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Occurrence and fate of microplastics in river catchments

Dr Paul Kay (SoG), Dr Richard Grayson (SoG), Prof Jeanette Rotchell (Hull)

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Microplastics are tiny plastic fragments which originate from the decomposition of plastic products such as bottles and textiles or which are intentionally used in other products including cosmetics (Figure 1). They have been monitored mainly in the marine environment but work in freshwaters is only just beginning (Kay et al., 2018; Wagner et al., 2014; Eerkes-Medrano et al., 2015). Very little is known about where microplastics occur in river catchments and which areas are key sources of them. Similarly, almost nothing is known about their behaviour once they enter river channels. This is of particular concern given that microplastics can be ingested by wildlife, representing a physical hazard and a source of potentially toxic chemicals.

The overall aim of this project is to better understand the occurrence and fate of microplastics in river catchments. The specific objectives are to:

1. Measure the occurrence of a range of microplastics throughout river catchments.

2. Quantify the extent to which difference land uses and human activities are associated with the occurrence of microplastics and their make-up.

3. Study the fate of microplastics in rivers and relate this to microplastic and river physical characteristics.

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Related undergraduate subjects:

  • Chemistry
  • Earth system science
  • Ecology
  • Environmental conservation
  • Environmental management
  • Environmental science
  • Geography
  • Hydrology
  • Natural resource management
  • Physical geography
  • Physical science
  • Sustainability and environmental management
  • Water management