PhD: African Humid Period floods on the Sahara Desert margins

University of Plymouth

Plymouth, UK 🇬🇧

Qualification Type:PhD
Funding for:UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount:£15,609 per annum for 2021-22 and £2,500 for external training, travel and conferences.
Hours:Full Time
Placed On:18th October 2021
Closes:12th January 2022

Supervisory Team 

Dr Martin Stokes 

Professor Anne Mather 

Professor Fin Stuart  

Dr Sarah Boulton 

Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide) 

Project Advert 

This project investigates the size, timing and impact of African Humid Period (AHP) floods on upland landscapes along the Sahara Desert margins. Wobbling of the Earth’s axial spin alters atmospheric circulation patterns every ~20,000yrs, repeatedly bringing wetter climates and flooding (~5,000yr duration) to continental Africa (‘Greening’ of the Sahara). Investigations will analyse mountain fronts from different latitudinal and continentality contexts using Quaternary-Recent alluvial fans (cone-shaped sediment bodies formed on valley sides and mountain fronts). These landforms possess flood-related sedimentary and geomorphological records with significant but unrealised large spatial and long temporal potential to inform on climate change sensitive drylands; areas of early human occupation (archaeology) and modern population pressures (flood hazard). 

The PhD research will investigate key sites along the western Saharan Desert margin (offshore islands [humid], coastal [arid] and inland [hyperarid]: Cape Verde-Morocco: 14-28°N). Flood size quantification will involve measurement of flood sediments (boulder size) and geomorphology (slope and flood inundation area). This uses fieldwork and satellite analysis of palaeoflood and modern (for comparison / calibration) flood sites using hydrological modelling approaches (e.g. flood regime). The timing of flood events uses cosmogenic exposure dating techniques (i.e. 3He, 10Be, 26Al) applied to boulder surfaces deposited from different flood events. The impact of localised alluvial fan AHP flooding will utilise inter-site comparisons and comparisons with hydrological change datasets from other AHP archives (rivers, lakes, marine cores). 

The PhD student will become a flood scientist with a field-laboratory-computing skillset of relevance to environmental government agencies or industry consultancy employment. Specialist training in remote sensing, fieldwork, geochronology, and hydrological modelling will utilise Plymouth/Glasgow expertise and laboratories (SUERC). Generic research training skills will be undertaken via the ARIES/Plymouth doctoral training colleges (project management, health and safety, data management, research communication / publishing). The student will become a member of international flood science networks (INQUA) for conference results communication and advanced training workshop opportunities.   

This PhD is suitable for candidates with degrees in Geology / Earth Science / Physical Geography. Fieldwork and GIS experience is desirable. A willingness to travel and rise to the challenge of working in hot / remote desert locations is important. 

Funding Notes 

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2022.
Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship covering fees, stipend (£15,609 p.a. for 2021-22) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. 
ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and £2,500 for external training, travel and conferences. 
ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience. Our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience. 
For information and full eligibility visit