UCL Department of Geography


James Sorensen

Research Title

Real-time detection of faecally contaminated drinking water with fluorescence spectroscopy

More about James

Academic Background

  • 2017 - Present: PhD Hydrogeology, University College London
  • 2007 – 2008: MSc Hydrogeology, University of Leeds (Distinction)
  • 2003 – 2006: BSc Environmental Science, Lancaster University (1st class Hons)
    • Sorensen, J P R, Vivanco, A, Ascott, M J, Gooddy, D C, Lapworth, D J, Read, D S. et al. 2018. Online fluorescence spectroscopy for the real-time evaluation of the microbial quality of drinking water. Water research, 137, 301-309.
    • Sorensen, J P, Baker, A, Cumberland, S A, Lapworth, D J, MacDonald, A M, Pedley, S. et al. 2018. Real-time detection of faecally contaminated drinking water with tryptophan-like fluorescence: defining threshold values. Science of the Total Environment, 622, 1250-1257.
    • Sorensen, J P R, Sadhu, A, Sampath, G, Sugden, S, Dutta Gupta, S, Lapworth, D J, Marchant, B P, and Pedley, S. 2016. Are sanitation interventions a threat to drinking water supplies in rural India? An application of tryptophan-like fluorescence. Water Research, 88. 923-932.
    • Sorensen, J P R, Lapworth, D J, Nkhuwa, D C W, Stuart, M E, Gooddy, D C, Bell, R A. et al. 2015. Emerging contaminants in urban groundwater sources in Africa. Water research, 72, 51-63.
    • Sorensen, J P R, Lapworth, D J, Marchant, B P, Nkhuwa, D C W, Pedley, S. et al. 2015. In-situ tryptophan-like fluorescence: a real-time indicator of faecal contamination in drinking water supplies. Water Research, 81, 38-46
    • Sorensen, J P R, Lapworth, D J, Read, D S, Nkhuwa, D C W, Bell, R A, Chibesa, M, Chirwa, M, Kabika, J, Liemisa, M, and Pedley, S. 2015. Tracing enteric pathogen contamination in sub-Saharan African groundwater. Science of the Total Environment, 538. 888-895. 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.08.119
    • Sorensen, J P R, Butcher, A S, Stuart, M E, Townsend, B R. 2015. Nitrate fluctuations at the water table: implications for recharge processes and solute transport in the Chalk aquifer. Hydrological Processes, 29 (15). 3355-3367. 10.1002/hyp.10447
    • Sorensen, J P R, Finch, J W, Ireson, A M, and Jackson, C R. 2014. Comparison of varied complexity models simulating recharge at the field-scale. Hydrological Processes, 28(4), 2091-2102
    • Sorensen, J P R, Maurice, L, Edwards, F K, Lapworth, D J, Read, D S. et al. 2013. Using boreholes as windows into groundwater ecosystems. PloS one, 8(7), e70264
    • Sorensen, J P R, and Butcher, A S. 2011. Water level monitoring pressure transducers: a need for industry-wide standards. Ground Water Monitoring & Remediation, 31 (4). 56-62. 10.1111/j.1745-6592.2011.01346.x
    Research Interests

    Microbial contamination of drinking water remains the primary water quality concern in both developing and developed countries. The greatest public health risk relates to the consumption of drinking water contaminated with human and animal faeces to which two billion people are currently exposed worldwide. The consumption of enteric pathogens in faecally contaminated drinking water constitutes a major burden on public health due to the elevated incidence of infectious diseases.

    The major impact of enteric pathogens is the more than half a million deaths per year in low- and middle-income countries from diarrhoea, with children under five particularly at risk. Routine microbiological analyses of drinking water are undertaken using indicator organisms that share similar characteristics to enteric pathogens and are used to infer their presence.

    Such analysis requires well-trained personnel, working with sterile equipment and reagents, and a lag time of >18 h for results due to the necessity of culturing. In lower-income countries, these limitations restrict testing, the communication of risks to consumers, and behavioral change. In high-income countries, these limitations restrict municipal water testing to typically a daily basis and allow large populations to be potentially exposed to contaminated water before analysis is completed.

    There is currently a dearth of suitable real-time detection methods that could be used to instantaneously indicate contamination to further the United Nations Sustainable Goals (SDGs) for the universal access to safe drinking water for all and improvements in water quality by 2030.