Dr Andrew Mayes (School of Chemistry, University of East Anglia)
Professor Peter Liss (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia)
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).
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 (www.gesamp.org).
We seek a numerically-able candidate keen to develop interests in the marine and atmospheric environments and state-of-the-art analysis techniques.