PhD: Improved monitoring of water resource and hazard using low earth orbit small satellites

Northumbria University

Newcastle upon Tyne, UK 🇬🇧


Climate change is rendering a unique set of new global issues around hydrological extremes such as droughts and floods. However, a reliance on traditional, spatially-discrete monitoring networks means that we currently lack knowledge on heterogenous and often rapidly changing conditions in the catchment areas of drainage basins.

This limits our ability to predict long and short-term changes in regional hydrological systems and restricts our ability to mitigate the impacts of these both flooding and droughts. To address this issue we need more spatially distributed data on antecedent catchment conditions. Higher temporal resolutions are also needed for monitoring smaller or more rapidly responding catchments.

Emerging remote sensing technologies such as cubesats may provide valuable new data streams which allow high frequency, spatially distributed assessment of hydrological conditions to inform the construction of regional hydrological models (McCabe et al. 2017). Cubesats are small, low-orbit satellites which can be launched as constellations, offering potentially high spatial and temporal resolution remote sensing opportunities (Aragon et al. 2021). However, there has been limited research into how these types of technology might be integrated into regional hydrological models and how this might impact our ability to better manage regional water resources to mitigate hydrological extremes.

The research proposed here will answer the question: Can new space-based observations with improved time resolution over Northeast England enhance water management predictions and hence improve the mitigation of drought and flooding?

This project will attempt to answer this question by undertaking the construction of a regional hydrological model of the NE of England using existing ESA Copernicus observations and simulated miniaturised hyperspectral observations from systems similar to the Cosine HyperScout CubeSat. The model will be validated by in-situ field observations of water content in rural and urban regions of the Northeast, potentially drawing on citizen-science data collection approaches.

The implications of more frequent and targeted observations from systems like HyperScout will be studied, and the requirements for a similar system, tailored to the needs of water management and forecasting in the Northeast of England but scalable to other regions and situations, will be derived. The project will drive forward innovation in the use of emerging satellite-based remote sensing for high frequency environmental monitoring, as well as enhancing and expanding our ability to understand and predict hydrological conditions across the Northeast.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Eligibility requirements:

·        Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); and a Master’s degree (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.

·        Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

·        Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

To be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria. If a candidate does not meet this criteria, they would be classed as an International student and not eligible for this PhD:

•          Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or

•          have settled status, or

•          have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or

•          have indefinite leave to remain or enter.

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDFC23…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: February 7th, 2023

Start Date: October 1st, 2023

Northumbria University is committed to creating an inclusive culture where we take pride in, and value, the diversity of our doctoral students. We encourage and welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds a bronze Athena Swan award in recognition of our commitment to advancing gender equality, we are a Disability Confident Employer, a member of the Race Equality Charter and are participating in the Stonewall Diversity Champion Programme. We also hold the HR Excellence in Research award for implementing the concordat supporting the career Development of Researchers.

Informal enquiries should be directed to Dr Ed Rollason:

To apply, visit

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to home students only and includes a full stipend, paid for 3 years at RCUK rates and full tuition fees. Please note the eligibility information on which students are classed as home students.


Aragon, B., Ziliani, M.G., Houborg, R., Franz, T.E. and McCabe, M.F. (2021). CubeSats deliver new insights into agricultural water use at daily and 3 m resolutions. Scientific Reports, [online] 11(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-021-91646-w.
McCabe, M.F., Aragon, B., Houborg, R. and Mascaro, J. (2017). CubeSats in Hydrology: Ultrahigh‐Resolution Insights Into Vegetation Dynamics and Terrestrial Evaporation. Water Resources Research, [online] 53(12), pp.10017–10024. doi:10.1002/2017wr022240.





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