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Innovative Project to Increase Flexibility and Reduce Costs of Particle Tracking Studies

Jack Poleykett, PhD Researcher at the Centre for Global Eco Innovation (Lancaster University) is leading an innovative project entitled ‘Development of Particle Tracking Technology’. The aim being to improve particle tracking methodologies to increase flexibility and improve data collection for industry based studies, which will also reduce related costs. The project uses unique dual signature tracers developed and owned by UK leading data acquisition and consultancy company Partrac, an industry partner for the PhD programme.

Jack Poleykett, PhD Researcher at the Centre for Global Eco Innovation (Lancaster University) is leading an innovative project entitled ‘Development of Particle Tracking Technology’. The aim being to improve particle tracking methodologies to increase flexibility and improve data collection for industry based studies, which will also reduce related costs. The project uses unique dual signature tracers developed and owned by UK leading data acquisition and consultancy company Partrac, an industry partner for the PhD programme.

Particle tracking provides qualitative and quantitative data regarding the spatial and temporal dynamics of sediments and soil. Determining the source, pathway and fate of sediment and the associated contaminants is desirable due to growing environmental concern and economic consequences. However, research has predominantly focused on the effectiveness of various types of tracers, with little emphasis on how they are deployed, monitored and recovered. The effectiveness of different tracer materials is highly dependent on deployment, monitoring and recovery methodologies. The focus of the project is to improve each stage of the methodology to enable both, original application of the technique, and achieve robust data collection at industry significant spatial scales. This project utilises a unique tracer supplied to Lancaster University by Partrac who develop proprietary tracers called ‘dual signature’ tracers; each particle (grain) of tracer has two signatures, which are used to identify the particle unequivocally following introduction into the environment. The use of more than one signature is an advancement and improvement on previously used (mono-signature) tracers. Partrac has four different colour tracers, identifiable by the fluorescent properties and paramagnetic characteristics.

The project’s key achievement to date is the development of an analytical method able to quantify the mass (g) of two unique tracer colours (namely, green and pink), from within environmental samples. This significantly increases the flexibility of the technique as it enables the investigation of two different sediment sources and/or two different particle size fractions. A reduction in analytical timescales has improved the precision of the technique, increasing both the spatial and temporal scales at which particle tracking studies can be conducted, ultimately making the technique more cost effective for commercial studies – a key aim of the project.

The future of the project focuses on both traditional and original application of the technology in the marine environment and original method development within the terrestrial environment. Fertile soil provides food security, economic prosperity, and a key ecological habitat. Also, as the largest carbon store on Earth, soil, plays a key role in environmental regulation. Loss of soil due to erosion is a significant problem plaguing rural communities across the globe and as such the protection of soil is increasingly recognised as an integral component of catchment management. Legislation such as the Water Framework Directive (WFD) (Directive 2000/60/EC); the EU adopted Soil Thematic Strategy (COM (2006) 231); and proposed Soil Framework Directive (COM (2006) 232) are evidence of increased concern regarding the transport of soil. Consequently it is now vital to understand the pathways, processes and fate of transported soils to gather robust field data regarding soil movement through space and time, crucial to the development of in field soil loss mitigation techniques and robust forecast models.

An assessment of the effectiveness of the ‘dual signature’ tracer as a tracer of soils has been conducted, and the findings were presented at the British Society of Soil Science Annual Meeting in Manchester, UK on September 3rd and 4th of this year, where Jack won first prize in the student oral presentation competition, and was awarded a rather large silver plated spade. A video regarding the research can be seen on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFxczMx5Lvs.

For more information about the project, contact Jack Poleykett (j.poleykett@lancaster.ac.uk) or
Dr Kevin Black, Technical Director at Partrac (kblack@partrac.com)

About Partrac Ltd.

Partrac is a marine data acquisition company specialising in oceanographic, environmental and marine geosciences surveys. We have built a reputation for delivering high-quality data for complex engineering and environmental projects in challenging environments. We work with a range of clients including dredging companies, offshore renewable developers, utilities and environmental consultants worldwide. For more information please visit the Partrac website: www.partrac.com

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