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  • Full or part time
    Dr B Spears
    Dr I Winfield
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Project Description

Dr. Bryan Spears (CEH); Dr. Kate Heal (Edinburgh University) & Dr. Ian Winfield (CEH)


As local communities begin to count the human cost of the red mud disaster in North-West Hungary the scientific community scrambles to provide evidence on environmental impact and likelihood of ecosystem recovery. Unfortunately, little is known about the chemical and biological recovery trajectories in impacted ecosystems. Lakes are particularly sensitive to such pollution events as they accumulate any upstream pollutants. Recovery in lakes following pollution control may be delayed by in-lake accumulation of harmful red mud constituents (e.g. As, Fe and V) within sediments. Bioaccumulation of metals and metalloids, and subsequent biomagnification through the aquatic foodweb, may further confound ecological recovery over the long-term (years to decades). Finally, red mud contains high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen and ecological and chemical recovery “end points” may reflect a more eutrophic, tangental state. To date, no ecosystem scale assessment of red mud impact-response-recovery trajectories has been documented in an impacted lake. Additionally, research is urgently required to identify methods to enhance ecosystem recovery.


A unique opportunity has arisen for CEH, in collaboration with Edinburgh University and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, to lead the first whole-lake study designed to assess the ecosystem responses of lakes to red mud pollution and management. This project will utilise an unpublished long-term data set spanning a period of red mud impact-response-recovery (1954-present; Kinghorn Loch, Fife, Scotland) in combination with targeted contemporary field work and experimental manipulations to:

1. quantify the impact-response-recovery trajectories (i.e. seasonal and annual trends) of a range of ecosystem ecology indicators;
2. investigate interactions/similarities between As and P across the sediment-water interface during the recovery period;
3. assess current levels of metal/metalloid bioaccumulation in the aquatic food web and compare with estimates from the mid to late 1980s; and
4. assess the use of adsorbent materials (e.g. Fe-ochre and lanthanum-bentonite clay) for the dual control of As and P in contaminated lakes.


The successful candidate (to be based at CEH Edinburgh) will enjoy training within world class laboratory facilities (CEH and Edinburgh University) combining analytical chemistry suites, dedicated experimental facilities and microscopy suites. Training (to RYA level 2) will be provided in the use of power boats and sampling equipment required to conduct unsupervised routine open water collection of lake water and sediment samples. Specialised field work will include quantitative sampling of fish, macroinvertebrates, zooplankton, phytoplankton and macrophytes communities followed by tissue preparation and metal analysis for bioaccumulation studies. Training in data collection and management procedures, the use of the statistical software R for multivariate and trend analysis, scientific writing and mesocosm experiment techniques for quantifying sediment-water chemical interactions will be provided. The student will enjoy the academic benefits of collaboration between CEH, SEPA and Edinburgh University including participation in a structured, vibrant and varied post-graduate community as well as access to the wider ecosystem ecology research field.

Funding Notes

CEH is committed to a high quality graduate training programme to ensure that the successful candidate has access to opportunities to develop their career, skills and experience. For eligible students a stipend is provided by NERC (£13,650 for 2010-11 academic year) who also pay fees. Please refer to the CEH website at www.ceh.ac.uk for details of our scientific research and to the NERC website at http://www.nerc.ac.uk/funding/available/postgrad/ for details of funding eligibility.


To apply for this studentship please send to the contact supervisor your up to date CV including details of courses and subjects studied, details of two referees, and a cover letter detailing why you are suited to this PhD.

Important Requirements:
An aptitude for solving complex problems is important, as is a willingness to work hard.
Someone who enjoys travelling and fieldwork would get on particularly well in this project.
Evidence of having read more about the project is important.
Some background in a related field would be an advantage.
An ability to enthusiastically communicate research findings to an international audience is important.

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