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QUADRAT DTP: Climate change impacts on seasonal water storage and flow: implications for environmental management

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, January 22, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Catchment water storage is one of the most important functions controlling water availability and streamflow. Where and when water is stored and how different ’stores’ (e.g. surface water, field drains, soil water or groundwater) are interconnected and linked to generating streamflow also has crucial implications for sediment and nutrient transport. Northern temperate climates, such as in Scotland and Northern Ireland, are characterised by relatively little seasonality in rainfall and temperature, whereby variations in storage are typically not extreme. However, agriculture, industry and private water supplies have recently experienced water deficits caused by prolonged dry periods. Climate models project even more pronounced seasonality, whereby summers will become drier and winters will become wetter (Chan et al., 2018). Implications for agriculture and environmental management might include the requirement of new guidelines for stocking densities, fertilisation or pesticide applications as a result of increased wetness, while drying trends might mean larger soil moisture deficits and reduced crop yields. Hence, there is a need to better understand climate change impacts on spatial patterns in seasonal water storage and flow, in particular the resilience of different stores to these changes and the timescales involved in recovering from extreme conditions (Geris et al., 2015). In addition, we still lack robust observational techniques to monitor (sub)surface storage changes beyond point scale measurements.

This project will investigate how climate change will affect seasonal hydrology and consequent impacts for agriculture and environmental management. It aims to better understand the environmental implications of (shifts in) more pronounced rainfall seasonality on the spatio-temporal dynamics of water storage and flow. It will begin by characterising regional seasonal patterns of water storage and flow, both under baseline conditions and subsequently under a range of future climate scenarios (e.g. Mullan et al., 2018). For specific sites across Scotland and Ireland, it will then explore the implications of changing water availability and flow on local agricultural productivity (e.g. crop yields) and environmental management strategies, e.g. the timing of fertilisation, pesticides and irrigation. In addition, it will explore how novel sensing technologies (including cosmic ray sensors) can contribute to detecting changes and thresholds in connectivity of different water stores to runoff and streamflow generation. The project will use national datasets and benefit from long-term background data at experimental sites.

The project will provide an excellent training opportunity for a highly motivated student interested in gaining skills in a range of diverse and cutting-edge techniques to tackle global environmental issues with local solutions. The student will be supervised by a team of experts in catchment hydrology, climate change, field experimentation and modelling. Ideal candidates will have a background in environmental science, hydrology, meteorology or similar field and numerical skills are particularly welcome.

The PhD studentship is part of the NERC doctoral training centre "QUADRAT" (University of Aberdeen and Queen’s University Belfast). QUADRAT provides high quality training in many aspects essential to future employment, including field-based experience, science communication skills and a Certificate in Strategic Management and Leadership.


Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered providing they have a Distinction at Master’s level.


• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Geosciences
• State name of the lead supervisor as ‘Name of Proposed Supervisor’ on application
• State ‘QUADRAT DTP’ as Intended Source of Funding
• Select the to apply now

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the NERC QUADRAT-DTP and is available to UK/EU nationals who meet the UKRI eligibility criteria. Please visit View Website for more information.

The studentship provides funding for tuition fees, stipend and a research training and support grant subject to eligibility.


Chan, SC, Kahana, R, Kendon, EJ, & Fowler, HJ 2018, 'Projected changes in extreme precipitation over Scotland and Northern England using a high-resolution regional climate model', Climate Dynamics, vol 51, pp 3559-3577

Geris, J, Tetzlaff, D & Soulsby, C 2015, 'Resistance and resilience to droughts: hydropedological controls on catchment storage and run-off response', Hydrological Processes, vol. 29, no. 21, pp. 4579-4593.

Mullan, D, Matthews, T, Vandaele, K, Barr, I, Swindles, GT, Meneely, J, Boardman, J & Murphy, C 2018, 'Climate impacts on soil erosion and muddy flooding at 1.5°C vs 2°C warming', Land Degradation and Development, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 94-108.

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