News archive

Sea ice nurtures polar food webs

Some polar regions are seeing dramatic losses in sea ice with unknown consequences for their food webs. Highly branched isoprenoids (HBIs), specific to ice algae and phytoplankton, are an ideal tool to explore such food web relationships. K Schmidt, T Brown, S Belt and colleagues from the BAS related the occurrence of these HBIs in suspended matter and Antarctic krill to differences in winter ice cover, oceanography and krill body condition, revealing two rarely considered ways that zooplankton may benefit from sea ice; (i) seasonally retreating ice stabilises the water column and gives phytoplankton light that enables bloom development and nurtures its grazers (ii) ice algae can be an important food source for zooplankton long after their release from sea ice as the grazers encounter them in deeper water column during their vertical migration.

This article has been published in Biogeosciences and was covered by the Science magazine.

January 2018

Drs Sean Comber and Charlotte Braungardt are starting a phytostabilisation project being supported by third year environmental science student Alex Mendez in collaboration with the Westcountry Rivers Trust (Hazel Kendall and Simon Browning). Replicates of different treatments using amendments varying from waste from drinking water treatment, red media bauxite powder, highway gullypot solids, composted municipal waste and fleece from sheep are being trialled to assess their ability to grow grass (Agrostis Capillaris) and thereby stabilise loose mine spoil, thus preventing pollution of nearby land and water. If successful, these pilot trials will inform possible future remediation at priority sites across the South West and beyond  to assist in helping waterbodies achieve good status under the Water Framework Directive.             

Lauren Dawson presents at the 23rd Symposium on Environmental Biogeochemistry

Recently PhD student Lauren Dawson from Environmental Science at University of Plymouth and on behalf of the Biogeochemistry Research Centre presented the latest findings from her research co-funded by the Westcountry Rivers Trust on the “Recovery from detrimental pH troughs in a moorland river using monitored calcium carbonate introductions” at the 23rd International Symposium on Environmental Biogeochemistry at Palm Cove, Cairns, Australia. 

Lauren reported on the sources and impacts of the pH troughs on the upper catchment and the research and pilot trials undertaken to attempt to mitigate for these events.

November 2017

Dr Sean Comber invited to Anglo-Israeli workshop

Sean Comber recently attended a British Council funded Anglo-Israeli workshop in Tel Aviv relating to the “Transport, Fate and Impacts of Emerging Contaminants in Groundwater and Soil Systems”. Five experts in this field of research from the UK were invited including representatives from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology as well as from the universities of York, East Anglia and Plymouth. We met five counterparts from the Weizmann Institute, Israeli Institute of Technology, Ben Gurion University and ARO Volcani Centre. The meeting hosted by the British Council explored opportunities for future collaboration particularly associated with wastewater reuse for irrigation and how pharmaceuticals and nanomaterials may be cycled through the environment and the risk they pose. A number of highly relevant contacts were made and actions agreed in terms of future collaboration within this field.

October 2017

We are  pleased to announce the start of  research collaboration between University of Plymouth and Dairy Crest, via a jointly funded PhD. Mr Rupert Goddard has been appointed and will start on 1 October 2017.

Dairy Crest own the Creamery based at Davidstow, Cornwall. As part of the company’s commitment to protecting the environment, the research will generate a deeper understanding of the relationship between the Creamery and the upper Tamar catchment, specifically the river Inny.  

The Creamery treats process waste water to a high standard to ensure compliance with requirements for discharge to river. The main objectives of the research are to fully understand the fate and impacts of key substances in the Creamery treated wastewater on the downstream receiving water. The Plymouth team are Dr Sean Comber (Director of studies), Dr P Lunt and Professor T Hutchinson, with support from the Health Safety & Environment Management team at Dairy Crest.

September 2017

Visiting Scientist Dr Kai Zhang (CRAES) presents to the BGC.

Visiting scientist Dr Kai Zhang from the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences (CRAES) recently presented to the BGC (Biogeochemistry Research Centre), see opposite. Dr Zhang has been collaborating over the last few months with BEACh researchers Drs Ussher, Milne and Nimmo. The main focus of the collaboration has been on the extraction and detection of trace constituents associated with urban / rural aerosol populations from mainland China.

