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Overview

Project Highlights:

  • Development of a brand new instrument to measure the concentration and fluxes of a wide range of water soluble air pollutants in the gas and aerosol phase
  • Investigate the sources of particulate matter and the surface-atmosphere exchange of air pollutants in both rural and urban environments of the UK and S Asia
  • Perform the first measurements of the emission / deposition of organic acids in the gas and aerosol phase


Air pollution is of concern for human health and the environment. The Global Burden of Disease estimates that poor air quality accounts for the premature deaths of 5.5 million people annually across the world. To mitigate air pollution it is necessary to first identify and quantify the sources of air pollutants, as well as understand their fate in terms of chemical transformations in the atmosphere and their deposition to ecosystems. To address this challenge, an instrument is being developed called the Monitor for AeRosols and GAses Flux system for water-soluble Inorganic and Organic compounds (MARGA- FIO). The MARGA-FIO will measure online by ion chromatography both the water soluble components of particulate matter (PM) and trace gases in the atmosphere. This CASE studentship will work closely with the manufacturer of the instrument (Metrohm Applikon B.V.) in the development of the instrument. Fieldwork is expected to be carried out in the UK (Birmingham, London) and India during the studentship, as part of large national and international project consortia, although additional opportunities might arise. Potential areas of study, which will be refined in consultation with the student, include:

  1. Identifying sources of the PM in Birmingham at its urban supersite by investigating the composition of PM and the gas/aerosol partitioning of acids.
  2. Quantify emission and deposition rates of nitrogen air pollutants thereby providing a holistic picture of the impact of agriculture emissions on air pollution in India.
  3. Study of Delhi’s pollution sources from a 30 m measurement tower.
  4. Develop the MARGA-FIO for the study of organic pollutant fluxes, which will be a world first as this process has never been measured directly (Stieger et al., 2019)

The student will be based primarily at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Edinburgh, but registered with the University of Birmingham. The student will be expected to attend the required trainings in Birmingham. In addition, as part of this CASE studentship the student will be required to do a placement at Metrohm Applikon B.V., NL, where they will be provided training in the operation of the instrument and its optimisation for organic compounds.

Photograph of a potential fieldsite in Cuttack, India.

Methodology

The studentship will primarily focus on the application of the MARGA-FIO system and its further development for the concentration and flux measurement of organic compounds such as (di-)carboxylic acids and amines. The MARGA-FIO is a two-channel version of the brand new 2060 MARGA R (Metrohm, 2019), a denuder / aerosol collector with online analysis by ion chromatography, optimised for the measurement of concentration gradients from which emission / deposition fluxes of a wide range of inorganic and organic pollutants can be derived.

The profile system will be based on an earlier research instrument (GRAEGOR; Thomas et al. 2009). As well as learning the operation of the MARGA-FIO instrument the studentship will involve learning about micrometeorology, in order that the emission and deposition rates of the pollutants studied can be calculated (Ramsay et al. 2018).

Training and Skills

Both the University of Birmingham and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology have high quality training programmes for postgraduate students. Generic skills and professional skill courses include communication and safety. The student will be trained specifically on the instrumentation and field deployment operations as well as the micrometeorological theory that underpins flux measurement approaches. The student will be expected to present their results at meetings and to publish their work in the scientific literature. The student must have a solid numerical foundation, skills in analytical chemistry and/or scientific instrumentation with an interest in environmental issues.

Timeline

Year 1: Literature study, training on the principles of the MARGA-FIO instrument, first field deployments to NERC Urban supersite in Birmingham, in collaboration with the OSCA Intensive Observation Periods (Feb and June 2021; https://nerc.ukri.org/research/funded/programmes/clean-air/news/obs-periods/); development of ion chromatography for organic compounds at Metrohm-NL (Apr 2021)

Year 2: Development of the organic flux measurement (Autumn 2021), writing up of Birmingham measurements (Winter 2021/22) and testing at local CEH fieldsite (Spring 2022); flux measurements over an Indian Rice Paddy within context of UKRI GCRF S. Asia Nitrogen Hub (Spring/summer 2022).

Year 3: Measurements in Delhi (Jan 2023), writing of papers and completion of PhD thesis

Year 4: completion of PhD thesis

Though this is the currently envisaged timeline, there is flexibility within this project for the student to change the areas of interest following their literature review, as the primary aim of the studentship is the development and application of the MARGA-FIO instrument.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

The UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH) is a world-class research organisation focusing on land and freshwater ecosystems and their interaction with the atmosphere. The student will be based in the Biosphere-Atmosphere Exchange and Effects group which is led by Dr Eiko Nemitz.

The MARGA-FIO instrument was developed by Metrohm Applikon B.V., Netherlands, part of the Metrohm group of companies. Metrohm Applikon is highly specialized in the development of instrumentation and methods for continuous monitoring of air and water. Its analysis systems have been installed in a wide range of industries and institutes around the world.

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.

Contact Dr Chiara Di Marco (https://www.ceh.ac.uk/staff/chiara-di-marco) on cdma@ceh.ac.uk for further information on the studentship.