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Towards better representation of surface-subsurface flow interactions in urban areas particularly during extreme events (OP2256)

   Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering

   Monday, January 24, 2022  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Newcastle United Kingdom Climate Science Environmental Engineering Fluid Mechanics Hydrology Mathematical Modelling Soil Science

About the Project

Detailed flood models are increasingly used to assess future flood risk in cities and catchments, and to design flood attenuation features including green infrastructure (GI) which reduce the amount of water entering drainage systems via infiltration, transpiration and storage. The advanced flood model CityCAT [1] developed at Newcastle represents surface flows, the effects of buildings and even pipe networks, but has only a very simple representation of sub-surface flows in soils. This is very limiting as (a) infiltration of rainfall into dry soils can reduce flood runoff and (b) sub-surface flows can cause saturation and reduced effectiveness of GI.   This project therefore aims to develop and apply a coupled surface and groundwater model based on the 3D Richards equations for variably saturated flow for use in flood modelling for future climates, accounting for changed soil wetness and the use of GI. The Richards equations are usually solved using the finite difference (FD) method [2] or the finite element (FE) method [3]. The main problems with the existing solutions are: a) mass conservation especially when the pressure form is used or implicit schemes are used; and b) inability to model conditions changing from unsaturated to saturated with explicit schemes. This project will develop new solvers for the 3-D Richards equations based on modern finite volume numerical methods to address the main problems of the standard FD and FV solvers. The new solvers will then be used to extend the current vertical-only infiltration capability of the CityCAT model [1], and used in two key assessments. Firstly, the impacts of changing storm intensity and the effects of increased antecedent drying on flood risk in cities and small catchments. Secondly (linked to the National Green Infrastructure Facility), the limits of using GI for flood risk management in cities with groundwater sensitive locations, e.g. Newcastle where minewater rebound is affecting the groundwater levels and causing flooding.

A number of stakeholders will be interested in this project, including Newcastle’s Blue Green Learning Action Alliance, comprising Newcastle City Council, Northumbrian Water, Newcastle University, ARUP, Atkins, Tyne Rivers Trust and Northumberland Wildlife Trust, all of whom have signed a declaration to promote GI across Newcastle.

Funding Notes

This project is part of the NERC ONE Planet DTP. Each of our studentship awards include 3.5 years of fees (Home/EU), an annual living allowance (£15,650) and a Research Training Support Grant (for travel, consumables, etc).
Home and International applicants (inc. EU) are welcome to apply. Following the UKRI announcement regarding their new 30% UKRI international recruitment policy (to take effect from September 2021) both Newcastle University, and Northumbria University, have agreed to pay the international fee difference for all International applicants (inc. EU) who are awarded a DTP studentship. Interviews will take place in February 2022.
How to apply: View Website


[1] Glenis et al, 2018. A fully hydrodynamic urban flood modelling system representing buildings, green space and interventions. [2] Celia et al, 1990. A general mass-conservative numerical solution for the unsaturated flow equation. [3] Forsyth et al, 1995. Robust numerical methods for saturated-unsaturated flow with dry initial conditions in heterogeneous media.

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