Research Associate (Agricultural Water Security)

University of Manchester

Manchester, United Kingdom 🇬🇧


This position is part of a new RCUK-funded £8m project “DAMS 2.0: Design and Assessment of resilient and sustainable interventions of water-energy-food-environment Mega-Systems”  under the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), which brings together a multi-disciplinary consortium of researchers from UK universities (Manchester, Cambridge, UCL, Surrey, Newcastle, Southampton) and international organisations (World Bank, IWMI, IUCN). One of the main objectives of the Dams 2.0 project is to develop an integrated multi-disciplinary assessment framework that can be used to improve the design, selection, and operation of new and existing dams to ensure water, food, and energy security for all. Within this context, you will work to model and analyse the impacts of historic and future dam developments on agricultural production, and assess how agricultural water demands can be balanced sustainably and equitably with those of hydropower, cities, and freshwater ecosystems under future uncertainty. Case studies for the project will be the Nile and Volta River basins in Africa,  and the Salween River basin in Myanmar. You will be based in the Water Resources Section of the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester. You will be part of a dynamic and growing group of Postdoctoral researchers and PhD students working on the assessment and management of water and climate-related risks for agriculture, including links to and trade-offs with the hydropower production and ecosystem conservation. The University of Manchester is a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities and is placed consistently highly in both national and international surveys, ranking 35th in the world and 5th nationally according to the Shanghai Ranking of World Universities in 2016.

Overall Purpose of the Job: The Research Associate for this project will be responsible for:

  • Developing and applying modelling approaches to estimate current and future agricultural water demands in each of the case study river basins under alternative agricultural development and climate pathways.
  • Integrating agricultural models with water, energy, and ecological simulation tools developed by other members of the project team as part of an integrated nexus system simulation framework, which will be applied jointly to investigate the effects of alternative dam planning decisions on trade-offs and feedbacks between agricultural production and other competing development objectives (e.g. hydropower and environmental flows) under future uncertainty.
  • Contribute to ex-post analysis of the distributional impacts that historical dam developments have had on agricultural productivity and farmer livelihoods in one or more of the project’s case study river basins.
  • Interact and collaborate with a wide range of academics from different disciplines and institutions, and also to engage with in-country stakeholders and international partners including through opportunities to contribute to practitioner training, summer schools, and capacity building activities throughout the project.

Key Responsibilities, Accountabilities or Duties:

  • Work with local stakeholders and project partners to collect and analyse data on land and water use practices in each of the case study regions, including identifying planned future agricultural developments and exploring impacts of historic dam construction on agriculture.
  • Develop and apply crop-water modelling tools to estimate current and future agricultural water demands for a range of potential agricultural development and climate change scenarios. 
  • Couple agricultural water demand models with integrated nexus system simulators, and apply to assess trade-offs between agricultural development and other objectives (e.g. hydropower, environmental flows) under alternative dam development and operation scenarios.
  • Lead the writing and preparation of research papers for publication in international peer-reviewed journals.
  • Disseminate research findings and methodologies to research and practitioner audiences through policy briefs, blog posts, and social media.
  • Attend and present research findings at project meetings, conferences, and other events.
  • Contribute to the planning and delivery of summer school and practitioner training events.
  • Pursue independent and original research ideas in related subject areas, and contribute to the development of proposals for funding in collaboration with colleagues where appropriate.
  • Provide support to postgraduate and undergraduate research students in areas relevant to the project.
Person Specification:
Essential Knowledge, Skills and Experience:
  • Hold a PhD, or be close to completion, in hydrology, water resources, agricultural water management, irrigation engineering or a related field. 
  • Experience of the development and application of crop growth and agricultural water demand modelling approaches. 
  • Understanding and knowledge of water, land and soil management in rain-fed and irrigated agricultural systems, in particular in developing world settings.
  • Experience of working with geospatial datasets and models, including GIS.
  • Proven advanced programming skills in an appropriate language, e.g. Python, Matlab, or R.
  • Strong or developing publication track record in internationally excellent, peer-reviewed journals.
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills, including the ability to present research to both scientific and non-technical audiences.
  • An ability to work well as an individual and as part of a multi-disciplinary research team.
  • Good time management and organisational skills, with the ability to meet tight deadlines and work effectively under pressure.
  • Willingness to travel and participate in UK and international events, meetings, and conferences related to the project.
  • A strong commitment to your own continuous professional development.
Desirable Knowledge, Skills, Experience and Qualifications:
  • Experience of water-food-energy-environment nexus system planning and hydro-economic modelling approaches.
  • Skills in the use of remote sensing datasets and methodologies for mapping/measuring agricultural land and water use.
  • Knowledge of the economics of agricultural water use and management.
  • An awareness of the impacts of dams and climate change on agricultural water security, and a strong personal interest in addressing these challenges.
  • Experience of working in developing country settings, in particular in one or more of the case studies countries and regions (Volta Basin, Nile Basin, Myanmar) covered by the project.