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Morphodynamic triggers in Western Europe’s coasts: the role of climatic drivers in past, present and future coastal evolution

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  • Full or part time
    Prof D Jackson
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Applications are invited for a funded PhD studentship tenable in the Faculty of Life and Health Sciences at the 
Coleraine Campus.
All applicants should hold a first or upper second class honours degree in Earth Science, Environmental Science, Marine Science or related area.

Where research during the 1990s appeared to demonstrate the widespread trend of consistent erosion in the Atlantic coasts of Europe, a reverse of this process is apparent on some coastal settings today. The location of sediment now occupying a higher position (emerged) in the coastal system has resulted in some coastal systems experiencing shoreline stabilisation or even accretion in recent years. This has given an abundance of sediments that helps ultimately build new and wider beaches as well as coastal dunes. The process is not linear however (French and Burningham, 2009), and there seem to be clear triggers in key climatic and hydrodynamic controls that emerge as drivers of new evolutionary paths within coastal environments. In southern Atlantic beaches, human influence is also interfering in the sediment system and thus resulting in shoreline erosion (Del Rio et al., 2013).

In recent years, climatic and hydrodynamic data has seen a significant development in terms of quality, resolution or acquisition frequency as well as an improved spatial distribution of observing works at western Europe’s Atlantic coasts (e.g. Gallagher et al., 2014). Likewise, various research centres have been working on the deployment of long term topographic and bathymetric surveying of nearshore and beach/dune systems providing an excellent estimate of long term trends in coastal behaviour of the coastal zone (INFOMAR a joint initiative between the Geological Survey of Ireland and the Marine Institute., REDIAM Data Centre for the Regional Government in Andalusia, Spain, EMODNET European Marine Observation and Data Network). However, how and when are triggering effects acting on morpho-sedimentary bodies that control shoreline change and sediment budgets in coastal cells are still poorly understood. The long term trends observed in the recent past could serve as a starting point to understand future scenarios linked to coastal evolution under changing climate conditions and sea levels, widely accepted to be a likely future for the Atlantic seaboard of Europe (IPPC, 2014; EEA, 2015).

Morphodynamic response of the coastal system is the product of balance of forces between hydrodynamic and morphological adjustments and thus investigation of long term records of both systems offers unique insights into future behavioural patterns that have or may develop. Forcing factors in Atlantic Europe are heavily linked to the dynamics of the climatic pattern known as North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), and in a minor extent the Eastern Atlantic (EA), which effects extend from Spain to Ireland but with specific behaviours that are linked to the dominance of High or Low pressure systems respectively. The North Atlantic storm track is
closely associated with large-scale pattern of atmospheric variability (Schneidereit et al, 2007) and the responsible of modifying the paths of the storms crossing the North Atlantic from the east coast of America to Europe (Woolf et al., 2002). Previous studies support a northward and eastward shift in the Atlantic cyclone activity during the last 60 years with both more frequent and more intense wintertime cyclones in the high-latitude Atlantic (Schneidereit et al., 2007; Vilibic and Sepic, 2010) and fewer in the mid-latitude Atlantic (Raible et al., 2008). On the other hand, negative values of NAO are related to an increase in storminess and high sea level values over southern Atlantic locations (Plomaritis et al., 2015; Rangel-Buitrago and Anfuso, 2013).

A comparison between long term wave and wind records, coupled with an integrated characterisation of topographic settings of nearshore and the beach/dune system in locations north and south of the NAO, would be enhanced by the development of wave shoaling simulations to link to the past, present and future morphological responses and various energy settings (modal and storm scenarios). This would provide significant insights into both the methodological approaches needed to cope with the high complexity of the triggering effects as well as a sound basis for policy and planning instruments to respond to the requirements associated with the changing conditions affecting our coasts (such as the Marine Directive Framework, Spatial planning and risk management plans and Coastal Zone Management, among others).

Aims of Research
The overall aim of this PhD study will be to investigate, understand and predict hydrodynamic and morphological responses in two coastal sites (western Ireland and south Spain) at either extremes of the NAO to test hydrodynamic and morphological triggers of coastal states under past, present and future (modelled) conditions.

Successful candidates will enrol as of September 2016, on a full-time programme of research studies leading to the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
The studentship will comprise fees together with an annual stipend of not less than £14,057 and will be awarded for a period of up to three years subject to satisfactory progress.

The closing date for receipt of completed applications is 26th February 2016.
Interviews will be held during March 2016.

Further information may be found at -
if you wish to discuss this topic or receive advice on research please contact
Professor Derek Jackson
Coastal Systems, Environmental Sciences Research Institute, Ulster University 
Tel: +44 (0)28 7012 3083
Email: [Email Address Removed]

For more information on applying go to 
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