School of Geography

Microplastic-sediment interactions (MiPSi)

Supervisor(s): Professor Kate Spencer ( QMUL Geography), Professor Geraldene Wharton (QMUL Geography)

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 physical or biogeochemical ecosystem structure and functioning or how they are transported in the environment. 

This PhD will focus on the interactions between mP, microbiota and fine, muddy sediments as they are transported from catchment to coast. The overall aim of this PhD is to understand how mPs modify the flux of suspended sediment, carbon, nutrients and pollutants to the marine environment. We will focus on understanding the mechanisms of how mPs associate with sediment, and how mP might modify sediment behaviour, such as erosion and settling velocity. 

This project would suit someone with an undergraduate degree in environmental science, geoscience, oceanography or related disciplines. The project is likely to include both laboratory and field-based experiments with the opportunity to learn new techniques in 3D sediment analysis. Hence, strong numeracy and computing skills would be an advantage. 

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. 

How to apply 

Opportunities for funding include London NERC DTP and QMUL Principal’s Postgraduate Research Studentships. For further information about the project, eligibility and future application deadlines in 2019/20, please contact Professor Kate Spencer.