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Modelling microplastic dispersal, settling and distribution in estuarine environments

Project Description

Since the onset of mass production of plastics in the 1950’s the flux of plastics to the marine environment has been a growing problem (Cole at al., 2011), such that microplastic contamination of the oceans is now one of the world’s most pressing environmental concerns (Hurley et al., 2018). Recent work highlights how such materials have been found in the full range of ocean environments from the depths of the deepest ocean trenches (Woodall et al., 2014; Fischer et al., 2015; Frid and Caswell 2017)) to coastal seas around the ice-capped poles (Waller et al., 2017; Lusher et al., 2015, Obbard et al., 2014).

Microplastic pollution is known to be interacting with organisms and entering primary levels of the marine food chain (Cole et al., 2013) causing a range of unidentified and unquantified ecological outcomes. Critically, we have little understanding of the complex biological, bio-physical and bio-chemical interactions associated with the ingestion of microplastics and how this influences their fate and the fate of marine ecosystems. Significant research is therefore needed to address some of the critical gaps in our knowledge of microplastics in the marine environment. This will be achieved by a cluster of 6 PhDs investigating the physical processes and dynamics of plastic particles from fluvial source zones, through estuarine stores to marine sinks, the ecological impacts on remote and local environments and the ecophysiological and ecotoxicological effects on individual species and ecosystems.

The cluster objectives are:
[1] To quantify ecological and biological effects of microplastics on marine ecosystems and marine invertebrate physiology (1-2; 5-6).
[2] Determine the flux, types and concentrations of micro-plastic debris exiting major riverine and estuarine systems, into the coastal and wider ocean (projects 3-4).

Summary of PhD Project

Modelling microplastic dispersal, settling and distribution in estuarine environments.
Supervised by Dr Robert Dorrell, Dr Christopher Hackey, & Professor Dan Parsons

Estuaries are ubiquitous features along the coastline where fluvial and marine environments meet and interact at a range of temporal and spatial scales. The interaction between river inputs (discharge and sediment load) and marine processes (tides, waves, sediment transport) create dynamic sedimentary basins which can act as temporary stores and sinks of sediment. Plastic particles may be seen as a new, anthropogenic sediment. Different types of plastics are transported at different rates. Low-density plastics are concentrated near the water surface whilst high-density plastics may be transported more slowly near the river-bed. With vertically increasing flow velocity low-density plastics may be transported most quickly but may be more easily trapped on floodplains as floods attenuate. Little is known about the fate of fluvially transported microplastic in estuarine environments.

This studentship will focus on modelling the transport and settling rates of microplastics in the Humber Estuary, combining high resolution flow monitoring and sampling with state of the art numerical models to understand where and when microplastics are deposited in estuarine environments under differing fluvial and marine controls.

Applicants should have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level research qualification in a relevant discipline. A 2:1 may be considered, if combined with relevant experience. It is anticipated that the successful applicant will have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level qualification. Additionally, experience of working in the field and knowledge of marine ecosystems would be beneficial.

To apply for these Scholarships please click on the link below:

PhD students at the University of Hull follow modules for research and transferable skills development and gain a Masters level Certificate, or Diploma, in Research Training, in addition to their research degree.

Successful applicants will be informed of the award as soon as possible and by 15th March 2019 at the latest.

Funding Notes

Full-time UK/EU and International PhD Scholarships will include fees at the ‘home/EU' student rate and maintenance (£14,777 in 2018/19) for three years, depending on satisfactory progress.

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