Ewch i’r prif gynnwys

Smart monitoring of catchment water quality

This research project is in competition for funding with one or more projects available across the NERC GW4 Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP). Usually the projects which receive the best applicants will be awarded the funding. Find out more information about the DTP and how to apply.

Application deadline: 7 January 2018

Start date: October 2018

DTP research theme: Changing planet

Co-supervisors: Dr Stephen Burrow, Queens School of Engineering, University of Bristol and Simon Browning, Westcountry Rivers Trust


Agricultural pollution of surface water, estuaries and drinking water treatment costs the UK £229 million annually. Assessing this pollution, at its source and during its subsequent transmission through natural water networks, is challenging, labour-intensive and consequently expensive. Enabling effective monitoring of water quality is key to managing UK water bodies and ensuring water quality meets standards.

CASE partner Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT) has pioneered integrated catchment management methods to measure, monitor and assess the threat posed to rivers by pollution, and this studentship will directly contribute to this strategy.

The collection of catchment scale data on water quality is presently costly and resource-intensive, because sensors are expensive and require specialist operators, or single point water samples must be collected and returned to the laboratory. This project will investigate the feasibility of using alternative, low cost, wireless sensors to measure water quality.

Project aims and methods

Electrical conductivity (EC) is a bulk measurement of the total dissolved solids in a water body. It can be used as an indicator of water quality, but presently the relationships between EC and various water quality parameters are poorly defined. The project will collect high resolution measurements of EC from both novel wireless and conventional wired sensors, along with physical parameters and detailed water chemistry in a range of catchments monitored by WRT, in order to determine how and when EC can be used as a proxy for water quality in target catchments.

You will work with Westcountry Rivers Trust to assess water quality datasets, deploy and maintain the sensors, and also collect water samples at regular intervals, under varying flow regimes, across the instrumented catchments. The samples will be analysed in the world-class laboratories at the University. The direct output of the work will be a well-constrained relationship between EC and water quality, applicable in Westcountry Rivers Trust’s target catchments under a range of flow conditions.

You will also undertake the first UK tests of a novel sensor for water quality, and demonstrate its applicability to UK catchments. The key scientific achievement of this project will develop an understanding of how simple measurements can be used as a proxy for water quality in target catchments..


The project would suit an independent, motivated candidate interested in environmental management. Since the project combines novel engineering, field science and analytical chemistry, students from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply, but expertise in water engineering, catchment studies, electrical engineering and/or biogeochemistry would be an asset.

CASE award

Westcountry Rivers Trust will train you in catchment monitoring processes, including data acquisition in the field, use of state-of-the-art instrumentation, and data visualisation using industry-standard computing packages.

During the your placement at Westcountry Rivers Trust, you will play a full role in the organisation, supporting the ongoing program of water quality testing. You will spend a month each year at Westcountry Rivers Trust offices, supporting existing assessment of catchments and deploying and maintaining the wireless sensors.


At the University, you will receive training in water quality analysis, including ion chromatography. At Westcountry Rivers Trust, you will receive training in use of in situ monitoring techniques, catchment assessment, and data analysis.

An exciting added benefit to this project is the use of novel sensors alongside traditional sensors. To use these sensors, you will require basic electronic and computer coding skills. You will be fully trained in these by the principal investigator, and hence develop a unique, cross-disciplinary skill set.

References and background reading

  • Bagshaw, E. A. Beaton, A. Wadham, J. Mowlem, M. Hawkings, J. Tranter, M. 2016 Chemical sensors for in situ data collection in the cryosphere, Trends in Analytical Chemistry, 10.1016/j.trac.2016.06.016
  • Bagshaw, E. A. Lishman, B. Wadham, J. L. Bowden, J. Burrow, S. Clare, L. Chandler, D. Cryoegg: a new sensor platform for sub-ice, in situ meltwater measurements, 2014 Annals of Glaciology, 55,65.


Dr Liz Bagshaw


+44 (0)29 2087 4488


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