Imperial College London Featured PhD Programmes
Imperial College London Featured PhD Programmes
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Featured PhD Programmes
Norwich Research Park Featured PhD Programmes
Cardiff University Featured PhD Programmes

CollaPsE: a Collaborative science-art Project on coastal cliff Erosion. PhD in Geography (NERC GW4+ DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead Supervisor
Dr Georgina Bennett, Department of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
Mr Lee Jones, Coastal Team, British Geological Survey
Prof Iain Hartley, Department of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
Dr Christopher Hackney, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Hull
Mr Matthew Shaw, ScanLAB Projects

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter, EX4 4QJ

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

- A stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
- Payment of university tuition fees;
- A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
- A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
- Travel and accommodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events
- No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter

Project Background

Coastal cliff erosion is a major societal problem in the UK. This project will use cutting edge techniques to determine and visualize how cliffs are responding to climate change, working with scientists at Exeter and the British Geological Survey, as well as data visualizations specialists at ScanLAB Projects. Terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) is a revolutionary technique that collects high resolution ground models with laser pulses and has been used to monitor change in a range of landforms, including coastal cliffs (e.g. Hobbs et al. 2010). This project will utilize archives of TLS data dating back to 2001 to reconstruct surface soil moisture conditions on cliffs using a novel technique developed by Nield et al. (2011). It will correlate variations in soil moisture with patterns of erosion to try to determine climatic control on coastal erosion across a range of BGS coastal observatories. Results will be communicated in compelling ways through collaboration with experts in TLS data visualization at ScanLAB Projects.

This project offers the opportunity to study a highly topical issue and growing research field, be trained in cutting edge technologies with a range of project partners from the science and art world as well as offering the potential for generating high-impact publications and visualizations of our changing coastal environment.

Project Aims and Methods

Climate change is resulting in more extreme precipitation events and periods of drought with many regions experiencing fluctuations between these extremes. Increased climate variability may have a significant hillslope stability and erosion through affecting soil moisture, an important control on slumping and landsliding (Bennett et al., 2016; Handwerger et al., 2019). The main aim of the project is to investigate the response of coastal cliffs in the UK to variations in surface soil moisture. The project will test the hypotheses that (1) increased soil moisture variability is leading to greater rates of coastal cliff erosion, and (2) that clay-dominated cliffs are particularly affected, as clay soils are highly sensitive to wetting and drying. The project will utilize archives of TLS data from the BGS and ScanLAB Projects to reconstruct soil moisture conditions on cliffs back to 2001 from the intensity of the laser reflections (Nield et al., 2011). It will then be possible to investigate the relationship between soil moisture variations and topographic change (i.e. erosion) between scans. This analysis will be done for a number of established BGS coastal observatories in different lithologies around the UK. It will also be possible for the student to collect their own TLS data for a region of their interest to capture soil moisture variability and geomorphic change. Alongside this TLS based analysis, the student will perform lab-based analysis of soil susceptibility to wetting and drying cycles. This will involve collection of samples from study cliffs and analysis in the lab. Finally, the candidate will work with experts in visualizing TLS data at ScanLAB Projects to co-develop compelling ways to visualize coastal change.

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2020 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-20.


References / Background reading list

Bennett, G.L., Roering, J.J., Mackey, B., Handwerger, A.H., Schmidt, D., Guillod, B., (2016) Historic drought puts the brakes on earthflows in northern California, Geophysical Research Letters. doi:10.1002/2016GL068378

Handwerger, A.L., Fielding, E.J., Huang, M-H, Bennett, G.L., Liang, C., Schulz, W. (2019) Widespread initiation, reactivation, and acceleration of landslides in the northern California Coast Ranges due to extreme rainfall. Journal of Geophysical Research, Earth Surface. doi:10.1029/2019JF005035

Hobbs, P., Gibson, A., Jones, L., Poulton, C., Jenkins, G., Pearson, S., Freeborough, K. (2010)
Monitoring coastal change using terrestrial LiDAR. In: Fleming, Claire; Marsh, Stuart; Giles, Jeremy, (eds.) Elevation models for geoscience. Geological Society of London, 117-127. (Geological Society Special Publications, 345).

Nield, J., Wiggs, G.F.S., Squirrell, R.S. (2011), Aeolian sand strip moibility and protodune development on a drying beach: examining surface moisture and surface roughness patterns measured by terrestrial laser scanning. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 36, 513-522

Email Now

Insert previous message below for editing? 
You haven’t included a message. Providing a specific message means universities will take your enquiry more seriously and helps them provide the information you need.
Why not add a message here
* required field
Send a copy to me for my own records.

Your enquiry has been emailed successfully

FindAPhD. Copyright 2005-2019
All rights reserved.