August 2017

BGC scientists receive funding to assess how iron availability affects carbon removal to the deep waters of the Southern Ocean

Dr Simon Ussher and Dr Angela Milne, have been awarded funding of £425,000 by NERC for two collaborative projects to examine the presence and supply of iron in two key regions of carbon export in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. Both are 4-year collaborative projects working within NERC’s Role of the Southern Ocean in the Earth System (RoSES) programme, which will investigate the mechanisms of how carbon is removed at key junctions in the global ocean circulation. The RoSES programme aims to substantially reduce uncertainty in 21st century global climate change projections through improved assessment of the Southern Ocean carbon sink. In turn this will provide scientific data to help inform global policy, and enable us to better prepare for some of the wider impacts of climate change.

July 2017

PhD success for Antony Burchill 

Congratulation to Antony Burchill (pictured far right with supervisors Angie Milne and Simon Ussher) who recently was awarded  a PhD for his ground breaking research focusing on the seasonal deficiency of Fe in the Celtic and Hebridean Sea. The title of Antony's  thesis was "The seasonal cycling and physico-chemical speciation of iron in the Celtic and Hebridean Shelf Seas".  Antony was jointly supervised by Dr Maeve Lohan (Ocean  and Earth Sciences, National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton), Professor Paul Worsfold, Dr Simon Ussher, Dr Angie Milne (SoGEES, University of Plymouth)

July 2017

Congratulations to Dr Simon Ussher - promoted to Associate Professor

Simon joined the University in October 2000 as a PhD student studying iron biogeochemistry in the Southern Ocean on the Clivar SR3 programme. Following this he was actively engaged in European research cruises in the Atlantic Ocean as part of the AMT programme. In 2009, Simon was awarded a Marie Curie Fellowship in Bermuda, working at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, where he retains a position as Adjunct Faculty Member. In recent years he has been engaged in NERC programmes as a Co-I on the Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry Programme and recently the NERC ROSES programme (Antarctic C biogeochemistry).  

June 2017

Drs Charly Braungardt and Alison Turner attended the annual conference of the International Mine Water Association IMWA in Lappeenranta, Imatra, Finland. Apart from making good contacts and discussing collaboration with industrial partners and regulatory bodies, Dr Turner was elected onto the executive committee as treasurer. Image highlights Dr Turner (far right) with newly elected president of the organisation, Professor Chris Wolkersdorfer.

May 2017

BEACh members Sean Comber, Kat Lees and Simone Bagnis attended the annual European Society of Ecotoxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) in Brussels between the 7th and 11th of May this year.

Sean presented a poster on “Predicting copper and zinc speciation in estuarine waters – Limitation of using dissolved organic carbon”; Kat presented a poster on “the role of wastewater irrigation on the introduction and fate of pharmaceuticals in soils” and Simone provided a platform presentation on “Understanding the fate of active pharmaceutical ingredients in surface waters receiving poorly or untreated sewage effluent and the development of appropriate environmental risk assessment approaches”.

April 2017

Paul Worsfold awarded a Visiting Fellowship at the University of Tasmania

The title of Visiting Fellow at the University of Tasmania (UTas) is conferred on eminent individuals who can contribute to the university’s research and/or teaching and learning programmes. Professor Worsfold’s visit in October 2017 is coordinated by the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Technology (physical Sciences), the Australian Centre for Research on Separation Science (ACROSS), the ARC Training Centre for Portable Analytical Separation Technologies (ASTech) and the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Sciences (IMAS). His research interests in analytical chemistry and chemical oceanography are an excellent fit with the interests of these centres of excellence in Hobart and the visit will strengthen links between University of Plymouth and UTas.

January 2017

Dr Geng Leng has just completed a yearlong postdoctoral research programme (1 February 2016 – 31 January 2017) in the BEACh group in partnership with Plymouth Marine Laboratory. His advisory team was Professor Paul Worsfold, Dr Simon Ussher and Dr Thomas Bell (PML). His project focused on the development of liquid phase and gas phase chemiluminescence detection methods for the determination of sulfur species (including DMS) in marine waters. Dr Leng holds an academic post in the School of Resources and Environment at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, which is situated in Chengdu. His visit was funded by the China Scholarship Council (CSC). The visit has enabled the transfer of flow injection technologies from Plymouth to Chengdu.

