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A fate model for (micro)plastics in European rivers
Within the context of the IMI project i-PiE, the Department of Environmental Science of Radboud University developed the ePiE model (Oldenkamp et al., 2018). ePiE stands for 'exposure to Pharmaceuticals in the Environment'. The ePiE model predicts concentrations of pharmaceuticals in European rivers and surface waters based on national consumption data of EU member states.

It simulates environmental fate processes of pharmaceuticals like excretion by humans, mismanaged waste disposal, sorption and degradation in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) and dispersal, degradation and sedimentation in surface waters. The model was developed in the open source software environment R. The heart of the ePiE model is formed by HYDROSHEDS, a schematic global network of interconnected rivers and lakes, and the Waterbase-UWWTD, a database with all WWTPs in Europe.

Although ePiE was originally developed for pharmaceuticals, most of the principles and concepts implemented in the ePiE model are also useful to simulate the fate of (micro)plastics. Modelling the fate of (micro)plastics in rivers and surface waters reveals the relative contribution of different sources of (micro)plastics which can be used by managers to prioritize different intervention options (Van Wijnen et al., 2019). However, from a scientific perspective, accurate modelling of (micro)plastics in rivers and lakes is still an enormous challenge. Examples of the scientific hurdles that have to be taken include:

  • Characterizing the nature and strength of different sources of plastic pollution;
  • An accurate description of plastic degradation, and especially the dynamic environmental transformation of macroplastics into microplastics;
  • An accurate description of the behaviour of different types of (micro)plastics in surface waters under different environmental conditions (advection, sedimentation, resuspension);
  • The impact of microbial growth on (micro)plastics for the fate of these (micro)plastics under different environmental conditions.

The aim of the current MSc project is to perform a feasibility study for adapting the current ePiE model in such a way that it becomes suitable to model the fate of (micro)plastics in European rivers and surface waters. It may not be feasible to tackle all scientific challenges outlined above within the limited amount of time available for an MSc thesis. In this case, it is possible to limit the feasibility study to a certain source category of (micro)plastics (e.g. tire wear or synthetic clothing) or to certain fate processes (advection & sedimentation, degradation or biofouling).
Project form: Literature review / Data Collection & Analysis / Modeling
Preknowledge/skills: Affinity with the description of physico-chemical processes and managing large data sets in Excel or R.

Literature:

  • Oldenkamp, R., Hoeks, S., Cengic, M., Barbarossa, V., Burns, E.E., Boxall, A.B.A., Ragas, A.M.J., 2018. A High-Resolution Spatial Model to Predict Exposure to Pharmaceuticals in European Surface Waters: ePiE. Environmental Science & Technology 52: 12494-12503.
  • Van Wijnen, J., Ragas, A.M.J., Kroeze, C., 2019. Modelling global river export of microplastics to the marine environment: Sources and future trends. Science of the Total Environment 673: 392-401.

Contact: Prof. Ad Ragas or Dr. Jikke van Wijnen