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Using unmanned aerial vehicles to assess the thermal impacts of dams.

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  • Full or part time
    Dr L Lancaster
    Dr D Green
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

A range of human activities impact temperatures in terrestrial and aquatic environments, and these can have major consequences for species and ecosystems. This project is focussed on developing a better understanding of how dams impact downstream river temperatures, what the ecological effects of these thermal changes might be, and how they can be mitigated.

There is a growing awareness about the thermal and related ecological impacts of dams, but significant knowledge gaps exists. These include (i) the downstream extent of thermal effects and how this is influenced by river hydrologic, geomorphic and riparian characteristics, (ii) how dam-related thermal modification may interact with ongoing climate change to exacerbate ecological changes, (iii) how dam operations can be adapted to help limit thermal, and thus ecological, damage. This project focuses on these knowledge gaps.

The student will take advantage of new-generation thermal sensors mounted to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs; drones) to rapidly assess fine scale thermal habitat variation in human-modified and unmodified rivers, under a variety of climatic conditions. The student will then develop new approaches to estimate water column temperatures from the sensor data, and conduct experimental and observational studies to examine how species respond to such fine-scale thermal variation. Data collected in Scotland will be used to determine ecologically-relevant flow regimes for salmon below dams. For this, the student will work closely with external co-supervisors at the Scottish energy company SSE and Scottish fisheries boards to ensure that the findings are taken up by dam operators. The student will also have the opportunity to develop novel conceptual advances in freshwater thermal ecology, and to conduct fieldwork abroad to develop more general conclusions about thermal consequences of dams globally (in collaboration with researchers in Spain, Ghana, Malaysia, and Finland).

This fully funded, interdisciplinary project is co-supervised between the School of Biological Sciences and the School of Geosciences at the University of Aberdeen, and the School of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at the University of Nottingham (Malaysia Campus). The student will be externally supervised by scientists at Buglife (UK’s major invertebrate conservation organisation), SSE (the largest dam operator in Scotland), directors of local fisheries boards, and drone operators from Bristow UAV (a major commercial drone operator). The student will also have opportunities to build relationships with international academic collaborators in exciting research locations abroad.

We are looking for a very highly motivated, independent, and enthusiastic candidate, preferably with a MSc (Distinction) degree in ecology, the geosciences, engineering, or mathematics. We would also consider applicants with a First Class BSc honours degree. An excellent grasp of some combination of: freshwater invertebrate identification, statistical analysis, programming, GIS, or geo-statistical analysis is also highly desirable. Training in the technologies and necessary statistical approaches will be provided. We welcome informal inquiries in advance of the application deadline; these should be sent to Dr. Lesley Lancaster at
[Email Address Removed].

Please apply for admission to the ’Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Science’ to ensure that your application is passed to the correct School for processing.

Please provide a copy of the degree certificate and transcript for each previous degree undertaken, a copy of your English language proficiency certificate (if relevant), and contact details of two referees who can comment on your previous academic performance (at least one should be from your current degree programme). References will be requested if you are selected for interview. Incomplete applications will not be considered.

Funding Notes

This studentship is available to UK and other EU nationals (due to funding criteria, EU nationals MUST have resided in the UK for three years prior to commencing the studentship) and provides funding for tuition fees and stipend, subject to eligibility.

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered provided they have a Distinction at Masters level.

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