Professor Mark Fitzsimons

Professor Mark Fitzsimons

Professor of Environmental Chemistry

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


  • 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 and MChem Chemistry
  • Member of the Biogeochemistry Research Centre


2019 - Promoted to Professor of Environmental Chemistry, University of Plymouth

2010 - Promoted to Associate Professor 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 am an Associate Professor in Organic Geochemistry with 40+ publications and 700 citations (h-index 15). Understanding the reactivity and characterisation of aquatic organic nitrogen (ON; both natural and xenobiotic) have been my research priorities and I have developed methods for the trace determination of methylamines, aminoketones and peptides in both water and sediments. 

Recent research highlights include demonstrating that the uptake of ON to estuarine suspended particles is biologically- and not chemically-controlled, identifying a photochemical-microbial degradation pathway for N-containing benzodiazepines in aquatic systems, and obtaining the first methylamine data for the Southern Ocean. 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. 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, China), 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 teach on the BSc (Hons) and MChem Analytical Chemistry programmes and have acted as Admissions Tutor and Programme Manager. I am currently Deputy Head of Chemistry, Senior Tutor and the Employability Lead.

Professional membership

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

    Teaching interests

    Organic Chemistry

    Chemistry of carbonyl compounds

    Ion Rearrangements

    Analytical Chemistry

    Gas Chromatography
    High Performance Liquid ChromatographyMass Spectrometry

    Environmental Chemistry

    Occurrence and behaviour of pharmaceuticals in soils and aquatic systems


    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.

    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

    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


    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, Prof. 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) Prof. 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), DrAlan 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)

    Project video

    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 Prof Steve Rowland (DoS) and Prof. Peter Matthews

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

    2018-2021NERC Discovery Science - £121,757 (Co-I)

    Is bacterial DMS consumption dependent on methylamines in marine waters?

    Dr Joanna Dixon, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth (PI)


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

    FABSOIL:Investigation of the biogeochemical properties of manufactured soils.


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

    NOSASSO(Nitrogen Osmolytes Across the Surface Southern Ocean: Environmental Driversand Bioinformatics); Dr Ruth Airs, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth (PI)


    2016-2018Swiss Polar Institute (Antarctic Circumpolar Expedition)- €33,000 (Co-I)

    SORPASSO(Surveying Organic Reactive gases and Particles Across the Surface SouthernOcean); Prof Rafel

    SimoCSIS, Barcelona, Spain (PI)


    2014-2017EU Doctoral Programme on Marine Ecosystem Health and Conservation –MARES €121,680 (PI)
    Organicnitrogen uptake by marine algae: consequences for marine ecosystem functioningand biodiversity; with Dr Ian Probert (Station Biologique deRoscoff, 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)


    2008-2012Government of Portugal. £70,000 (Co-I)
    Nitrogen reduction in marine systems: in-situ study of alternative metabolicpathways linked to Coastal Groundwater Discharge; with Dr Carlos Rocha, Trinity College Dublin,Ireland


    2007-2010NERC £323,452 (PI)
    Bacterial Assimilation of Riverine Organic Nitrogen; with Dr AlanTappin (R Co-I), University of Plymouth and ProfessorAlan McCarthy (Co-I), University of Liverpool.

    2003-2006The 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 ofPlymouth



    Google Scholar Citations


    Manuel Dall’Osto, Ruth L. Airs, Rachael Beale, Charlotte Cree, Mark F. Fitzsimons, David Beddows, Roy M. Harrison, Darius Ceburnis, Colin O’Dowd, Matteo Rinaldi, Marco Paglione, Athanasios Nenes, Stefano Decesari and Rafel Simó. 2019. SimultaneousDetection of Alkylamines in the Surface Ocean and Atmosphere of the Antarctic Sympagic Environment. Earth and SpaceChemistry. doi: 10.1021/acsearthspacechem.9b00028 

    van Pinxteren M., Fomba K., van Pinxteren D., Triesch N.,Hoffmann E., Cree C., Fitzsimons M.F., vonTümpling W., Herrmann H. 2019. Aliphatic amines at the Cape Verde Atmospheric Observatory: abundance, origins and sea-air fluxes. Atmospheric Environment. doi: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2019.02.011

