Funded Opportunity: Microplastics: All Up in the Air?


Funded Opportunity: Microplastics: All Up in the Air?


Project Description


Professor Alex Baker (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia) contact me

Dr Andrew Mayes (School of Chemistry, University of East Anglia)

Professor Peter Liss (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia)

Project Background

Plastics, including microplastics (<5mm), are found in oceans globally, where there is much concern about possible harmful effects on marine life.  Their route of entry to the marine environment is often seen as via rivers acting as conduits following production on land, but despite ever-increasing research efforts, the possible role of the atmosphere is rarely considered.  This leads to our underlying research question: Is there a significant pathway of microplastics to the marine environment through the atmosphere?

Wind-borne microplastics would travel further and faster than those transported down rivers.  Atmospheric transport would also help to explain why microplastics have been found in very remote parts of the world (e.g. polar snow).

Research Methodology

Data on microplastics in the atmosphere are desperately needed to test this hypothesis quantitatively.   We have a large and geographically widespread archive of marine aerosol samples. This resource covers several of the major continental – ocean atmospheric transport routes, and puts us in a unique position to study global atmospheric microplastics transport.  British Antarctic Survey will supply snow and ice samples from polar regions for analysis.

The Mayes group (UEA Chemistry) has pioneered rapid and low-cost fluorescence-based analytical methods for microplastics and has a well-equipped laboratory set up for rigorous microplastics analysis, with access to FT-IR microscopy.  A new confocal Raman microscope (arriving 2021) will also be available to enhance capability in identifying and quantifying microplastics in the samples.


You will learn state-of-the-art analytical methods for the determination of microplastics in the environment. The application of these micro-scale techniques will be coupled with understanding of large-scale atmospheric transport and deposition processes. Ultimately you will be able to synthesise the novel information that you acquire over a range of spatial scales and determine the global impacts of an emerging issue of great concern to society. Opportunities may arise to interact with international science advisory bodies through the supervisors’ involvement with the United Nations GESAMP (

Person Specification

We seek a numerically-able candidate keen to develop interests in the marine and atmospheric environments and state-of-the-art analysis techniques.


  • 1. Powell C.F., Baker A.R., Jickells T.D., Bange H.W., Chance R., Yodle C. (2015). Estimation of the atmospheric flux of nutrients and trace metals to the eastern tropical North Atlantic Ocean. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, 72, 4029-4045.
  • 2. Baker A.R, T.D. Jickells. (2017). Atmospheric deposition of soluble trace elements along the Atlantic Meridional Transect (AMT), Progress in Oceanography, 158, 41-51.
  • 3. Maes, T., Jessop, R., Wellner, K., Haupt, K., Mayes, A.G. (2017). A rapid-screening approach to detect and quantify microplastics based on fluorescent tagging with Nile Red. Scientific Reports 7, doi: 10.1038/srep44501
  • 4. Duncan, E.M., Broderick, A.C., Fuller, W.J., Galloway, T.S., Godfrey, M.H., Hamann, M., Limpus, C.J., Lindeque, P.K., Mayes, A.G., Omeyer, L.C.M., Santillo, D., Snape, R.T.E. & Godley, B.J. (2019). Microplastic ingestion ubiquitous in marine turtles. Global Change Biology 25: 744-752.
  • 5. Liss, P.S. (2020). Microplastics: All up in the air? Marine Pollution Bulletin 153,

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2021. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2021.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) and research funding. For the first time in 2021/22 international applicants (EU and non-EU) will be eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside significant relevant non-academic experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship click on the “Apply now” link below.

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