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PhD in Geographical and Earth Sciences - Improving Urban Coastal Geomorphology Data to support Coastal Adaptation to Climate Change (UrbanCoastAdapt)

Project Description

Are you interested in using coastal/environmental science to help better manage coastal climate change impacts? Do you want to do cutting edge research that is also useful to society? If yes, this project will hopefully excite and appeal to you!

Globally, we can measure, predict and model the rates of soft coast erosion and sediment transport dynamics and methods of assessing mixed to coarse (cobble-boulder) beach sediment dynamics are improving. However, we lack an understanding of the composition, erosion and sediment transport rates of artificial made ground – land that was created by extending into and/or reclaimed from the sea. This project will directly address a globally pressing and unanswered question: how toxic is this made ground, what is its sediment composition and how fast does it erode and mix into the more natural coastal sediment system? These data are of growing importance as we adapt to coastal climate change risks along urbanised coasts. The most recent IPPC report on Oceans and the Cryosphere (IPCC, 2019) clearly shows sea levels will continue to rise until 2300 and (landward) retreat is one of the six recommended responses to maintain community resilience in the face of sea level rise. Without data on the nature, erosive capacity and transport rates of former made or reclaimed urban ground, it is difficult to assess risk, to determine if it is possible to allow this made ground to ‘retreat’ by allowing erosion and coastal realignment to a more natural position. This retreat option has the potential to reduce the requirement for expensive hard coastal protection (and the embodied carbon cost of it) and to allow us to live more sustainably with a dynamic coast – but a lack of data on the erosion risk and rates is hampering discussions about the viability or implementation of such a retreat option along urbanised coasts.

To our knowledge, there has been very limited work worldwide on the characteristics, variability and chemical composition of made ground that was used historically to extend land into the sea. Whilst there are land-based assessments of contaminated land on ‘brownfield’ sites scheduled for redevelopment, these are not routinely carried out on urban made ground. This ground is often post-industrial, is currently derelict or has light industrial use which is often identified by planners as suitable land for ‘regeneration’. This land is also often low-lying and fronted by coastal and estuarine engineering structures that are coming to the end of their design life. This gives society a choice – do we continue to defend this low-lying land, at risk with rising sea levels, or do we look to return this land to the sea? If we want to consider the latter, then more data are needed on the composition, erosivity and rates of sediment transport of this often highly heterogeneous ‘made ground’.

This project will use cutting edge geomorphological, geochemistry and coastal processes science to address this question. A combination of laboratory analysis of sediment characteristics and geochemistry, remote and field monitoring techniques of erosion and transport rates, meteorological and oceanographic data, alongside numerical modelling, statistical and spatial analysis will be used to generate novel understanding of made ground erosion risk, rates and dynamics of made ground sediment when it enters the coastal system. Given the need and novelty of this project, it is expected that high quality, high impact papers and policy briefings would be generated by this project.

Project findings will not only enhance process-based understanding of the erosion, sediment transport and composition of reclaimed land, it will also directly contribute to a gap in our evidence base for managing coastal erosion risk and delivering public bodies climate change adaptation targets in Scotland (a requirement in Scottish Law). It will also improve our spatial understanding of the extent of artificial made ground at the coast in Scotland and Northern England, complementing the dataset on the number of coastal landfills at risk of erosion in England.

To achieve this the student will be supervised by a multi-institutional team composed by scientists in the Universities of Glasgow (Naylor, Hurst), Stirling (Loureiro) and Queen Mary (Spencer). The student will also gain experience in sediment geochemistry analyses with the support of Spencer (at Queen Mary University) and other researchers at the University of Glasgow.

Funding Notes

Funding is available to cover tuition fees for UK/EU applicants, as well as paying a stipend at the Research Council rate


How to Apply: Please refer to the following website for details on how to apply:

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