MA and MSc Programmes (by research)
In addition to our taught Masters Programmes, we also offer an MA/MSc by research in Hazard and Risk where students complete a Masters dissertation on their proposed research topic. Anybody wishing to apply for this programme must register for an MA/MSc by research in Geography can do so online. Students must develop a research proposal to support their application and suggested topics are provided below, but students are also welcome to develop their own topics. If you want to research in a particular area not listed below, please email Krysia Johnson email@example.com and she will identify a suitable academic with whom to develop a proposal.
Topics in Security Hazards and Risks
Border data: Governing through risk in the war on terror (Louise Amoore)
This research will assess the risk models deployed in the UK’s ‘e-borders’ programme. The researcher will have scope to focus on the implications of risk-based data-mining for security, responsibility and ethics.
Hazard, risk and political geography (Angharad Closs Stephens)
This project is concerned with the broad connections between hazard and risk and political geography, for instance exploring questions around the politics of security and terror; the politics of identity, community and territory; or the politics of different ‘geographical imaginations’.
Governing the Future: Pre-emption and Anticipatory Action (Ben Anderson)
Post 9/11, American national security strategy has been based around the doctrine of pre-emption. This research project will focus on the legitimation, justification and deployment of pre-emptive logics in relation to two areas of threat and risk: the governance of terrorism post 9/11 and the governance of trans-genetic diseases (such as SARS and Avian Flu). Through text based work, it will explore how pre-emptive logics have been invented, formalised, and utilised in relation to specific events and conditions.
Confidence and Living with Uncertainty (Ben Anderson)
The media, commercial organisations, and the government have repeatedly diagnosed the current ‘credit crunch’ as a problem of confidence, or more specifically an absence of confidence amongst consumers (as well as other economic actors). A lack of confidence is assumed to have direct economic effects. This research project will explore the relation between confidence and everyday economic (in)securities. Through an in-depth case study approach with a small number of households, it will attend to the relation between confidence and the everyday effects of financial risks and threats (closed shops, empty streets, news of job losses and so on).
Topics in Health and Risk
Food safety: Geographical insights (Peter Atkins)
Here we will look at social constructions of food fears, either (a) through work with local communities in the North East, or (b) by retrospective work on the evolution of the ‘Risk Society’ over the last 50 years.
Unemployment and health (Clare Bambra)
Unemployment is associated with poorer health and health behaviours. However, it is unclear as to whether this is associated with loss of income or other facets of the unemployed experience. This project will therefore examine the relationship between poor health and unemployment in more depth by either (a) using longitudinal quantitative data from the Labour Force Survey to examine the health effects of unemployment, or (b) conduct qualitative interviews with unemployed people about the health effects of becoming unemployed.
Healthy work? The health effects of precarious employment (Clare Bambra)
It is widely assumed that any job is better for health than no job. However, this might not be the case for those engaged in precarious employment (temporary, low paid, poor terms and conditions). This project will critically examine the risks to health associated with different types of employment by using quantitative analysis of data from the Labour Force Survey to compare the precariously employed with those in permanent employment and/or the unemployed.
The groundwater arsenic hazard in Bangladesh and India: Human dimensions (Peter Atkins)
This research will look at aspects of a hazard that has 50 million potential victims. There is scope for work on epidemiology, or governance, or one of several other approaches.
Place, Work, Worklessness and Health (two from Sarah Curtis, Christine Dunn, Sarah Atkinson, Clare Bambra)
With increasing levels of unemployment in Britain, there is concern about how worklessness may impact on mental as well as physical health and wellbeing for a growing number of people. Some aspects of work and experiences in the workplace also have important effects on health. These are issues of special long term concern in the North East of England and successful applicants will have opportunities to work in collaboration with local agencies that are trying to address issues of work, worklessness and health.
Climate Change, Health and Wellbeing (two from Sarah Curtis, Christine Dunn, Sarah Aatkinson, Clare Bambra)
This might include quantitative analyses of large scale data sets on patterns of health and service use in relation to information on impacts of changing climate in different regions, or intensive studies of areas particularly affected by the impacts of climate change on local environments. Research which makes the links between processes in the social environment and effects of environmental change linked to climate would be particularly suitable.
