research has developed methods to detect the presence of these contaminants in, and track their movement through, the soil profile. However, much of this work has ignored the underlying parent materials, from which soils are formed. 

Typically, soils overlie bedrock, of which the uppermost zone comprises ‘saprolite’. Saprolite is categorised as physically intact but chemically weathered bedrock, meaning that it is undergoing the process of losing its cementing agents, but retains the volume and fabric of the parent rock. As such, it sits as a boundary layer between the soil profile and unweathered bedrock. The presence, depth, thickness, and properties of the saprolite horizon are variable, and are dependent on both the bedrock lithology and soil management practices.

We currently have little or no knowledge about the extent to which the saprolite acts as a reservoir for contaminants, the types of contaminants that may pass through to this zone, the rates at which they accumulate in saprolite, the mechanisms that may accelerate their accumulation, and their short-to-long-term fate. This constitutes a major gap in our knowledge and understanding of the transport of mobile contaminants in soil systems. Moreover, as saprolite weathers to form soil, contaminants accumulating within saprolite could be remobilised back into the soil, representing a ticking time-bomb for ecosystems and the wider environment. 

This project will be one of the first to assess the saprolite as a potential hotspot for environmental concern. It will systematically review the state of our knowledge around the interactions between soils and saprolite, and use digital mapping techniques to map the extent and thickness of saprolite across the UK. In a series of laboratory-controlled experiments, the transfer of different contaminants from soils to saprolite will be investigated, and new field-based techniques will be developed and deployed to detect and measure contaminants in saprolite.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have at least a 2:1 at UK BSc level or at least a pass at UK MSc level or equivalent in a related discipline.

Start date: Oct 2022

Supervisors: 1st Supervisor: Professor Wilfred Otten; 2nd Supervisor: Dr Dan Evans

How to apply

To apply, please follow this link and click “Apply now”.

For general enquiries about this position, including help applying, terms and conditions, etc, please contact: [Email Address Removed], quoting reference number SWEE0166.

Biological Sciences (4) Business & Management (5) Engineering (12) Environmental Sciences (13) Food Sciences (15)

Funding Notes

Please note the grant covers fee costs for a Home award. Unless you are eligible for such a Home award, you will need to consider how you will be able to meet any shortfall in funding for tuition fees, e.g. self-funded. Please contact the supervisors listed on the project for more information.
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