Microplastics in Freshwater Environments

Over the summer, second year undergraduate student Pieter Fourier will be working alongside Dr Annie Ockelford and Dr James Ebdon as part of the Santander University Research Scheme.  Thanks to generous funding provided by Santander Universities and the Centre for Aquatic Environments, the scheme provides an opportunity for undergraduate students in the middle years of their degree to contribute to real research projects alongside academic researchers at the university.

Rivers are key vectors in the transportation of microplastics from terrestrial environments into marine environments.  As such, it is important to understand what factors are actively altering the behaviour and subsequent movement of microplastics within freshwater systems. Previous work has shown that growth of bacteria called biofilms alter river dynamics since they grow over sediments forming a cohesive, organic mat that binds sediments together. This posed the question as to whether or not the exact same processes will alter microplastic dynamics within river systems. Pieter’s project will run for six weeks and will quantify the extent to which biological factors in rivers influence the behaviour of sediment and microplastics.

 

The first phase of the project will focus on collecting naturally occurring biofilms by placing a series of bricks in a river for the biofilms to grow on. Once the bricks have been colonized they will be extracted and placed into an incubation flume to grow over different grain sizes of sediment which Pieter will then test. The biofilms will be allowed to grow for up to four weeks.  After defined growth periods they will be transported to an experimenting flume in which they will be subjected to different flow rates to test how strong they are and assess how they affect sediment transport rates and microplastic movement.

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