Project code



School of the Environment, Geography, and Geosciences

Start dates

October, February and April

Application deadline


This project is now closed. The details below are for information purposes only. Please see the Earth and Environmental Science Postgraduate Research Degrees page for further opportunities. 

The PhD will be based in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and will be supervised by Professor Alex Ford and Dr Kari Lehtonen.

The health of organisms and ecosystems is challenged by emerging new classes of anthropogenic chemical pollutants such as pharmaceuticals. After excretion, many human pharmaceuticals pass through wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) practically without marked retention or degradation, while veterinary medicines can enter water courses directly, all ending up in the sea.

In sewage and surface waters, the occurrence of various pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, beta-adrenergic receptor antagonist drugs (β- blockers), hormones and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), has been frequently reported in the ng L−1 to low μg L−1 range. Since pharmaceuticals have been designed to be effective at very low concentrations they are also likely to cause effects in non-target biota when released to the environment.

Commonly used pharmaceuticals belonging to different therapeutic classes are present in the aquatic environment as mixtures. In a recent survey, completed by 535 environmental scientists from 57 countries, the effects of pharmaceuticals in mixtures on non-target organisms has been considered as one of the most important research priorities regarding the risks of pharmaceuticals in the environment.

The aim of project is to develop a pharmaceutical environmental risk assessment by investigating the effects of pharmaceuticals on key aquatic invertebrate species (Mytilus trossulus and Gammarus oceanicus).

The specific objectives of the project are to (1) examine the uptake and sub-lethal effects of diclofenac, carbamazepine and fluoxetine at different biological levels (biochemical, cellular, physiological); (2) investigate the links between exposure responses to the aforementioned pharmaceuticals at different biological levels. The study will be carried out with species from two different geographical regions: (1) southern coast of U.K., a full marine temperate environment (Solent), and (2) southern coast of Finland, a brackish water subarctic/ temperate environment (Baltic Sea), and will focus on environmentally realistic concentrations of selected pharmaceuticals and their mixtures, studied experimentally under different environmental conditions (salinity, temperature).

This project is a collaborative study between the University of Portsmouth, U.K. and the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, Helsinki, Finland and as such, fieldwork and laboratory studies will be undertaken in both countries. You will gain laboratory and fieldwork based skills relating to aquatic ecotoxicology, marine and brackish ecosystems. This project would suit a candidate with a background in Biology, Environmental Science, Toxicology, or a closely related field.

A willingness to participate in international fieldwork and to adopt a hands-on approach to laboratory work will be an advantage but training will be provided. The University has an active Graduate School offering general postgraduate training alongside the more specialist subject specific training (via PGRS Moodle). In addition you will have access to Graduate School Development Programme and Department Postgraduate Researcher Training

Fees and funding

Funding availability: Self-funded PhD students only. 

PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the UK Government Doctoral Loan (UK and EU students only).

Entry requirements

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in a relevant subject area. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or Qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

How to apply

We’d encourage you to contact Professor Alex Ford or Dr Kari Lehtonen to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form and select ‘Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences’ as the subject area. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. 

Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.

If you want to be considered for this PhD opportunity quote the project code SEES4481018 when applying.

October start

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February start

Apply now