Decision support tools for the remediation of groundwater arsenic

 (via FindAPhD)
University of Manchester
Manchester, United Kingdom
Position Type: 
Organization Type: 
University/Academia/Research/Think tank
Experience Level: 
Not Specified


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About the Project

Globally, the contamination of groundwater from naturally-occurring contaminants such as arsenic is a major public health concern exacerbated by challenges such as increasing groundwater reliance and gaps in the mechanistic understanding of dominant geochemical controls. The provision of arsenic-safe drinking water supplies is a major development target included in the Sustainable Development Goals. However, effective and sustainable groundwater remediation remains very challenging, with a clear need for improved decision support systems for remediation selection and management.

The aim of this PhD project is to contribute to the development and validation of a robust and effective toolset for the selection and/or management of groundwater remediation strategies in one or more selected arsenic-impacted areas. The project could be approached from several different angles. Example research topics/projects include:
1. How can remediation selection be optimized for different geochemical settings (including groundwater composition, remediation targets)? (joint with BGS)
2. How do surface-derived organics influence the mobilization of arsenic? (joint with BGS)
3. What are the best selection criteria for determining the optimal strategy/strategies for the removal of groundwater arsenic and other contaminants (inorganic, organic, microbial)? How can a robust multi-criteria decision support model be developed? (joint with BGS)
4. Can community science be utilized as an effective tool for knowledge exchange and increasing uptake or integration of local-scale remediation strategies?
Students are also encouraged to suggest their own related project.

Depending on project remit, this PhD research will involve one or more aspects of theory (e.g. geochemical, decision science), field (e.g. sampling design/collection), laboratory (e.g. sample preparation/analysis; experiments) and/or modelling (e.g. multi-criteria decision analysis, agent-based, statistical) approaches. The project will start with a detailed literature survey to inform a well-designed set of novel research questions and plans. The research workplan will be executed through the design, development, implementation and interpretation of models, field surveys and/or laboratory work. An interdisciplinary approach will be highly encouraged.

The proposed PhD projects build upon a strong track record within the Department of Earth and Environmental Science, as supported by The Leverhulme Trust (ECF2015-657), NERC (NE/R003386/1 & DST/TM/INDO-UK/2K17/55(C) & 55(G); NE/J023833/1) and EPSRC. Our research is multidisciplinary and highly collaborative nationally (e.g. British Geological Survey, University of Birmingham, University of Salford, Open University, Oxford University) and internationally (e.g. in India, Cambodia, Myanmar, Chile and Argentina). Our ongoing research and collaborations – especially associated with our Indo-UK Water Quality project FAR-GANGA ( provide an excellent foundation for the PhD project(s).
This PhD will be based in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at The University of Manchester ( The student will benefit from world-leading academic expertise and excellent research facilities available within the Williamson Research Centre for Molecular Environmental Science and the British Geological Survey Wallingford (for joint projects). Numerous researcher training and development opportunities are available. There will be multiple opportunities for collaboration, presenting research and (co-)authoring scientific publication(s). The student will develop an excellent skill set – including scientific and analytical/technical skills, as well as key professional competencies like problem solving, critical thinking, communication, project management, self-management and teamwork.

The PhD supervisorial team is Dr. Laura Richards and Prof. David Polya (others may be included if appropriate). Joint Manchester-BGS project(s) focussed on (hydro)geochemistry (as above) will be co-supervised by Prof. Daren Gooddy (BGS Wallingford).

Successful candidates will have a strong background (Masters / BSc) in environmental/chemical/geological sciences, environmental/chemical engineering or similar. Strong candidates will be highly motivated, independent, hard-working and curious, with a strong interest in research. Demonstrable experience in aspects of data analysis, fieldwork, laboratory work, problem solving, critical thinking and scientific writing is advantageous. Excellent written and verbal communication skills are essential. Previous research experience is highly desired.

Funding Notes

One PhD opportunity is fully funded for 3 years with a £ 5K research training support grant and is associated with a Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw Fellowship to Laura Richards. Other self-funded opportunities are also available.

Review of applications for the funded position will begin on 05 Oct 2020 on a rolling basis. Interviews for the funded position will be held from 19 Oct 2020 until the position is filled. Preferred start date is January 2021 or as agreed. Self-funded positions have no deadline.


Richards et al (2017). High resolution profile of inorganic aqueous geochemistry and key redox zones in an arsenic bearing aquifer in Cambodia, Science of the Total Environment, 590 – 591: 540-553

Polya & Richards (2017). Arsenic and the Provision of Safe and Sustainable Drinking Water: Aspects of Innovation and Knowledge Transfer, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Asia Pacific Tech Monitor, July – September 2017 Issue: Innovation, technology transfer and management for safe and sustainable water, ISSN: 0256-9957

Richards et al (2019a). Dissolved Organic Matter Tracers in an Arsenic Bearing Aquifer in Cambodia: A Fluorescence Spectroscopy Study, Geoscience Frontiers, 10(5): 1653 – 1667

Richards et al (2019b). Dual In-Aquifer and Near Surface Processes Mobilize Hazardous Arsenic in Cambodian Groundwater; Science of the Total Environment, 659: 699 – 714

Magnone et al (2019). A new 87Sr/86Sr based 14C correction model for dating the oxidised organic carbon contribution to groundwater inorganic carbon; Geochimica Cosmochimica Acta, 267: 322 – 340

Pincetti-Zuniga et al (2020). Major and trace (including arsenic) groundwater chemistry in central and southern Myanmar; Applied Geochemistry, 115: 104535

Richards et al (2020). Distribution and Geochemical Controls of Arsenic and Uranium in Groundwater-Derived Drinking Water in Bihar, India; International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17: 2500