PhD: Water Cultures in Conflict at Pebble Mine, Bristol Bay, Alaska

University of Hull

Hull, UK 🇬🇧

Applications are invited for a funded 4-year PhD studentship to start in September 2023 or January 2024. Closing date for applications is Thursday, 27 April 2023. Apply for this scholarship.

This is an exciting opportunity for an ambitious, talented and enthusiastic researcher to conduct interdisciplinary research in order to advance thinking within the area of blue-green humanities through researching one of the world’s primary sites of contemporary water cultures in profound conflict – at Pebble Mine, Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Pebble Mine is the second-largest gold deposit in the world and if exploited, will yield up to $500 billion. However, it is also at the headwaters of two of the five major river drainages that supply the salmon runs of Bristol Bay, the world’s largest salmon run. Salmon underpin around 75% of all local jobs and the subsistence lifestyles of many Alaskan indigenous peoples. The United Tribes of Bristol Bay strongly oppose the 10 billion tons of toxic waste they say the mine will generate. More background is available by watching this video

This interdisciplinary PhD project will explore the extent to which Pebble Mine is emblematic of a new, global dependence on rare metals and of a race for access to them capable of shaping the environmental agenda of the future. If successful, you will have the chance to shape your own research, following these central research questions:

  • How do canvassed and crowd-sourced interviews, corporate, state, federal, NGO data as well as tribal documents held at the University of Juneau bring debates, histories, and approaches surrounding Pebble Mine into critical and creative tension?
  • Can the world’s most emblematic water and environmental conflict provide an index to inform future debate and decision-making?
  • How significant are “portfolio effects” in relation to species diversity and the viability of salmon industry at Bristol Bay?
  • How have cultural representation, treaty rights and the history of colonisation impacted debate?
  • How significant has development theory been in North American resource-use contexts since the Brundtland report of 1987?
  • How does analysis of Pebble Mine inform thinking on “delocalised pollution”, as exemplified in recent books such as Guillaume Pitron’s, The Rare Metals War (Scribe, 2020)?

The project offers opportunities to work with the Treatied Spaces Research Group, its British Academy Global Professor Greg Smithers, the Department of Geography, Geology & Environment and the Energy and Environment Institute. You will be encouraged to disseminate your findings using kinetic mapping techniques.

If you have any queries about this project, please address them to, rather than contacting the supervisor directly. This is to support our inclusive recruitment practices (please see ‘How to apply’ section below for more information). Our Water Cultures Professional Services Team will liaise with Supervisors and ensure you receive responses to your queries.

How to apply

Apply for this scholarship. Closing date for applications is Thursday, 27 April 2023.

You will need to complete this Centre for Water Cultures Supplementary Application Form which you can download here and upload your completed form, alongside the other supporting documents requested below.

As part of our inclusive practices, the Centre for Water Cultures adopts a process of assessing applications purely based on skills and attributes and does not consider any personal details. As such we ask applicants to remove any personal details from the Supplementary Form which is used by the Panel to assess and select applicants for interview. The form asks for details of your education, training and employment history as well as some specific questions about your motivations and research experience and interests. It is very important that you do not include any personally identifying information such as such as name, age, gender, ethnic group, nationality etc.

To complete your application, you should upload the following documents through the University of Hull student application portal (you will be directed there via the ‘Apply Now’ link below):

Please note that you can only apply for one project in the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships Centre for Water Cultures. For this recruitment round, you may apply either to a named project including this studentship on Pebble Bay, or develop your own research proposal. Follow the links to find out more:


Doctoral scholars appointed to interdisciplinary projects within the Centre for Water Cultures will be supported by PhD scholarships, funded for 48 months. These cover fees at the UK rate, a maintenance grant of £17,668 per year (2022/23 rate), and a research and training support grant.

Applicants already holding a PhD (or equivalent qualification) will not typically be considered as eligible for a Centre for Water Cultures scholarship. Applicants in this position wishing to apply must make a compelling case for their motivations in their personal statement.

Entry Requirements

You should have a good first degree (at least a 2:1 Honours degree, or international equivalent) in a relevant subject. Candidates with Masters in Environmental History, Geography, American Studies, Indigenous Studies, Hydrology or cognate disciplines are encouraged to apply. Having or being willing to work towards acquiring basic digital mapping capabilities is desirable.

If your first language is not English, or you require Tier 4 student visa to study, you will be required to provide evidence of your English language competency. Information on the tests that we accept can be found on the University of Hull website.

International applicants

This opportunity comes with a Home fee waiver only, which will not cover the full International fee. You will therefore need to pay the difference between the Home fee and the International fee and will need to provide evidence that you have sufficient funds to cover this, as no additional funding is available.

Submission of thesis

Submission of your final thesis is expected within 48 months from the start of your PhD scholarship.

About the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships in Water Cultures

The University of Hull Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships Centre for Water Cultures is an interdisciplinary research centre exploring humanity’s relationships with water in the green-blue regions of the world, past, present and future.

It pioneers a new, humanities-led, interdisciplinary and transhistorical research area – the green-blue humanities – and equips a new generation of PhD students to take this agenda forward and transform our understanding of humanity’s relationships with water.

Watch this short video for background on the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships Centre at the University of Hull. 

Research Training for PhDs at the Centre for Water Cultures

The Centre for Water Cultures offers an unrivalled doctoral training scheme designed to promote open-minded and outward-facing researchers, ready to collaborate across disciplines, and to partner with industry and other non-academic organisations, in the search for innovative solutions to today’s water challenges. Doctoral scholars will benefit from a dedicated placement scheme with opportunities to undertake placements of 1-3 months with one of our range of national and international water, heritage, and creative industry partners, designed to develop the career ambitions of our scholars within and beyond academia. They will benefit from a dedicated programme of invited talks, masterclasses, and workshops delivered by speakers from academia and industry. They will also receive bespoke support for career development before and beyond graduation, delivered by our interdisciplinary teams of supervisors and via our mentoring programme, which offers one-to-one support for professional and career development.

The University of Hull is uniquely positioned to deliver doctoral research training in the green-blue humanities. No other UK university offers Hull’s combination of an international reputation in water research, significant expertise and experience in community engagement and cultural sector evaluation (gained as Hull UK City of Culture’s principal research partner), along with a rich maritime history and long experience living with complex water challenges.

The Centre for Water Cultures is housed in Hull’s Energy and Environment Institute (EEI), a world leader in research into global water risks and resilience, including in relation to climate change, flooding, marine pollution and toxic water, and home to state of the art research facilities including the Total Environment Simulator (TES), experimental research flumes and high-performance computing running sophisticated hydro models. Doctoral Scholars at the Centre for Water Cultures will benefit from access to the EEI’s facilities and research environment, and from world-class expertise in water-related research in the arts, humanities, social, physical, and health sciences at Hull.

PhD students at the University of Hull follow modules for research and transferable skills development and gain a Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma in Research Training, in addition to their research degree. More information.

Important Links

Application portal

Supplementary Application Form (required in place of your Personal Statement)





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