October 10, 2017

What lies beneath: biofilm fingerprints for nutrient inputs to rivers

What lies beneath: biofilm fingerprints for nutrient inputs to rivers

The project: Changes in the availability of nitrogen and carbon within rivers, for example associated with anthropogenic inputs from sources such as fertilisers or wastewater, have profound effects on these ecosystems across the globe. Accurate identification of the sources and impacts of nitrogen and carbon reaching riverine ecosystems provides the basis for developing future policy and practice to improve the status of these important ecosystems. The epilithic community, including algae and bacteria, attached to the bed of streams and rivers is a potentially sensitive indicator of conditions within these ecosystems. This PhD will determine how analysis of the stable nitrogen and carbon isotope composition of the epilithic community can provide new insights into the sources and the impacts of nutrients within rivers and streams. In particular, this project will test the hypothesis that stable isotope analysis of the epilithon enables the relative importance of groundwater and surface water sources of nutrients to be identified within streams and rivers. The training opportunity: This project will provide you with the opportunity to
become an expert in the stable isotope geochemistry of streams and rivers. You will be trained in the design and installation of field sampling equipment in order to characterise groundwater and surface water ecosystems. You will gain experience of sampling techniques for water quality and stable isotope analyses in both water and epilithic samples. The PhD will also provide you with training in a suite of cutting-edge laboratory techniques related to stable isotope geochemistry, including hands-on experience of operating isotope ratio mass spectrometers. Your supervisors include academics from two highly-ranked, research intensive universities in Lancaster and Birmingham. In addition, the British Geological Survey will be your CASE partner, providing additional funding to the project and the opportunity to work within the largest hydrogeological research organization in the country.

Applicants should hold a Masters degree and/or a Bachelors degree (at 2.i level or equivalent) in subjects such as Environmental Science, Natural Science, Chemistry or Physical Geography. Applicants will ideally have some experience of analytical work in a laboratory and should have an interest in undertaking both field and laboratory based research.

If you’re interested in this project, you’re encouraged to contact Dr Ben Surridge (; 01524 594516) to discuss the research and training opportunities involved. For an example of the type of research that will be undertaken in this project, see: Pastor et al. (2013) Nitrogen stable isotopes in primary uptake compartments across streams differing in nutrient availability. Environmental Science and Technology. 47; 10155-10162.