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Assessing the ecological vulnerability of natural defences and risks to agricultural land following seawater flooding


Project Description

Erosion and flooding represent significant threats to our coastlines. In recent years, much progress has been made in understanding the role of natural habitats in providing coastal protection both in isolation and, in combination with, engineered sea defence structures.

While the prediction of flood risk at any particular location still poses a major challenge, our ability to link this risk to the likely biological responses to flooding at the landscape-scale, and understand the socio-economic consequences of such biological/ecological change is, arguably, even more limited.

This studentship combines the application of existing knowledge and tools for the prediction of flood risk with knowledge of the biological responses to flooding at the landscape scale, in order to better understand and model the likely socio-economic consequences of such flooding.

The studentship will develop a systematic method to determine how various flood scenarios impact the vulnerability of key coastal habitats. Working closely with industry partners, this approach will improve our understanding of how resistance and resilience to flooding determines the ability of various habitats to contribute to coastal defence before and after flood events and additionally, assess what happens when defences are breached and important economic activities inland (e.g. agriculture), are compromised.

The project integrates several approaches. These include manipulative experiments at the University of Plymouth to determine the biological impacts of flooding on recipient systems, habitat-scale assessments of likely Environmental Vulnerability, and modelling (in collaboration with the University of Cambridge) to determine how key parameters (e.g. bathymetry, topography, wave and surge height, vegetation characteristics) help us predict how coastal flooding impacts low-lying terrestrial habitats.

The School of Biological and Marine Science (within the Faculty of Science and Engineering) is at the forefront of ecological research across the marine realm. Its research has directly contributed to legislation in the UK and internationally. The student will join, and receive support and training within, a well-equipped, supportive and active research team at the cutting edge of the field, alongside PDRSs and PhD students.

The studentship will be hosted jointly by the University of Plymouth and the University of Cambridge (Coastal Research Unit, Department of Geography), but based primarily at Plymouth where the student will become a member of the UoP Ecology and Evolution Research Group. Both Universities have excellent research facilities; at Plymouth, this includes controlled plant growth environments and recently refurbished analytical laboratories.

A wide range of data processing and statistical tools, and coastal modelling techniques will also be available to the student, as will opportunities to network with staff and other graduates and assist with undergraduate teaching.

The student will also work with coastal management groups including the Environment Agency, National Trust, Natural England and Defra and liaise closely with XL Catlin to develop new approaches relevant to the insurance industry.

We are looking for a highly motivated, hard working person who is both collaborative and open-minded in their approach.

The candidate should have good quantitative skills and a range of research methods as well as a broad understanding of the underlying causes and environmental consequences of flooding. The position would suit a Natural Sciences graduate with a background in Environmental or Biological Sciences.

Applicants should have a minimum of a first class or upper second class bachelor degree. Applications from candidates with a relevant masters qualification will be welcomed.

Essential/desirable requirements for this position include: knowledge of plant stress physiology; understanding the impact of environmental factors on plant community structure and function; familiarity with coastal processes and management; appreciation of the role of natural ecosystems in coastal protection; experience in agro-ecology, the ability to conduct experimental work independently and as part of a team; excellent oral and written communication skills in English.

Experience in using R for statistical, graphical and modelling applications would be beneficial.

If you wish to discuss this project further, please contact Prof Richard Thompson or Dr Mick Hanley. However, applications must be in accordance with the details below.

Ocean Risk Scholarships: As a new initiative in 2018, XL Catlin, the global brand used by XL Group Ltd’s insurance and reinsurance companies, is funding three Ocean Risk Scholarships to examine and quantify risks to ecosystems, businesses and people from the changes taking place in the ocean. XL Catlin will act as a liaison throughout the research, providing risk supervision and allowing the student to work closely with industry professionals.


Funding Notes

The studentship will have a 3.5 year duration and will cover full-time Home/EU tuition fees plus a stipend of £14,777 per annum. The studentship will only fund those applicants who are eligible for Home/EU fees with relevant qualifications.

Applicants required to cover overseas fees will have to cover the difference between Home/EU and overseas tuition fee rates (approximately £10,350 per annum).

For more information on the admissions process contact Aimee McNeillie.

Closing date for applications: 12 noon, Tuesday 26th March.

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