PhD studentship in Hydrology

Bayesian Network Approaches for Vulnerability Assessment and Management of Diffuse Groundwater Pollution

Project Description

Groundwater (GW) is an important source of drinking water in many countries and plays a vital part of the natural water cycle, providing the baseflow of surface water ecosystems. Protecting GW resources and keeping them free from contamination is therefore essential. The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) seeks to ensure good chemical and ecological status of both GW and surface waters. A key aspect of the WFD is to identify areas vulnerable to pollution to ensure resources are targeted to areas at greatest risk and help improve the effectiveness of mitigation measures. Physical modelling approaches are often used in this context to better understand and map GW vulnerability and to predict contaminant behaviour and transport at catchment scale. However, assessing GW vulnerability is complex and typically hampered by limited hydro-geological and water quality data and will furthermore often be faced with a number of conflicting interests (environmental, economic and social). New modelling approaches are required to enable integration of the physical and socio-economic factors influencing GW vulnerability, while also accounting for the associated uncertainties. This project will explore the use of Bayesian Networks (BN) for vulnerability assessment and management of diffuse GW pollution. BNs are graphical probabilistic models that are effective for integrating quantitative and qualitative information, and thus can strengthen decisions when empirical data are lacking. The project focuses on diffuse pesticide pollution, but will potentially be expanded to consider other pollutants

The PhD research aims to develop and apply a BN, combining hydrogeological and socio-environmental factors, as a novel probabilistic method for assessing and mapping of the vulnerability of GW to diffuse pesticide pollution. The aims are subsequently: (i) to test/validate the BN with actual monitoring data; (ii) to apply the BN to explore the effectiveness of different management measures on reducing diffuse GW pollution. Later stages will explore if the BN can be modified and applied to other contaminants and/or catchments and the feasibility of including socio-economic factors and impacts on ecosystem services will be investigated.

The Scholarship

This PhD represents an exciting opportunity to join a collaborative environment between two extremely active research groups at the James Hutton Institute (JHI) and the University of Aberdeen's Northern Rivers Institute (NRI), both located in Aberdeen, Scotland. Through shared time between JHI and UoA, the PhD student will integrate the vibrant PhD/Postdoc community of the two groups and benefit from training in many state-of-the-art approaches in catchment and groundwater sciences and agricultural pollution management and policy.

JHI is an internationally networked organisation and one of the biggest research centres in the UK. JHI combines strengths in crops, soils and land use and environmental research, and makes a major contribution to the understanding of key global issues, such as food, energy and environmental security, and developing and promoting effective technological and management solutions to these. JHI's hydrology group delivers cutting-edge research to improve knowledge of biogeochemical and hydrological cycles using long term monitoring programmes and experimental manipulations, which in turn are used to inform model development and the assessment of future scenarios of change.

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 and international groundwater development/security.

The project would most suit an individual with a background in quantitative sciences (particularly engineering and environmental/earth science) and interest in modelling.

The supervisors on the project are Drs M Troldborg and I Pohle (James Hutton Institute) and Dr JC Comte (University of Aberdeen).

Funding Notes

The studentship is fully-funded under the James Hutton Institute/Aberdeen University Joint PhD programme. Applicants should have a first-class honours degree in a relevant subject or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent). A more detailed plan of the studentship is available to candidates upon application. Funding is available for European applications, but Worldwide applicants who possess suitable self-funding are also invited to apply.

Informal enquiries should be made to Dr Mads Troldborg (email: or Dr Jean-Christophe Comte (e-mail:

For more information about this position and formal application online, please go on the advert post page on .

The closing date for the receipt of applications is 05/01/2018

Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed in Jan/Feb 2018.

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