£2 m water quality project to protect river ecosystems
14 December 2022, UK: “We are looking forward to participating in this exciting project that will develop a nation-wide tool for managing the impacts of pollutant mixtures on our freshwater ecosystems. By using risk-based modelling, we will assess for the first time how mixtures of contaminants could impact a river’s ecological health”
Researchers from The James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen are collaborating on a new project led by the University of Stirling to explore how pollution and climate change are impacting freshwater ecosystems.
The study, MOT4Rivers, will investigate how pollutant mixtures interact with rivers and ecosystems, and devise a system to monitor, measure and mitigate pollution.
A key element of this work will be the development of a decision support tool, being developed by catchment modeller Dr Miriam Glendell and researchers Dr Zisis Gagkas and Dr Mads Trolborg from The James Hutton Institute.
The decision support tool will bring together all aspects of the MOT4Rivers project to create an integrated water pollution model that will be used to inform catchment management to prevent or mitigate pollution.
“We are looking forward to participating in this exciting project that will develop a nation-wide tool for managing the impacts of pollutant mixtures on our freshwater ecosystems,” says Dr Glendell. “By using risk-based modelling, we will assess for the first time how mixtures of contaminants could impact a river’s ecological health.
“The model will allow us to explore the relationships between environmental change, declining river quality, multiple pollutants and ecosystem impacts.
“With this information, those managing rivers will be better informed to find ways to mitigate or prevent pollution getting into freshwater ecosystems, whether that’s from agricultural activities, specific point sources or the extreme weather events we now experience more regularly.”
Professor Andrew Tyler, the Scotland Hydro Nation Chair and project lead, said: “Our rivers and freshwater species are being challenged by a bewildering combination of pollutant cocktails including pharmaceuticals, pesticides, illicit drugs and micro plastics – the effects of which are poorly understood.
“Now more than ever, climate change is warming waters, increasing flooding and changing rainfall intensity, coupled with increased urbanisation.
“This research will transform our knowledge in this area and use innovative technologies and transformative data analytics to improve our understanding of how climate and evolving mixtures of pollutants interact and ultimately impact on freshwater ecosystems.”
The project, which has been awarded funding of £2million from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), also includes experts from the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow and is supported by Scottish Water.
The study’s findings will be reported in mid-2025, with the research team hopeful the results will inform priorities for policy, regulation and investment in measures to promote sustainable freshwater ecosystems under a changing climate.
George Ponton, Head of Research and Innovation at Scottish Water, said: “This project tackles key questions on the impact of both individual climate extreme events on releasing an increasingly complex cocktail of pollutants from society to aquatic ecosystems and the longer term climate change implications on water quality management across the UK.
“Finding effective solutions to these challenges is part of our strategy to deliver net zero across the water sector.”
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