Imperial College London Featured PhD Programmes
Birkbeck, University of London Featured PhD Programmes
Norwich Research Park Featured PhD Programmes
University College London Featured PhD Programmes
Cardiff University Featured PhD Programmes

Plastic in rivers: transport, behaviour and fate (CENTA2-SGGE16-GABB)

Project Description

Rivers feed the world’s oceans with freshwater, sediment and more recently with large quantities of plastic. Estimates of the amount of plastic entering the environment via fluvial systems are challenging to constrain and range from 4.8-12.7 million tonnes in 2010 (Jambeck et al., 2015). To date, work on this problem has focused on the occurrence, type and concentration of plastic (but mainly microplastic) in rivers. In contrast, the behaviour of plastics in river systems is understudied so that, for example, we do not know what proportion of the plastics entering river systems are stored in river deposits or how long they reside there before being transported to the oceans. This important gap in our knowledge is perhaps not surprising because plastic is a highly diverse material: it varies in size from nano-and micron-sized particles through to meter-sized macro plastic; it has an array of compositions and it can be formed in almost any shape imaginable.

This research will focus on macroplastic, which is more heterogenous than microplastic. A first crucial focus will be to determine the principle types of macroplastic present in rivers, and determine the behaviour of each type. Aims will be to identify transport and depositional characteristics (e.g. relative mobilities, entrainment stresses and settling velocities) in order to reconcile the physical properties of macroplastics with transport and depositional rates. This research will enable us to erect a predictive model to elucidate plastic behaviour and deposition in river systems within a sedimentological framework.

The student will complete novel experiments in a laboratory flume coupled with more traditional sedimentological fieldwork (both in Leicestershire, UK and Malawi, Africa), involving mapping, logging and collection of samples from fluvial systems. This project is a first step in understanding the degree to which rivers trap and store macroplastic, over what timescales this occurs, and where. The research will greatly enhance efforts to ‘clean-up’ plastic pollution by informing and predicting where plastic is concentrated and deposited in river systems and thus where environmental clean-up will be most effective.

Entry Requirements:

UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.

Available for UK and EU applicants only.

Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility:

How to Apply:

Please follow refer to the How to Apply section at and use the Geography Apply button to submit your PhD application.

Upload your CENTA Studentship Form in the proposal section of the application form.

In the funding section of the application please indicate you wish to be considered for NERC CENTA Studentship.

Under the proposal section please provide the name of the supervisor and project title/project code you want to apply for.

Funding Notes

This project is one of a number of fully funded studentships available to the best UK and EU candidates available as part of the NERC DTP CENTA consortium.

For more details of the CENTA consortium please see the CENTA website: View Website.

Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility: View Website

The studentship includes a 3.5 year tuition fee waiver at UK/EU rates

An annual tax free stipend (For 2019/20 this is currently £15,009)

Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) of £8,000.


Eerkes-Medrano D., Thompson R.C. and Aldridge D.C. (2015). Microplastics in freshwater systems: a review of the emerging threats, identification of knowledge gaps and prioritisation of research needs. Water Research, 75, pp.63-82.

Gabbott, S.E., Key, S., Russell, C., Yohan, Y. Zalasiewicz, J. in press. The Geography and Geology of Plastics: environmental distribution and fate. Plastic Waste and Recycling: Environmental Impact, Societal Issues and the Circular Economy. Elsevier.

Jambeck J.R., Geyer R., Wilcox C., Siegler T.R., Perryman M., Andrady A., Narayan R. and Law L. K. (2015) Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science. 347, pp.768-71.

Rice S.P., Buffin-Bélanger T. & Reid I. (2014) Sensitivity of interfacial hydraulics to the microtopographic roughness of water-lain gravels. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. 39, pp. 184-199.

Rice S.P., Lancaster J. & Kemp P. (2010) Experimentation at the interface of fluvial geomorphology, stream ecology and hydraulic engineering and the development of an effective, interdisciplinary river science. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. 35, pp. 64-77.

Related Subjects

Email Now

Insert previous message below for editing? 
You haven’t included a message. Providing a specific message means universities will take your enquiry more seriously and helps them provide the information you need.
Why not add a message here
* required field
Send a copy to me for my own records.

Your enquiry has been emailed successfully

FindAPhD. Copyright 2005-2019
All rights reserved.