Innovative design of places to promote health and wellbeing (two from Sarah Curtis, Chrstine Dunn, Sarah Atkinson, Clare Bambra)
This concerns the promotion of benefits for health and wellbeing from spaces in public, domestic and natural settings. Questions such as how health and wellbeing can be supported through design of the built environment, through equality of access to natural environments, and by means of creative and supportive social settings are of special interest.
International perspectives on experiences of migration, health and health care (two from Sarah Curtis, Christine Dunn, Sarah Atkinson, Clare Bambra)
The increasing levels of global migration are contributing in a range of important ways to health and health care in countries such as the UK. We are interested in research which examines the health of migrant groups, the ways that they care for their health and also the contribution that they make to caring for the health and wellbeing of others (for example through employment in agencies such as the National Health Service in England). There is scope for studies which will examine these issues internationally.
Spaces of risk/spaces of care: Geographical perspectives on the issue of managing and mitigating risk in health care environments (two from Sarah Curtis, Christine Dunn, Sarah Atkinson, Clare Bambra)
Topics in Flood Risk, Drought Risk and Freshwater Pollution
Flood risk, displacement and the meaning of home (Beverley Searle)
This research project is interested in how experience (or risk) of flood affects individuals’ perception of home. Is home associated with a specific place and memories even if this is subject to flooding, or does home mean being somewhere safe and secure, particularly where people have (had to) move away from an area prone to flooding?
Understanding flooding in semi-arid areas using high resolution remote sensing (Louise Bracken and Sim Reaney)
Flooding in semi-arid areas is a serious hazard often resulting in deaths, massive damage to infrastructure and property, and dramatic change in the landscape. This project will investigate the pathways that water and sediment follow to produce these floods. Data on pathways will be gathered using aerial photography and terrestrial laser scanning and will be used to develop connectivity indices. These connectivity indices will give information of the pathways within the landscape and how the dynamics of connectivity development impact on flood generation.
Long-term trends in nitrate concentrations (Tim Burt)
This research will look at river and groundwater records of nitrate concentrations. EU legislation limits the concentration of nitrate in drinking water and in relation to the eutrophication of surface waters. Upward trends have been a cause for concern in lowland agricultural catchments for some decades. This project will review trends across the UK, particularly looking at the timing of trends historically, the continuation of trends at the present time and the risk that concentrations will exceed legal limits in the near future. Some simple statistical analysis and modelling will be involved, together with the opportunity to sample current river nitrate concentrations in selected river basins.
Vegetation and flooding: Local-scale versus larger-scale impacts (Richard Hardy)
There is a now a renewed attention being placed upon the effects of vegetation and river maintenance, especially in smaller tributaries and streams, upon local flood risk. However, local increases in flood risk may be beneficial for downstream flood prevention. The aim of this project is to explore systematically the role played by scale in determining the balance between these local and downstream impacts, so as to assess current policy measures that are associated with the progressive withdrawal of river maintenance in some locations. This project will use mathematical models to assess these processes focusing upon the Yorkshire Derwent as a case study.
From power laws to power systems: Mathematically modelling disasters associated with the normal state of affairs (Richard Hardy)
The traditional assumption contained in most catastrophe models is that big events have more impact, and that these kinds of characteristics are often reflected in power laws or other forms of growth curves. However, there is strong evidence that, in some systems, the state of those systems can evolve to the point where only very small events can initiate rapid positive feedback and catastrophic behaviour. This implies that the focus of catastrophe modelling needs to shift from characterising the return periods of extreme events to characterising the state of the system itself, the normal state of affairs, a completely new way of thinking through hazard and risk. This project will focus upon using some well-documented catastrophes, such as North American hurricanes, to begin to understand how this might be done.
Attenuation and upstream-downstream linkages in flood risk management (Richard Hardy)
Whilst the effects of upstream land management practices upon local flood risk have been frequently demonstrated, these effects have not been shown to propagate through to downstream towns and cities. A primary reason for this is attenuation, something that will be impacted upon by the nature of river and floodplain management. There are now acute pressures to rethink how we manage floodplains, but these can only be interpreted in the light of how the associated changes will interact with upstream land management processes. This project will use mathematical models to explore the role that floodplain management plays in filtering upstream land management activities in relation to strategic flood risk management.
