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Tracing sources, pathways and fate of nutrients in river systems in the Pearl River Delta using geochemical tracers

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Z Zhou
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

PhD Studentship & Secondment in China under the SEW-REAP Programme

Supervisors: Dr Zheng Zhou, Dr Greg Holland, Professor Yunpeng Wang, Dr Ben Surridge and Dr Peter Wynn

The Pearl River Delta (PRD) is one of the most densely urbanized regions in the world and one of the main hubs of China’s economic growth. With fast industrial, agricultural and urban development, water pollution has become a major environmental and human health concern, affecting more than 60 million people living within the area. Pollution has also seriously depleted available water resources for human use in the region. The water pollution in the PRD as a whole is poorly understood, particularly the sources, pathways and fate of inorganic nutrients, including ammonium, nitrate and phosphate.

This project will use naturally occurring stable isotope tracers to study nutrient cycling in the PRD region. Specifically, we will use the nitrogen and oxygen isotope composition of nitrate, the nitrogen isotope composition of ammonia, the nitrogen and carbon isotope composition of organic matter (as well as the C:N ratios) and the oxygen isotope composition of dissolved phosphate. In addition, groundwater dating techniques, such as 3H-3He, CFC, SF6 will be employed, together with noble gas studies, to further constrain interactions between surface and groundwater reservoirs. A sampling campaign will be conducted in the representative areas of the Pearl River Delta region for both surface water and groundwater. All samples will be analysed at GIG-CAS or other institutes of Chinese Academy of Sciences. The isotope data will provide a basis to constrain the sources and fate of nutrients in the PRD region. The work proposed here will provide novel and original scientific data that will enhance our understanding of nutrient pollution in the PRD region.

An improved understanding of the sources and pathways of nitrogen and phosphorus to the PRD region will also help the management of these key nutrients. Specifically, the data will help in understanding nutrient cycling within the region, the extent of potential contamination of surface runoff and groundwater from land uses associated with elevated nutrient export, such as from fertilizer and/or sewage, and the relative contributions of different types of within-basin and external sources of atmospheric deposition.

It is anticipated that most data collection and processing, lab work and modelling will be conducted in China.

Further information:

Academic requirements: First-class or 2.1 (Hons) degree or Masters degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate subject.

Deadline for applications: 31 March 2016

Provisional Interview Date: 6 April 2016

Start Date: June 2016 or October 2016

For further information or informal discussion about the position, please contact Dr. Zheng Zhou ([Email Address Removed]).

Application process: Please upload a completed application form (download from outlining your background and suitability for this project and a CV at LEC Postgraduate Research Applications,

You also require two references, please send the reference form (download from to your two referees and ask them to email it to Andy Harrod ([Email Address Removed]), Postgraduate Research (PGR) Co-ordinator, Lancaster Environment Centre by the deadline.

Due to the limited time between the closing date and the interview date, it is essential that you ensure references are submitted by the closing date or as soon as possible.

Funding Notes

Provides a monthly stipend at an average of ~£1100 (tax free) per month funded by EuropeAid SEW-REAP programme and GIG-CAS for 36 months, which must also cover flights to China and Chinese language tuition. You will need to pay your own UK/EU tuition fees for the duration of your PhD, Successful applicants will be strongly encouraged and supported in applying for further funding that is available to visiting students at Chinese Academy of Sciences institutes. These CAS University scholarships are both generous and prestigious while chances of success are comparatively high. Unfortunately studentships are not available to non-UK/EU applicants.

How good is research at Lancaster University in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.90

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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