Project Highlights:

  • Unique opportunity to work side by side with the Environment Agency and directly feed research into river basin management practice
  • Use cutting edge methodology based on the integration of next generation water quality sensor-networks and catchment modelling
  • Interdisciplinary supervisory team and opportunities for close involvement in international research and training networks

Pollution and water quality concerns within river networks are one of the biggest environmental and health problems facing the planet, impacting water, food, and ecosystem security. However, we are currently experiencing a technological revolution in environmental monitoring, changing paradigms in water quality and pollution sensing to new frontiers that open up unprecedented opportunities for taking the pulse of water quality extremes in complex landscapes. Instead of taking water samples in the field and transporting them back into the laboratory for subsequent analysis, the recent sensor revolution enables the monitoring of water quality in-situ, that is, in real-time and directly where it occurs. These technological advances enable to not only efficiently monitor the continuous long-term behaviour of water quality and pollution transport but also to more adequately capture the event characteristics of dynamic flow and pollution events, including water quality extremes. This project will work at the forefront of these developments to directly improve the way we detect, monitor, and prevent pollution of river networks.

Recent interdisciplinary research has triggered the development of useful metrics for the identification of pollution source zone activation in river basins. However, so far such analyses have been limited to the monitoring of single pollutants and single locations.

This PhD project will pioneer the combined and integrated development of novel types of water quality sensor networks and numerical models of in order improve the mechanistic understanding of the evolution of source area activation across the catchment continuum. It will therefore push current paradigms in in-situ water quality monitoring technologies (such as absorbance and fluorescence probes, Figure 1 left) as well as river basin scale water quality monitoring in order to identify event-based dynamics of pollution sources. The findings of this study will directly support the development of more evidence based prediction and management of river basin management.


Cnceptual model of event-based variability in pollution source zone activation as derived from high-frequency water quality monitoring data (right)


This PhD project will develop novel in-situ water quality monitoring sensors based on the application of absorbance and fluorescence-based sensor technologies and integrate these with numerical modelling approaches of the river basin wide fate and transport of pollutants. To capture the spatial evolution and interactions of pollution source zone activations along complex river network structures, this study will combine field experimental findings with the development of numerical water quality models.

Training and Skills

Students will receive expert training in the development and field applications of absorbance and fluorescence based in-situ water quality monitoring. Training will be provided by interdisciplinary experts and interlinked with international training and development programmes of the supervisors as well as benefit from the Birmingham Summer School. There will also be the opportunity for collaboration and training with a range of international partners (including Critical Zone Observatories in the US; IRSTEA and University of Lyon, France). This project also offers the unique opportunity to help translate science into basin management practice, through the close involvement and collaboration with the Environment Agency.


Year 1: Development and lab-based testing and validation of in-situ sensors and installation of water quality sensor networks

Year 2: Deriving of event-based water quality metrics based on high-frequency sensor results and identification of time-dynamic pollution source zone activation, Co-development of catchment fate and transport models

Year 3: Validation and scenario simulation of river-basin wide pollution fate and transport model for the prediction of water quality fluctuations during extreme events (storm flow and droughts).

The project will deploy an integrated interdisciplinary approach that combines cutting-edge field- and modelling-based analysis techniques.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

The project is directly supported by the EA (Environment Agency) with a CASE studentship (including £1,000 p.a.) and will be supported by close collaborations with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) in sensor network development and design.

Further Details

This project has been selected as a CENTA Flagship project. This is based on the projects fulfilment of specific characteristics e.g., NERC CASE support, collaboration with our CENTA high-level end-users, diversity of the supervisory team, career development of the supervisory team, collaboration with one of our Research Centre Partners (BGS, CEH, NCEO, NCAS), or a potential applicant co-development of the project.