Ph.D. Graduate Student Opportunity in Environmental Geochemistry

Metal Isotope Tracing of Heavy Metal Pollutants (funded with stipend)

We are seeking an enthusiastic and motivated student to undertake 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.


  • Prof Claudine Stirling - Department of Geology, U. Otago
  • Dr Jennifer Gadd – NIWA, Auckland
  • Dr Matthew Druce - Department of Geology, U. Otago
  • Prof Michael Ellwood – Research School of Earth Sciences (RSES), ANU, Australia

Project Description

By 2050, 40% of NZ’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 NZ’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 U. 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.

Requirements and how to apply

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 and the selected candidate will receive a PhD Scholarship (NZ$28,600 per year for 36-months, tax free with a fee waiver).

Applicants should 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 by email to: no later than 25 March 2022.

Contact Prof Claudine Stirling for further information about the project. Additional information about the Department of Geology at the U. Otago, RSES (ANU), and NIWA can be found at:, and

posted: 09 March 2022     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.