Professor Richard Thompson (School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth)
Dr Richard Cooper (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia)
Dr Sabine Lengger (School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Plymouth)
The media spotlight on plastic pollution in recent years has translated into an urgent call for action by the public, policy makers and industry. While the ubiquity of microplastic pollution within marine ecosystems is widely recognised (Law and Thompson, 2014), less attention has focussed on plastic materials transported from rural catchment sources to rivers (Windsor et al., 2019).
This project aims to deliver novel information on the types, abundance and transport pathways of plastic pollution from rural catchments to rivers. There has been a dramatic increase in the use of plastics in agriculture (sheeting, polymer coating on agrochemicals etc) to increase sustainability of UK food production. While polymer-based agricultural products are often marketed as ‘bio-degradable’, there is a dearth of knowledge regarding environmental behaviour of degradation products, transfer via soil erosion from land to aquatic ecosystems and residence time therein.
The interdisciplinary research methodology will integrate hydrological (land-water connectivity, Blake et al., 2020), environmental forensic (sediment fingerprinting and residence time, Blake et al., 2018) and analytical sciences (Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) Spectroscopy, gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GCMS)) (Watteau et al., 2018) to develop novel quantitative evidence of plastic pollution in catchment soil and river sediment transfers and sinks. Results will inform development of a scalable and transferable mapping tool of sources and quantities of plastic pollution in catchments linked to the Westcountry Rivers Trust mission within an EU Intereg programme Preventing Plastic Pollution (PPP). Study sites are the Tamar (South Devon) and Wensum (Norfolk) catchments drawing on wider data from the Defra Demonstration Test Catchment programme.
Working alongside current NERC, BBSRC and EU research programmes, training will be given in advanced catchment survey and sampling, soil and sediment sampling protocols and the above state-of-the-art analytical and diagnostic methodologies. They will gain experience working within an ISO9001 certified framework. CASE partner, Westcountry Rivers Trust, will provide multidisciplinary training in applied data and evidence application and policy development.
The successful candidate will have a degree in environmental sciences, geography or related discipline with experience in river basin processes, environmental diagnostic tools (field- and laboratory-based), and /or Geographical Information Systems (GIS) applications.