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African Humid Period floods on the Sahara Desert margins

   School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr Martin Stokes, Prof Anne Mather, Dr Sarah Boulton, Prof Fin Stuart  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP

Applications are invited for a 3.5 years PhD studentship. The studentship will start on 01 October 2023.

Project Description

This project investigates the size, timing and impact of African Humid Period (AHP) floods on upland landscapes along the Sahara Desert margins. Wobbling of the Earth’s axial spin alters atmospheric circulation patterns every ~20,000yrs, repeatedly bringing wetter climates and flooding (~5,000yr duration) to continental Africa ('Greening’ of the Sahara). Investigations will analyse mountain fronts from different latitudinal and continentality contexts using Quaternary-Recent alluvial fans (cone-shaped sediment bodies formed on valley sides and mountain fronts). These landforms possess flood-related sedimentary and geomorphological records with significant but unrealised large spatial and long temporal potential to inform on climate change sensitive drylands; areas of early human occupation (archaeology) and modern population pressures (flood hazard).

The PhD research will investigate key sites along the western Saharan Desert margin (offshore islands [humid], coastal [arid] and inland [hyperarid]: Cape Verde-Morocco: 14-28°N). Flood size quantification will involve measurement of flood sediments (boulder size) and geomorphology (slope and flood inundation area). This uses fieldwork and satellite analysis of palaeoflood and modern (for comparison / calibration) flood sites using hydrological modelling approaches (e.g. flood regime). The timing of flood events uses cosmogenic exposure dating techniques (i.e. 3He, 10Be, 26Al) applied to boulder surfaces deposited from different flood events. The impact of localised alluvial fan AHP flooding will utilise inter-site comparisons and comparisons with hydrological change datasets from other AHP archives (rivers, lakes, marine cores).

The PhD student will become a flood scientist with a field-laboratory-computing skillset of relevance to environmental government agencies or industry consultancy employment. Specialist training in remote sensing, fieldwork, geochronology, and hydrological modelling will utilise Plymouth/Glasgow expertise and laboratories (SUERC). Generic research training skills will be undertaken via the ARIES/Plymouth doctoral training colleges (project management, health and safety, data management, research communication / publishing). The student will become a member of international flood science networks (INQUA) for conference results communication and advanced training workshop opportunities.


  1. deMenocal, P.B., Tierny, J.E., 2012. Green Sahara: African Humid Periods Paced by Earth's Orbital Changes. Nature Education Knowledge 3, 12.
  2. Larrasoaña, J.C., et al., 2013. Dynamics of green Sahara periods and their role in hominin evolution. PloS one, 8(10), p.e76514.
  3. Stokes, M., Mather, A.E., 2015. Controls on modern tributary-junction alluvial fan occurrence and morphology: High Atlas Mountains, Morocco. Geomorphology, 248, pp.344-362.
  4. Mather, A., Stokes, M., 2016. Extracting palaeoflood data from coarse‐grained Pleistocene river terrace archives: an example from SE Spain. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 41(13), pp.1991-2004.
  5. Stokes, M., Gomes, A., 2020. Alluvial fans on volcanic islands: A morphometric perspective (São Vicente, Cape Verde). Geomorphology 368, p.107356.

Person Specification

This PhD is suitable for candidates with degrees in Geology / Earth Science / Physical Geography / Environmental Science. Fieldwork and GIS experience is desirable. Willingness to travel and undertake fieldwork in hot / remote desert locations is advantageous.

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1 October 2023.

Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship for 3.5 years, covering fees, stipend (£17,668 p.a. for 2022-23 rate) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships.

ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and £2,500 for external training, travel and conferences.

ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience. Our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.

For information and full eligibility visit


To apply for this position please visit here and select the studentship you would like to apply for. Please clearly state the name of the studentship project code STOKES_P23ARIES that you are applying for on your personal statement.

Please see here for a list of supporting documents to upload with your application.

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Dr Martin Stokes, [Email Address Removed]

For more information on the admissions process generally, please contact [Email Address Removed].

The closing date for applications is 23:59 (UK Time) 11 January 2023. 

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