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Dynamic socio-hydrology modelling: mathematical approaches for adaptive co-evolution

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Do you have a passion for sustainability?
Would you like to apply mathematical research to help improve resource security?

Modelling and Analytics for a Sustainable Society (MASS) is a Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships programme at the University of Nottingham that aims to tackle the ongoing global problems of food shortages, water scarcity and insufficient clean energy by using mathematics to help understand and optimise resource use through predictive modelling and statistical analysis.

Socio-hydrology is an emerging focus of hydrological science that views social and hydrological systems as co-evolutionary, governed by an array of complex feedbacks. The International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS) decadal Science Plan (2013-2023) asserts that the most pressing challenges associated with water resources globally (e.g. resilience to drought and flood, adequate water availability and quality) can only be properly addressed if the co-evolution of the socio-hydrologic system can be adequately represented and understood. A key challenge facing those tasked with managing the world’s water resources is to develop a new modelling paradigm that moves away from isolated representation of the physical, hydrologic system towards a fully coupled representation of both social and hydrologic systems.

Preliminary attempts to do this have focussed on the issue of flooding and have progressed using relatively simple mathematical models built on differential equations. These models seek to describe the co-evolution of hydrologic (flood height), technologic (flood defence infrastructure), societal (risk awareness), economic (wealth and defence funding) and political (planning policy) variables. These models have been very useful in revealing the likely influence of socio-hydrologic phenomena such as ‘collective flood memory’ on a community’s overall flood risk and in projecting the role that social behaviour might have on flood risk under a changing climate. However, the static nature of existing socio-hydrologic models limits their capacity to represent critical, dynamic co-evolutionary processes. We know that major ‘shocks’ to the hydrologic and/or socio-economic sub-systems often change the rules by which the whole system co-evolves. Examples of such shocks include large shifts in the course of a river (e.g. the course of the Kosi River in India has shifted by 120 km in the last 250 years), and wholesale changes to the governance of flood risk management (e.g. following the UK summer floods of 2007).

The objective of this PhD is to advance the field of socio-hydrology by developing mathematical approaches to support adaptive causal pathways in socio-hydrologic modelling. It will examine the potential of alternative approaches to delivering adaptive model structures (e.g. model switching and dynamic causal models) as well as methods for supporting dynamic parameter adjustment. It is anticipated that, initially, the project will build upon existing examples of socio-hydrologic models of flood risk. However, it is expected that the successful candidate will wish to expand the application domain to include alternative socio-hydrologic phenomena such as irrigated agriculture models.

For more information, including details of other available research projects, please visit:

The Leverhulme Doctoral Scholars, who will be based in the new £7m Mathematical Sciences Building, will be exposed to an outstanding and vibrant research environment in mathematics, resource science, engineering and social sciences, with excellent opportunities for international engagement. At the end of their PhD, the Scholars will be eligible to apply for an additional one-year post-doctoral prize, funded by The University of Nottingham, to help establish their independent research careers.

Eligibility: Appropriately motivated students should have, or expect to obtain, a first-class or good 2:1 honours degree and/or a distinction or high merit at MSc level in Mathematics or a subject with a strong mathematical component (e.g. physics, engineering, computer science).

Apply: Please visit the MASS web page and identify up to three projects of interest. Then apply via the University of Nottingham application page, using the personal statement section to indicate that you are applying to the “Mathematics for A Sustainable Society” programme, making sure to list your preferred projects, and uploading a CV of no more than two pages.

Studentships are available from September 2018 and will remain open until filled, early application is encouraged.

For any enquiries please email:

Funding Notes

Summary: The scholarships are for four years and will cover PhD tuition fees for UK/EU students, plus a tax-free stipend of £14,553 per annum (2017/18 rate). While the scholarships may be held by students of all nationalities, the Leverhulme Trust has a particular interest in supporting UK or EU students. International students would be expected to cover the difference between international and UK/EU tuition fees (currently approximately £9,500 per annum).

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