December 2016

8th Annual Biogeochemistry Conference 

The 8th Annual Biogeochemistry Conference was held on Monday 19 December at the University of Plymouth Marine Station. Conference organisers Dr Angie Milne and Antony Burchill highlighted that there would be 15 presentations demonstrating the diversity and quality of research within the BGS research community. The keynote speaker was Dr Ming-Xi Yang from Plymouth Marine Laboratory. Dr Yang’s research straddles the boundary between chemical oceanography and atmospheric chemistry, and he gave the keynote presentation at the end of the day.

Book of abstracts

September 2016

The Mendeleev Congress on General and Applied Chemistry is held every 4-5 years and in September 2016 it was held in the city of Ekaterinburg in the Ural Region. The congress is held under the auspices of IUPAC and is classed as a 'world event'. Professor Worsfold delivered a plenary lecture entitled 'Investigating the Chemistry of the Oceans using Flow Injection Analysis'. Also speaking on the opening day was Professor Dan Schectman, the Nobel Laureate for Chemistry in 2011. The congress traditionally maintains an interdisciplinary programme that highlights new research directions as well as advances in the chemical industry and professional education.

June 2016

BEACh group host AtlantOS is an EU funded project that aims to optimise/enhance integrated Atlantic Ocean Observing Systems. One specific objective within AtlantOS work is to develop common metrology techniques and best practice for measurement of Essential Ocean Variables (EOVs), ensuring dataset accuracy, precision and reliable intercomparisons between different technologies, laboratories, sampling locations and times. As part of this objective a workshop was hosted by University of Plymouth, UK from Monday 18 July to Wednesday 20 July 2016. 

The workshop was delivered by Professor I Leito (Tartu University. Estonia), Professor M Lohan (Southampton University) and members of the BEACh Research Group at Plymouth. An example exercise based on Plymouth data is hosted at



Society for Ecotoxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) Europe meeting (Nantes, France, 22-26 May 2016)

Environmental contaminants ignore boundaries and ecosystem limits. Under the general theme 'Environmental contaminants from land to sea: continuities and interface in environmental toxicology and chemistry', experts from academia, government and industry will share the most recent advanced knowledge in environmental sciences in order to improve chemical risk assessment and support current and future policies.

BEACh was well represented at SETAC this year with 2nd year PhD student Kat Lees providing a platform presentation on “Loss of active pharmaceutical ingredients from soil solution” sponsored by Astra Zeneca.

Sean Comber (The impact of DOC and pH on the toxicity of triclosan to Gammarus pulex); Simone Bagnis 1st year PhD student funded by Astra Zeneca and University of Plymouth (Understanding the fate of active pharmaceutical compounds in surface waters receiving poorly or untreated wastewater and the development of an appropriate environmental risk assessment approach); Holly Pearson PhD student currently writing up, funded by University of Plymouth, International Zinc Association and European Copper Institute (The role of organic ligand source and type on zinc and copper speciation in the Tamar Estuary, UK) and Aldous Rees, 1st year PhD student joint with University of Plymouth and Southampton Solent University (Modelling and determining the varying dissolution rates of sacrificial zinc anodes on pleasure craft on the Hamble estuary, UK and its environmental implications) all presented posters at sessions which were well attended and stimulated lots of interesting and useful discussions.

The annual conference brings together over 2,000 academics, industry, regulatory and consultancy representatives to ensure sound science informs effective regulation.


Beach scientists participate in international scientific expedition to Antarctica

Holly Pearson and Dr Mark Fitzsimons will be joining researchers working on 22 projects as part of the first expedition by the Swiss Polar Institute. 

Find out more about the expedition.


