PhD studentship / Research Assistant in hydrogeology/fluvial geomorphology

Understanding stream-aquifer interactions and their influence on flow regimes and fluvial processes in a newly restored ephemeral stream

Project details

Non-perennial (ephemeral) streams compose a substantial proportion of the total length, number and discharge of the world's rivers. They are a diverse and widespread class of stream, found in most terrestrial biomes from the Arctic to Antarctic regions. Studies of ephemeral streams have focused mainly on arid and semi-arid regions, where increasing water demand and global change are threatening their hydrological and ecological integrity. However, ephemeral streams also occur widely in temperate regions. Relative to their dryland counterparts, much less is known about the functioning of ephemeral streams in temperate regions, and information on their importance for fluvial processes in the main-stem rivers into which they discharge is particularly limited. As they are often strongly connected with and controlled by highly permeable underlying aquifers, knowledge of the subsurface hydrology of ephemeral streams is crucial for understanding their flow regimes and and hence sediment dynamics.

This post represents an exciting opportunity for someone to work on a unique river restoration project that involves the reconnection of a formerly diverted ephemeral tributary to its main-stem river. You will join the extremely active research group at the Northern Rivers Institute (NRI), University of Aberdeen (Scotland), and become part of a multi-agency restoration project. NRI is a centre of research excellence in environmental hydrology; it delivers internationally leading catchment science to help underpin sustainable water management. NRI undertakes fundamental research to help understand the hydrological functioning of catchments and aquifers, as well as being involved in applied work such as the development of environmental flows and river restoration. This project is funded by United Utilities (UU) and forms part of a wider collaboration between Environment Agency, Natural England and UU linked to the restoration of an ecologically important river (the River Ehen) in the English Lake District. A number of UK and international universities are also involved in the restoration.

The PhD research aims to understand the hydrological functioning of the newly reconnected tributary and its importance as a source of sediment and flow for the main-stem of the River Ehen. The reconnected channel cuts across an alluvial fan that is composed of a succession of coarse and fine sediments; except during sustained and heavy precipitation, water quickly infiltrates and disappears to the subsurface. The work will have three main objectives. (i) To understand the factors which influence the hydrological regime of the tributary. Essentially this will involve integrating information on rainfall, groundwater levels and the sedimentary characteristics of the alluvial fan to develop a predictive understanding of the key influences on whether the tributary is flowing or not. This will require integration of geophysical imaging and remote sensing data with hydrological modelling. (ii) To monitor ongoing geomorphic adjustment of the tributary channel as it cuts across the alluvial fan. This will involve assessing patterns of scour and fill and quantifying the sediment yield from the tributary; it will include both empirical measurements and modelling. (iii) To assess the influence of coarse and fine sediment supplied by the tributary (resulting from erosion of the fan) on fluvial dynamics in the main-stem Ehen. The Ehen supports an endangered species of invertebrate, so the broader context for the project is understanding the importance of the ephemeral tributary for the provision of suitable habitat for this species in the river.

The post

You will be employed as a Research Assistant for a 5 year period while doing your PhD and receive a salary equivalent to a full-time RCUK PhD student stipend (further details below). You will be responsible for undertaking the fieldwork, monitoring and assessment necessary to achieve the project aim. The work will also form your PhD, and you will register for a fully-funded Part-time PhD with the School of Geosciences at the University of Aberdeen over the 5 year period. You will benefit from joining a strong and vibrant research group at NRI and receive training in many state-of-the-art approaches used in river science. You will also benefit from joining a community of scientists, water resource managers and conservation agencies committed to the restoration of the River Ehen.

The supervisors on the project are Dr JC Comte (University of Aberdeen), Professor C Gibbins (University of Nottingham), Professor D Pokrajac (University of Aberdeen), Dr Ramon J Batalla (University of Lleida) and Dr Damia Vericat (University of Lleida).

Application procedure and funding

Applicants will have an environmental/earth science background (hydrogeology, environmental engineering or hydrology), ideally with field experience of geospatial survey techniques and analyses, geophysical imaging and hydrogeological modelling. You should have a strong first Degree (minimum 2:1) and a Masters Degree or equivalent experience. The post requires a full UK or international driving licence.

Salary will be paid at the appropriate point on the Grade 5 salary scale (60% of £26,829 - £30,175 per annum) and negotiable with placement according to qualifications and experience. All research expenses will be covered by the project budget. The successful candidate should begin the post no later than the beginning of July 2017. As this post is subject to external funding from United Utilities Water Plc it will be available for 5 years. Any appointment will be made subject to satisfactory references and a 12 month probation period. This post does not meet the minimum requirements as issued by UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) to qualify for an employer-sponsored visa. We are therefore unable to consider applications from candidates for this post who require sponsorship to work in the UK.

Informal enquiries should be made to Dr Jean-Christophe Comte (e-mail: or Professor Christopher Gibbins (e-mail:

For more information about this position and formal application online, please go on the University of Aberdeen webpage: .

The closing date for the receipt of applications is 20/05/2017

Interview date: 9 June 2017

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