Project highlights

  • Unique PhD opportunity combining field data and existing geospatial datasets to tackle a scientific challenge with a direct environmental application
  • New insights into how sediment transport processes vary across UK rivers, and the implications for flood risk management.
  • Strong practical and innovative analytical expertise to be developed and applied to real-world applications of immediate importance in the UK.

Overview

The Earth’s climate is changing, altering the seasonal hydrological regime of water flow in rivers and the frequency and magnitude of extreme events (storms and floods). As rivers flow, they transport sediment from the hillslopes to the coast but the processes, interactions and feedbacks that drive this pattern are complex (e.g., Lisle and Church, 2001). Specific locations experience heightened levels of erosion or aggradation, which in turn can have implications for flood risk; for example, via a reduction in channel conveyance where sediment accumulates. Such impacts can be exacerbated by human activity that alters or limits the natural balance of geomorphic-processes at work within river systems. The combination of natural complexity, climate change and human influence make it challenging to disentangle and model the role of sediment routing in flood risk management (Slater, 2016; Hicks et al., 2020).

In the UK, understanding and mitigating the change in flood risk is a critical problem for implementing effective and appropriate river management (National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy, 2020). This PhD project will work with the Environment Agency to identify the underlying factors (e.g., catchment morphology, channel confinement, past and present land use) that promote geomorphic-induced changes in flood risk (e.g., sediment aggradation). In particular, the PhD student will validate and ground-truth an existing geospatial data set of predicted locations of contemporary erosion and aggradation in UK rivers. ‘Hotspots’ of high aggradation will be identified, and the typology of these locations examined using a GIS-based meta-analysis of factors such as catchment topography, land use, history, and channel confinement. Common characteristics that could predict areas of heightened flood risk induced by aggradation will be identified and used to inform locations which may benefit from nature-based management solutions to mitigate heightened flood risk.

The findings from this project will lead to a step-change in the understanding of the drivers of catchment wide sediment processes, and the potential impacts of climate change in delicately balanced river environments. The opportunity to work directly with the Environment Agency will ensure that the results feed into contemporary river management in the UK, identifying and mitigating the risk of current and future geohazards.

Host

Loughborough University

Theme

  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability
  • Dynamic Earth

Supervisors

Project investigator

  • Prof Stephen Rice, Loughborough University
  • Dr Edwin Baynes, Loughborough University
  • Dr Richard Jeffries, Environment Agency

Co-investigators

How to apply

Methodology

This PhD will primarily use a combination of field and geospatial data analysis approaches. The PhD student will work with the Environment Agency to identify locations in the UK that are thought to be prone to heightened levels of geomorphic-induced flood risk, and field-validating the predictions of numerical models. This analysis will require processing of large-scale geospatial datasets using GIS, python, R (or similar) packages.  GIS-based topographic analysis and remote sensing of the upstream catchments will characterise and extract the key geomorphic, land-use and other features that make them ‘hotspots’, leading to the development of a Risk Zone map that will aid the implementation of effective nature-based management strategies in appropriate locations.

Training and skills

The project will forge strong skills in handling, organising and analysing large volumes of field and geospatial data. Training will be provided in topographic analysis techniques as well as necessary GIS and coding skills as required, but prior experience would be helpful. Analysis and interpretation of the datasets will lead to the development of high-level skills in statistics. Through a placement at the Environment Agency, the PhD student will gain skills and training from applying their knowledge to real-world river management problems.

 

Partners and collaboration

The core partner for this PhD project is Dr Richard Jeffries, Senior Advisor in Geomorphology at the Environment Agency. The student will work directly with Dr Jeffries and the wider EA Geomorphology team, to help define aspects of the project related to aggradation-induced geohazards and river management in the UK. The EA will also aim to host the student for a placement during the course of the PhD, giving exposure to the skills and applications of geomorphology in the real-world context.

Further details

For further information about this project, please contact Dr Edwin Baynes (e.baynes@lboro.ac.uk) or Prof Stephen Rice (s.rice@lboro.ac.uk). For enquiries about the application process, please contact the School of Social Sciences & Humanities (spgsresearch@lboro.ac.uk). Please quote CENTA when completing the application form: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/study/apply/research/.

Possible timeline

Year 1

The student will familiarise themselves with the Environment Agency erosion/deposition datasets and cutting edge computational geospatial analysis packages in order to validate and ground-truth existing data.

Year 2

The student will identify ‘hotspot’ locations where there are heightened levels of geomorphic-induced flood risk, and begin to characterise the key features at these locations that can be used to develop a wider scale Risk Zone Map. Towards the end of year 2/start of year 3, and subject to COVID-19 requirements, the student will undertake a placement at the Environment Agency.

Year 3

Focus on the future geohazard risk in the UK induced by climate change impacts on aggradation-related problems, and identify potential sites where nature-based management practices would be feasible and recommended.

Further reading

Hicks, D.M., Baynes, E.R.C., Measures, R., Stecca, G., Tunnicliffe, J., Friedrich, H., (2020) ‘Morphodynamic research challenges for braided river environments: Lessons from the iconic case of New Zealand’. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, DOI:10.1002/esp.5014

Lisle, T.E., Church, M., (2001) ‘Sediment transport-storage relations for degrading, gravel bed channels’. Water Resources Research 38 (11), 1219

Environment Agency, (2020) ‘National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England’: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-flood-and-coastal-erosion-risk-management-strategy-for-england–2

Slater, L. (2016) ‘To what extent have changes in channel capacity contributed to flood hazard trends in England and Wales?’. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 41 (8), pp. 1115-1128

COVID-19

The exact locations of any field sites will be determined in the early stages of the project alongside the Environment Agency, and with Covid-19 travel restrictions in mind to minimise the risk of disruption. In any case, the main aims of the project can be achieved using desk-based GIS and topographic analyses.