Phosphorus Fate and Management on The Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar Ditch Systems

University of Plymouth - School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Science

Director of Studies: Dr Sean Comber (, tel.: 01752 585974)
2nd Supervisor: Professor Will Blake (, tel.: 01752 585969)
3rd Supervisor: Professor Tom Hutchinson (, tel.: 01752 584469)

Applications are invited for a 3.5 year PhD studentship which will start on January 1st 2018.

Project Description

The balance of evidence suggests that surface waters in the ditch systems of the Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar are elevated in nutrients and are subject to hyper-eutrophication. Most of the monitoring sites exceed set standards for phosphate. The highest concentrations of phosphate (P) across the system were found in August and key inlet sites showed consistently higher concentrations of P in comparison to sites within the ditch system, which are less connected to inputs from surface drainage. P concentrations correlated with ammoniacal nitrogen and nitrite and this was more pronounced at sites where agricultural activity was more intensive, suggesting potential for diffuse inputs from areas of livestock grazing. Sporadic increases in nutrient concentrations at some sites during the winter period may be related to drainage management.

The proposed PhD will focus on: the partitioning of P between sediment, water column, algae/Lemna and emergent macrophytes, and the factors affecting this, such as flow, water levels, seasonality and physico-chemical interactions (eg. dissolved oxygen). In addition to the process science, the project will include the potential feasibility of reducing the internal cycling and bioavailability by investigating the interactions between water level management and the operation of structures and nutrient dynamics; the effects of winter flooding; the optimum frequency of de-silting and weed cutting in the ditches and ways of exporting nutrients from the system (ie. how to deal with dredgings); the luxury uptake of P by Lemna and the possibility of ‘harvesting’ Lemna and other macroalgae to reduce internal cycling and to export nutrients.


Applicants should have a first or upper second class honours degree in an appropriate subject and preferably a relevant MSc or MRes qualification. The successful candidate will require access to a car for frequent travel and transportation of equipment and samples between the study site and Plymouth.

The studentship is supported for 3.5 years and includes full Home/EU tuition fees plus a stipend of £14,553 per annum. The studentship will only fully fund those applicants eligible for Home/EU fees with relevant qualifications. Applicants normally required to cover overseas fees will have to cover the difference between Home/EU and overseas tuition fee rates (approximately £10,350 per annum).

If you wish to discuss this project informally, please contact Dr Sean Comber,

General information about applying for  research degrees at Plymouth University is available at:

Please apply via the online application form here: and click ‘Apply’.

Please mark it FAO Sharon Healy, clearly stating that you are applying for a PhD studentship within the School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Science. Please attach a covering letter detailing your suitability for the studentship, a CV and 2 academic references.

For more information on the admissions process please contact Sharon Healy (

The closing date for applications is midnight on 15October 2017. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview week beginning 6 November 2017. We regret that we may not be able to respond to all applications. 

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South West England