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Effect of climatic variability on water quality of coastal environments

Project Description

Supervisory team

Dr Athanasios Angeloudis (University of Edinburgh)
Prof Matthew Piggott (Imperial College London)
Prof Paolo Perona (University of Edinburgh)


This project will explore the application of coupled ecosystem and hydrodynamics models to understand the effect of climatic variability on coastal processes and water quality.

Project background

There is a requirement to understand the effect of increased climatic variability on the water quality of coastal environments. The UK is committed to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) alongside the UK Government aspirations of adhering to the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR). These legislative tools dictate that the UK manages its coastal marine systems to be in good environmental status while also being healthy, safe and biologically diverse. Increased variability in rainfall may lead to greater fluctuations in nutrient and suspended sediment inputs into rivers, particularly during flood events when treatment plants are bypassed and untreated sewage can be legally discharged. Adequately capturing the effects of these events on stratification, eutrophication and mixing is a regional modelling challenge that can significantly reinforce measures to maintain a good environmental standing along the coastal zone.

Research questions

1. Can we accurately capture the effects of intense rainfall-induced variations in coastal water quality?
2. What is the insight that can be achieved by using higher resolution coupled eco-hydrodynamics models in tidal-dominant coastal regions?
3. What is the significance of the numerical model discretisation on the mixing of scalars over varying tidal cycles?


The project will explore coastal modelling frameworks such as FVCOM and Thetis, with a view to study the Liverpool Bay coastal area exploiting the higher resolution capabilities of multi-scale unstructured mesh modelling software. Thetis is a model stemming from recent UK Research and Innovation council projects, focusing on coastal ocean modelling. Model applications have thus far involved marine renewable energy, sediment transport, tsunami propagation and water quality among other sustainable engineering and water management themes.

1. Review of literature on coastal water quality and regional hydrodynamics modelling, focusing [Months 1-4]
2. Development of idealised tidal/river models using benchmark cases for advection diffusion problems and linking to ecosystem models (e.g. AED2 ) to simulate water quality processes - [Months 4-16]
3. Development and validation of a hydrodynamics model of the Irish Sea beginning with 2-D and extending to 3-D modelling. Refinement of models at the Liverpool bay area based on LIDAR, satellite, DTM and bathymetric survey data to support the calibration of model [Months 17-24]
4. Verification and validation of modelling based on available observed data on hydrodynamics, salinity, Dissolved Oxygen and nutrient dispersion. [Months 17-32]
5. Simulation of changes in water quality based on projections for increased inland water and nutrient fluxes based on inputs from flood catchment models. [Months 32-37]
6. Dissemination of findings through 2 journal and 2 conference papers. [Months 12-36]
7. Write-up of PhD thesis working alongside Cefas. [Months 37-42]


A comprehensive training programme will be provided comprising both specialist scientific training and generic transferable and professional skills. The candidate may choose to attend lectures on unsteady flows at the University of Edinburgh. The student will also be encouraged to attend courses on digital mapping given by EDINA and the use of HPC facilities provided by the University of Edinburgh. The School of Engineering requires all its doctoral students to attend a compulsory Health and Safety course, and to undergo training in research methods provided through the University’s Postgraduate Transferable Skills Programme. The latter includes the Institute of Academic Development courses on Communication (including effective writing, conference preparation, writing a literature review, and writing for publication), Professional Development (including time management and goal setting), IT, and Research Planning (including finding academic literature, how to be an effective researcher, managing your own research project, a PhD thesis writing workshop, practical project management, and presenting made easy.)


Candidates should have at least an upper second class degree in Engineering, Mathematics, Physics, or Oceanography, possibly supported by an MSc Degree in a relevant discipline. An interest in modern programming techniques (using Python, Matlab, C or FORTRAN) is desirable.

Note: This is a CASE studentship together with Cefas

Project link:
Information on how to apply:

Funding Notes

Funding Eligibility:

a. Full funding: UK/EU citizens or settled overseas students only, who have worked and/or studied in the UK for at least three years before the programme starts.

b. Fees-only: UK/EU citizens who do not comply with the 3-year UK residency criteria. The award includes fees and research costs but not stipend. Students have to seek match-funding to cover their living expenses for 3 years minimum.

c. Non Eligible: Overseas students who are currently on a Tier 4 Visa or would need a Visa to come to the UK.

More details on View Website


G. Huang, R. A. Falconer, and B. Lin. “Integrated hydro-bacterial modelling for predicting bathing water quality”. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 188 (2017), pp. 145 –155. doi:

C. K. O’Neill, J. A. Polton, J. T. Holt, and E. J. O’Dea. “Modelling temperature and salinity in Liverpool Bay and the Irish Sea: sensitivity to model type and surface forcing”. Ocean Science 8.5 (2012), pp. 903–913. doi: 10.5194/os-8-903-2012.

J. Howarth and M. Palmer. “The Liverpool Bay Coastal Observatory”. Ocean Dynamics 61.11 (2011), pp. 1917–1926. doi: 10.1007/s10236-011-0458-8.

E. F. Young and J. T. Holt. “Prediction and analysis of long-term variability of temperature and salinity in the Irish Sea”. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans 112.C1 (2007). doi: 10.1029/2005JC003386. eprint:

How good is research at University of Edinburgh in General Engineering?
(joint submission with Heriot-Watt University)

FTE Category A staff submitted: 91.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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