School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development

News Item

PhD Opportunity: School of Agriculture Food and Rural Development NERC Industrial CASE PhD - Using spatially explicit soil mapping and modelling to understand and mitigate nitrate leaching in an agricultural catchment

Value of award

Depending on how you meet the NERC's eligibility criteria, you may be entitled to a full or a partial award. A full award covers tuition fees at the UK/EU rate and an annual stipend of £14,553. A partial award covers fees at the UK/EU rate.

Number of awards


Start date and duration

October 2017 for 4 years.

Application closing date

31 May 2017.


This project is based in northern Northumberland where nitrate contamination of groundwater in the Fell Sandstone aquifer is threatening drinking water supplies.  This is a unique opportunity to work with scientists at Newcastle University, the Environment Agency, and Northumbrian Water to investigate how agricultural practices are impacting on the quality of groundwater.

The student will use monitoring and modelling to quantify the sources of nitrate contamination of the aquifer. Strategies to mitigate nitrate leaching will be identified and trialled on various soil types, with ongoing monitoring of soil water quality and crop yields. Results from these studies will be fed into a spatially explicit soil N dynamics model to:

  1. produce farm- and field-specific recommendations to farmers, and
  2. explore the best combinations of mitigation measures to use in the study area to minimise N leaching.

The ideal candidate will be able to work in a multi-disciplinary environment with particular experience in environmental and/or soil science and a basic understanding of GIS mapping of spatial variability at the landscape scale.


Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

Name of supervisor(s)

Dr Julia Cooper (Newcastle University)
Dr James Taylor (Newcastle University)
Melissa Swartz (Environment Agency)
Dr Jeremy Dearlove (Northumbrian Water Limited)

Eligibility Criteria

A first class or upper second class degree in agriculture, environment or engineering with good numerical skills is essential. The ideal candidate will have experience with soil science and GIS mapping and knowledge of agronomy in the UK. The student will be based primarily at Newcastle University with opportunities for placements at both Northumbrian Water and the Environment Agency.

This studentship is available for UK nationals or EU nationals who have been ordinarily resident in the UK for 3 years immediately prior to the start of the course. Non-UK nationals who are currently resident outside of the UK are not eligible.

How to apply

You must apply through the University’s online postgraduate application form. Only mandatory fields need to be completed:

  • insert the programme code 8010F in the programme of study section
  • select ‘PhD School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Agriculture) as the programme of study
  • insert the studentship code AG040 in the studentship/partnership reference field
  • attach a covering letter, stating the title of the studentship, quote the reference number AG040 and state how your interests and experience relate to the project. Shortlisted candidates will be called for interview in mid-June 2017.


Informal enquiries can be made by email or telephone to Dr Julia Cooper (; 0191 208 6883) or Dr James Taylor (; 07502 983 460), as well as Melissa Swartz (0208 474 6537, or and Dr Jeremy Dearlove (0191 419 6550;

published on: 16 May 2017