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Sand mining sustainability: Quantifying rates and locations of sand mining using high-resolution satellite data

Project Description

Global economic development has fuelled growth of the construction industry and increased exploitation of global sand reserves, with considerable volumes of sand now extracted from the world’s large rivers. At a global scale, it is clear that current rates of global sand mining from both coasts and rivers (~40,000 Mt yr-1) significantly outstrip the total global fluvial sediment flux (~19,000 Mt yr-1). Large scale development in South East Asia has driven increases in the rate at which sand is extracted from many of the regions rivers, the Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam experiencing large increases in the number of sand mining operations over the past decade. However, there are large uncertainties in how much sand is being extracted from the Mekong. One study has suggested that approximately 34 Mm3 (55 Mt yr-1) of aggregate is being extracted annually; of which 90% (31 Mm3 or 50 Mt yr-1) is sand. Yet this study (now 5 years old) has potentially missed a rapid expansion in extraction since its publication. There is, therefore, a need to better quantify the rates and locations of sand mining on the Mekong to ensure the extraction of this natural resource is sustainable.

The advent of high-resolution satellite imagery allows for novel approaches to quantify the locations and rates of sand extraction from large rivers, such as the Mekong. This project will seek to use such datasets (including Planet’s satellite imagery at 3m spatial resolution and daily temporal resolution) to record the presence of sand mining vessels within the lower Mekong River and its Delta, and provide an up-to-date assessment of the rates of sand being extracted. Utilising the location data provided by the above analysis, the project will then assess how extraction has affected the dynamics and stability of the river channel around hot-spots of mining activity. Bank erosion rates and channel planform analysis will be conducted from historical satellite imagery to infer the physical impact of sand extraction on the Mekong River.

Entry Requirements

Applicants should have or expect to obtain, at least 2:1 Honours degree (or international equivalent) in an Environmental Science degree or a Computer Science degree with an interest in satellite imagery and big data approaches.

The successful candidate will have experience in using Geographical Information Systems software (ArcGIS, QGIS) and in remote sensing techniques, and will be able to travel to Cambodia and Vietnam to conduct ground-truthing during the course of the project.

We recommend contacting a supervisor to discuss your research proposal before making an application.

Application deadline: Friday 13 December 2019

Funding Notes

Full-time UK/EU and International Scholarships will include fees at the ‘home/EU' student rate and maintenance (£15,009 in 2019/20) for the duration of the project, depending on satisfactory progress.

PhD students at the University of Hull follow modules for research and transferable skills development and gain a Masters level Certificate, or Diploma, in Research Training, in addition to their research degree.

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