Dr Mark Fitzsimons

Dr Mark Fitzsimons

Associate Professor (Reader) in Organic Geochemistry

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences (Faculty of Science & Engineering)


  • Assiciate Professor in Organic Geochemistry
  • Member of the Centre for Chemical Sciences
  • Member of the Petroleum and Environmental Geochemistry Group
  • Member of the Biogeochemistry Research Centre
  • Teaching on BSc Chemistry
  • Principal and Co-Investigator on several externally-funded research programmes (see Research Interests)


2010 - Promoted to Reader in Organic Geochemistry, University of Plymouth

2006 - Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC)

2006 - Promoted to 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

I grew up by the sea in County Down, 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. I taught Environmental Organic Chemistry at undergraduate and masters level and was Programme Manager for MSc Water Pollution Control. Other pedagogic activities included writing a distance learning module on physico-chemistry and water quality modelling for an MSc Integrated Pollution Control (Hong Kong Baptist University), and developing a transferable skills module for first year undergraduates.

I joined the University of Plymouth in 2001, as a member of the Petroleum and Environmental Geochemistry Group (PEGG), led by Professor Steve Rowland (now part of the Biogeochemistry Research Centre). As a member of the Centre for Chemical Sciences, I both teach on and manage the BSc (Hons) Chemistry programme. I have continued to pursue my research interests in the marine organic nitrogen cycle, with projects funded by the NERC,  EU, Leverhulme Trust and the Environment Agency for England and Wales (see research interests).

Professional membership


  • Chartered Chemist and Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (CChem FRSC)
  • Full 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


    2009-2010 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

    Peer Review and Evaluation

    Member of NERC Peer Review College

    Teaching interests

    Organic Chemistry

    Chemistry of carbonyl compounds

    Ion Rearrangements

    Analytical Chemistry 

    Gas Chromatography
    High Performance Liquid ChromatographyMass Spectrometry

    Environmental Chemistry

    Nitrogen cycling in Aqueous Systems

    Characterisation of Sewage Biomarkers and their Application

    Water Quality


    Professional & Scientific Skills

    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

    Research interests

    Research Overview

    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.

    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.

    You can find more detail on some of my specific research interests here.

    1Tg = 1x10-9 Kg

    Other research

    Associate Editor for Environmental Chemistry Letters.


    I review 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

    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


    2016-2019 Caroline White (Plymouth University)

    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)

    2015-2018 Simone Bagnis (Astra Zeneca)

    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)

    2014-2017 Monica Raccagni (EU-MARES)

    Project title: Organic nitrogen uptake by marine algae: consequences for marine ecosystem functioning and biodiversity.

    With Dr Ian Probert (UPMC,France) Prof. Maeve Lohan, Dr Agnese Marchini (Uni Pavia, Italy)


    2014-2017 Katherine Lees (Astra Zeneca)

    Project title: Developing soil risk assessments of active pharmaceutical ingredients in regions with highwater reuse.

    With Dr Sean Comber (DoS), DrAlan Tappin, Dr Jason Snape (AZ)


    2016 Emma Pidduck (NERC)

    Do suspendedsedimentary processes influence fluxes of nitrogen and phosphorus inestuaries? 

    With Dr AndrewManning (DoS), Professor Paul Worsfold and Dr Alex Souza (Proudman OceanogrphicLaboratory)

    2015 Charlotte Cree (NERC)
    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)
    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)

    Project video

    2007 Clare Redshaw (BBSRC)
    Thesis title: The transport and fate of fluoxetine hydrochoride, diazepam and their human metabolites in sewage sludge-amended soil.
    With Prof Steve Rowland (DoS) and Prof. Peter Matthews

    2007 Mekibib Dawit (Environment Agency)
    Thesis title: The biogeochemical cycling of ammonium and methylamines in inter-tidal sediments.With Prof Mike Revitt (Middlesex University)

    2006 Chris Leakey (NERC)
    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)
    Thesis title: Characterisation of algal-derived organic nitrogen.
    With Dr Guillame Masse

    2004 Anisah Lee Abdullah (Government of Malaysia)
    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) 

    2017-2019 EU (ERDF - Agritech) FABSOIL - £210,000 (PI)

    2016-2019 NERC International Opportunities Fund - £35,000 (Co-I)

    NOSASSO (Nitrogen Osmolytes Across the Surface SouthernOcean: 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 Acrossthe Surface Southern Ocean); Prof Rafel Simo CSIS, Barcelona, Spain (PI)

    2013 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 Alan Tappin (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

    Research groups

    • Biogeochemistry Research Centre (BGC)
    • Chemical Sciences
    • Petroleum and Environmental Geochemistry


    H. Kate Schofield, Tim R. Pettitt, Alan D. Tappin, Gavyn K.Rollinson, Mark F. Fitzsimons. 2018. Does carbon limitation reduce nitrogenretention in soil? EnvironmentalChemistry Letters. Accepted.