Congratulations to Matt Fishwick who recently completed a NERC funded PhD project at the Biogeochemistry Research Centre under the supervision of Simon Ussher (University of Plymouth), Maeve Lohan (National Oceanography Centre), Paul Worsfold (University of Plymouth) and Kristen Buck (Florida State University). The project, which took place from October 2012 to July 2016, focused on the dissolution of biologically important trace metals (e.g. iron, manganese, cobalt, lead) from atmospheric aerosols into North Atlantic seawater under different physico-chemical conditions (e.g. seawater temperature, pH, oxygenation and organic ligand content and aerosol source/composition).

As many trace metals can behave as micronutrients and/or toxicants for marine phytoplankton when present as dissolved species in the surface ocean, it is important to understand the factors that determine the proportion of each total aerosol trace metal that dissolves in seawater. Through simulating the processes of dissolution and mixing following wet and dry deposition in the laboratory under controlled conditions, this PhD project elucidated the dominate factors controlling trace metal dissolution in seawater and also provided insight into potential mechanisms for this dissolution. This information is extremely important in developing our understanding of trace metal biogeochemistry in the marine environment.


Recent research led by the University of Plymouth showed that commonly used medications were not absorbed by riverine bacteria as might have been expected based on models and previous tests.

It means that many medicines of similar type, excreted into surface waters directly or via treated and untreated wastewaters and biosolids, may remain intact for a considerable time, maintaining the potential for them to cause negative impacts on aquatic organisms.

The study, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and published in Environmental Chemistry Letters, was led by Dr Mark Fitzsimons and Dr Alan Tappin, of Plymouth’s Biogeochemistry Research Centre, in conjunction with the Institute of Integrative Biology at the University of Liverpool.


Congratulations to Dr Holly Pearson who recently completed her PhD studies. Holly's research 'Copper and Zinc Speciation and Bioavailability in the Tamar Estuary' was supervised by Sean Comber (DOS), Charlotte Braungardt and Paul Worsfold. The research work was funded by the International Zinc Association, European Copper Association and University of Plymouth.



BEACh takes one giant step into atmospheric marine science: Penlee Point Atmospheric Observatory. 

Plymouth’s first long term coastal atmospheric observatory has resulted in an exciting collaboration between Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) and members of the BEACh group. The Penlee Point Atmospheric Observatory (PPAO) is near the tip of the Rame Peninsula in South East Cornwall, a perfect location to intercept ‘clean sector’ Atlantic air masses as well as polluted coastal air masses impacted by shipping plumes and Plymouth’s urban environment. The PPAO was recently established in 2014 by Drs Tom Bell, Mingxi Yang and Simon Ussher (BEACh group). The goal of the observatory is to monitor important baseline atmospheric measurements such as greenhouse gases, aerosols, toxins such as trace metals, and pollutants such as sulphur and nitrogen compounds. An additional focus is for the observatory to be developed into a centre of collaboration with other research institutes, local authorities and businesses. The start of this project comes thanks to initial funding from PML and the DISCOSAT project (Marie Curie Career Integration Grant).

The observatory is a small 3.5x3.5 m building, 12 m above mean sea level with most of the gas sensors and inlets mounted at the top of a 12 m retractable mast (~20 m above sea level). A great advantage of the site is its close proximity to the nearby marine time-series stations, L4 and E1 and the PPAO real time sensors use line-of-sight radioethernet to communicate the data back to a data centre at PML. The site is already providing data for continuous meteorological measurements (e.g. wind speed and direction, humidity, air temperature), chemical measurements of carbon dioxide (CO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3) and methane (CH4), as well as aerosol number and size distribution.

BEACh’s Simon Ussher, Sov Atkinson and Matthew Fishwick are leading the routine aerosol and rain sampling for soluble trace metals, sulphur species, organic materials and macronutrients. Recent funding from the Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) provided a rain sampler and there is a high volume sampler on loan from University of East Anglia. It is planned that all of these samplers will be remote controlled by the end of the year thanks to a collaboration with local SME Ruthern Instruments. 

“We are looking forward to seeing some interesting contrasts in the composition and biogeochemistry of the atmospheric gases and particles in relation to wind direction and seasons at Penlee. The great advantage of a time-series is the more data we collect, the more we start to see interesting and significant features that occur during the year. Already this year, we have sampled Saharan dust events, ship plumes, urban smog events and the spring bloom in the western English Channel!" (Simon U).


