PhD Research Project: NERC CENTA - Anticipating and adapting to climate change: understanding impac

United Kingdom
Nov 30, 2016
Jan 23, 2017
Organization Type
University and College
Full Time

River flow and water temperature are key variables determining the health of river ecosystems. Climate change (driven by increased greenhouse gas concentrations) is anticipated to alter the hydrological processes that determine river flow and temperature. This may be further compounded by human responses to reduced water security. Consequently, future climate changes should be anticipated to have profound potential consequences for freshwater ecosystems.
However, there is scarce evidence for future impacts of climate change in the UK water environment. This is especially true for river water temperature, water quality and aquatic ecosystems. This lack of data is a major barrier to effective climate change adaptation (Watts et al., 2015).
In response to these urgent research needs, this project will generate novel information on future changes in UK river temperature, ecosystem health and the effects of potential adaptation strategies. Specific aims are to:
1. Assess the sensitivity of the River Thames to projected climate changes using a coupled river flow and water temperature model. The Thames is a major UK river basin in which rapid changes driven by climate and multiple other pressures are anticipated.
2. Assess the impacts of these projections on indicators of aquatic ecosystem health, such as nutrient and dissolved oxygen concentrations and phytoplankton biomass
3. Assess the impact of adaptation scenarios (i.e. riparian land use and water use) on river temperature and indicators of ecosystem health

The project will explore approaches to generating decision-relevant information on climate change impacts, adaptation and associated uncertainty e.g. scenario-neutral (Prudhomme et al., 2010) and decision-scaling (Brown et al., 2012). Specific methodologies will depend on the approach, but key requirements are to:

1. Develop coupled river flow and water temperature models (e.g. van Vliet et al., 2012) for R. Thames sub-catchments and quantify responses to projected climate change using CMIP5 datasets (Taylor et al., 2012).
2. Use a semi-empirical, process-based water quality model of the River Thames (Waylett et al., 2013) to quantify responses of indicators of aquatic ecosystem health to changes in flow and temperature.
3. Implement adaptation scenarios in the coupled models (e.g. Whitehead et al., 2013; Sun et al., 2015; Hutchins et al., 2010) to assess responses of water temperature and aquatic ecosystem health to changes in riparian land- and water use, and to identify the most efficient scenarios.

Funding Notes

In addition to completing an online application form, you will also need to complete and submit the CENTA studentship application form available from

CENTA studentships are for 3.5 years and are funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). In addition to the full payment of their tuition fees, successful candidates will receive the following financial support.

Annual stipend, set at £14,296 for 2016/17
Research training support grant (RTSG) of £8,000

CENTA students are required to undertake from 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10 day placement.


Brown et al. (2012) Decision scaling: Linking bottom-up vulnerability analysis with climate projections in the water sector. Water Resources Research, 48, W09537

Garner et al. (2014) What causes cooling water temperature graidents in a forested stream reach? Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 18, 5361-5376

Hannah & Garner (2015) River water temperature in the United Kingdom: Changes over the 20th century and possible changes over the 21st century. Progress in Physical Geography, 38, 68-92

Hutchins et al. (2010) Which offers more scope to suppress river phytoplankton blooms: Reducing nutrient pollution or riparian shading? Science of the Total Environment, 408, 5065-5077
Prudhomme et al. (2010) Scenario-neutral appraoch to climate chnage impact studies: Application to flood risk. Journal of Hydrology, 390, 198-210

Sun et al. (2015) A spatially distributed model for the assessment of landuse impacts on stream temperature in small urban watersheds. Hydrological Processes, 29, 2331-2345

Taylor et al. (2012) An overview of CMIP5 and the experimental design. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 93, 485-498.

van Vliet MTH et al. (2012) Coupled daily streamflow and water temperature modelling in large river basins. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 16, 4303-4321

Whitehead et al. (2013) A cost-effectiveness analysis of water security and water quality: impacts of climate and landuse change on the River Thames system. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 371, 20120413

Watts et al. (2015) Climate change and water in the UK- past changes and future prospects. Progress in Physical Geography, 39, 6-28

Waylett et al. (2013) Physico-chemical factors alone cannot simulate phytoplankton behaviour in a lowland river. Journal of Hydrology, 497, 223-233