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SEESALT: Novel ways to ’SEE’ coastal ’SALT’ marshes using low-cost drones and sensors

Project Description

Saltmarshes are found extensively along low wave energy coastlines resulting from fine sediment accumulation and vegetation establishment. Their halophytic vegetation is adapted to regular flooding by the tide, and their surfaces are typically dissected by networks of tidal channels. Saltmarshes provide a wide range of ecosystem services which include nutrient cycling, primary and secondary productivity, and contribute to human well-being by providing food, fibre, water purification, climate regulation (carbon sinks), flood regulation, coastal protection, recreational opportunities and tourism. Amongst the most productive of coastal ecosystems, saltmarsh plants can produce 100-1000 g C m-2 y-1 of above-ground biomass and provide more ecological services to coastal populations than any other coastal environment. Saltmarshes offer protection against storm surges, and act as natural sea barriers minimising waves and flooding effects in coastal a result of binding sediment through their roots and rhizomes, reducing current velocities.

However, saltmarshes face the threat of permanent inundation from accelerated sea-level rise combined with decreasing opportunities for upslope migration due to extensive human development of coastal areas.

The coastal geomorphology of saltmarshes is highly important, but there still remain a wide range of uncertainties, in part due to their large spatial extent, inaccessibility and the subtle nature of micro-topographic variability in their surface elevation.

This needs to be addressed, as the long-term balance between vertical and lateral saltmarsh dynamics is key to understanding their long-term persistence in the face of future projected sea-level rises, climate change and human impact.

Although many ecological studies of saltmarshes have been undertaken, the interactions between physical and biotic factors still remain largely uncertain due to the complexity of vegetation dynamics in saltmarshes. To adequately understand how vegetation and sediment fluxes affect saltmarshes we need interdisciplinary studies that link both their geomorphology and ecology in order to work towards a common understanding.

The potential of UAV-based imagery/data is still new and not widely understood/appreciated; we do not entirely understand what information can be obtained and how good it is, and how the integration of different UAV datasets can be used to help understand the processes active at the coast e.g. sediment movement, erosion and deposition, and the role of vegetation type, cover and distribution in the evolution of saltmarsh for coastal protection.

There are now significant opportunities to use high-resolution UAVs/sensor datasets, image processing, soft-copy photogrammetry, and GIS to generate multidimensional geo-visual representations of the coast for analysis, interpretation and communication; for example, to use such data to refine flood risk assessments for coastal areas and to support immersive risk communication tools.

The purpose of this research is to establish the contribution UAVs and sensors can provide for coastal monitoring, mapping and modelling. UAV flight and data acquisition and training will be provided as an integral component of the PhD research.

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a UK honours degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent) in Geography, Coastal, Marine, Plant Science.

Essential Background: Geography, GIS, remote sensing, photogrammetry, image processing, programming, plant science.
Knowledge of: Geography, GIS, remote sensing, photogrammetry, plant science, and drone/UAV remote sensing, image processing and softcopy photogrammetry.


• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Geography
• State name of the lead supervisor as the Name of Proposed Supervisor
• State ‘Self-funded’ as Intended Source of Funding
• State the exact project title on the application form

When applying please ensure all required documents are attached:

• All degree certificates and transcripts (Undergraduate AND Postgraduate MSc-officially translated into English where necessary)
• Detailed CV
• Details of 2 academic referees

Informal inquiries can be made to Dr D Green ( with a copy of your curriculum vitae and cover letter. All general enquiries should be directed to the Postgraduate Research School ()

The other supervisor on the project is Dr J McKinley (Queens University, Belfast)

Funding Notes

This project is advertised in relation to the research areas of the discipline of GIS and Remote Sensing. The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for Tuition fees, living expenses and maintenance. Details of the cost of study can be found by visiting View Website. THERE IS NO FUNDING ATTACHED TO THESE PROJECTS.

Additional research costs will be required for fieldwork (subsistence, travel and accommodation) and specialist software (above tuition fees and living expenses) and these should be discussed with the supervisor.


• Flitcroft, R., et al., 2017. Adding to the Toolbox for Tidal-Inundation Mapping in Estuarine Areas. Journal of Coastal Conservation. Vol. 22(4):745–753

• Klemas, V.V., 2015. Coastal and Environmental Remote Sensing from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: An Overview. Journal of Coastal Research. Vol. 31:1260-1267.

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