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Marine Microplastics - From Source to Sink (6 PhD Scholarships)

University of Hull

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Hull
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: £14,777 maintenance + fees at 'home/EU' student rate
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 13th November 2018
Closes: 23rd January 2019

To celebrate the University's research successes, the University of Hull is offering a full-time UK/EU PhD Scholarship or International Fees Bursary for candidates applying for each of the following projects.

Studentships will start on 16th September 2019

Summary of Cluster

Since the onset of mass production of plastics in the 1950’s the flux of plastics to the marine environment has been a growing problem (Cole at al., 2011), such that microplastic contamination of the oceans is now one of the world’s most pressing environmental concerns (Hurley et al., 2018). Recent work highlights how such materials have been found in the full range of ocean environments from the depths of the deepest ocean trenches (Woodall et al., 2014; Fischer et al., 2015; Frid and Caswell 2017)) to coastal seas around the ice-capped poles (Waller et al., 2017; Lusher et al., 2015, Obbard et al., 2014). Microplastic pollution is known to be interacting with organisms and entering primary levels of the marine food chain (Cole et al., 2013) causing a range of unidentified and unquantified ecological outcomes. Critically, we have little understanding of the complex biological, bio-physical and bio-chemical interactions associated with the ingestion of microplastics and how this influences their fate and the fate of marine ecosystems. Significant research is therefore needed to address some of the critical gaps in our knowledge of microplastics in the marine environment. This will be achieved by a cluster of 6 PhDs investigating the physical processes and dynamics of plastic particles from fluvial source zones, through estuarine stores to marine sinks, the ecological impacts on remote and local environments and the ecophysiological and ecotoxicological effects on individual species and ecosystems.

The cluster objectives are:

[1] To quantify ecological and biological effects of microplastics on marine ecosystems and marine invertebrate physiology  (1-2; 5-6).

[2] Determine the flux, types and concentrations of micro-plastic debris exiting major riverine and estuarine systems, into the coastal and wider ocean (projects 3-4).

Summary of PhD Project 1: ,Plastic invasion of remote foodwebs

Supervised by Dr. Cath Waller1, Dr Magnus Johnson1 , Dr David Barnes2, Dr Alexis Janosik3 & Dr Will Goodall-Copestake2

1University of Hull, 2British Antarctic Survey, 3University of West Florida

In the last half century macro- & micro-plastics are invaded remote environments, evidenced by rapid increases in sea surface and shore surveys. Close to urban centres and in semi-enclosed seas it is clear that plastic has made multiple and considerable impacts into the foodweb particularly at higher trophic levels. In more remote localities, such as the polar regions, initial reports suggested negative interactions with higher predators, but this is likely to be spreading through trophic levels and ecological guilds. This PhD would investigate polar samples from the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (2016-17), ICEBERGS (2017-19), ChAOS  (2017-19) and Atlantic samples from JR17004 ODA (2018-19). Faunal samples would be investigated for entanglement and stomach contents, and suspected microplastics verified using FTIR microscopy techniques. Results would be investigated along environment (surface vs water column vs seabed), habitat (e.g. soft vs hard substrata), trophic, guild, taxonomic and age lines to assess contrasts in ubiquity, density and impact of potential plastic invasion. As such, that we are aware of, this would break ground as a plastic study by using such a holistic matrix investigation of presence and impact across ecological characters of environment and organism. These results would be compared with background plastic levels in the abiotic environment. Literature work would be undertaken to evaluate what the main source types and geography of plastics are and whether there are viable, scaleable solutions emerging (to reduction and removal). 

Applicants should have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level research qualification in a relevant discipline (Ecology, Biology/, Marine Biology, Environmental Science, or related). A 2:1 may be considered, if combined with relevant experience. Additionally, experience of working in the field and knowledge of marine ecosystems would be beneficial.   

Contact Dr Cath Waller (C.l.Waller@hull.ac.uk) for further information. 

Summary of PhD Project 2. The impacts of microplastic pollution on UK intertidal food webs

Supervised by Dr Bryony Caswell and Dr Catherine Waller (University of Hull)

As most microplastics enter the sea near the coast they are abundant in intertidal sediments, but there has been limited research on the spatial patterns of accumulation or the impacts on marine food webs. This studentship will investigate microplastic bioavailability to higher predators in intertidal food webs, and assess which are at greatest risk from ingestion. Intertidal sediment, water samples and macroinvertebrates will be collected from the Humber estuary and used to determine microplastic concentrations. We will assess which prey species accumulate microplastics, and why (e.g. due to their particular biological traits). Using this information the bioavailability of microplastics to higher predators will be estimated and the taxa at greatest risk from ingestion will be identified. This information will help to inform future management targets for the monitoring and conservation of ecologically and/or commercially important fish and birds.

This project will provide training in: cutting edge techniques for the extraction, identification and quantification of microplastics (using FTIR); field and laboratory techniques for sampling benthic macrofauna and the physicochemical properties of the environment; the taxonomic identification of marine invertebrates; experimental design and statistical techniques. This training is in addition to university research skills training.

Applicants should have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level research qualification in a relevant discipline. A 2:1 may be considered, if combined with relevant experience. It is anticipated that the successful applicant will have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level qualification. Additionally, experience of working in the field and knowledge of marine ecosystems would be beneficial. Contact Dr Bryony Caswell on b.a.caswell@hull.ac.uk for more information.

