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The impact of microplastic pollution on carbon sequestration in urban soils (Advert reference: RDF20/EE/GES/PRENDERGAST-MILLER)

Project Description

The growing human footprint of urbanisation demands more intense study of the human impact on urban soils and stresses on urban soil biodiversity. Society relies on soils for food, fuel, fibre and clean potable water. In addition, soils provide additional ecosystem services related to nutrient availability and soil carbon storage. However, urban soils face many challenges from compaction and pollution, resulting in poor soil quality in urban areas. The re-use of wastes and finding value in novel waste streams is another consideration in urban soil management, where wastes create novel soil amendments. Wastes from construction sites have been shown to increase soil carbon storage due to the formation of inorganic carbon (Manning et al 2013). Recent data also suggest that microplastics in soil may alter soil function, as a consequence of microplastic ingestion by key ecosystem engineers (e.g. Huerta Lwanga et al 2016; Hodson et al 2017; Prendergast-Miller et al 2019). We need to assess microplastics in urban soils and their impact on soil biodiversity and important ecosystem processes like carbon sequestration. This will help us identify land management practices to promote soil health in urban areas.
This project will seek to determine the soil biodiversity of urban soils related to their formation (e.g. artificial soils created with construction wastes) and their microplastic burden (e.g. originating from compost applications, plastic litter decomposition, vehicle tyre particles). By focusing on industrialised and post-industrialised sites around Newcastle, the project will survey soil biodiversity in contrasting urban soils and quantify microplastic contents. Additional variables such as soil carbon fractions, pH, bulk density and microbial community assessments will also be taken. Together, the data will help determine the relationships between microplastics and soil biodiversity. Using artificial soils as a specific example, the impact of microplastics on carbon sequestration in these particular urban soils will also be determined.
This project is supervised by Dr Miranda Prendergast-Miller. The second supervisor will be Dr Mike Jeffries.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:
• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF20/EE/GES/PRENDERGAST-MILLER) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: Friday 24 January 2020
Start Date: 1 October 2020

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality.

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home/EU/ Worldwide students where a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2019/20, this is £15,009 pa) and full fees.


Prendergast-Miller, M.T., Katsiamides, A., Abbass, M., Sturzenbaum, S.R., Thorpe, K.L., Hodson, M.E. (2019). Polyester-derived microfibre impacts on the soil-dwelling earthworm Lumbricus terrestris. Environmental Pollution 251:453-459.

Hodson, M.E., Duffus-Hodson, C.A., Clark, A., Prendergast-Miller, M.T., Thorpe, K.L. (2017). Plastic bag derived-microplastics as a vector for metal exposure in terrestrial invertebrates. Environmental Science and Technology 51, 4714-4721.

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