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Sustainable groundwater management: Predicting and managing heavy metal contamination

ABG-99357 Thesis topic
2021-07-19 Public/private mixed funding
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Université de Sherbrooke
Sherbrooke - Canada
Sustainable groundwater management: Predicting and managing heavy metal contamination
  • Chemistry
  • Ecology, environment
  • Engineering sciences
geogenic contaminants, microbially-mediated redox reactions, biogeochemistry, x-ray absorption spectroscopy, geospatial analysis

Topic description

 One of the most perilous threats to providing safe access to drinking water comes not from the release of industrial contaminants, but from naturally-occurring, geogenic contaminants which are already globally abundant in Earth's soils and sediments. Manganese, arsenic, chromium, uranium, vanadium, and selenium are all common geogenic contaminants. This project will survey critical groundwater resources for native contaminants, a critical step to reduce public exposure and identify vulnerable areas for monitoring and management in order to prevent costly contaminant mobilization. The project includes applying state-of-the-art field techniques to conduct intensive field studies to quantify manganese and co-occurring contaminants within both groundwater and soils/sediments in Southern Quebec. This research will provide valuable insight into the subsurface processes controlling contaminant mobility that can be used to prevent future groundwater contamination from natural sources. The results will provide water managers with valuable information on whether aquifer geology or pedogenic and biogeochemical processes serve as better predictors of susceptibility to natural contamination. Responsibilities will include designing and executing field experiments, analyzing geochemical parameters, and running laboratory experiments. If the candidate prefers to be entirely laboratory based, projects are available collaborating with analytical chemists to develop cutting-edge techniques to characterize collodial organic matter and metal interactions and assess their role in contaminant mobilization.

Funding category

Public/private mixed funding

Funding further details

Funded by the Canada Research Chair Program

Presentation of host institution and host laboratory

Université de Sherbrooke

The Environmental Biogeochemistry Laboratory (BE.Sherbrooke) is led by Prof. Debra Hausladen, Canada Research Chair holder in Environmental and Soil Biogeochemistry. The research focuses on the physical and biogeochemical processes that control the fate and transport of natural and anthropogenic contaminants in order to reduce risks to the environment and human health. BE.Sherbrooke integrates chemical, mineralogical and biological techniques that allow for a comprehensive characterization of natural and contaminated sites, as well as a predictive understanding of the behaviour of contaminants despite the inherent complexity and heterogeneity of environmental systems.

The laboratory is equipped for processing biological and chemical samples, performing sequential extractions, measuring reaction kinetics, and identifying reaction products. In order to decipher complex biogeochemical processes, you will have access to state-of-the-art chemical and microbial techniques as well as conventional chemical analysis techniques (ex: XRF, ICP-MS, IC). Two environmental chambers for anaerobic conditions will enable simulation of oxygen-free environments. Most of the projects will be carried out in multidisciplinary teams including close-interaction with senior research professionals.  

Candidate's profile

  • Degree in environmental or chemical engineering, Earth science, chemistry, materials science or a closely allied field
  • Field work experience and journal publications will be considered an asset
  • Previous laboratory or field research experience in chemistry, aqueous geochemistry, mineralogy, microbiology, biogeochemistry, or geochemical modeling or geospatial analysis is advantageous.
  • Exceptional organizational, time management, and communication skills.
  • Prepared to work in a team-oriented and multidisciplinary research environment
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