Overview

Despite reasonable progress in understanding the transport and fate of microplastics in the worlds oceans, the sources, transport and fate of microplastics in freshwater environments are still critically under-researched.

In particular, the mechanisms controlling the transport and accumulation of different types of plastics are still unknown. This knowledge gap has critical consequences also for understanding how plasticisers such as Bisphenol-A (BPA) can be released from decaying microplastics in accumulation hotspots such as streambed sediments. BPA, as an endocrine disrupting substance is posing a severe thread to environmental and public health.

This project will pioneer investigations into the accummulation of microplastics at terrestrial - aquatic interfaces such as streambed environments.

It will investigate the mechanisms of potential BPA release during the physical and chemical breakdown of microplastics in freshwater environments and develop urgently needed understanding of the patterns and dynamics of microplastic accumulation and decay hotspots in freshwater systems.

Accumulation of macro-plastics in freshwater environments

Methodology

The project will combine a unique portfolio of in-situ monitoring and sampling technologies with cutting-edge manipulation experiments within the University of Birmingham ECOLAB facility.

In-situ monitoring at selected urban river observatories (embedded within international monitoring programmes and potential for fieldwork in the UK and India) will provide crucial baseline data of microplastics distributions and composition in streambed environments. This information will be used to design physical scenarios for analysing the impact of multiple drivers and controls on microplastics accummulation in streambed environments as well as their potential decay and BPA release.

In addition to cutting-edge in-situ sensing technologies, the project will develop and use a wide range of  analytical facilities, both, at UoB and BGS which include excitation emmision spectroscopy,  raman spectroscopy, as well as particle size analysis.

Training and Skills

CENTA students are required to complete 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10 day placement. In the first year, students will be trained as a single cohort on environmental science, research methods and core skills. Throughout the PhD, training will progress from core skills sets to master classes specific to the student's projects and themes. 

The project will additionally provide unique international training opportunities within the recent HiFreq H2020 RISE project lead by Prof. Krause. This includes wide ranging opportunities for collaboration during fully funded research visits or participation in international training courses at more than 20 European, US, AUS and NZ partner institutions.

Timeline

Year 1: Development of field monitoring programme and sampling strategy, in-situ and lab analytical methodology and characterisation of streambed microplastic assemblages and plasticiser concentrations in selected UK rivers and India

Year 2: Investigation of microplastics decay and BPA release for different types of microplastics and plasticisers

Year 3: Design and conduction of mesocosm based manipulation experiments, exploring impacts of multiple drivers and environmental controls on microplastics accumulation, fate and BPA release

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

PhD project benefits from supervision by two of the world’s leading research groups.

The UoB research team has been leading research into ecohydrological and biogeochemical processing in hyporheic and riparian zones, with a strong focus on the development of novel experimental technologies and modelling techniques to quantify the interplay of physical, biogeochemical and ecological processes at the interfaces between groundwater and surface water under the impact of global environmental change.

The research team of the BGS CASE partner has been at the forefront of research into the fate and transport of emerging pollutants as well as undertaking world leading studies into the occurrence of emerging contaminants in aquatic systems.

Beside the standard NERC PhD funding, the project is supported by BUFI CASE and additional contributions from the HiFreq H2020 RISE project, providing unique training and international exchange opportunities.

Further Details

For further information about the project or the CENTA PhD programme, please do not hesitate to contact the supervisory team by email under the addresses given above.