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Hydro-Nation Scotland’s resilience– investigating systemic impacts of land-use decisions on water resources


   Hydro Nation Scholars Programme

  , Dr Sarah Halliday, ,  Friday, January 06, 2023  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This project aims to develop policy relevant understanding of the economic, social and environmental drivers of competing land uses, current trajectories and their potential impacts on catchment-level water availability and quality across Scotland.

Accelerating climate change, the size and timing of our ambitions for carbon neutrality and geopolitical events are greatly impacting land use decisions. Land-use has a decisive impact on the water environment, including river temperatures, river levels, water quality and water availability, which are critically important for key industries (tourism, distilleries) as well as domestic private water supplies. Climate change is changing rainfall patterns and increasing the spatial occurrence of “compound hydro-hotspots” (droughts and floods) across Scotland, impacting future land capability and potentially increasing demands on marginal or upland areas. Combined, these dynamics present systemic threats to Scotland’s land and water resources.

There is already a surge in private and public sector investments in land, particularly related to re- and afforestation activities to achieve national and organizational ambitions for carbon neutrality (net-zero). Accordingly, there is a great potential for land use decisions to be driven by non-environmental dynamics with insufficient regulatory oversight. While there are proposals to expand cultivated areas in Scotland in response to the current spike in food prices, there have already been suspension of water abstraction rights to farmers under drought conditions. Short-term investment decisions to achieve increasingly urgent net zero deadlines and competition for land may favour the development of forest monocultures of inappropriate tree species, or tree planting on marginal land, such as riparian zones, that can directly impact on water resources and are also vulnerable to extreme events.

This project proposes to capture these investment decisions and changes in land-use at the national scale, while modelling impacts to water quality and quantity at the catchment scale. This will require a multi-disciplinary systems approach, with a combination of empirical data, systems-based modelling and stakeholder/community engagement.

This project will help to:

·        Understand the interaction between land-use decisions in Scotland related to land-based carbon sequestration (LBCS) investment decisions, relevant policies and key global and domestic drivers. Synthesize the latest research on predicted national-scale land use changes resulting from LBCS and identify key stakeholders to engage with the project.

·        Collate and synthesize relevant empirical data on impacts of reforestation/afforestation on water quality, water availability and carbon sequestration potential, given climate change forecasts projections (UKCP 18) and identify study catchments for more detailed assessment and modelling.

·        Engage catchment stakeholders/communities to further build the evidence base on the dynamics of LBCS decisions in the study catchment(s), including impacts on water availability and quality, food production, biodiversity, public access and alternative energy generation.

·        Develop an integrated agent-based systems model to incorporate collated understanding of drivers and land capability, to simulate possible impacts on water resources (quality/quantity).

·        Develop policy insights and implement a communications plan to benefit relevant stakeholders.

This project offers an excellent opportunity to an outstanding student for inter-disciplinary training, covering social and biophysical sciences and will provide an excellent foundation for a future career in academic, governmental, or non-governmental sectors. The student will have the opportunity to engage with government agencies and charities influential in LBCS decisions, collaborative and get familiar with practical field-based implementation and monitoring of land use interventions. The student will benefit from world-class facilities and training provided by the University of Dundee and the James Hutton Institute. The scholar will be part of a larger cohort of Hydro Nation scholars across Scotland as well as other PhD students at both the University of Dundee and the James Hutton Institute. The student will have the intellectual freedom to steer the direction of the research and actively find solutions to key research challenges. This project will suit a student with background in/knowledge of:

·        Quantitative and qualitative research methods

·        Modelling

·        Systems approaches

·        Working with stakeholders / communities

·        Carbon sequestration / land-based net zero strategies / water resources management


Funding Notes

The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is an open competition for PhD Scholars to undertake approved projects, hosted within Scottish Universities and Research Institutes. This project will be hosted by the University of Dundee. Full funding is available from the Scottish Government (to host institutions via the Scottish Funding Council). The funding available will be in line with the UKRI doctoral stipend levels and indicative fees. Applicants should have a first-class honours degree in a relevant subject or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent). Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed on 26th or 27th January 2023

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