Microplastic-sediment interactions (MiPSi)

Theme: Earth, Atmosphere & Ocean Processes

Primary Supervisor:

Kate Spencer

School of Geography, QMUL

Kate Spencer's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Geraldene Wharton

School of Geography, QMUL

Geraldene Wharton's Profile Picture

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. Whilst much has been reported on the occurrence of mP in environmental media (e.g., surface waters, sediment, soils) and potential uptake and impacts on aquatic biota (Woodall et al., 2014; Ivar do Sul & Costa, 2014), virtually nothing is known of their wider impacts on ecosystem functioning, particularly outside the marine environment.

mP are hydrophobic, yet once they enter the aquatic environment they are quickly colonized by microbial biofilm and interact with fine minerogenic suspended sediment, forming mP-aggregates in the water column. The overall aim of this PhD is to understand how mPs modify the flux of suspended sediment, and associated carbon, nutrients and pollutants to the marine environment. We will focus on understanding how mPs associate with sediment and how mP modify the settling characteristics of suspended sediments as they transition from fresh to saline water conditions (i.e. estuaries and deltas). The PhD will be conducted with project partners, Deltares, who are currently working on heavily mP-polluted sediments (8% vol) from the Rhine Delta and Port of Rotterdam. There will be an opportunity to spend 3 months at Deltares’ research facilities in Delft, Netherlands where you will focus on learning techniques to understand fine sediment dynamics and transport.

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.

CASE Partner:


Stay informed

Click here to subscribe to our RSS newsletter by email.

Find Us

University College London is the administrative lead.

Pearson Building, UCL, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT

Follow us on Twitter