    Bagnis S., Fitzsimons M. Snape J., Tappin A., Comber S. 2018. Sorption of active pharmaceutical ingredients inuntreated wastewater effluent and effect of dilution in freshwater:Implications for an “impact zone” environmental risk assessment approach. The Science of the Total Environment 624, 333-341. doi: org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.12.092 



    Manuel Dallosto, Jurgita Ovadnevaite,MarcoPaglione, David Beddows, Darius Ceburnis, CharlotteCree, Pau Cortes, MarinaZamanillo, Sdena Nunes, Gonzalo Pérez, EvaOrtega-Retuerta, Mikhail Emelianov,Dolors Vaque, Cèlia Marrasé, Marta Estrada,Maria Sala, Montserrat Vidal, Mark F Fitzsimons,Rachael Beale, Ruth Airs, MatteoRinaldi, Stefano Decesari, Maria Cristina Facchini,Roy Harrison, Colin O'Dowd,and Rafel Simo. 2017. Antarctic sea ice region as a source of biogenic organicnitrogen in aerosols. Scientific Reports 7, 6047. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-06188-x


    Tappin A.D., McCarthy A.J., Loughnane P and Fitzsimons M.F. 2016. Unexpected removal of the mostneutral cationic pharmaceutical in river waters. Environmental Chemistry Letters 14, 455-465. doi: 10.1007/s10311-016-0582-2

    Lees K., Fitzsimons M. Snape J., Tappin A., Comber S. 2016. Pharmaceuticals in soils of lower incomecountries: physico-chemical fate and risks from wastewater irrigation. Environment International 94, 712-723. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2016.06.018


    Tappin A.D., McCarthy A.J., Loughnane P and Fitzsimons M.F. Bacterio-plankton transformation of diazepam and 2-amino-5-chlorobenzophenone in river waters. Environmental Science : Processes & Impacts 16, 2227-2236. doi: 10.1039/C4EM00306C

    Environmental Science : Processes & Impacts 2014 HOT article

    Tappin A.D., McCarthy A.J., Loughnane P and Fitzsimons M.F. 2012 Removal of atrazine from river waters by indigenous microorganisms. Environmental Chemistry Letters 10, 89-96. doi: 10.1007/s10311-011-0332-4

    Fitzsimons M.F., Lohan M., Millward G.E. and Tappin A.D. 2011. The role of suspended particles in Treatise on Estuarine and Coastal Science; Volume 4, Geochemistry of Estuaries and Coasts (G. Shimmield, ed.). Elsevier. pp 71-114. ISBN: 978-0-08-087885-0

    Ussher S.J., Manning A.D., Tappin A.D. and Fitzsimons M.F. 2011.. Observed dissolved and particulate nitrogen concentrations in a mini flume. Hydrobiologia 672, 69-77. doi 10.1007/s10750-011-0759-4 

    Tappin A.D., Millward G.E. and Fitzsimons M.F. 2010. Particle-Water Interactions of Organic Nitrogen in Turbid Estuaries. Marine Chemistry. 122, 28-38.

    Leakey C.D.B., Attrill M.J., Fitzsimons M.F. 2009. Multi-element otolith chemistry of juvenile sole (Solea solea), whiting (Merlangius merlangus) and European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax) in the Thames Estuary and adjacent coastal regions. Journal of Sea Research. 61, 268-274. doi:10.1016/j.seares.2008.12.002

    Rees A.P., Hope S.B., Widdicombe C.E., Dixon J.L., Fitzsimons M.F., Woodward E.M.S. 2009. High summertime rainfall-induced elevations of Alkaline Phosphatase Activity in the western English Channel. Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science: 81, 569–574. doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2008.12.005 (click here for news story) 

    Curtis-Jackson, P.K., Massé G., Gledhill M., Fitzsimons M.F. 2009. Characterisation of low molecular weight dissolved organic nitrogen by liquid chromatography-electrospray ionisation-mass spectrometry. Limnology and Oceanography: Methods 7, 52-63.

    Worsfold P.J., McKelvie I.D., Fitzsimons M.F., Monbet P., Stiles D.A., Tappin A.D. (2008) Characterization and quantification of organic phosphorus and organic nitrogen components in aquatic systems. Analytica Chimica Acta 624, 37-58. DOI: 10.1016/j.aca.2008.06.016.