Flood rich and flood poor periods: Statistical characterisation and policy impacts (Nick Cox)
There is growing evidence that the UK’s hydrological history is non-stationary, both as shown in the longer term geomorphological records of flood events (Macklin and Rumsby, 2007) and in shorter-term instrumental records. However, we do not yet understand how we might identify such periods statistically, nor what these kinds of periods might imply for flood risk policy. This project will seek to develop statistical methods for characterising flood rich and flood poor periods using instrumental records and assess what the necessary policy changes are that might follow from this.
The coarsest fluvial sediment in Britain (Jeff Warburton)
Upland floods in Britain pose a significant local hazard in many areas leading to major damage to infrastructure, significant economic loss and on occasion death and serious injury. The seriousness of many of these impacts is caused by rapidly moving flood waves transport coarse debris (boulders) which can have serious direct impacts or result in severe locale sedimentation problems. The aim of this project is to produce a database of British floods and collect information on the streams affected and sediment transported during these upland and mountain flood events. Based on this data empirical relationships will developed to predict boulder transport during these extreme upland floods. A field study will be undertaken in the English Lake District to assess the usefulness of the formulae which are developed.
Topics in Risk and Vulnerabilities
Young women and the ‘risky’ spaces of binge drinking (Rachel Colls)
The research will examine the spatialities of young women’s alcohol consumption practices in Newcastle. Utilising qualitative methodologies, it will develop an experiential account of drinking practices and address questions concerning how young women negotiate and manage risk associated with alcohol consumption including health, sexuality and personal safety.
Hazardous Knowledges – mapping the interface between global hazards research and local knowledge (Nick Rosser and Matthew Kearnes)
Considerable disparities exist between the spatial distribution of research undertaken on natural hazards, local knowledge of hazards and the social. This disparity has been widely noted yet is poorly understood. The goal of this study is to provide a detailed understanding of the interface between different forms of knowledge about hazards – in particular global hazards research and local, socially embedded knowledges. This study is aimed at providing a detailed global-scale overview of this imbalance through the use and collation of hazards research databases, fatality inventories and local knowledge. The project will combine this global-scale overview, with more local-scale country specific ethnographic assessment of the generation of hazards knowledge, research activity, dissemination and uptake, focussing specifically on a country significantly impacted upon by landslides, such as Indonesia.
Topics in Risk and the Global South
‘In but not of the market’ - linking the environment to trading relationships (Ann Le Mare)
This research will consider the risks and opportunities of environmentally led alternative trades, for example, The Rainforest Alliance, Forest Stewardship Council Certification and organic trade. It would consider the means to achieve environmental standards as well as their impact both locally and globally.
Life in India’s informal settlements: Perceptions of hazard and risk (Colin McFarlane)
This research will explore how people living within informal settlements in urban India experience and perceive everyday hazards and risks, from those associated with water and sanitation, to those linked to electrical faults, fire, flooding, demolition, and so on. The aim is to explore how different hazards and risks are understood by different people, and how those understandings relate to social differentials including gender, class, religion, ethnicity, caste, and age.
Topics in Climate Change Risks
Climate change impacts on species driven by changes in the water balance at large spatial scales (Sim Reaney and Ralf Ohlemüller)
Through the use of a 1D water balance simulation model, this project will investigate annual and seasonal changes in water availability. This information will then be used to investigate the potential changes in the environmental suitability for different plant and animal species under current and future climate.
Climate change impacts on catchment hydrology (Sim Reaney)
Utilising catchment hydrological simulation modelling and outputs from global catchment models, this project will investigate the potential changes in river flows and the subsequent risks to water supply, ecology or flooding magnitude. This would be based on a selection of catchments within the UK.
Application of a novel agent based modelling technique to investigate hydrological pathways within catchments (Sim Reaney)
This project would apply and assess the performance of the hydroAgent approach to tracing flow connectivity within catchments. The work would include a combination of field based experiments and computer simulation modelling. The results of this research have implications for diffuse pollution mitigation and the generation of flooding events.
