Effects of Aquatic Vegetation on the Transport of Plastics in Rivers

   School of Engineering

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  Dr M Stewart, Dr S Cameron  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Plastic contamination is an escalating environmental problem. Of particular significance are those pieces that are smaller than 5 mm in size, more commonly referred to as microplastics. However, the study of microplastics in freshwater and inland waterways is not as well established as its ocean counterpart, starting only in the last few years. Due to its infancy, much is still unknown about the fate of microplastics including, their source, distribution, transport and resilience within freshwater networks. As a result, our ability to accurately model, and hence, potentially mitigate against their accumulation in marine ecosystems is substantially hampered. Aquatic vegetation may have a crucial role to play in this respect but its influence remains largely unknown. The aim of this project therefore is to investigate the effect of aquatic vegetation on the transport of plastics within rivers. The work will be predominantly experimental, with the successful candidate measuring the behaviour of representative plastic samples in response to a range of hydraulic conditions and vegetation densities, within a laboratory open-channel flume situated in the Fluid Mechanics lab at the University of Aberdeen. There may be opportunities to extend the laboratory work to the field, with in-situ measurements carried out in local rivers.

Selection will be made on the basis of academic merit. The successful candidate should have, or expect to obtain, a UK Honours Degree at 2.1 or above in a suitable Engineering discipline (e.g. Civil, Mechanical), or Physics. The candidate should also be a highly motivated, pro-active individual with keen interest in fluid mechanics and excellent communication skills. 


Formal applications can be completed online: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/pgap/login.php

• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering

• State name of the lead supervisor as the Name of Proposed Supervisor

• State ‘Self-funded’ as Intended Source of Funding

• State the exact project title on the application form

When applying please ensure all required documents are attached:

• All degree certificates and transcripts (Undergraduate AND Postgraduate MSc-officially translated into English where necessary)

• Detailed CV, Personal Statement/Motivation Letter and Intended source of funding

Engineering (12)

Funding Notes

This PhD project has no funding attached and is therefore available to students (UK/International) who are able to seek their own funding or sponsorship. Supervisors will not be able to respond to requests to source funding. Details of the cost of study can be found by visiting https://www.abdn.ac.uk/pgap/login.php


• Carmen, B., Krång, A. S., & Infantes, E. (2021). Microplastic retention by marine vegetated canopies: Simulations with seagrass meadows in a hydraulic flume. Environmental Pollution, 269, 116050.
• Eerkes-Medrano, D., Thompson, R. C., & Aldridge, D. C. (2015). Microplastics in freshwater systems: a review of the emerging threats, identification of knowledge gaps and prioritisation of research needs. Water research, 75, 63-82.
• Kooi, M., Besseling, E., Kroeze, C., Van Wezel, A. P., & Koelmans, A. A. (2018). Modeling the fate and transport of plastic debris in freshwaters: review and guidance. Freshwater microplastics, 125-152.
• Morritt, D., Stefanoudis, P. V., Pearce, D., Crimmen, O. A., & Clark, P. F. (2014). Plastic in the Thames: a river runs through it. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 78(1-2), 196-200.
• Wagner, M., Scherer, C., Alvarez-Muñoz, D., Brennholt, N., Bourrain, X., Buchinger, S., ... & Reifferscheid, G. (2014). Microplastics in freshwater ecosystems: what we know and what we need to know. Environmental Sciences Europe, 26(1), 1-9.
• Waldschläger, K., Brückner, M. Z., Almroth, B. C., Hackney, C. R., Adyel, T. M., Alimi, O. S., ... & Wu, N. (2022). Learning from natural sediments to tackle microplastics challenges: A multidisciplinary perspective. Earth-Science Reviews, 228, 104021.

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