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Isotopes and ecohydrological models for sustainable urban water management - LEVERHULME

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, March 03, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Urbanisation is one of the major global drivers of land use change, and sustainably managing urban water is one of the key environmental challenges of the 21st Century. A central focus of urban water management is evacuating runoff from impermeable surfaces by artificial storm drains; this exacerbates flooding downstream, and reduces both groundwater recharge and dry weather flows. To mitigate such problems in the future, management of urban storm runoff needs to encourage more retention of water in built-up areas, with more “green infrastructure” such as wetlands and infiltration zones to “slow the flow”. To do this, however, we urgently need an evidence base for a more nuanced understanding of urban hydrology and how water is partitioned into “green” and “blue” fluxes. We particularly need clearer identification of how flow paths, subsurface storage dynamics and water age distributions in built-up areas reflect the integration of engineered water control systems, and more natural, permeable zones (e.g. parks, gardens etc.). To achieve such understanding, using isotopes to trace the origins, mixing and fate of urban waters through integrated data collection and modelling programs offers outstanding potential.

This PhD student will address this issue through a cutting edge project with an international supervision team of Chris Soulsby (University of Aberdeen) and Marco Maneta (University of Montana). The work will follow on from earlier studies in urbanising catchments in Scotland and the USA. These used isotope variability in rainfall and runoff to characterise the dynamic interaction of urban and non-urban areas in runoff generation using simple conceptual models. The PhD project will leverage this existing data base, but will collect new data to use the “state of the art” EcH2O-iso model to give a much more comprehensive, process-based understanding of the hydrological function of the urban environment.

The objectives (O) of the PhD will be: O1) Characterisation of the spatial and temporal variability in isotopes in rainfall, soil water, throughfall, soil water, plant water, urban runoff and stream flow in the catchment. O2) Use EcH2O-iso to model these spatial and temporal dynamics, and thus quantify the partitioning and ages of “green” and “blue” water fluxes in a complex urban environment, and how these vary with sub-surface storage dynamics. O3) Use the calibrated model from O2 in scenario analysis using modelling experiments to explore how adapting urban design and using green infrastructure could change water partitioning and associated flux – storage – age dynamics.

The PhD studentship offers an exceptionally strong training package that integrates fundamental and applied hydrology through a fusion of field-based and modelling approaches. The student will be based in the School of Geosciences at the University of Aberdeen where the hydrology research group (in the Northern Rivers Institute) have a wealth of experience for training in isotope-based techniques. The student would be a member of the Aberdeen Graduate School for generic post-graduate training and would also become a member of the Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Society and Environment (SAGES) national doctoral training initiative.

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a UK Honours degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent) in environmental or earth science (including physical geography), environmental or civil engineering or a related subject.

Essential background and knowledge: Strong background, or commitment to rapidly developing expertise, in hydrology is essential.

The other supervisor on the project is Professor Marco Maneta (University of Montana)


• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Geology
• State name of the lead supervisor as the Name of Proposed Supervisor
• State ‘LEVERHULME’ as Intended Source of Funding
• State the exact project title on the application form

Application closing date is 12:00pm (GMT) on 1 March 2019. Applications received after this time will NOT be considered. Additionally, incomplete applications will NOT be considered.

When applying please ensure all required documents are attached:

• All degree certificates and transcripts (Undergraduate AND Postgraduate MSc-officially translated into English where necessary)
• CV
• 2 References (Academic, where possible)

Informal inquiries can be made to Professor C Soulsby () with a copy of your curriculum vitae and cover letter. All general enquiries should be directed to the Postgraduate Research School ()

The start date of the project is 1 September 2019

Funding Notes

The studentship will pay Tuition fees at UK/EU rate for 2018/19 this will be £4,260. A maintenance stipend of £14,777, paid monthly in arrears, will also be provided.

Unfortunately applications from International students CANNOT be accepted

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