Globally, huge investment is made in infrastructure to obtain, process and distribute clean water to human society. These public water supply (PWS) processes also alter the movement of a wide range of chemical elements within the Earth system. However, very little research has attempted to quantify these impacts. This PhD will address this gap, working around the world, including in the USA and China, in order to analyse current and future impacts of PWS on chemical element cycles.

The research will initially focus on nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). These macronutrients underpin global food production, yet N and P pollution of water around the world costs billions of pounds per year through damage to aquatic ecosystems and degradation of water quality. However, virtually no research has quantified the current impacts of PWS on N or P. Future climate and population change will also increase pressure on PWS infrastructure and drive changes in the impacts of PWS on N and P cycles. For example, in China, the south-north water transfer project aims to transfer over 40 billion cubic metres of water annually from the Yangtze river to north China. Understanding the fluxes of N and P associated with the movement of this huge volume of water is an important challenge.

This project will enable you to analyse PWS systems in three contrasting settings: China, the USA and at a global-scale. You will work directly with international partners in China and the USA to understand PWS systems, making visits to these countries to obtain and to process the data needed to analyse the impact of PWS on macronutrient cycles. You will be trained in highly sought-after technical skills such as modelling and analysis of big environmental data, use of high performance computing and machine learning techniques, and lab/isotope techniques as appropriate.

This project is in receipt of funding from the BGS University Funding Initiative.

For further information about the studentship please email Matthew Ascott, British Geological Survey,, 01491 692408.