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Microplastic-sediment interactions (MiPSi)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Queen Mary University of London is announcing an exciting opportunity for an allocated four-year PhD position in either the Earth Surface Science group in the School of Geography or the Evolution and Development group in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences. The successful candidate will start their project in September 2019 and will participate in training and cohort activities of the London NERC DTP.

The London NERC Doctoral Training Partnership brings together eight of the world’s leading research centres in environmental science. Our partnership provides innovative doctoral training in a multidisciplinary research environment and fosters links between centres of research excellence, spanning NERC’s environmental science remit.

CASE Partner: Deltares

About the Project

The accelerating global release of microplastics (mP) into the aquatic environment seems inevitable, with long-term consequences for water quality and biodiversity. Managing plastics in the environment and ensuring effective intervention policies and practices requires an understanding of mP source, transport and fate. Whilst much has been reported on the occurrence of mP in environmental media (e.g., surface waters, sediment, soils) and potential uptake and impacts on aquatic biota (Woodall et al., 2014; Ivar do Sul & Costa, 2014), virtually nothing is known of their wider impacts on ecosystem functioning, particularly outside the marine environment.

mP are hydrophobic, yet once they enter the aquatic environment they are quickly colonized by microbial biofilm and interact with fine minerogenic suspended sediment, forming mP-aggregates in the water column. The overall aim of this PhD is to understand how mPs modify the flux of suspended sediment, and associated carbon, nutrients and pollutants to the marine environment. We will focus on understanding how mPs associate with sediment and how mP modify the settling characteristics of suspended sediments as they transition from fresh to saline water conditions (i.e. estuaries and deltas). The PhD will be conducted with project partners, Deltares, who are currently working on heavily mP-polluted sediments (8% vol) from the Rhine Delta and Port of Rotterdam. There will be an opportunity to spend 3 months at Deltares’ research facilities in Delft, Netherlands where you will focus on learning techniques to understand fine sediment dynamics and transport.

Deltares are an independent research institute for applied water research specializing in coastal and delta systems. They provide fundamental science expertise in the fields of coastal systems, sediment transport modelling and coastal management and host state-of-the-art large-scale flume and wave basin facilities, and well-equipped sediment and soil laboratories for applied research and sample characterisation. They have an excellent track record in translating science into real-world management solutions, delivering high-impact science, and successfully managing major projects (including running very large EU-funded pure and applied science projects).

Policy Impact of Research

Improved understanding of how microplastics are transported from catchment to coast will have impacts for compliance with Water Framework Directive, whilst an understanding of how different types of plastic impact wide ecosystem functioning can inform the development of new intervention policies on plastic reduction.

For further information about the project, please contact Professor Kate Spencer.


Please note: NERC funding is subject to candidates meeting RCUK eligibility criteria and we encourage eligible students from the EU to apply. For details of eligibility please click here:

How to Apply

Applicants should include a supporting statement, CV, transcripts and certificates, details of two referees, and indicate the relevant supervisor and project title in the application form. Shortlisted candidates will be invited to interview in March 2019.

To apply for a studentship being advertised by the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences (SBCS) please click here:

To apply for a studentship being advertised by the School of Geography please click here:

Deadline for applicants: Monday 18 March 2019

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