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  Decision support tools/systems for the remediation of geogenic and emerging contaminants in groundwater in the Global South

   Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr L Richards, Prof D Polya  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project


Globally, the contamination of groundwater from geogenic (e.g. arsenic, fluoride) as well as emerging pollutants is a major public health and economic concern exacerbated by challenges such as increasing groundwater reliance and climate change. The provision of safe drinking water supplies is a major development target included in the Sustainable Development Goals. However, effective and sustainable groundwater remediation remains very challenging, with a clear need for improved decision support systems for remediation selection and management.


The aim of this PhD project is to contribute to the development and validation of robust data, tools and systems for the selection and/or management of groundwater remediation strategies in one or more strategically selected areas in the Global South impacted by local groundwater quality challenges. The project could be approached from several different angles. Example research topics/projects include:

  1. How can remediation selection be optimized for different geochemical (e.g. groundwater composition, remediation targets), regulatory and socio-economic settings to support remediation decisions for the removal of groundwater arsenic and other contaminants (inorganic, organic, microbial)
  2. How can artificial intelligence offer robust solutions for improved understanding of contaminant distribution and groundwater remediation?
  3. How can holistic cost-benefit systems approaches be developed and contextualized to locally-relevant contaminant exposure (water, food) challenges in the Global South?
  4. How can community science be utilized as an effective tool for improved and increased scale of data/sample collection, knowledge exchange and impact increasing uptake or integration of local-scale remediation strategies?

Students are also encouraged to suggest their own related project. Multiple projects are available. There is a particular geographical interest in projects focussed on East Africa, India and South America.

Depending on project remit, this PhD research will involve one or more aspects of theory (e.g. geochemical, decision science), field (e.g. sampling design/collection), laboratory (e.g. sample preparation/analysis; experiments) and/or modelling (e.g. multi-criteria decision analysis, agent-based, statistical) approaches. The project will start with a detailed literature survey to inform a well-designed set of novel research questions and plans. The research workplan will be executed through the design, development, implementation and interpretation of models, field surveys and/or laboratory work. An interdisciplinary approach will be highly encouraged.

The proposed PhD projects build upon a strong track record within the Department of Earth and Environmental Science, as supported by The Leverhulme Trust (ECF2015-657), NERC (NE/R003386/1 & DST/TM/INDO-UK/2K17/55(C) & 55(G); NE/J023833/1) and EPSRC. Our research is multidisciplinary and highly collaborative nationally (e.g. British Geological Survey, University of Birmingham, St George’s University of London) and internationally (e.g. India, Cambodia, Myanmar, Chile and Argentina). Our ongoing research and collaborations – especially through the Indo-UK Water Quality project FAR-GANGA ( provide an excellent foundation for the PhD project(s).


This PhD will be based in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at The University of Manchester ( The student will benefit from world-leading academic expertise and excellent research facilities available within the Williamson Research Centre for Molecular Environmental Science and through collaborators. Numerous researcher training and development opportunities are available. Student visits to other institutions through schemes such as the Turing scheme will be encouraged depending on project remit. There will be multiple opportunities for collaboration, presenting research and (co-)authoring scientific publication(s). The student will develop an excellent skill set – including scientific and analytical/technical skills, and key professional competencies like problem solving, critical thinking, communication, project management, self-management and teamwork.

The PhD supervisorial team is Dr. Laura Richards and Prof. David Polya (others may be included if and as appropriate). Prof. Prosun Bhattacharya of KTH (Sweden) is an additional potential external collaborator/supervisor depending on project remit.

Candidate skills

Successful candidates will have a strong background (Masters / BSc) in environmental/chemical/geological sciences, environmental/chemical engineering or similar. Strong candidates will be highly motivated, independent, hard-working and curious, with a strong interest in research. Demonstrable experience in aspects of data analysis, fieldwork, laboratory work, problem solving, critical thinking and scientific writing is advantageous. Excellent written and verbal communication skills are essential. Previous research experience is highly desired.

Further information

Please contact Dr. Laura Richards ([Email Address Removed] ) for further information. Nominations for consideration for internal funding schemes will be put forward for highly competitive candidates and are subject to scheme conditions and deadlines. Self-funded positions have no deadline.


At Manchester we offer a range of scholarships, studentships and awards at university, faculty and department level, to support both UK and overseas postgraduate researchers. 

For more information, visit our funding page or search our funding database for specific scholarships, studentships and awards you may be eligible for. 

Before you apply 

We strongly recommend that you contact the lead supervisor for this project before you apply. 

How to apply 

To be considered for this project you’ll need to complete a formal application through our online application portal

When applying, you’ll need to specify the full name of this project, the name of the PhD (PhD Environmental Science (academic programme) and PhD Environmental Science (academic plan), the name of your supervisor, how you’re planning on funding your research, details of your previous study, and names and contact details of two referees

Your application will not be processed without all of the required documents submitted at the time of application, and we cannot accept responsibility for late or missed deadlines. Incomplete applications will not be considered.  

If you have any questions about making an application, please contact our admissions team by emailing [Email Address Removed]

Equality, diversity and inclusion 

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester and is at the heart of all of our activities. We know that diversity strengthens our research community, leading to enhanced research creativity, productivity and quality, and societal and economic impact.

We actively encourage applicants from diverse career paths and backgrounds and from all sections of the community, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and transgender status. 

We also support applications from those returning from a career break or other roles. We consider offering flexible study arrangements (including part-time: 50%, 60% or 80%, depending on the project/funder). 

Geology (18)


Richards et al (2017). High resolution profile of inorganic aqueous geochemistry and key redox zones in an arsenic bearing aquifer in Cambodia, Science of the Total Environment, 590 – 591: 540-553
Polya & Richards (2017). Arsenic and the Provision of Safe and Sustainable Drinking Water: Aspects of Innovation and Knowledge Transfer, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Asia Pacific Tech Monitor, July – September 2017 Issue: Innovation, technology transfer and management for safe and sustainable water, ISSN: 0256-9957
Richards et al (2019a). Dissolved Organic Matter Tracers in an Arsenic Bearing Aquifer in Cambodia: A Fluorescence Spectroscopy Study, Geoscience Frontiers, 10(5): 1653 – 1667
Richards et al (2019b). Dual In-Aquifer and Near Surface Processes Mobilize Hazardous Arsenic in Cambodian Groundwater; Science of the Total Environment, 659: 699 – 714
Magnone et al (2019). A new 87Sr/86Sr based 14C correction model for dating the oxidised organic carbon contribution to groundwater inorganic carbon; Geochimica Cosmochimica Acta, 267: 322 – 340
Pincetti-Zuniga et al (2020). Major and trace (including arsenic) groundwater chemistry in central and southern Myanmar; Applied Geochemistry, 115: 104535
Richards et al (2020). Distribution and Geochemical Controls of Arsenic and Uranium in Groundwater-Derived Drinking Water in Bihar, India; International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17: 2500

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 About the Project