Funded PhD opportunities

Development of a passive sampling device for measurement of dissolved nutrients in surface waters and evaluation of its use for management of river catchments

  • Application end date: 11th February 2018
  • Funding Availability: Funded PhD project (EU/UK students only)
  • Department: School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
  • PhD Supervisor: Professor Gary Fones, Dr Sarah Reynolds, Professor Jim Smith

Project code: SEES4030218

Project description

Monitoring of nutrients (nitrogen [N] and phosphorus [P]) in water is important as these lead to eutrophication and algal blooms. Nutrients in surface waters are subject to environmental regulations. To fulfil these legislative requirements water samples are collected (~ monthly), analysed in the laboratory and data used to inform river catchment management plans. However, low frequency sampling fails to provide a representative picture of water quality, particularly when nutrient concentrations fluctuate due to storm events or pollution incidents. One method of overcoming this problem is the use of passive sampling devices (PSDs). These can be deployed for extended periods to continuously sequester chemicals. PSDs are available for metals, non-polar and polar organics. Recently there has been interest in extending this to nutrients. This project will develop a novel and robust PSD for measuring concentrations of N and P. Two available designs of sampler (Chemcatcher® and DGT) will be used as the basis for the development work. During this phase there will be input from University of South Australia (Adelaide, Australia) and Horizon Technology (Salem, USA) in selection of receiving phase materials. Design of deployment apparatus will be with Natural Resources Wales. Samplers will be evaluated in field trials so their utility can be assessed. A river catchment trial will be undertaken on the River Thames, where the devices will be evaluated against high frequency nutrient monitoring data. A trial in the Rivers Test and Itchen (impacted by phosphate) with Salmon and Trout Conservation UK; where samplers will be assessed alongside daily auto-sampling. Information from the River Thames will be used to investigate whether PSDs can improve existing models describing the distribution and fate of nutrients. Commercialisation activities will be in partnership with TelLab (Dublin, Ireland).

The project involves a multi-disciplinary team. The candidate will work alongside international experts in PSDs, a range of stakeholders and regulators. The student will gain experience in analytical techniques, fieldwork, data analysis and modelling. You will have access to the Graduate School Development Programme and Department Postgraduate Researcher Training. You will join the Environmental Processes and Impacts research group in SEES, comprising of eight academic staff and a vibrant community of researchers. The skills gained during this project will give you excellent career prospects for subsequent work in the environmental sector.

Supervisor profiles

Prof Gary Fones

Dr Sarah Reynolds

Professor Jim Smith

Admissions criteria

You’ll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (depending upon chosen course, minimum second class or equivalent) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. Exceptionally, equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications will be considered. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.  


Informal enquiries are encouraged and can be made to Prof Gary Fones at (02392 842252) or Dr Sarah Reynolds at (02392 842247).

For administrative and admissions enquiries please contact

How to Apply

You can apply online at  You are required to create an account which gives you the flexibility to save the form, log out and return to it at any time convenient to you.

A link to the online application form and comprehensive guidance notes can be found at

When applying, please quote project code: SEES4030218.

Interview date: TBC

Start date: October 2018.

Funding notes

The fully-funded, full-time three-year studentship provides a stipend that is in line with that offered by Research Councils UK of £14,553 per annum.

The above applies for Home/EU students only. 

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