Understanding river pollution and its impacts on the past, present and future health of marine ecosystems

(GREENWOOD_UENV24ARIES) CASE studentship with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas)

Understanding river pollution and its impacts on the past, present and future health of marine ecosystems

(GREENWOOD_UENV24ARIES) CASE studentship with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas)

Project Description


Dr Naomi Greenwood, University of East Anglia – Contact me

Dr Richard Cooper, University of East Anglia, School of Environmental Sciences

Dr Carolyn Graves, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas)

Dr Yi He, University of East Anglia, School of Environmental Sciences

Scientific Background

Pollutants dissolved in rivers and discharged into estuaries from sewage and industry harm the marine environment. In the UK, inputs of nutrients, heavy metals and other contaminants have been monitored since 1990 to support national and international marine ecosystem assessments [1,2]. Informed policymaking to improve coastal water quality, particularly in the context of a changing climate baseline, requires an improved process-focused understanding of current and historical pollution inputs.

Overarching Objective

To elucidate the past, present and future impacts of riverine inputs of pollutants on the UK’s coastal waters and the ecosystem services they provide in order to inform future policy decisions.

Research Questions

(1) What are the pollution inputs from unmonitored areas and what is their impact compared to reported discharges?

(2) Which chemical pollutant inputs are the most important to monitor when and where for understanding different aspects of coastal ecosystem health?

(3) How should the input monitoring programme be future-proofed for a changing climate baseline?

Research Methodology & Training

You will sit at the interface between terrestrial[3] and marine[4] science, applying an integrated cross-disciplinary catchment-to-coast approach[5]. You will use historical data as a tool to design strategic and focused new sample collection which will allow you to develop and test specific hypotheses on impacts. You will integrate new and legacy data from different sources into catchment and climate models, applying a range of analytical and statistical approaches to interrogate temporal and spatial relationships.

You will gain skills in

  • Environmental data analysis,
  • Riverine and estuarine sampling and biogeochemical analysis
  • Environmental assessment and advice, through engagement with national and international marine assessment expert advisory bodies.

You will work alongside catchment and climate scientists in UEA’s Water Security Research Centre and Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research as well as marine scientists at CASE partner Cefas through the Collaborative Centre for Sustainable Use of the Seas.

Person Specification

Suitable candidates will have a degree in environmental sciences or a related subject, an interest in catchment and marine science and policy, and a passion for data-driven problem solving alongside field and laboratory work.


  • 1 HM Government (2019) Nutrient inputs to UK regional seas. Assessment of Pressures from Human Activities: Eutrophication. United Kingdom Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS). UK Marine Online Assessment Tool. https://moat.cefas.co.uk/pressures-from-human-activities/eutrophication/nutrient-inputs/
  • 2 Devlin, M., Ruiter, H., Axe, P., Leujak, W., Prins, T., Heyden, B. (2023) Eutrophication Thematic Assessment. OSPAR Quality Status Report 2023. https://oap.ospar.org/en/ospar-assessments/quality-status-reports/qsr-2023/thematic-assessments/eutrophication/Devlin, M., Ruiter, H., Axe, P., Leujak, W., Prins, T., Heyden, B. (2023) Eutrophication Thematic Assessment. OSPAR Quality Status Report 2023. https://oap.ospar.org/en/ospar-assessments/quality-status-reports/qsr-2023/thematic-assessments/eutrophication/
  • 3 Cooper, R.J., Hiscock, K.M. (2023) Two decades of the EU Water Framework Directive: Evidence of success and failure from a lowland arable catchment (River Wensum, UK). Science of the Total Environment 869: 161837. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.161837
  • 4 Greenwood, N., Devlin, M.J., Best, M., Fronkova, L., Graves, C.A., Milligan, A., Barry, J., van Leeuwen, S.M. (2019) Utilizing eutrophication assessment directives from transitional to marine systems in the Thames Estuary and Liverpool Bay, UK. Frontiers in Marine Science 6: 116. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2019.00116
  • 5 Brodie, J.E., Kroon, F.J., Schaffelke, B., WOlanski, E.C., Lewis, S.E., Devlin, M.J., Bohnet I.C., Brainbridge, Z.T., Waterhouse, J., Davis, A.M. Terrestrial pollutant runoff to the Great Barrier Reef: An update of issues, priorities and management response. Marine Pollution Bulletin 65: 81-100. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2011.12.012

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2024. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 10th January 2024.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£18,622 p.a. for 2023/24) and research funding. International applicants are eligible for fully-funded ARIES studentships including fees. Please note however that ARIES funding does not cover additional costs associated with relocation to, and living in, the UK. We expect to award between 4 and 6 studentships to international candidates in 2024.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences, on top of all Research Costs associated with the project. 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.
  • 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 non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past 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 follow the instructions at the bottom of the page or click the 'apply now' link.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.
  • ARIES funding is subject to UKRI terms and conditions. Postgraduate Researchers are expected to live within reasonable distance of their host organisation for the duration of their studentship. See https://www.ukri.org/publications/terms-and-conditions-for-training-funding/ for more information

Applications open

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