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Title: Modelling of pesticides and POPS in the River Thames system : potential impacts of changes in climate and management
Author: Lu, Qiong
ISNI:       0000 0004 7230 3043
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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Due to environmental concerns, most of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been eliminated or reduced in production and use; however, due to their great persistency, POPs are expected still to be found in the environment long after their use has ceased. Although, in recent years, POPs have rarely been detected in river water in the United Kingdom (UK), their concentrations in fish (biota) and sediment are expected to be notable due to their lipophilicity and bioaccumulation; however, there is a lack of information and data to understand the current contamination of POPs in catchments and evaluate their potential risk to the environment and ecosystem. This thesis describes the application of mathematical modelling approaches to (i) predict the current distribution and concentration of POPs in catchments, (ii) evaluate the influence of climate change and extreme weather conditions on the fate of POPs, and (iii) provide guidelines to inform decision-making on managing the potential risks of POPs in river basins. The modelling studies have mainly focused on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The River Thames catchment was chosen as the study area. The Fugacity level III model was initially used to describe the general distribution of PCBs between different compartments; it was predicted that the greatest mass of PCBs remain in the soil, but the fish and sediments represent compartments with the highest PCB concentrations. The contamination of PCBs in Thames fish was estimated to exceed the unrestricted consumption thresholds of 5.9 μg/kg for ∑PCBs set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); no current EU Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) are available for PCBs in fish. It was indicated that the PCBs in fish could be linked to PCB contamination in sediment, which was predicted to be about three times higher than the fish concentrations, but insufficient observed data of PCBs in Thames fish and sediment are available to validate the results. In order to address this limitation in observed data, fish and sediment sampling and chemical analysis were carried out for the presence of POPs. In addition to PCBs, the measured results for hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in Thames fish and sediment were assessed. Although the observed fish- and sediment concentrations of the chemicals appear quite variable, when normalised to organic carbon the levels in sediment, they were comparable to the fish lipid normalised concentrations. Using the temperature and rainfall data forecasts in the UK Climate Projections 2009 (UKCP09), climate change scenarios were established and assessed in the fugacity modelling. The modelling results suggested a modest influence of climate change on PCB fate over the next 80 years. The most significant result was a tendency, in the Thames catchment, for climate change to enhance the evaporation of PCBs from soil to air. While the fugacity model successfully simulated the distribution and fate of PCBs, we used greatly simplified representations of climate, hydrology and biogeochemical processes of the catchment: to have a deeper understanding, a newly developed dynamic hydrobiogeochemical transport model - the Integrated Catchment Contaminants model (INCAContaminants) was applied. Using additional information about weather, river flows and water chemistry, the INCA-Contaminants model provided new insights into the behaviour of contaminants in the catchment; this led to a better representation of PCB contamination in sediment. In addition, INCA demonstrated the important impact of short-term weather variation on PCB movement through the environment. It was shown that PCBs contamination in Thames sediment was greatly disturbed by the severe flooding that occurred in early 2014. This thesis presents the application of the INCA model to assess - in addition to POPs - the behaviour of metaldehyde in the River Thames catchment. Metaldehyde is a type of pesticide used mainly to kill snails and slugs. Its application in agricultural areas within the catchment area has in recent years caused severe problems with drinking water supply. The INCA model has proved to be an effective tool for simulating the transport of metaldehyde in the catchment, predicting observed metaldehyde concentrations at multiple locations in the River Thames; this is the first time that a dynamic modelling approach has been used to predict the behaviour of metaldehyde in river basins. Modelling results showed that high concentrations of metaldehyde in the river system are a direct consequence of excessive application rates. In this thesis, a simple decision-support tool was derived from modelling results, based on variable application rates and application areas. This decision-support tool is now being used by Thames Water to help control peak concentrations of metaldehyde at key water supply locations.
Supervisor: Whitehead, Paul Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: River Basin Management ; Persistent Organic Pollutants ; Climate Change ; Hydrology Modelling ; River Thames ; Fugacity ; Integrated Catchment Modelling