Professor Mark Fitzsimons
Professor of Environmental Chemistry
School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences (Faculty of Science and Engineering)
- Marine pollution
- Freshwater pollution
- Emerging contaminants
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- Professor of Environmental Chemistry
- Lead for Biogeochemistry Research Centre
- Principal and Co-Investigator on several externally-funded research programmes (see Research Interests)
- Teaching on BSc (Hons) Chemistry, MChem (Hons) Analytical Chemistry and MSc Environmental Geochemistry
I am a Professor of Environmental Chemistry at the University of Plymouth, where I have worked since 2001. Understanding the reactivity and characterisation of aquatic organic nitrogen (ON; both natural and xenobiotic) have been my research priorities and I have developed methods measure very low concentrations of these molecules in both water and sediments. I lead the Biogeochemistry Research Centre and my interest in nitrogen has spanned the measurement of trace gases in the Southern Ocean, the environmental fate of pharmaceuticals in water and sediments and investigating the chemistry of artificial soils made from inert waste materials.
Research highlights include demonstrating that the uptake of ON to estuarine suspended particles is biologically- and not chemically-controlled (Tappin et al. 2010), identifying a photochemical-microbial degradation pathway for removal of N-containing benzodiazepines (e.g. valium) from aquatic systems (Tappin et al. 2014), and obtaining the first methylamine data for the Southern Ocean (Dall'Osto et al. 2017). I have supervised 9 PhD and 1 MPhil student to completion and my projects on nutrient cycling have been funded from a variety of sources,,including the NERC, the Leverhulme Trust, the Environment Agency and the EU. I am a member of the NERC Peer Review College.
I grew up by the sea in County Down, on the island of Ireland, and loved Chemistry at school; this led me to search for a university degree programme that could combine the two. I graduated in BSc (Hons) in Chemistry with Oceanography from the University of Liverpool, UK, and remained there to continue my PhD research under the supervision of Professor George Wolff (Thesis title:"The Geochemistry of the Methylamines in Recent Marine and Lacustrine Sediments") in the Environmental Organic Chemistry and Geochemistry Group. I then moved to the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom and worked with Professor Paul Dando on a pan-European project studying the biogeochemistry of hydrothermal, geothermal and cold seep ecosystems. In 1995, I joined Middlesex University as a Lecturer in Environmental Chemistry and renewed my interest in the biogeochemistry of organic nitrogen. At Plymouth, in addition to teaching I have acted as Admissions Tutor, Programme Manager, Senior Tutor and Employability Lead.
2019 - Professor of Environmental Chemistry, University of Plymouth
2010 - Associate Professor in Organic Geochemistry, University of Plymouth
2006 - Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC)
2006 - Senior Lecturer in Organic Geochemistry, University of Plymouth.
2001 - Lecturer in Organic Geochemistry, Centre for Chemical Sciences, University of Plymouth
1995 - Elected to the Royal Society of Chemistry as Member and Chartered Chemist (CChem MRSC)
1995 - Lecturer in Environmental Chemistry, Urban Pollution Research Centre, Middlesex University
1993 - Higher Scientific Officer, Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom MAST II project: "Oxic-anoxic interfaces as productive sites"
1993 - PhD Marine Organic Geochemistry (The Geochemistry of the Methylamines in Recent Marine and Lacustrine Sediments); University of Liverpool
1989 - BSc (Hons) Chemistry with Oceanography; University of Liverpool
- Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC)
- Chartered Chemist (CChem)
- Member of Institute of Soil Science (M. I. Soil Sci.)
- Member of RSC Environmental Chemistry Group
- Member of RSC Analytical Division
- Member of the Estuarine and Coastal Sciences Association.
