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NERC GW4+ DTP PhD project: Suck it up: Using the power of plants to sustainably filter drinking water reservoirs

   Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering

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  Dr L Bryant, Dr Gerrit Meijer  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP) for entry in October 2023. The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the Universities of Bath, Bristol and Exeter and Cardiff University plus five prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad multi-disciplinary training, designed to produce tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science.

Supervisory Team:

Lead Supervisor: Dr Lee Bryant, University of Bath, Dept of Architecture and Civil Engineering 

Co-Supervisor: Dr Gerrit Meijer, University of Bath, Dept of Architecture and Civil Engineering 

Co-Supervisor: Dr Rupert Perkins, Cardiff University (CU), School of Earth and Ocean Sciences 

Project Background:

Green Infrastructure (GI) is a nature-based solution that depends on ecosystems and their services targeting addressing different challenges in society such as disaster risk and climate change. GI (e.g., increased urban vegetation) has become a trending concept in recent years to achieve net zero and sustainable water management because of its minimum or zero impact to the natural environment. GI has strong potential as a better method of addressing the problems associated with water quality and quantity under watershed management; vegetation can act as a sustainable and cost-efficient nature-based solution for many environmental problems linked to our water supplies. Plants can extract pollutants from drinking water through phytoremediation, and in addition they extract moisture and simultaneously reinforce the soil they grow in, thereby reducing erosion, soil loss and sediment loading in waterways. 

Here we will investigate how 1) indigenous vegetation and land use influence water quality within a drinking-water supply reservoir and 2) engineered/designed GI (e.g., constructed wetlands, shoreline planting schemes) can support more sustainable drinking water supplies and ecosystem health. Common drinking-water supply source water problems include nutrient-driven algal blooms and elevated concentrations of manganese, resulting in increased treatment costs. Nutrients are required for plant growth; manganese is also an important micronutrient that supports photosynthesis. Specific indigenous plants will be investigated to quantify potential manganese and nutrient phytoremediation and/or soil stabilisation capabilities. 

Project Aims and Methods 

You will join a lively and enthusiastic team of researchers at UoB and CU focused on investigating how local vegetation and engineered wetland schemes can be used to 1) remove manganese and nutrients and 2) trap sediment before it enters the reservoir, thereby reducing soil loss and reservoir turbidity problems. We will use a combination of field, laboratory and modelling experiments to: 

1. In the field: we will measure aquatic chemical (oxygen, trace metal and nutrient) and sediment fluxes in Blagdon Lake, an aerated reservoir near Bristol in the South-West of England, and local catchment inflows. 

2. In the lab: we will use small-scale laboratory experiments to quantify interactions between soil, plants and water, such as nutrient and trace metal uptake rates, the release of manganese from rock and sediment to water, and root stabilisation effects. 

3. And beyond: we will build on field and lab results and historical data to develop a multi-parameter analytical water quality model for further results proofing and to optimise planting schemes using SWAT (Soil & Water Assessment Tool) and/or similar models. 

Note that while the above activities are proposed, it is envisaged that the successful student will have significant input into the project design as it evolves.

Project partners  

The joint expertise of co-supervisors Drs Perkins and Meijer will provide exciting interdisciplinary perspective to the key project goal of assessing the use of local plants as green infrastructure for improving water quality and reducing sediment loss via root stability in aquatic systems. 


This is a highly interdisciplinary project that will support the development of collaborations and research skills across water quality, biosciences, botany, limnology and engineering. Training in field sampling and monitoring, wet chemical analytical techniques, and laboratory methods will be provided. Additional training for needed water quality modelling will also be supported. Furthermore, full training in essential research skills will be provided through Bath’s Graduate School and the NERC GW4+ DTP.

Candidate requirements 

This project is interdisciplinary and collaborative and will involve a combination of fieldwork, data analysis, and numerical modelling. We seek an enthusiastic student with a good degree in a relevant physical or environmental science. Preferred qualifications include experience with fieldwork and/or lab work. 

Applicants for a studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a UK Honours degree at 1st or 2.1 level, or international equivalent.

Non-UK applicants must meet the programme’s English language requirement by 01 February 2023 (the only exemption is if you will be awarded a UK degree or degree conducted in English before your PhD start date).

Enquiries and Applications:

Informal enquiries are welcomed and should be directed to Dr Lee Bryant, [Email Address Removed] 

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath's online application form for a PhD in Civil Engineering.

When completing the form, please identify your application as being for the NERC GW4+ DTP studentship competition in Section 3 Finance (question 2) and quote the project title and lead supervisor’s name in the ‘Your research interests’ section. 

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found on our website.

We welcome and encourage student applications from under-represented groups. We value a diverse research environment. If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.

Project keywords: hydrology, soil science, civil & environmental engineering, environmental biology & chemistry, geoscience, pollution

Funding Notes

Candidates may be considered for a NERC GW4+ DTP studentship tenable for 3.5 years. Funding covers tuition fees, a stipend (£17,668 p/a in 2022/23) and a generous allowance for research expenses and travel. Studentships are open to both Home and International students; however, International applicants should note that funding does NOT cover the cost of a student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK. In line with guidance from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the number of awards available to International candidates will be limited to 30% of the total.


Bryant, L. D., H. Hsu-Kim, P. A. Gantzer & J. C. Little. 2011. Solving the problem at the source: controlling Mn release at the sediment-water interface via hypolimnetic oxygenation. Water Research 45. 10.1016/j.watres.2011.09.030
Caparrós-Martínez, J. L., J. Milán-García, N. Rueda-López, & J. D. Pablo-Valenciano. 2020. Green infrastructure and water: An analysis of global research. Water, 12(6). 10.3390/w12061760
Meijer, G. J., A. G. Bengough, J. A. Knappett, K. W. Loades, & B. C. Nicoll. 2018. In situ measurement of root reinforcement using corkscrew extraction method. Canadian Geotechnical Journal, 55(10). 10.1139/cgj-2017-0344
Slavin, E. I., D. J. Wain, L. D. Bryant, M. Amani, R. G. Perkins, C. Blenkinsopp, S. Simoncelli, & S. Hurley. 2022. The effects of surface mixers on stratification, dissolved Oxygen, and Cyanobacteria in a shallow eutrophic reservoir. Water Resources Research, Volume 58. 10.1029/2021WR030068

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