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  Extreme Weather Events and Plastic Pollution


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  Dr Fiona Kavanagh, Dr Salem Gharbia, Dr Roisin Nash  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This PhD project is part of the Postgraduate Research Training Programme COASTAL CONNECTIVITY, which offers 12 PhD research scholarships to commence in 2024. Each project will include an enterprise placement of minimum 12 weeks duration and a bespoke training package in coastal management and research skills.

Extreme weather events, such as storms and intensive prolonged rainfall periods are becoming more frequent due to intensive anthropogenic activities globally. Through investigating the impact of these extreme weather events on both spatial and temporal scales in marine coastal ecosystems this project will be able to assess both the fluctuating levels of marine plastic debris, including MPs, in the relevant environmental matrices immediately before and after such weather events. Previous research has highlighted that estuaries are hotspots for MPs within bays and that increased rainfall associated with both seasonal fluctuations in rainfall and storms are known to transport aquatic pollutants such as plastics and MPs to remote destinations.

Most studies on plastics and MPs focus on their abundance and distribution at a single time-point, with few studies examining temporal fluctuations. Taking an ecosystem approach will establish a knowledge base on the extreme factors over time, contributing to increased MP loading in coastal habitats and help to inform cleanup efforts, particularly those targeting beaches. This increases the understanding of extreme events on the levels of pollution in coastal aquatic ecosystems which is crucial to implementing strategies such as, the Climate Action Plan 2023.

Objectives of the research project

1: To assess spatial and temporal changes in the abundance of plastic in intertidal habitats by applying an ecosystem approach to sampling.  

2: To explore temporal changes in the abundance of plastic in estuaries, a known hotspot for microplastics (MP). 

3: To develop advanced storm surge models integrated with an early warning support system for the North-West of Ireland. 

4: To estimate the impact of extreme weather events on plastic distribution and abundance in marine ecosystems using intensive before and after sampling. 

5: To provide critical insights for policymakers, equipping them to implement effective coastal planning and management strategies. 

A minimum of 2.1 honours degree (Level 8) in a relevant discipline.

Project Duration:

48 months (PhD)

Preferred Location:

ATU Galway Campus


Application Form / Terms of Conditions can be obtained on the website:

The closing date for receipt of applications is 5pm, (GMT) Monday 22nd April, 2024.

Only selected applicants will be called for an online interview (shortlisting may apply).

Biological Sciences (4) Environmental Sciences (13) Geography (17)

Funding Notes

TU RISE is co-financed by the Government of Ireland and the European Union through the ERDF Southern, Eastern & Midland Regional Programme 2021- 27 and the Northern & Western Regional Programme 2021-27.
Funding for this Project includes:
• A student stipend (usually tax-exempt) valued at €22,000 per annum
• Annual waivers of postgraduate tuition fee
• Extensive research training programme
• Support for travel, consumables and dissemination expenses