Alan Tappin and Geoff Millward contributed a review of chemical contamination of the English Channel to a Special Edition of Marine Pollution Bulletin on The English Channel and it’s catchments: Status and Responses to Contaminants.


BEACh researcher Dr Simon Ussher presented at the 20th celebration conference of Atlantic Meridional Transect (AMT) Research held at Plymouth Marine Laboratories between 23 June - 25 June 2015. Simon's talk was entitled 'Impact of atmospheric deposition on the contrasting iron biogeochemistry of the North and South Atlantic Ocean'.


Congratulations to Kate Schofield for her recent PhD success. The title of her research being 'A biogeochemical study of nutrient dynamics in artificial soils'.


University of Plymouth Marine Institute asks 'How clean is Plymouth's water?' 

On 12 November 2015, BEACh member Sean Comber presented data on water and sediment quality of the Tamar Estuary and Plymouth Sound, discussing recent undergraduate, MSc and PhD research outputs associated with the speciation and bioavailability of metals. 


Approximately 70 scientists from academia, regulators and industry attended the Astra Zeneca sponsored “Global Environment Symposium” billed as 'An opportunity to discuss the issues surrounding pharmaceuticals entering the environment, and the science AstraZeneca supports to better understand the risks and future challenges'. 

Most of the Astra Zeneca sponsored PhD students were present and BEACh was well represented by Kat Lees, Simone Bagnis and Sean Comber. Kat and Simone provided talks and posters on their PhD Projects, namely:'Terrestrial risk in countries with high water reuse' and 'Understanding the fate of active pharmaceutical compounds in surface waters receiving poorly or untreated wastewater and the development of an appropriate environmental risk assessment approach' respectively. Their work was well received and a number of important new contacts were within the area of APIs and wastewater/water reuse. 


A new paper by BEACh researchers has just been published in 'Global Biogeochemical cycles' entitled 'Biogeochemical cycling of dissolved zinc along the GEOTRACES South Atlanitc transect GA10 at 40 oS' Wyatt N, Milne A, Woodward E M S, Rees A P, Browning T J, Bouman H A., Worsfold P J, Lohan M C, doi:10.1002/2013GB004637


PhD Student Dave Megson heads off to Toronto to carry out research with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada.


Sean Comber has been invited to present at the 2014 Aquatic Toxicology Symposium (ATS) to be held at Fort Worden, Washington from June 10 through June 13. The goal of the ATS is to provide a forum for discussion among leading researchers on the more problematic research questions in aquatic toxicology. The number of topics considered at ATS is small (3-4) and inter-related allowing for synergistic exchange of ideas. The objective of ATS is to have an open-minded exchange of ideas and approaches to solving scientific problems and how these solutions can best be implemented in environmental assessments and regulations.

The 2014 ATS will consider four interrelated topics:

1.) Selenium in Aquatic Systems
2.) Marine Biotic Ligand Model Development
3.) Metal Mixture Biotic Ligand Model Development
4.) Physiology at the Interface of Metal Toxicology

Four speakers will present their research on each of these four topics and discuss challenges and future research directions. Sean has been invited to give a presentation in the session on Marine BLM Development.


Angela Milne, Neil Wyatt and Maeve Lohan presented work from the UK GEOTRACES projects at Ocean Sciences Meeting 2014 in Hawaii.


A number of BGC staff including Holly Pearson and Sean Comber from BEACh attended this year’s European Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in Basel, Switzerland. SETAC is an annual conference dedicated to bringing several thousand chemists and ecotoxicologists together from academia, regulators, industry and consultancies to discuss the latest research within the field. 

Over the course of the five day conference in May, which attracts scientists from across the world, Holly Pearson presented ongoing research on a collaborative Marine Institute project undertaken between BEACh and the Ecotoxicology Research and Innovation Centre (ERIC) entitled 'Zinc and tritium mixture toxicity at sub-cellular levels in Mytilus and the effects of DOC'; and Sean Comber presented a poster on 'Source apportionment of trace contaminants in urban sewers'. 