- Member of Scottish Association of Marine Science
Roles on external bodies
- 2009-date Member of NERC Peer Review College
- 2009-2010 President of European Association of Chemistry and the Environment
- 2011-2014 Secretary of Estuarine and Coastal Sciences Association (ECSA)
- 2011-2014 Member of RSC Analytical Division Council
- 2011-2014 Trustee of Analytical Chemistry Trust Fund
- Chemistry of carbonyl compounds
- Ion Rearrangements
- Gas Chromatography
- High Performance Liquid Chromatography
- Mass Spectrometry
- Occurrence and behaviour of pharmaceuticals in soils and aquatic systems
- Effective report writing
- Undertaking a research project
Staff serving as external examiners
PhD: University of Liverpool; University of Essex; UHI Millenium Institute; Dublin City University
MSc: University of Hull
External validation: BSc (Hons) Marine Science, Scottish Association for Marine Science/UHI Millenium Institute; Postgraduate courses in Environmental Science, Environmental Research Institute/UHI Millenium Institute
Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plant growth. However, a considerable increase in the industrial production of nitrogen during the 20th century (rising from ~15 Tg* of nitrogen in 1860 to 186 Tg in 2005), and its global use in artificial fertilizers, means that it is now present at excessively high concentrations in many coastal and inland waters. This has led to a host of water quality problems, including excess plant growth, harmful algal blooms and increased water treatment costs.
Although drinking water is a liquid, natural waters are a complex mixture of liquid water, particles and living and dead organisms. These components of water all affect how nitrogen reacts in rivers and estuaries, and how much reaches the open sea. My recent research has looked at how this mixture affects nitrogen concentrations in water, particularly the little understood organic nitrogen fraction. Human inputs are also very important and I am interested in understanding how routine activities such as dredging and sewage effluent discharge influence nitrogen concentrations, as well the predicted changed weather patterns associated with climate change.
My research has focussed on understanding the behaviour ofvolatile, reactive chemical molecules in the environment, particularly thosecontaining nitrogen, and I have secured funding for a diverse portfolio ofresearch. Many of these compounds have been historically difficult to measureand recent method advances I have pioneered have led to collaborations on majorinternational marine research programmes, where volatile nitrogen compounds areof great interest of the oceanographic community (e.g the Antarctic CircumpolarExpedition).
Currently funded research areas are:
- Marine cycling of volatile amines and their role in climate regulation (NERC)
- Can organic nitrogen support marine phytoplankton production? (EU)
- Environmental behaviour of pharmaceuticals in surface water and soils (NERC, Astra Zeneca)
- Biogeochemistry and sustainability of engineered soils; FABSOIL (EU)
Through this work I hope to contribute to improved management of our aquatic ecosystems. This would include outcomes such as how the organic nitrogen transported by rivers into estuaries actually affects the ecosystem (e.g. does it stay in the estuary and remain unreactive or is it transported into coastal waters where it can stimulate algal blooms?). This data can then be used to improve environmental models that try to simulate how estuarine systems behave in order to provide a scientific understanding for the development of environmental management and policy.
1Tg = 1x109 Kg
Associate Editor for Environmental Chemistry Letters.
I have reviewed papers for the following journals:
- AnalyticaChimica Acta
- Analytical Chemistry
- AquaticMicrobial Ecology
- Engineering and Computational Mechanics
- Environmental Pollution
- Environmental Science and Pollution Research
- Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts
- Environmental Science & Technology
- Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
- Limnology and Oceanography
- Limnology and Oceanography: Methods
- Marine Chemistry
- Marine Environmental Research
- Organic Geochemistry
- The Science of the Total Environment
Research degrees awarded to supervised students
2018-2021 Preston Akenga (Commonwealth Science Council)
Project title: Soil and wastewater properties influencing antiviral uptake in plants.
With Dr Sean Comber (DoS), Dr Alan Tappin, Professor Anthony Gachanja (Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya)
2016-2019 Caroline White (University of Plymouth)
Project title: Comparison of natural and anthropogenic sources of atmospheric nitrogen in the coastal zone and the open ocean.
With Dr Simon Ussher (DoS), Dr Tom Bell (PML)
2019 Simone Bagnis (Astra Zeneca) - PhD
Project title: Understanding the fate of emerging pollutants and developing aquatic risk assessment methodologies for environmental waters where sewage treatment infrastructure is limited or absent.
