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ONEPlanet DTP - A forensic approach to investigating microplastics in marine ecosystems: sources, fate and effects(OP2131)


Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering

Monday, January 18, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Despite an explosion in our understanding of the extent of plastic pollution in our seas and their infiltration into marine ecosystems, little is known about the precise sources of plastic pollution or their effects. Everyday objects, such as clothing are well established as sources of microplastics. However, the recent exposure of microplastic particles released from tyres [Parker-Jurd, Napper, Abbott, Hann, Wright, Thompson Investigating the sources and pathways of synthetic fibre and vehicle tyre wear contamination into the marine environment, 70pp (Defra)] exemplifies the need to better understand the sources and fate of microplastics in the natural environment. This project will focus specifically on microplastic points of entry to the marine environment, and in the adjacent water column, sediment and associated biota. Currently, research is restricted by our ability to accurately and rapidly discriminate microplastics in aquatic environments and identify their potential source(s). The application of appropriate testing methods regularly used in forensic analysis can overcome this issue. As an example, there is conflicting evidence over the physiological effects of microplastics on scleractinian corals (Mouchi et al 2019 Environ. Pollut. 253:322-329; Reichert et al 2018 Environ. Pollut. 237:955-960; Hall et al 2015 Mar. Biol. 162:725-732) but there is clearly uptake of microplastics in some situations and the potential to provide a long-term record of microplastic effects if they are incorporated into the skeleton during calcification. In this study we will attempt to detect effects on calcification and determine whether deposition into the coral skeleton can provide such a record (potentially over decades to centuries) of environmental impacts.
This project brings together an organic geochemist (Dr Geoff Abbott NCL) with a forensic scientist with specialist skills in microfibre analysis (Dr Kelly Sheridan UNN) with two marine biologists (Profs J Grant Burgess and John Bythell NCL) to develop a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding the sources, fate and effects of microplastics in our oceans. By bringing together research in microplastic detection with its effect on marine ecological processes we will provide a fuller understanding of microplastic pollution and the potential for toxicological effects on benthic and pelagic invertebrates.

Funding Notes

Each of our studentship awards include 3.5 years of fees (Home/EU), an annual living allowance (£15,285) and a Research Training Support Grant (for travel, consumables, as required).

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