PhD position in integrating novel water storage and
flow sensing techniques to improve hydrological

Project Description

This PhD project represents an exciting opportunity for someone to join the active and expanding research groups of the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen and the Northern Rivers Institute (NRI) at the School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen. Both institutes are centres of research excellence in environmental hydrology, delivering internationally leading catchment science to help underpin sustainable water management. The project is funded through both institutes and the student will have access to facilities and training opportunities at both sites.

We seek a highly motivated and dynamic applicant for a PhD project which aims to use state-of-the-art monitoring and modelling approaches to gain new insights into catchment scale water storage and flow dynamics in northern landscapes under different hydro-climatological conditions. The ultimate goal is to evaluate how such data and understanding can be used to improve hydrological models and predictions (e.g. to predict drought conditions, flood response and/or inform management decisions).

This project addresses one of the major remaining research frontiers in hydrology, which is the development of models that can adequately characterize and integrate larger, catchment scale storage characteristics, mixing relationships and water flows. To date, they still lack observations and insights at the larger scale at which they operate, and new sources of information are critical for further model development and testing. This project will offer a unique opportunity to address these challenges by combining novel COSmic-ray Soil Moisture Observing Systems (COSMOS) with stable water isotope tracer data to assess water storage and flow dynamics (quantity and timescales) in the landscape. COSMOS sensors indirectly monitor environmental water storage dynamics in the subsurface over unprecedented large areas. They thereby potentially provide, for the first time, representative data at scales which are relevant for many environmental management strategies. In addition to traditional hydrometric data, stable water isotope tracers provide further insights into the timescales and extent of storage and flow pathways. When combined, such newly coupled approaches could provide immense potential for the development of the next generation of hydrological rainfall-runoff models that appropriately account for soil water storage and flow processes at catchment scales. These can then be used to increase our understanding of these processes at different locations and under changing conditions, which is crucial for adaptive land and flood management in different environments. The study will focus on and benefit from two well-established research platforms (one upland; one lowland) for which historical hydrometric and isotope monitoring is available (including a recent installation of COSMOS sensors).

The project will involve:

  • Maintaining and further developing an integrated monitoring network in NE-Scotland
  • Developing and testing a hydrological modelling framework informed by these and historical data
  • Evaluating the spatial and temporal variability in soil water storage and flow processes in different parts of the landscape
  • Exploring scenarios (including climate and land use) based on existing projections for Scotland

Required qualifications

The successful candidate should have, or expect to receive a 2.1 Honours Degree (or equivalent) in Earth and Environmental Sciences (eg. Hydrology, Geosciences, Environmental Sciences, Geography, Environmental Engineering, or any other relevant numerate, scientific discipline). An enthusiasm to carry out field work, laboratory experiments and analysis combined with hydrological modelling is required. Knowledge of modelling (calibration, testing), programming/coding, and environmental sciences would be advantageous.

The start date of the project is to be agreed with the supervisors but should be as soon as possible after an award is made.

Funding Notes

The studentship covers full UK/EU tuition fees (3,800 for 2016/2017) and a tax-free maintenance stipend for 3 years (14,296 for 2016/2017). Funding is also available for additional project costs (including field and laboratory work, conference attendance, etc.).

Due to the criteria set out by the funding body, we are unable to accept applications from International Students (i.e. outside of the EU/UK)

Additional information and application

Formal applications can be completed online: You should apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Geography, to ensure that your application is passed to the correct College for processing. PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU QUOTE THE FULL TITLE OF THE PROJECT AND THE SUPERVISOR NAME ON YOUR APPLICATION FORM.

Informal inquiries can be made to Dr Josie Geris (email: or Dr Mark Wilkinson ( All general enquiries should be directed to the Graduate School Admissions Unit (

posted: 27 October 2016     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.