With Dr Sean Comber (DoS), Dr Alan Tappin, Dr Jason Snape (AZ)
2018 Monica Raccagni (EU-MARES) - MPhil
Project title: Organic nitrogen uptake by marine algae: consequences for marine ecosystem functioning and biodiversity.
With Dr Ian Probert (UPMC,France) Professor Maeve Lohan, Dr Agnese Marchini (Uni Pavia, Italy)
2018 Katherine Lees (Astra Zeneca) - PhD
Project title: Developing soil risk assessments of active pharmaceutical ingredients in regions with highwater reuse.
With Dr Sean Comber (DoS), Dr Alan Tappin, Dr Jason Snape (AZ)
2016 Emma Pidduck (NERC) - PhD
Do suspended sedimentary processes influence fluxes of nitrogen and phosphorus in estuaries?
With Dr Andrew Manning (DoS), Professor Paul Worsfold and Dr Alex Souza (Proudman OceanogrphicLaboratory)
2015 Charlotte Cree (NERC) - PhD
Thesis Title: Climate Distributions of glycine betaine and the methylamines in coastal waters : analytical developments and a seasonal study.
With Dr C. Anthony Lewis, Dr Steve Archer (Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences) and Dr Ruth Airs (PML)
2015 Kate Schofield (ESF-CUC studentship) - PhD
Project Title: The Perfect Soil: an investigation of the chemical characteristics needed for healthy soils at the Eden Project, Cornwall.
With Dr Alan Tappin, Dr Tim Pettitt (Eden Project) and Dr Gavyn Rollinson (Camborne School of Mines)
2007 Clare Redshaw (BBSRC) - PhD
Thesis title: The transport and fate of fluoxetine hydrochoride, diazepam and their human metabolites in sewage sludge-amended soil.
With Professor Steve Rowland (DoS) and Professor Peter Matthews
2007 Mekibib Dawit (Environment Agency) - PhD
Thesis title: The biogeochemical cycling of ammonium and methylamines in inter-tidal sediments.
With Professor Mike Revitt (Middlesex University)
2006 Chris Leakey (NERC) - PhD
Thesis title: Quantifying inhabitation, feeding and connectivity between adjacent estuarine and coastal regions for three commercially important marine fishes.
With Prof Martin Attrill (DoS) and Dr Simon Jennings (CEFAS)
2006 Philippa Curtis-Jackson (NERC) - PhD
Thesis title: Characterisation of algal-derived organic nitrogen.
With Dr Guillame Masse
2004 Anisah Lee Abdullah (Government of Malaysia) - PhD
Thesis title: Modelling of suspended sediment in coastal waters using remote sensing and GIS techniques.
With Professor Brian Shutes (DoS; Middlsex University) and Dr Wan Ruslan (University Sains Malaysia)
Grants & contracts
MAIN AWARDS (excluding studentship awards)
2018-2021 NERC Discovery Science - £121,757 (Co-I)
Is bacterial DMS consumption dependent on methylamines in marine waters?
Dr Joanna Dixon, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth (PI)
2017-2019 EU (ERDF - Agritech) - £210,000 (PI)
FABSOIL: Investigation of the biogeochemical properties of manufactured soils.
