Becky Peel

Postgraduate Student


In July 2019 I graduated from the University of York with an MChem in ‘Chemistry, Resources and the Environment’, a title I gained through my choice of analytical and environmental option modules. My masters project was in atmospheric chemistry, focussing on the analysis of air quality and atmospheric pollution in the centre of York, with the title ‘Characterisation of a New Air Pollution Monitoring Site in the City of York, UK’. This was conducted under the supervision of Dr Sarah Moller in the Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories (WACL).

I slightly changed fields by starting my postgraduate research in the Organic Geochemistry Unit (OGU) at the University of Bristol in September 2019. For my PhD I am looking into plastic pollution using pyrolysis gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (Py-GC/MS) techniques under the supervision of Dr Ian Bull, Dr David Naafs and Dr Charlotte Lloyd of the OGU, University of Bristol, and Dr Steve Roberts, Dr Huw Griffiths, Dr Claire Waluda and Dr Kevin Hughes of the British Antarctic Survey. This research is funded by NERC as part of their GW4+ DTP scheme.

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The presence of plastics in the environment is a growing, global issue. As a petroleum-based product, plastic (polymer) ingestion is harmful to wildlife, human well-being and global-national economies. Most ocean plastic ‘litter’ originates on land with major rivers providing important source-to-sink pathways into the ocean. How effectively the problem of plastic pollution in the ocean can be resolved is dependent on establishing effective methods for surveying, quantifying and modelling pollution pathways on land and examining how these can vary through time. As the impact of plastic pollution increases with decreasing particle size, the investigation of microplastics (particles < 5 mm) is particularly relevant.

This project aims to quantify microplastics in terrestrial sediment and soil samples, taken from major river systems in temperate, tropical and polar regions. Primarily, novel Py-GC/MS techniques shall be developed and implemented, alongside new analytical protocols, to establish a quantitative global picture of micro-scale plastic contamination. With the resulting spatial and temporal pollution datasets, source-to-sink litter pathways can be modelled and investigated, with a view to determining effective remediation strategies.

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