David Whitfield

Loughborough University


Working with natural processes to adapt to climate change and to reduce flood risk


  • Dr Edwin Baynes
  • Prof Stephen Rice
  • Dr Richard Jeffries (Environment Agency)

PhD Summary

River morphology is an important driver of flood risk, governing the channel’s capacity to transport excess flow during flood events. In a changing climate, UK rivers are expected to experience accelerated rates of morphological adjustment (erosion/deposition) in response to changes in sediment supply and flow regime. However, these adjustments are difficult to model; channel geometry is governed by a complex network of sedimentological, hydrological and biological processes and feedbacks. Due to our limited ability to predict future changes in river morphology, the geomorphic influence on future flood risk is often poorly represented in flood prediction models.

My project explores the linkages between sediment transport and channel morphology under future climatic settings and aims to apply this understanding towards improving current river evolution models and flood hazard maps.

Previous activity

Prior to starting as a Doctoral Researcher in Loughborough, I studied an integrated Master’s in Environmental Geoscience at Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Environmental Science. Throughout this course, I studied a broad range of Earth surface processes, focusing on the interlinkages between the hydrosphere, geosphere, atmosphere and biosphere. In particular, I became interested in applying our understanding of sediment transport and geomorphology towards mitigating against future geohazards (flooding, soil erosion and climate change).

Why did you choose doctoral research?

Throughout my undergraduate degree, I became increasingly interested in further exploring research gaps within geomorphology. Given the complexity of natural systems, I found myself frequently asking why landscapes respond in the way they do, and how these processes will change in the future. Continuing my studies to PhD level offers the perfect opportunity to pursue my own interests, as well as contributing to the development of more appropriate approaches in geohazard mitigation.

Why did you choose CENTA?

CENTA offers the unique opportunity to develop as a scientist within a diverse community of researchers that share an interest in understanding how the Earth works. Sharing this journey alongside scientists from different disciplines gives a holistic view of the research happening outside of my direct area of study, and opens my eyes to new methods/research questions that I otherwise may not have considered. Likewise, the chance to work alongside end-user organisations (such as the Environment Agency) ensures that my research has impact beyond the academic realm, and will contribute directly towards tackling current environmental issues.

Future plans

The training offered by CENTA is tailored to develop both your technical skills as an environmental scientist (e.g. data analysis) and your personal research skills (e.g. project development and paper publication). Following my PhD, I plan to continue research in academia; the skills acquired throughout the CENTA programme will be therefore vital in my progression throughout my career. The opportunity to conduct placement work will broaden my scope as a researcher, to consider implications of my research in applied settings.