    Bagnis S., Fitzsimons M.F. Snape J., TappinA., Comber S. 2019. Impact of the wastewater-mixing zone on attenuation of pharmaceuticals in natural waters: Implications for an impact zone inclusive environmental risk assessment. The Science of the Total Environment 658, 42-50.doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.12.191


    Lees K., Fitzsimons M.F., Snape J., Tappin A., Comber S. 2018. Soil sterilisation methods for use in OECD 106:How effective are they? Chemosphere. 209, 61-67. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2018.06.073

    Cree Charlotte H.L., Airs Ruth, Archer Stephen D., Fitzsimons Mark F. 2018. Measurement of methylamines in seawater using solid phase micro-extraction and gas chromatography. Limnology & Oceanography : Methods. doi: 10.1002/lom3.10255

    Bagnis S., Fitzsimons M.F., Snape J., Tappin A., Comber S. 2018. Processes of distribution of pharmaceuticals in surface freshwaters. Implications for risk assessment. Environmental Chemistry Letters. 16(4), 1193-1216 doi:10.1007/s10311-018-0742-7. 

    H. Kate Schofield, Tim R. Pettitt, Alan D. Tappin, Gavyn K. Rollinson, Mark F. Fitzsimons. 2018. Does carbon limitation reduce nitrogen retention in soil? Environmental Chemistry Letters. 16(2), 623-630 doi: 10.1007/s10311-017-0700-9

    Bagnis S., Fitzsimons M. Snape J., Tappin A., Comber S. 2018. Sorption of active pharmaceutical ingredients in untreated 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 


    ManuelDallosto, Jurgita Ovadnevaite, Marco Paglione, David Beddows, DariusCeburnis, Charlotte Cree, Pau Cortes, Marina Zamanillo, Sdena Nunes, GonzaloPérez, Eva Ortega-Retuerta, Mikhail Emelianov, Dolors Vaque, Cèlia Marrasé,Marta Estrada, Maria Sala, Montserrat Vidal, Mark F. Fitzsimons, RachaelBeale, Ruth Airs, Matteo Rinaldi, Stefano Decesari, Maria Cristina Facchini,Roy Harrison, Colin O'Dowd and Rafel Simo. 2017. Antarctic sea ice region as asource of biogenic organic nitrogen 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 riverwaters. 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 income countries: physico-chemical fate andrisks from wastewater irrigation. Environment International94,712-723. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2016.06.018


    Tappin A.D., McCarthy A.J., Loughnane P. and Fitzsimons M.F. 2014. Bacterio-plankton transformation of diazepam and 2-amino-5-chlorobenzophenone in river waters. Environmental Science : Processes & Impacts 16, 2227-2236. doi: 10.1039/C4EM00306C


    Tappin A.D., McCarthy A.J., Loughnane P and Fitzsimons M.F. 2012 Removalof atrazine from river waters by indigenous microorganisms. EnvironmentalChemistry 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 roleof suspended particles in Treatise on Estuarine and CoastalScience; 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.. Observeddissolved and particulate nitrogen concentrations in a mini flume. Hydrobiologia 672,69-77. doi: 10.1007/s10750-011-0759-4 


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

    LeakeyC.D.B., Attrill M.J., Fitzsimons M.F. 2009. Multi-elementotolith chemistry of juvenile sole (Solea solea), whiting (Merlangiusmerlangus) and European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax) in the ThamesEstuary 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., FitzsimonsM.F., Woodward E.M.S. 2009. High summertime rainfall-induced elevations ofAlkaline Phosphatase Activity in the western English Channel. Estuarine Coastaland Shelf Science: 81, 569–574. doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2008.12.005

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

    Worsfold P.J., McKelvieI.D., Fitzsimons M.F., Monbet P., Stiles D.A., TappinA.D. (2008) Characterization and quantification of organic phosphorus andorganic 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 FitzsimonsM.F. (2008) Retrospective quantification of estuarine feeding activityby 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 FitzsimonsM.F. (2008) Stable isotopes in juvenile marine fishes and theirinvertebrate 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) Thedistribution, cycling and recovery of amino acids in estuarine waters andsediments. 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

    Media appearances

    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

    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