E.U./U.K. nationals: PhD: River temperature under climate change: understanding the potential of riparian forest to mitigate high temperatures across riverscapes via FindAPhD

University of Birmingham

Birmingham, , GB

About the Project

Background. Climate change will impact river ecosystems (Hannah & Garner, 2015) as a consequence of extreme low flows and high river water temperature events (Garner et al., 2017, Prog. Phys. Geog.). The survival and growth of salmonid fish are influenced very strongly by water temperature, raising concern that habitat for these fish will decline under global warming (Malcolm et al., 2008). In response, river managers have advocated bankside tree planting to help river ecosystems adapt to climate change – by providing increased shading, especially in summer (Garner et al., 2017, J. Hydro.). Our recent research with Marine Scotland Science (MSS) has developed statistical models that identify regions for Scotland where rivers are hottest and most sensitive to climate change (Jackson et al., 2018). These statistical models have been complemented by simplified process-based models, which identify where riparian woodland may have the greatest effects on river temperature at the reach scale. This latter research suggests that channel shading is likely to be a less effective mitigation strategy in wider channels, with high water volumes and short residence times; however, further work is required to understand the important potential role of heat advection as water flows between river reaches. Given this context, there is an urgent need now to scale process-based river temperature models (Dugdale et al., 2019?) from reach and small sub-catchment scales, to larger rivers and entire riverscapes. This will enable scientists and managers to explore the relative benefits of different planting strategies for protecting larger main-stem rivers. This is important, given that larger rivers are typically where adult fish are found during summer months and the areas that support economically-important fisheries that could be threatened under climate change.

Aim. This Royal Society Wolfson PhD Studentship aims to use physical process-based river temperature models to determine the relative importance of tributary and main-stem shading in protecting larger rivers from high river temperatures – incorporating the effects of channel hydraulics, residence times and heat advection. The work will inform optimal planting strategies where resources are limited, and planting needs to be focussed and prioritised where it can have greatest overall benefits for whole rivers.

Methodology. The project is composed of three interconnected parts. First, a process-based river temperature model capable of simulating river temperatures under different tree planting, landscape and environmental conditions will be developed for a tributary of the upper Aberdeenshire Dee, Scotland where detailed climate, hydrological and temperature data (including thermal imaging) will allow confident model calibration and validation. A sensitivity analysis will then be undertaken to assess those factors that are most influential in replicating observed spatial patterns of temperature variability. Second, the model will be up-scaled to simulate water temperatures in the upper Dee under using a range of data sources including remotely sensed data, gridded spatial datasets and more sparse observational networks. Thirdly, the effects of different tree planting strategies will be investigated (e.g. targeting hottest reaches, reachest expected to benefit most from shading, large rivers, smaller tributaries) to determine their effects on river temperature across whole riverscapes. Finally, the effects of various planting strategies will be linked environmental benefits for fish and fisheries by assessing exceedance of critical thresholds for thermal stress and regulation of fisheries. Data are available for other field sites across the UK, which may be used to assess transferability across different climate and landscape context.

Collaboration, training and skills. Marine Scotland Science provides expert scientific advice on aquatic environments to the Scottish Government, supporting its policy-making and regulatory activities. MSS have agreed to partner on the PhD project. Professor Hannah and Dr Malcolm (MSS) have a long, successful track-record of co-supervising PhDs to completion. Dr Dugdale (University of Nottingham) will contribute expertise on physical-based modelling as well as sharing existing data sets. Dr. Faye Jackson will contribute expertise on process-based and statistical modelling of river temperatures and the use of large spatial datasets. Professor Krause (University of Nottingham) will provide expertise on riverscapes and ecohydrological processes. This collaboration represents a unique PhD training opportunity and will ensure research findings will be put into practice. The PhD student will receive training in field instrumentation, data exploration, coding and modelling. They will gain scientific knowledge of advanced hydrology, hydroclimatology and river ecology from the supervision team, giving a strong grasp of the challenges facing freshwaters. The student will receive transferable skills training by being imbedded in Birmingham’s Graduate Research School.

Interviews will be held in August for a 1 October start date.

Informal enquiries: Professor (Royal Society Wolfson Fellow) by email:

Funding Notes

Royal Society Wolfson Scholarship
Eligibility and Financial Support: Tuition fees and an annual stipend (£14,777 net) are available plus additional funds for research support. Applicants from outside of the UK and EU are ineligible.

Applications should be made online at:
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Please select PhD in Geography and Environmental Science (Physical Geography)




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