Research projects

Anne Robertson and Julia Reiss are the Roehampton leads in the EU MSCA-ITN ‘HypoTRAIN: Hyporheic Zone Processes – A training network for enhancing the understanding of complex physical, chemical and biological process interactions’ (€3.1 million). Hyporheic zones are key compartments for the functioning of aquatic ecosystems. As dynamic and complex transition regions between rivers and aquifers, they are characterized by the simultaneous occurrence of multiple physical, biological and chemical processes. Turnover and degradation of nutrients and pollutants are among the prominent ecological services the hyporheic zone provides. We are facing a significant knowledge gap in the understanding of how hyporheic processes are linked and how they impact on each other. This can be attributed to a lack of truly supra-disciplinary research and harmonized and innovative investigation methods. This project brings together eight European research institutions to train sixteen early career researchers to undertake collaborative research with state-of-the art technologies from multiple disciplines (hydrology, ecology, microbiology, engineering, environmental physics, contaminant science, modelling).

Anne Robertson and  Julia Reiss have been awarded a Natural Environment Research Council grant (£51,578) for their project entitled ‘Groundwater flooding: Groundwater community recovery following an extreme recharge event’. The winter of 2013-4 was very wet resulting in extremely high groundwater levels and extensive groundwater flooding, particularly in chalk aquifers.  The rapid water movement through the aquifers caused substantial nutrient fertilisation and groundwater bacteria also became more abundant as the water table and nutrient concentrations decreased illustrating that bacteria were responsible for respiring organic carbon. The entire sediment community ranging from bacteria to macrofaunal species showed a strong community size structure. Our researchers demonstrated that groundwater communities track changes in their usually stable habitat highlighting that they potentially buffer environmental change.

Anne Robertson, Julia Reiss and Daniel Perkins have been awarded a Leverhulme Trust Research project (£304,000) for their project entitled ’‘Microplastics in Groundwater Ecosystems: A Global Impact Analysis (PlaStyx)’. Microplastics are small particles that are found everywhere on earth. Groundwater is the largest source of liquid fresh water and globally 2.5 billion people exclusively depend on it to meet their freshwater needs. While initial surveys indicate microplastics presence in groundwater, the distribution, total quantity and impact of microplastics on groundwater ecosystems is completely unknown. Our researchers will use an interdisciplinary approach incorporating ecohydrology, analytical chemistry, mathematical modelling and ecology to 1) establish the first global baseline of groundwater microplastic contamination, 2) investigate microplastic uptake by, and effects on groundwater food webs, 3) model the global risks of microplastics to groundwater.