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Metal isotope tracing of heavy metal pollutants (funded with stipend)

A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


Academic background
Host campus
Professor Claudine Stirling, Dr Jennifer Gadd (NIWA), Dr Matt Druce, Professor Michael Ellwood (ANU)


The Department of Geology has an opportunity for a fully-funded PhD project (with stipend) investigating the sources and environmental pathways of heavy metal contaminants across the rapidly growing urban centre of Auckland. This project is funded by MBIE and involves collaboration between the University of Otago, NIWA, the Australian National University and Auckland Council.

By 2050, 40 per cent of New Zealand’s population is projected to live in Auckland, while the NZ government has ambitions to double primary-export earnings to NZ$64-billion by 2025. However, environmental pressures pose risks to sustaining growth.

Sources of anthropogenic heavy metals are diverse and ubiquitous in the environment through their use in transport, construction, agriculture and horticulture. This has led to the accumulation of heavy metals in soils, streams and estuaries, exerting toxic effects on ecosystems, providing a pathway for adverse human health effects, and tarnishing New Zealand’s ‘clean and green’ reputation.

This PhD project will characterise the distributions and isotopic signatures of heavy metals across mixed land-use catchments in Auckland to trace the sources, pathways and fate of heavy metal contaminants from ‘source-to-sink’. These datasets will inform the contaminant-accounting models used by regulatory authorities to help prioritise decision-making and incentivise sustainable urbanisation and resource use. The project will involve collaboration between University of Otago, NIWA, ANU and Auckland Council.

The project involves field sampling, ‘clean-room’ geochemistry and ICPMS-based mass spectrometry for quantifying the concentrations and isotopic signatures of heavy metals.


Applicants with a strong background in the geosciences, environmental sciences, chemistry, or related discipline at the BSc(Hons) or MSc level are encouraged to apply. The project is funded by MBIE. The selected candidate will receive a PhD Scholarship (NZ$27,000 per year for 36-months, tax free with a fee waiver). Preference will be given to NZ and Australian applicants. Consideration of other applicants is contingent on eligibility for study in NZ.

How to apply


Please submit a cover letter, complete CV (including academic transcripts), and the names and contact information of at least two referees in a single pdf file.


Claudine Sterling