PHD Project

October 10, 2023

Understanding temporal fluctuations in nitrate in groundwater

Diagram of nitrate cycling through groundwater

Nitrate is the most pervasive pollutant in groundwater.  High concentrations of nitrate in groundwater can contribute to degradation of surface water ecosystems and can also result in the need for costly treatment when groundwater is used for drinking.  With these costs running into the billions globally, understanding how nitrate concentrations vary with time is crucial.  Seasonal to decadal changes in nitrate can be particularly problematic, as these can temporarily exceed drinking water standards resulting in the need for temporary treatment or water blending. Despite this, very little is known about the extent of these fluctuations, what controls them, and how they might change across space and time in light of future climate and land use change.

In this multidisciplinary PhD you will improve our conceptual understanding and quantification of nitrate fluctuations in groundwater in Europe.  You will be based at the British Geological Survey offices in Wallingford (near Oxford), and you will also benefit from a supervisory team at Lancaster University and the Environment Agency (CASE partners).  You will work with international partners in Europe and the UK to collect and process data related to nitrate fluctuations in groundwater. You will build numerical models to predict the extent and model of future nitrate fluctuations in space and time.  You will undertake a placement with the Environment Agency which will give you insights into the management and policy landscape related to nitrate and skills in science communication.

We welcome applicants with strong quantitative skills from a range of disciplines across the natural sciences.  Throughout this PhD you will gain highly sought-after technical skills such as modelling and analysis of big environmental data, use of high performance computing and machine learning techniques, and field, lab/isotope techniques as appropriate.


Candidates shall be good honours graduates in appropriate subject areas, of a recognised university or comparable university, or persons holding equivalent qualifications who show evidence of exceptional ability, or who have demonstrated their ability in graduate studies.

Email address for enquiries.

Matthew Ascott, British Geological Survey,, 01491 692408

Project based at BGS, registering university is Lancaster.