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Water for the Future: Investigating the Effects of Future Land Use and Climate Change on Water Quality in Scotland

Project Description

Water pollution remains the main reason for the failure of many Scottish waterbodies to reach Good Ecological Status under the Water Framework Directive. UK Climate Projections 2018 indicate that Scotland’s climate will become warmer, with drier summers, wetter winters and increased occurrence of extreme events, including droughts and intense rainfall. Understanding the likely impact of this profound environmental change on Scotland’s water quality is critical to facilitate planning for effective, resilient actions to prevent future water quality deterioration and to climate-proof current mitigation efforts. However, understanding the potential impacts of such changes is extremely challenging and can not be done in isolation. The associated climate induced land use change will also have a significant impact on water quality, with the potential for both large-scale social and economic consequences. For example, the projected increase in rainfall driven erosion as rainfall intensity increases could lead to increased transfer of pollutants and sediment, while increasing water temperature could affect the in-stream biochemical processes and ecological functions, including salmon survival. Studies addressing these complex issues at a scale useful for Scottish decision makers are scarce, and the likely impacts and future sustainability of current mitigation efforts are poorly understood.

This project will:
• evaluate the effectiveness and resilience of water quality mitigation measures under changing environment in the context of changing climate, society, agricultural production and land use in the near (up to 2040) and medium (2050 to 2100) term;
• consider the likely interacting effects of the above multiple drivers;
• evaluate multiple ecosystem benefits and trade-offs between available mitigation measures for water quality and other ecosystem services (e.g. food production, soil carbon and biodiversity).

The project will evaluate the potential impact of societal and environmental change on water quality within a trans-disciplinary framework, involving both environmental and social scientists, land use and water quality modellers. The student will benefit from access to trans-disciplinary expertise at the James Hutton Institute and the University of Dundee, and will build on available research outputs. A suite of mathematical models, including a process-based model HYPE, will be deployed to model future water quality under different climate and land use scenarios. Bayesian Belief Networks will then be used to construct a risk-based model that will integrate the output from process-based environmental modelling with softer data, including stakeholder and expert opinion, to explore complex socio-economic scenarios and plausible mitigation actions within a trans-disciplinary framework.

The project will suit a graduate in a relevant science discipline (environmental science, hydrology, agricultural science or similar) with a strong aptitude for applied mathematical modelling. The project offers and excellent opportunity to develop programming and data handling skills in ’R’ software and to integrate wide-ranging environmental understanding into user-friendly decision support tools. The project offers and exciting opportunity to develop highly desirable specialist and transferable skills and establish professional networks for a rewarding career in the academic and environmental sectors. The student will be encouraged to take ownership of the project and work independently to influence the direction of the research.

Funding Notes

The 4-year studentship is funded under the James Hutton Institute/University Joint PhD programme, in this case with the University of Dundee. Applicants should have a first-class honours degree in a relevant subject or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent).Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed in Jan/Feb 2020. A more detailed plan of the studentship is available to candidates upon application. Funding is available for European applications, but Worldwide applicants who possess suitable self-funding are also invited to apply.

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