PhD: Detecting and monitoring floods using satellite radar and drone data via FindAPhD

University of Stirling

Stirling, UK 🇬🇧

About the Project

In this novel and timely research, we aim to improve the management and protection of floodplains and wetlands by using cutting-edge satellite images and drone data to develop field-tested methodologies to monitor flood level and extent on a weekly basis to inform flood risk management strategies. You will be performing experiments with a ground radar where we will take measurements of real life flooding as well as simulate flooding in the lab.

Although both urbanised floodplains and natural wetlands require different management solutions, they both require knowledge of flood water extent over space and time. Currently this knowledge is hampered by insufficient monitoring instrumentation on the ground, especially in remote areas.

The work in this project is in the framework of the Scotland’s International Environment Centre (SIEC), a £23M government investment to help Scotland (but also more broadly the UK and the World) to improve climate change resilience and to help deliver net zero carbon.

You will be working on 2 main test sites with different challenges. (i) The Forth Valley region (Scotland) is a thriving region in Scotland, but it is heavily affected by flooding which impacts local businesses and infrastructure. (ii) The North Rupununi, in the southern interior of Guyana, South America, supports a high terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity, which is important for conservation but also supplies local people with a range of livelihood activities, including subsistence fishing, drinking water and ecotourism. The North Rupununi wetlands are characterised by low topography and seasonal flooding and has recently been the target of major agro-business interest particularly for rice cultivation. Flooding in Guyana is also connected to the risk of malaria, therefore monitoring standing water will also improve prevention of malaria outbreaks.

In this project we will use algorithms to demonstrate internationally the benefits of satellite monitoring of flooding. We will use satellite Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), which is able to obtain images of the environment from space using microwaves. It allows us to acquire images independent of weather condition and solar illumination, which is very valuable in areas with frequent cloud cover. We will also use a cutting edge radar technology called polarimetry interferometric (Pol-InSAR). The advantage of Pol-InSAR is that we can use the polarisation and interferometric information of the radar echo to obtain more images and therefore more information about objects in the scene. In addition to using satellite data, we will be carrying out extensive experiments to ground-truth the data using a ground radar which can simulate the images obtained from satellites (this includes a lab experiment where we simulate a flood). Additionally, we will use ground sensors (water level probes, soil moisture probes) installed in key areas by SIEC’s infrastructure. Finally, we will make use of the emerging technology of UAV (“drone”) based observation for field validation and rapid local assessment using low cost aircraft.

A strong motivation for using satellite images is that we entered a new era of freely available satellite data (e.g. the ESA Sentinel constellation missions). We are experiencing a rapid growth of activities in the Space industry and the Earth Observation sector. When paired to the exponentially growing sector of unmanned aerial monitoring, this opportunity not only supports businesses activities but also provides many state of the art tools to the environmental management community.

The development work will be accompanied by large fieldwork in Scotland (and possibly one trip to Guyana). In Scotland we will make large use of the ground radar where the polarimetric radar signature of flooded areas will be analysed. We will also design experiment with simulated floods in the lab. If successful, the processing stacks produced in this project will be incorporated in SIEC and feed into the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) flood management strategy.


A first or upper second class degree in Geosciences, Engineering, Physics or in closely related areas, and enthusiasm for innovation. It would be beneficial for applicants to have experience with a programming language (eg. Python, Matlab, C). 

Further details:

You can find more information on this project at

Serious applicants are strongly advised to make an informal enquiry about the PhD well before the final submission deadline of 7th January by contacting Dr. Armando Marino ([email protected]).

How to apply:

Applications are open to UK (and EU nationals in the UK settlement scheme) as well as non-UK applicants from the rest of the world (although there is a limit on the number of studentships that can be offered to non-UK applicants).

The application deadline is January 7th at 17:00. By this deadline applicants must have filled in the IAPETUS online application from following instructions here: The application form requires you to write several sections of text about your interest in this PhD and your suitability for PhD research. Serious applicants are strongly advised to make contact with Dr. Armando Marino by email well before the deadline to discuss their application. After making the application, candidates will be shortlisted for the next stage of the IAPETUS DTP selection process. 

Funding Notes

This PhD project is fully funded by NERC through the IAPETUS-2 Doctoral Training Centre. View Website We welcome applications form everywhere in the World. This is a competition funded PhD.