Integrative assessment of microplastics pollution in soil


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This joint PhD opportunity is no longer accepting applications until further notice.

Terrestrial ecosystems receive a myriad of organic and inorganic pollutants due to various anthropogenic activities. The pollutants can reside in soils, and negatively impact soil health which then limits how these ecosystems may provide critical services that support agricultural production and healthy

Despite our significant knowledge base in soil chemistry and ecosystem functioning, the rapid emergence of new pollutants is outpacing scientific advancements. Microplastic contamination is currently receiving a lot of attention both from research communities and the general public.

Terrestrial environments receive more plastic debris than aquatic environments but have received far less attention. Microplastic contamination is considered an emerging threat to agricultural and soil-ecosystem functioning which can negatively impact food production around the globe.

The proposed project will investigate the relationships between natural carbon in soil and microplastic-related synthetic carbon with a particular emphasis on the differences in impacts between traditional nonbiodegradable plastic and newer biodegradable plastic sources.

The candidate will be immersed in different facets related to soil carbon and soil health and have the opportunity to present their research at scientific conferences and publish their results in top scientific journals.

Project goals

The goals of this project are to:

  1. To compare the effects of non-biodegradable and biodegradable plastics on nutrient cycling within soil with an emphasis on the carbon cycle.
  2. To provide unique and critical insight into the potential impacts of microplastic pollution in soils and how this may alter soil carbon biogeochemistry, soil health and the overall soil functioning

Supervision team

Who we are looking for

We are seeking a PhD candidate with the following skills:

  • Demonstrated experience in the environmental sciences with emphasis on environmental chemistry and/or soil chemistry. Previous experience in analytical chemistry and/or ecotoxicology is an asset but not required
  • Demonstrated ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Demonstrated time and project management skills
  • Demonstrated ability to write research reports or other publications to a publishable standard (even if not published to date)
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills.
  • Demonstrated organisational skills, time management and ability to work to priorities.
  • Demonstrated problem solving abilities.

Further details

The PhD candidate will benefit from the combined expertise of the project supervisors, and the embedding into two research environments.

Associate Professor Suzie Reichman at the University of Melbourne will contribute expertise in soil chemistry and ecotoxicology. Professor Myrna Simpson the University of Toronto will contribute expertise in environmental chemistry and analytical methodologies to study environmental processes at the molecular-level.

This PhD project will be based at the University of Melbourne with an 18-24 month stay at the University of Toronto.

The candidate will be enrolled in the Environmental Sciences PhD program at the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences at the University of Toronto, and in the PhD program at the School of BioSciences at the University of Melbourne.

This joint PhD opportunity is no longer accepting applications until further notice.

First published on 31 October 2021.

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