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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research project: Macronutrient behaviour in estuarine systems

Currently Active: 

Excess concentrations of phosphate and nitrate in river water, originating from fields, crops and sewers, are some of the major pollutants affecting Britain's rivers and estuaries. These nutrient enriched waters can cause severe problems, such as stimulating the growth of excess algae that depletes oxygen from the water, causing widespread death to fish or causing the growth of poisonous algal species (red tides) that can decimate shell fisheries.

Processes and exchanges influencing macronutrients in estuaries (Source: P Statham)
Processes and exchanges. Fig credit: K. Davis

Project Outline 

Using the Hampshire Avon and Stour rivers and Christchurch Harbour in Dorset as examples, we will spend 12 months measuring nutrient water quality and examining pollution levels when sediments in the estuary are stirred up by storms. We will also look at how sudden storms affect the input of nutrients and biological activity in the estuary.




(Source: Google Earth)
Christchurch Harbour

Methods and Implications

By using state of the art continuous monitoring techniques we will produce an accurate assessment of the impact of nutrients entering the estuary during short-term storm increased flows in the two rivers.

Previously most water quality monitoring in rivers and estuaries has taken place at times spaced too far apart to capture storms events. The project is the first in the UK to monitor water quality in estuaries using sensors and weather prediction technology to anticipate a storm.

The work is crucial as climate change means the intensity and frequency of storms are likely to increase. Results of the study will be used to create a model of the distribution of excess phosphates and nitrates, how they transfer from rivers, through estuaries and into coastal seas and the role storms play in this process. This will allow policy makers to make more informed decisions about how to reduce nutrient pollution in our estuaries.

(Source: NOC)
Lab-on-a-chip chemical microsensor


This work is led by Professors Duncan Purdie, Martin Palmer and Peter Statham (SOES) in collaboration with Dr Matt Mowlem (NOC), Dr. Sujit Sahu (Maths) and Dr Gary Fones (Portsmouth University).

Related link

Key Contacts

Prof Duncan Purdie

Prof Martin Palmer

PhDs and Other Opportunities


Associated research themes

Past Present and Future Environmental Change

Key Publication

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