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Funded PhD Opportunity

Sediment and nutrient pollution pressures, impacts and recovery in agricultural river catchments

Subjects: Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology and Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology


Summary

Context Water quality pressures from agriculture are widespread throughout the world and their reduction is recognised as a Sustainable Development Goal (Sachs et al. 2019). Agricultural land is particularly susceptible to producing sediment and nutrient pollution pressures and the impacts on river and lake ecosystems can be severe, persistent and enhanced by synergistic effects (Davis et al., 2018).

A challenge is to identify times and places of these pollution pressures and their corresponding impacts, and mitigate the pressures while maintaining profitable agriculture. Breaking the connection between source pressures on the land and impacts in water is considered a tool to increase the sustainability of intensive agriculture (Cassidy et al., 2019).

These issues are particularly pervasive across the island of Ireland and can be related to land cover and land use intensity, physiography and weather extremes in a changing climate (Mellander et al., 2018). Agri-environmental schemes are a way for farmers to reduce these pressures and are likely to become more important in future government policies.

In Northern Ireland the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) was introduced by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in 2017. EFS options include measures to break the connection between sediment and nutrient source pressures and river impacts by large-scale fencing of river reaches to exclude cattle from water.

The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), the Rivers Trust and UU are undertaking a study to gauge the effectiveness of the EFS, based in the Upper Bann and Ballinderry River catchments. This has an enhanced farmer engagement and monitoring programme,.

Aim and objectives;

The PhD researcher will work on this large-scale initiative and the aim is to develop a range of techniques to define risk and impact, and assess the EFS at different scales.

The objectives are to:

1.At river reach scale where areas of cattle access pressures have been defined, determine the extent of the sediment/nutrient pressure and benthic ecological impact at baseline and develop a standard operating procedure for monitoring recovery compared with controls.

2.Assess geomorphic bank erosion rates at cattle access control points relative to those subject to fencing and recovery.

3.Compare river reach scale pressures, impacts and recoveries against catchment scale sediment and nutrient flux to contextualise and assess upstream pressures associated with wider land use and climatic processes.

Methods will include sediment capture, particle size analysis and benthic algae monitoring (objective 1), terrestrial laser scanning and advanced 3D data analysis (objective 2), and high resolution water quality data capture and time-series analysis (objective 3).

References;

Sachs, J.D. et al. (2019). Six Transformations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Nature Sustainability. doi:10.1038/s41893-019-0352-9

Cassidy, R. et al. (2019). A carrying capacity framework for soil phosphorus and hydrological sensitivity from farm to catchment scales. Science of the Total Environment. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.05.453

Davis, S.J. (2018). Multiple-stressor effects of sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen on stream macroinvertebrate communities. Science of the Total Environment. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.05.052

Mellander, P.-E. et al. (2018). Integrated climate-chemical indicators of diffuse pollution from land to water. Scientific Reports. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-19143-1


Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 65%
  • Research project completion within taught Masters degree or MRES
  • Practice-based research experience and/or dissemination
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • A demonstrable interest in or experience of using open science methods

Funding

    The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:

    Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)

    Full award (full-time PhD fees + DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,000 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)

    Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £7,500 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)

    Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Department for the Economy (DFE)

    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to: www.ulster.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/postgraduate-research/fees-and-funding/financing-your-studies


Other information


The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Reviews

Profile picture of Michelle Clements Clements

Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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Profile picture of Carin Cornwall

I would highly recommend Ulster University as you get so much support.  Coleraine is a beautiful town and the people are so friendly. It was a really positive experience.

Carin Cornwall - PhD Environmental Sciences

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Key dates

Submission deadline
Friday 7 February 2020

Interview Date
March 2020


Applying

Apply Online  


Campus

Coleraine campus

Coleraine campus
The feeling of community at our Coleraine campus makes for a warm and welcoming student experience.


Contact supervisor

Professor Phil Jordan


Other supervisors

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