Fellowship at the University of Melbourne, Australia

Paul Worsfold was awarded a Willsmore Fellowship from the University of Melbourne to work in the School of Chemistry during May/June 2014. He was based with the research group of Professor Spas Kolev who is a leading researcher if the field of flow analysis and the development of AMT based devices for low cost sensing of the environment. During his stay he delivered four lectures in Melbourne, Geelong and Hobart, including the Willsmore Fellowship Lecture which was sponsored by the CSIRO Publications journal Environmental Chemistry. This strengthens research collaboration between Plymouth and Melbourne because Dr Ian McKelvie, a member of the group in Melbourne, is also a Visiting Scientist at University of Plymouth.


Determination of dissolved iron in seawater – A Marine Chemistry Virtual Special Issue

Paul Worsfold, Maeve Lohan and Simon Ussher from the BEACh Research Group at University of Plymouth, together with Andrew Bowie from the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems CRC and University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia, have edited the first ever virtual special issue of the journal Marine Chemistry. The subject is the historical development of analytical methods for the determination of iron in seawater.

Iron plays an important role in the World Ocean as a limiting micronutrient for primary production as evidenced by large-scale in situ iron fertilization experiments in high nutrient low chlorophyll (HNLC) regions. It also has a complex marine biogeochemical cycle that is influenced by chemical, biological and physical processes. This generates the need for reliable and robust protocols for clean sample collection and treatment and accurate and precise methods for the determination of iron species in seawater. This in turn presents major analytical chemistry challenges, including the need for sub-nanomolar detection limits, low blanks, minimal contamination and the effective removal of matrix interferences. Overcoming these challenges will allow real environmental differences in dissolved iron concentrations, e.g. from different sampling locations and/or times, to be differentiated from uncertainties arising from the analytical process (sampling, treatment and measurement).

The collection of manuscripts in this special virtual issue of Marine Chemistry highlights some of the historical developments that have led to the generation of increasingly reliable and intercomparable oceanographic data sets for dissolved iron species in marine waters. Other important contributions are referenced in the introductory review) of this virtual issue. There are no doubt further analytical challenges ahead but these contributions clearly show the important role that Analytical Chemistry plays in providing reliable tools for the Chemical Oceanography community to elucidate marine biogeochemical processes.

In the wider context of collaboration between the Analytical Chemistry community and the Chemical Oceanography community to address these challenges, an extended meeting report from the Collaborative on Oceanography and Chemical Analysis (COCA) workshop held in Hawaii in 2013 is included in the special virtual issue.


Alan Tappin and Mark Fitzsimons of SoGEES recently published the results of NERC funded research on the biotransformation of diazepam (Valium). See Tappin AD, JP Loughnane, AJ McCarthy, MF Fitzsimons (2014) Bacterio-plankton transformation of diazepam and 2-amino-5-chlorobenzophenone in river waters DOI: 10.1039/c4em00306c for further details. It was ranked as a hot article by this Royal Society of Chemistry journal and the issue front cover was given over to the study (below).

The research was also publicised by a University of Plymouth press and was subsequently picked up by newspaper, science news and social media sites around the web.


Congratulations to Dr Akeem Abayomi on the award of his PhD in Analytical Chemistry from the Department of Chemistry, University of Lagos, Nigeria. Akeem was a Visiting Researcher in the Biogeochemistry Research Centre in 2009-2010, working with Paul Worsfold and Malcolm Nimmo. His research focused on the development of analytical methods for the determination of phosphorus species in roadside soils and sediments from the eutrophic Lagos Lagoon (see doi:10.1039/c1em10266d). He is now looking to do Postdoctoral work in Environmental Analytical Chemistry.


Quantitative analysis of dissolved organic carbon and total dissolved nitrogen using the Shimadzu TOC-V high temperature catalytic combustion is now accredited under UKAS ISO 9001:2008 within the Biogeochemistry Research Facility (BRF). This is important for external consultancy, and is also of benefit to UG and PG students using this equipment. Contact Alan Tappin for details.


Dr Sean Comber from the BEACh group is commencing collaborative work with Atkins to undertake an extensive series of field experiments to investigate the speciation of P in sewage effluent.