Summary of PhD Project 3: Quantifying and modelling global large river fluxes of microplastics

Supervised by Dr Christopher Hackey, Dr Robert Dorrell & Professor Dan Parsons

The world’s largest rivers, “mega-rivers”, are vital transport vectors that support unique natural environments and act as conduits for global growth and development. Research has demonstrated that there are significant volumes of plastic found in relatively clean, small-scale rivers and it has been estimated that plastic pollution in heavily polluted rivers is much worse, with the top 20 polluting rivers contributing >67% of waste to the world’s oceans. Despite this, no systematic study of plastic transport in mega-rivers has yet been undertaken. This studentship will develop novel remote sensing methodologies, in combination with targeted fieldwork to map and monitor the fluxes, sources and transport routes through a range of the world’s largest river systems. This data will be combined with numerical modelling to refine our estimates of large river discharges of microplastics across longitudinal and socio-economic gradients. Applicants should have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level research qualification in a relevant discipline. A 2:1 may be considered, if combined with relevant experience. It is anticipated that the successful applicant will have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level qualification. Additionally, experience of working in the field and knowledge of marine ecosystems would be beneficial.

Contact Dr Christopher Hackney (C.Hackney@hull.ac.uk) for further details.

Summary of PhD Project 4: Modelling microplastic dispersal, settling and distribution in estuarine environments

Supervised by Dr Robert Dorrell, Dr Christopher Hackey,  & Professor Dan Parsons

Estuaries are ubiquitous features along the coastline where fluvial and marine environments meet and interact at a range of temporal and spatial scales. The interaction between river inputs (discharge and sediment load) and marine processes (tides, waves, sediment transport) create dynamic sedimentary basins which can act as temporary stores and sinks of sediment. Plastic particles may be seen as a new, anthropogenic sediment. Different types of plastics are transported at different rates. Low-density plastics are concentrated near the water surface whilst high-density plastics may be transported more slowly near the river-bed. With vertically increasing flow velocity low-density plastics may be transported most quickly but may be more easily trapped on floodplains as floods attenuate. Little is known about the fate of fluvially transported microplastic in estuarine environments. This studentship will focus on modelling the transport and settling rates of microplastics in the Humber Estuary, combining high resolution flow monitoring and sampling with state of the art numerical models to understand where and when microplastics are deposited in estuarine environments under differing fluvial and marine controls. Applicants should have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level research qualification in a relevant discipline. A 2:1 may be considered, if combined with relevant experience. It is anticipated that the successful applicant will have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level qualification. Additionally, experience of working in the field and knowledge of marine ecosystems would be beneficial.

Contact Dr Robert Dorrell (R.Dorrell@hull.ac.uk) for further details.

Summary of PhD Project 5: Stressing the stressed

Supervised by Katharina Wollenberg Valero, Jorg Hartege (University of Hull) & Dr. Valerie Smith, (University of St. Andrews)

An up-and-coming research topic related to changing oceans is on multiple environmental stressors producing adverse outcomes for population fitness such as disease susceptibility. This studentship will use this novel approach of combining multiple stressors in the laboratory to quantify these effects and extrapolate them to ecosystem scales. The project will investigate the fitness outcome resulting from the combination of environmental (pH) stress levels expected under climate change predictions with additional stress experienced through Microplastics. Fitness effects will be measured in form of immune challenges (e.g., experimental infection with bacterial pathogens). The outcome of this project is an estimator for the mathematical relationship between microplastic and additional stressors which will inform trait-based models of climate change impacts.

Applicants should have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level research qualification in a relevant discipline. A 2:1 may be considered, if combined with relevant experience. It is anticipated that the successful applicant will have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level qualification. Additionally, experience of lab techniques and knowledge of marine ecosystems would be beneficial. Contact Dr Katharina Wollenberg Valero ( K.Wollenberg-Valero@hull.ac.uk)  for futher details. 

Summary of PhD Project 6: The physiological effects of plastic ingestion

Supervised by Dr Jorg D Hartege, Dr Katharina Wollenberg Valero (University of Hull)  & Dr Simon Morley (British Antarctic Survey)

Understanding the physiological impacts of plastic ingestion is key to understanding the level of threat they pose to aquatic animals. Ingestion of plastics is expected to affect organism physiology through direct negative physical or chemical consequences and by reducing energy intake, which will lower physiological condition and may make them more susceptible to environmental challenge. This project will test the impacts of plastics on energy budgets, reproduction and escape response. Key taxonomic groups (molluscs and crustaceans) will be studied across latitudinal gradients from the Southern Ocean to temperate regions. We will experimentally manipulate and monitor these animals to understand whether polar species show similar responses to tropical and temperate species. The student may have the opportunity to undertake work at the British Antarctic Survey Rothera Research Station and BAS HQ in Cambridge.

Applicants should have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level research qualification in a relevant discipline. A 2:1 may be considered, if combined with relevant experience. It is anticipated that the successful applicant will have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level qualification. Additionally, experience of working in the field and knowledge of marine ecosystems would be beneficial. For further details contact Dr Jorg D Hardege ( j.d.hardege@hull.ac.uk) for further details.

To apply for these Scholarships please click on the Apply button above.

Full-time UK/EU and International PhD Scholarships will include fees at the ‘home/EU' student rate and maintenance (£14,777 in 2018/19) for three years, depending on satisfactory progress.

PhD students at the University of Hull follow modules for research and transferable skills development and gain a Masters level Certificate, or Diploma, in Research Training, in addition to their research degree.

Successful applicants will be informed of the award as soon as possible and by 15th March 2019 at the latest.

   
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