PhD: The worsening impacts of contaminated lands/soils due to exacerbating extreme environments owing to Climate Change

Northumbria University

Newcastle upon Tyne, UK 🇬🇧


Extreme environments have always existed on the Earth in several ways as a ‘natural legacy’. However, due to Climate Change the patterns, intensity, duration, and frequency of the extreme environments are noticed to be changing, and yet faster than were originally estimated. Furthermore, one growing challenge is the ‘anthropogenic legacy’ of contaminated sites been resulting since the industrial revolution. Landfills is one of the most common examples of contaminated sites. In the form of (greenhouse) gas emissions, leachate and ground subsidence, contaminated sites directly and indirectly impact on all the four spheres of the environment – atmosphere/air, hydrosphere/water, lithosphere/soils or land, and biosphere/life – mutually as well as exclusively (Figure 1). Not much is known about how such a multi-dimensional polluting nature of contaminated sites can worsen in the face of the exacerbating extreme environments, leading to several research questions like:

  1. How far climate change impacts/extreme environments are escalating the hazards and risks posed by contaminated lands/soils?
  2. How to inform mitigation and adaptation approaches against these ‘increased’ risks (due to extreme environments) to secure human and environmental health particularly, by protecting flora, fauna and water?

The proposed research hypothesises that the hazards posed by contaminated lands/soils are worsening due to increase in extreme events due to climate change. Extreme environments e.g. extreme precipitation events (in duration, intensity and frequency) are causing moisture regime change in hydrological catchments, which is rendering pollutants in contaminated soils to become (physically, chemically and biologically) mobile with rising bioavailability in various land-types and -uses such as agricultural/farmlands. This increased mobility may even generate new contaminated sites e.g. via floods and rising water levels. This climate change induced escalating mobility can lead to additional problems for human health and the environment – comprising hydrosphere, lithosphere atmosphere and the biosphere.

Specifically, there is a substantial lack of knowledge on how moisture regime changes (i.e. varying saturation levels) in various soil types can influence mobility and bioavailability of pollutants (particularly metal(oid)s) in contaminated catchments. Based on climate change projections (e.g. from IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change), the proposed PhD will focus on this multi-faceted knowledge gap by imitating such conditions in laboratory- and field-based experiments. Metal contaminated farmlands in north-east region of England would be employed as real-world case-studies and empirical surveys (including both quantitative and qualitative, questionnaire and semi-structured interviews) with landowners, and experts in contaminated land/soil risk assessment and climate change. In addition, a key outcome of the research will be to frame a protocols/systems of how such climate change induced additional risks can be and should be measured and mitigated, so that the environment as a whole can be rendered more resilient via adapting around the extreme environments.

The proposed PhD is multi- and inter-disciplinary by virtue of its nature of cutting through the four spheres of the total environment (Figure 1) while sustainability (with relevant UN’s Sustainable Development Goals), climate change and extreme environments being the cross-cutting themes.

Academic Enquiries

This project is supervised by Dr. T. E. Butt. For informal queries, please contact  OR WhatsApp number: +44 7477 440001. For all other enquiries relating to eligibility or application process please use the email form below to contact Admissions. 

Funding Information

Home and International students (inc. EU) are welcome to apply. The studentship is available to Home and International (including EU) students and includes a full stipend at UKRI rates (for 2022/23 full-time study this is £17,668 per year) and full tuition fees. Studentships are also available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £10,600 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities).  

Please also see further advice below of additional costs that may apply to international applicants.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if they are already a PhD holder or if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

Please note: to be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have settled status, or
  • have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have indefinite leave to remain or enter.

If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an International student.  Applicants will need to be in the UK and fully enrolled before stipend payments can commence, and be aware of the following additional costs that may be incurred, as these are not covered by the studentship.

  • Immigration Health Surcharge
  • If you need to apply for a Student Visa to enter the UK, please refer to the information on It is important that you read this information very carefully as it is your responsibility to ensure that you hold the correct funds required for your visa application otherwise your visa may be refused.
  • Check what COVID-19 tests you need to take and the quarantine rules for travel to England
  • Costs associated with English Language requirements which may be required for students not having completed a first degree in English, will not be borne by the university. Please see individual adverts for further details of the English Language requirements for the university you are applying to.

How to Apply

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

For applications to be considered for interview, please include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words and the advert reference (e.g. RDF23/…).

Deadline for applications: 27 January 2023

Start date of course: 1 October 2023 tbc


Mahammedi, C. E.; Mahdjoubi, L.; Booth, C. A.; Butt, T. E. 2022, Framework for Preliminary Risk Assessment of Brownfield Sites, Science of the Total Environment, Vol. 807, Part 3, pp. 151069, (IF = 7.963), DOI:
Mahammedi, C. E.; Mahdjoubi, L.; Booth, C. A.; Akram, H.; Butt, T. E. 2020, A Systematic Review of Risk Assessment Tools for Contaminated Sites – Current Perspectives and Future Prospects. Environmental Research, Vol. 191, In Press, DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2020.110180.
Butt, T. E.; Javadi, A. A.; Nunns, M. A; Beal, C. D. 2016, ‘Development of a Conceptual Framework of Holistic Risk Assessment – Landfill as a particular type of contaminated land’, Science of the Total Environment, 569-570 : 815-829.
Butt, T. E., Entwistle, J. A., Sagoo, A. S., Akram, H., Massacci, G. 2019. Combined risk assessment for landfill gas and leachate – Informing contaminated land reclamation for appropriate construction projects. Proceedings Sardinia 2019 – Seventeenth International Waste Management and Landfill Symposium, 30th September – 4th October 2019, S. Margherita di Pula (Cagliari), Sardinia, Italy. ISSN: 2282-0027 and ISBN: 9788862650144





IHE Delft MSc in Water and Sustainable Development