PhD: Impact of sea-level rise on atoll islands

University of Plymouth

Plymouth, UK 🇬🇧

Applications are invited for up to three 3.5-year PhD studentships. The studentships will start on 1 October 2023


To apply please use the online application form. Simply search for PhD Marine Sciences (and select the entry point of October 2023), then clearly state that you are applying for a PhD and name the project at the top of your personal statement.

Online application

Before applying, please ensure you have read the Doctoral College’s general information on applying for a research degree.

For more information on the admissions process please contact

Supervisory team

Director of Studies: Professor Gerd Masselink

2nd Supervisor: Dr Tim Scott

3rd Supervisor: Professor Daniel Conley

Additional international supervisors (depending on project):
Professor Dano Roelvink (IHE Delft Institute for Water Education)
Professor Paul Kench (National University of Singapore)
Dr Ana Vila Concejo (University of Sydney)
Dr Curt Storlazzi (US Geological Survey)

Applications are invited for up to three 3.5-year PhD studentships. The studentships will start on 1 October 2023.

Project description

We are offering up to three fully funded 3.5-year PhD positions associated with the research project ‘Natural adaptation of coral reef islands to sea-level rise offering opportunities for ongoing human occupation’. This UKRI-funded project, referred to as ARISE, involves a large research team comprising several academics, post-doc researchers, PhD students and project partners. The PhDs will contribute to the ARISE project by focussing on any of the following broad topics: (1) sediment production, delivery and pathways associated with the forereef – reef platform – atoll island system (sediment PhD); (2) impact of overwash processes on atoll island dynamics (overwash PhD); (3) numerical modelling atoll island hydro- and morphodynamics (modelling PhD); (4) dynamics of the atoll island groundwater table (groundwater PhD).

Due to their low-lying nature, atoll islands are widely acknowledged to be amongst the most vulnerable environments to climate change. Most of them are predicted to be uninhabitable by the mid-21st century because of sea-level rise. However, these forecasts are based on relatively simple hydrodynamic models that consider the islands immobile, whereas, when overwashed during storms, the islands can vertically accrete due to sediment deposition. Repeated overwash can enable atoll islands to keep up with rising sea level. This potentially provides opportunities for island communities to prolong habitability through innovative adaptation strategies, instead of having to construct expensive coastal defences or traumatically relocate to regions with no flood risk.

You will be a fundamental part of the ARISE team that will conduct ground-breaking laboratory experiments in the Delta Flume and unprecedented field measurements in the Maldives and Pacific where we will measure overwash processes and their impacts. We will use these unique data sets to develop, calibrate and validate hydro- and morphodynamic numerical models. An innovative modelling framework will then be used to evaluate the role of the various processes involved in atoll island response to sea-level rise. Finally, the modelling tools will be deployed to enable atoll island communities to implement adaptation strategies that maximise opportunities for continued habitation.

Key reference

Masselink, G., Beetham, E. and Kench, P., 2020. Coral reef islands can accrete vertically in response to sea level rise. Science Advances, 6, eaay3656.

Training and mentoring

The successful candidates will become members of the Coastal Processes Research Group, an internationally recognised group of researchers, specialising in field studies and numerical modelling of coastal processes. All PhD projects provide the opportunity to gain a range of advanced skills as the project includes large-scale physical modelling in the worlds’ largest wave flume, field surveys on atoll islands in the Maldives and the Pacific, and advanced numerical modelling. By the end of the project, the PhD student should be imminently employable as a post-doctoral researcher or a high-level coastal/marine adviser in a GO, NGO or consultancy.


We are seeking outstanding PhD candidates with a background in marine science, physical geography, geology or coastal engineering. You will have excellent numeracy, communication and inter-personal skills, and a strong affinity for the marine environment. In-depth knowledge of coastal sediment transport processes and experience in analysing large marine data sets using (e.g. Matlab, Python) are essential. For the modelling PhD, experience in numerical modelling is also a requirement.

Applicants should have a first or upper second class honours degree in an appropriate subject and preferably a relevant masters qualification (or international equivalent). Non-UK applicants must meet the programme’s English language requirement.

Funding notes

PhD studentships are for 3.5 years and cover tuition fees and a stipend (£17,668 p/a in 2022/23 rate). Studentships are open to both Home and International students; however, International applicants should note that funding does not cover the cost of a student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK. We especially welcome and encourage student applications from the regions of study (Maldives and Pacific). The studentship is supported for 3.5 years of the four-year registration period. The final 6 months is a self-funded ‘writing-up’ period.

Enquiries and applications

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Professor Gerd Masselink

Please clearly state the name of the studentship that you are applying for at the top of your personal statement.

Please see here for a list of supporting documents

 to upload with your application.

For more information on the admissions process generally, please contact

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on 31 March 2023. 

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview on 27/28 April 2023. We regret that we may not be able to respond to all applications. Applicants who have not received a response within six weeks of the closing date should consider their application has been unsuccessful on this occasion.





IHE Delft MSc in Water and Sustainable Development