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Biological controls on siltation in gravel bed rivers

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  • Full or part time
    Dr P Rameshwaran
    Dr G A M de Almeida
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Supervisory team: Dr P Rameshwaran (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, [Email Address Removed]), Dr Gareth Old (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, [Email Address Removed]), Dr Gustavo de Almeida (Engineering and the Environment University of Southampton, [Email Address Removed]) and Professor Paul Kemp (Engineering and the Environment University of Southampton, [Email Address Removed])

The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted at Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (Wallingford).

Siltation of river beds by fine sediment is a major factor affecting the ecological status of UK rivers. Yet fundamental questions remain relating to the process of siltation and the link with fine sediment delivery to water courses, particularly in the context of agricultural diffuse pollution. CEH has completed a major field based study of siltation in rivers across the UK and this has raised some interesting questions regarding the linkage to sediment inputs. In particular, it is essential to develop a better understanding of the controls on the rates of siltation (e.g. importance of river sediment load versus concentration, effective distance downstream, effect of biota and/or calibre of substrate).

The flume facility at CEH Wallingford offers the opportunity to develop new process understanding. A pilot experiment has been successfully carried out introducing silt-sized material to various substrates. It has provided new understanding of the process of siltation by fine (silt-sized) sediment and the rates of deposition within and on gravel beds.

To understand these processes in natural systems two sets of experiments are needed: (1) quantify the rates of siltation under different scenarios of sediment input, river flow and substrate size distribution; (2) assess the effect of biota (i.e. benthic algae/small-scale vegetation) colonisation on the processes identified in (1). This is essential to parameterise models for the effect of flow, grain size and biota on the trapping and mobilisation of fines.

The work importantly addresses the research gap between fine sediment delivery to rivers and its impact on instream biota. It represents an important example of working with the new and widely supported paradigm of Working With Natural Processes (WWNP). Solutions that WWNP are of particular interest to catchment managers (regulatory and advisory) who are focused on mitigating the effects of changes in land use/management, climate and water resources. More specifically the work supports the development of models that link mitigation of diffuse pollution with ecological status. The proposal builds on our current research work including both experimental work at the flume facility at CEH Wallingford and field study at the CEH River Lambourn Observatory.

The SPITFIRE DTP programme provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/policy partners.

Training will be also given in research methods, experimental design, plant recognition, field and flume measurement techniques including topographic and plant survey, flow and sediment field measurements, use of Acoustic Doppler Velocimetry (ADV) and Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP), laboratory techniques for analysing sediment samples and computing techniques for data presentation and analysis (e.g. Tecplot, programming in R, ArcGIS). The student will also benefit from working alongside CEH field ecologists, scientists and other PhD students. The student will also be encouraged and supported in engaging with stakeholders (environmental regulators and advisory bodies) to promote the potential of closer consideration of natural processes in catchment management.

Applicants for a studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a 2.1 degree or higher. If you have a 2.2 degree, but have also obtained a masters qualification, you are also eligible. Substantial relevant post-graduate experience may also be sufficient, please contact the supervisors for more information.

UK applicants and EU students who meet the RCUK eligibility criteria please apply to SPITFIRE-

Funding Notes

This project is one of a number of proposed topics that are in competition for funding from the NERC SPITFIRE Doctoral Training Partnership (

Full studentships (fees and stipend) are only available to UK nationals and other EU nationals that have resided in the UK for three years prior to commencing the studentship. If you are a citizen of an EU member state you will eligible for a fees-only award, and must be able to show at interview that you can support yourself for the duration of the studentship at the RCUK level.


1. Rameshwaran, P; Sutcliffe, A; Naden, P; Wharton, G. 2014 Modelling river flow responses to weed management. In: Schleiss, Anton J.; de Cesare, Giovanni; Franca, Mario J.; Pfister, Michael, (eds.) River Flow 2014. London, Taylor & Francis Group, 467-474.
2. Old, G.H.; Naden, P.S.; Rameshwaran, P.; Acreman, M.C.; Baker, S.; Edwards, F.K.; Sorensen, J.P.R.; Mountford, O.; Gooddy, D.C.; Stratford, C.J.; Scarlett, P.M.; Newman, J.R.; Neal, M.. 2014 Instream and riparian implications of weed cutting in a chalk river. Ecological Engineering, 71. 290-300. 10.1016/j.ecoleng.2014.07.006.

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