2016-2019 NERC International Opportunities Fund - £35,000 (Co-I)
NOSASSO (Nitrogen Osmolytes Across the Surface Southern Ocean: Environmental Drivers and Bioinformatics); Dr Ruth Airs, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth (PI)
2016-2018 Swiss Polar Institute (Antarctic Circumpolar Expedition)- €33,000 (Co-I)
SORPASSO (Surveying Organic Reactive gases and Particles Across the Surface Southern Ocean); Professor Rafel
SimoCSIS, Barcelona, Spain (PI)
2014-2017 EU Doctoral Programme on Marine Ecosystem Health and Conservation –MARES €121,680 (PI)
Organic nitrogen uptake by marine algae: consequences for marine ecosystem functioning and biodiversity; with Dr Ian Probert (Station Biologique de Roscoff, France)
2011-2014 European Social Fund-Combined Universities of Cornwall £60,000 (PI)
The Perfect Soil; with Dr Tim Pettitt (Eden Project) and Dr Gavyn Rollinson (University of Exeter)
2008-2012 Government of Portugal. £70,000 (Co-I)
Nitrogen reduction in marine systems: in-situ study of alternative metabolic pathways linked to Coastal Groundwater Discharge; with Dr Carlos Rocha, Trinity College Dublin,Ireland
2007-2010 NERC £323,452 (PI)
Bacterial Assimilation of Riverine Organic Nitrogen; with Dr AlanTappin (R Co-I), University of Plymouth and Professor Alan McCarthy (Co-I), University of Liverpool.
2003-2006 The Leverhulme Trust £103,184 (PI)
Natural estuarine particles and their uptake of nitrogen in estuaries; with Dr Alan Tappin (R Co-I) and Professor Geoff Millward (Co-I), University of Plymouth
Key publications are highlightedJournals
Reports & invited lectures
- Reuters International : Moments of Innovation (February 2019)
- BBC Spotlight. FABSOIL (January 2019)
- Pirate FM: Interview on FABSOIL (March 2018)
- ITV News: Feature on deteriorating bathing water quality in Southwest England (April 2013).
- BBC (The Politics Show): Feature on the extension of nitrate-vulnerable zones (October 2008).
Recent invited presentations and Plenary Lectures:
- UK All Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions. Surveying organic reactive gases and particles across the surface Southern Ocean; Royal Society, London, November 2017.
- International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation Society triennial meeting (IBBS 17). The environmental fate of benzodiazepines; Manchester, September 2017.
- Genes to Gases Invited Workshop : Climate active methylamines and their nitrogen osmolyte precursors in marine systems; University of East Anglia, Norwich, June 2017.
- Endeavour Society : Cycling of nitrogen in marine systems; University of Bangor, March 2015.
- PML Lecture Series : Abundance and speciation of organic nutrients during algal growth cycles; Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth, May 2014
Goldschmidt 2007 Conference - "atoms to planets", Cologne, Germany, 19-24 August, 2007
Joint Session Convenor for Themed Symposium - Geochemical Impact of Anthropogenic Activities on the Riverine and Coastal Environment
4th European Conference on Environmental Chemistry, Plymouth, 10-13 December, 2003 (Main Organiser)
Professor Walter Giger
Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology, Zurich, Switzerland
"Occurrence and Fate of Antibiotics as Trace Contaminants in Wastewaters, Sewage Sludges and Surface Waters."
Dr Ron Beckett
"Characterisation of Environmental Particles and Macromolecules by Field-Flow Fractionation."
Other academic activities
Chemistry Tutor for Year 2 undergraduates.
Module leader for Year 2 modules in Professional & Scientific Skills and Organic Chemistry; Year 3 module - Chemistry Research Project & Professional Skills
Freshwater and marine pollution
Analytical methods for environmental secience
Away from my scientific work, I am a very keen sportsman and musician. My preferred sports are soccer (5-a-side) and golf. I have also learned to wakeboard and drive a boat recently; taking the boat out into Plymouth Sound on a sunny summer's evening for a wakeboarding session is hard to beat. I enjoy walking in the beautiful counties of Devon and Cornwall and, in between times, follow Plymouth Albion RFC. My main musical instruments are the piano and violin. My piano playing has been revived after lying dormant for many years (i.e. when I couldn't get near a piano), and I am now taking off in a jazz and blues direction, inspired by Abdullah ibrahim. I play mainly Irish music on the violin, a habit I picked up (like drinking Guinness) in the great city of Liverpool, and I am a big fan of Martin Hayes.
Petroleum and Environmental Geochemistry Group, Plymouth University