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Quantification of the impact of changing vegetation on hillslope sediment transport

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Queen Mary University of London is announcing an exciting opportunity for an allocated four-year PhD position in either the Earth Surface Science group in the School of Geography or the Evolution and Development group in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences. The successful candidate will start their project in September 2019 and will participate in training and cohort activities of the London NERC DTP.

The London NERC Doctoral Training Partnership brings together eight of the world’s leading research centres in environmental science. Our partnership provides innovative doctoral training in a multidisciplinary research environment and fosters links between centres of research excellence, spanning NERC’s environmental science remit.

About the project

Hillslope sediment transport exists on a continuum from the gradual downslope motion of particles, termed soil creep, to catastrophic shallow landslides and debris flows. In upland, forested landscapes trees and other vegetation play a vital role in the modulation of these processes, with root growth and tree throw driving soil creep, whilst reducing landslide hazard through an increase in soil cohesion. There is growing evidence that the structure and dynamics of forests are changing as a consequence of climate change, alongside changes to forest structure driven by changing forest management practices. Consequently, it has become increasingly important to understand the implications these large scale changes in forests will have on both fine scale sediment transport and slope stability.

This project will integrate forest structural analysis using terrestrial laser scanning (TLS), with topographic analysis from airborne LiDAR and ecological and landscape evolution modelling to constrain the key factors which influence hillslope sediment transport at short (minutes to hours) to long (millennial) timescales. The analysis of TLS data to quantify tree structural properties such as branching, leaf area, crown density, biomass and neighbourhood interactions, will build on techniques developed by current PhD student Harry Owen (cohort 3). Analysis of airborne LiDAR data will be performed using LSDTopoTools (, a state of the art software package developed at QMUL in collaboration with colleagues from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Durham Universities. Full training in all of these methods, alongside opportunities to collaborate with other users of LSDTopoTools, will be provided to the successful student.

Policy Impact of Research

In the UK, a significant amount of forested land lies upslope of infrastructure (rail lines, roads, power lines), and it is therefore vital to understand the implications of changing forest dynamics on slope stability.

For further information about the project, please contact Dr Stuart Grieve.


Please note: NERC funding is subject to candidates meeting RCUK eligibility criteria and we encourage eligible students from the EU to apply. For details of eligibility please click here:

How to apply
Applicants should include a supporting statement, CV, transcripts and certificates, details of two referees, and indicate the relevant supervisor and project title in the application form. Shortlisted candidates will be invited to interview in March 2019.

To apply for a studentship being advertised by the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences (SBCS) please click here:

To apply for a studentship being advertised by the School of Geography please click here:

Deadline for applicants: Monday 18 March 2019

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