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Quantitative Risk Assessment of Mercury in the Aquatic Environments: Linking Mobility, Bioavailability and Bioaccumulation

Project Description

An exciting PhD opportunity to work with leading academics at the National Decommissioning Centre (NDC) and Chevron Corporation to address some of the major questions around the environmental implications of decommissioning energy assets at a number of global locations and provide guidance for optimal decommissioning.

Chevron Corporation has recently entered into an Anchor partnership with the NDC to fund a portfolio of research projects that will focus on techniques for monitoring fish stocks around installations and pipelines as man-made marine habitats, the bioavailability of potential decommissioning-related substances, and modelling the longevity and eventual fate of offshore infrastructure left in situation. You can read more about the partnership from the Press release (

The PhD student will be part of a multidisciplinary team based in the NDC’s Centre for Doctoral Training ( in Newburgh, Aberdeenshire, working alongside a cohort of PhD students, postdoctoral fellows, senior academics and industry colleagues, including Chevron personnel. In addition to receiving advanced training in environmental sciences, the student will gain valuable knowledge and experience about the energy sector and the decommissioning space through close interactions with our industry experts.
The student will also benefit from undertaking courses that are part of the MSc in Decommissioning on a non-credit bearing basis. The course provides a detailed overview of the international and domestic legal regulatory framework pertaining to the decommissioning of offshore oil and gas installations.

A primary challenge associated with the assessment of risks posed by environmental contaminants is our ability to accurately predict their bioavailability. Mercury (Hg) is a well-known environmental contaminant with the ability to cycle globally. Of a particular concern is Hg presence in aquatic environment and its subsequent bioaccumulation in aquatic organisms. The bioavailability of Hg in these environments is controlled by such factors as temperature, salinity or dissolved organic carbon. As these factors vary geographically and are expected to change with the climate change there is an increasing concern about the subsequent effects on Hg behaviour in the aquatic environments and its biomagnification within food chains.

In many natural environments Hg is present in various chemical species, including solid/particulate species such as HgS. Of these, methyl mercury (MeHg) has been associated with a much higher toxicity, bioaccumulation and biomagnification potential. It is also well recognised that effects of MeHg are dictated by its availability in the environment. However, the Hg partitioning, speciation and subsequent bioavailability are often determined at standard laboratory conditions, which do not reflect the heterogeneity of the environment. The aim of this project will be to investigate Hg partitioning and bioavailability (and bioaccumulation potential) under various environmental conditions (salinity, temperature and redox conditions). The experimental studies will be combined with multifactor modelling approaches to improve the accuracy of environmental risk assessment tools.

This is a highly multi-disciplinary PhD suited to candidates with environmental sciences background (including Environmental Chemistry and Biology).

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a UK honours degree at 2.1 level or above (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

Formal applications can be completed online:

• Apply for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Sciences
• State the name of the lead supervisor as the Name of Proposed Supervisor AND the project title.

When applying please ensure all required documents are attached:
[1] Personal Statement
[2] All degree certificates and transcripts (Undergraduate AND Postgraduate MSc- officially translated into English where necessary)
[3] Copy of your English language proficiency certificate (if relevant)
[4] 2 Academic References
[5] Detailed CV

The start date of the project will be as soon as possible. Should this studentship be awarded while the UK is still under emergency measures due to the coronavirus pandemic and it is not possible to bring the PhD student to the National Decommissioning Centre, there is the option to start the studentship via distance learning if necessary.

Funding Notes

This PhD studentship is funded by Chevron. Full funding is available to UK/EU candidates only. This includes Tuition Fees at UK/EU rates with a monthly stipend of £15,009 (2019/2020) paid monthly in arrears.

*Overseas/international candidates can apply for this studentship but will have to find additional funding to cover the difference between overseas and home fees (approximately £15,560 per annum) for the duration of study (i.e. 3.5 years).


Curtis, A.N., Bourne, K., Borsuk, M.E., Buckman, K.L., Demidenko, E., Taylor, V.F., Chen, C.Y., 2019. Effects of temperature, salinity and sediment organic carbon on methylmercury bioaccumulation in an estuarine amphipod. Science of the Total Environment 687, 907-916.

Marziali, L., Rosignoli, F., Drago, A., Pascariello, S., Valsecchi, L., Rossaro, B., Guzzella, L., 2017. Toxicity risk assessment of mercury, DDT and arsenic legacy pollution in sediments: A triad approach under low concentration conditions. Science of the Total Environment 593-594, 809-821.

Wang, X., Wang, W-X., 2019. The three ‘B’ of fish mercury in China: Bioaccumulation, biodynamics and biotransformation. Environmental Pollution 250, 216-232.

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