    Leakey C.D.B., Attrill M.J., Jennings S. and Fitzsimons M.F. (2008) Retrospective quantification of estuarine feeding activity by coastally caught marine fishes. Journal of Sea Research 60 (1-2), 210-214 DOI :10.1016/j.seares.2008.05.002.

    Leakey C.D.B., Attrill M.J., Jennings S. and Fitzsimons M.F. (2008) Stable isotopes in juvenile marine fishes and their invertebrate prey from the Thames Estuary, UK, and adjacent coastal regions. Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science 77 (3), 513-522. DOI:10.1016/j.ecss.2007.10.007

    Tappin A.D., Millward G.E. and Fitzsimons M.F. (2007) The distribution, cycling and recovery of amino acids in estuarine waters and sediments. Environmental Chemistry Letters 5 (3), 161-167. DOI: 10.1007/s10311-007-0099-9

    Tappin A.D., Millward G.E. and Fitzsimons M.F. (2007) Natural estuarine particles and their uptake of nitrogen in estuaries. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 71, A1005-A1005.

    Reports & invited lectures


    ITV News. Feature on deteriorating bathing water quality in Southwest England.

    BBC (The Politics Show). Feature on the extension of nitrate-vulnerable zones.

    Western Morning News. Water contamination can cause stomach upsets.



    Endeavour Society Lecture Series,University of Bangor, Wales. “Cycling of organic nitrogen in marine systems”.



    Plymouth Marine Laboratory,Plymouth, UK. "Abundance and speciation of organic nutrients duringalgal growthcycles". 

    Estuarine and Coastal Sciences Association UK meeting, Hull, UK. Title: "Pharmaceuticals in the Environment".

    Royal Society of Chemistry Lecture, Plymouth, UK. Title: "Retrieving the black box; where do organics fit within the aquatic nitrogen cycle?"

    5th European Meeting on Environmental Chemistry, Bari, Italy. Title: "Desorption kinetics of ammonium and methylamines from estuarine sediments: consequences for the cycling of nitrogen".

    INTECOL Global Wetlands Conference Millennium Wetland Conference, Quebec, Canada. Title: "Distributions of the methylamines in the inter-tidal sediments of an East Anglian estuary, UK; a potential role for benthic invertebrates?"  


    Mark Fitzsimons. 2007. Cohesive sediment fluxes and their effects on nitrogen distributions in estuaries. Royal Society of Chemistry, final report.

    Mark Fitzsimons. 2002. Dynamic behaviour of 1-aminopropan-2-one in sewage: an integrated synthetic and spectroscopic study. Royal Society of Chemistry, final report.

    Mark Fitzsimons. 1999. Aminopropanone as a biochemical tracer of aquatic sewage contamination. Royal Society of Chemistry, final report.

    Mark Fitzsimons. 1998. Biogeochemical cycling of labile organic nitrogen in marine and brackish systems. Royal Society of Chemistry, final report.

    Fitzsimons M.F., Dando P.R., J.A. Hughes, F. Thiermann, I. Akoumianaki and S.M. Pratt. 1995. Submarine hydrothermal brine seeps off Milos, Greece: observations and geochemistry. MAST II final report for contract CT93-0058.

    Mark F. Fitzsimons and Paul R. Dando. 1995. Chemical characteristics of the water mass of the Grotta Azzurra (S. Italy); a submarine cave fed by hydrothermal springs. MAST II final report for contract CT93-0058.

    Mark F. Fitzsimons. 1994. Chemical study of a submarine cave ecosystem fuelled by geothermal springs. MAST II annual report for contract CT93-0058.

    Mark F. Fitzsimons 1994. Chemistry of a shallow brine seep existing in an area of hydrothermal activity. MAST II annual report for contract CT93-0058.

    George A. Wolff and Mark F. Fitzsimons. 1993. Environmental analysis of volatile nitrogen-containing compounds. NERC grant GR7/447A, final report.

    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

    Research Expertise
    Nutrient cycling
    Freshwater and marine pollution
    Analytical methods for environmental secience
    Particle-water interactions

    Additional information

    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.


    American Society of Limnology and Oceanography

    Association of Chemistry and the Environment

    British Organic Geochemistry Society

    Centre for Chemical Sciences, Plymouth University

    Challenger Society for Marine Science

    Environment Agency

    Estuarine and Coastal Sciences Association

    European Association of Organic Geochemists

    Leverhulme Trust

    Natural Environment Research Council

    Petroleum and Environmental Geochemistry Group, Plymouth University

    Roscoff Culture Collection

    Royal Society of Chemistry