Microplastic sources and interactions from catchment to coast

Theme: Environmental Hazards & Pollution

Primary Supervisor:

Kate Spencer

School of Geography, QMUL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Geraldene Wharton

School of Geography, QMUL

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Project Description:

The accelerating global release of microplastics (mP) into the aquatic environment seems inevitable, with long-term consequences for water quality and biodiversity. Managing plastics in the environment and ensuring effective intervention policies and practices requires an understanding of mP source, transport and fate. There has been a significant amount of research exploring the occurrence of mP in environmental media (e.g., water, sediment, soil) and examining uptake and impacts on aquatic organisms (Woodall et al., 2014; Ivar do Sul & Costa, 2014) particularly in marine environments. However, much less is known of their wider impact on ecosystem functioning.

This PhD will focus on the sources of mPs, how they interact with fine sediment and their fluxes from catchment to coast in association with carbon, microbiota and sediment. Particular areas of interest could include the fate of mP as they transition from fresh to saline water conditions (i.e. estuaries and deltas), the interactions between mP and fine sediment and impacts for sediment flux or release of degraded mPs from the UK’s > 1200 historic coastal landfills that are at risk from tidal storm surges, flooding, sea level rise and erosion (Brand et al. 2017; Brand and Spencer 2019).

This PhD is aligned with the EU Interreg IV project Preventing Plastic Pollution and could include Case Partners – Deltares or the Environment Agency.

Deltares are an independent research institute for applied water research specializing in coastal and delta systems. They provide fundamental science expertise in the fields of coastal systems, sediment transport modelling and coastal management and host state-of-the-art large-scale flume and wave basin facilities, and well-equipped sediment and soil laboratories for applied research and sample characterisation. They have an excellent track record in translating science into real-world management solutions, delivering high-impact science, and successfully managing major projects (including running very large EU-funded pure and applied science projects).

Policy Impact of Research:

Improved understanding of how microplastics are transported from catchment to coast will have impacts for compliance with Water Framework Directive, whilst an understanding of how different types of plastic impact wide ecosystem functioning can inform the development of new intervention policies on plastic reduction.

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