Remote sensing of recent glacier change (Chris Stokes)
The retreat of glaciers can have profound impacts on sea level, water resources and geo-hazard potential. This project will use remote sensing techniques to map recent (1950s onwards) changes in glacier extent and/or glacial lake and supra-glacial debris cover evolution. Potential study areas include, but are not restricted to, Greenland, the Russian High Arctic and mountainous areas of the Caucasus and Siberia.
Quantifying rapid sea level changes (Ian Shennan)
The Barbados RSL record shows two accelerations in relative sea level rise, ~14 ka BP and 11~ ka BP; but the rates of change are poorly constrained because of the precision of the data points. Yet these accelerations indicate the sum of feedbacks in the climate-ice-ocean system prior to enhanced anthropogenic forcing. Understanding the sum of these feedbacks clearly has a hazards element. We can test the uncertainties from near-field locations by allowing for differences in glacial isostatic adjustment (e.g. Shennan et al 2006). This project will aim to constrain the global accelerations using new data collected and analysed by the student.
Topics in Risks Associated with Earth Processes
Assessment of environmental cues and their geomorphological significance in the Himalaya (Nick Rosser and Colin McFarlane).
Local knowledge of future geomorphological hazards relies upon an awareness and interpretation of environmental cues, such as receding waters prior to a tsunami or pre-landslide precursory slope movements. In order to explore ways of best enhancing resilience to natural hazards, notably in mountainous developing counties such as Nepal, a full appraisal of the variety of environmental cues in use, is required. This field intensive project will be based around an ethnographic study of the use of environmental cues and an interpretation of their geomorphological significance, from across the mountainous Himalaya region. This combined social and physical science project will form the basis of future attempts to use science and technology effectively to aid the interpretation of such cues for hazard mitigation.
Low-technology landslide failure prediction systems – design, test and field deployment (Nick Rosser and Dave Petley)
The ability to predict future slopes failures using strain rate models is fundamentally based upon measurements of slope surface displacement. This project seeks to transfer our knowledge of slope failure mechanisms and dynamics developed from laboratory modelling, to explore by how far we can simplify field monitoring yet retain a useful predictive tool. This project will exploit this assumption to develop a series of low-cost low-technology predictive monitoring systems, designed to be deployed in developing mountainous countries.
Stress - strain characteristics of Himalayan black schists (Nick Rosser and Dave Petley)
In many Himalayan areas landslides represent one of the most important constraints upon development. Unfortunately, our understanding of the mechanical processes responsible for these landslides remains poor. From a landslide perspective probably the most dangerous material in the Himalayan Arc is weathered black schist, which occurs extensively across the Himalayas. This project will collect samples of this material from the region, and create a new model for understanding the behaviour of this material with respect to landslides through the use of stress path testing in the new IHRR laboratories.
Improving guidelines for peat landslide hazard and risk assessment (Jeff Warburton)
Peat slides and bog burst present a significant hazard to infrastructure construction in many peatland areas. Significant hillslope failures in wind farm sites over the last decade have prompted local legislation and calls for further controls on development in sensitive upland peat landscapes. The aim of this project is to critically assess current methods used for peat landslide hazard and risk assessment by carrying out post-hoc assessments of three case studies where peat failures have occurred to test the effectiveness of these approaches. Having highlighted deficiencies a revised series of best practice guidelines will be developed and subject to critical review by professional engineers working in this field.
Laboratory modelling of the debris flows (Jeff Warburton)
Debris flows are common in mountain environments and cause major losses of infrastructure and hundreds of human fatalities annually. Knowledge of the behaviour of debris flows is vital in order to assess the hazards they cause. Unfortunately, due to their rapid onset, unpredictability and large magnitude, debris flows are difficult to observe and measure under natural conditions. The aim of this project is to obtain well-constrained information on the three-dimensional morphodynamics of debris flows and the geometry of their resulting deposits through the use of a unique reduced-scale flume facility, which generates debris flows that are dynamically similar to field-scale phenomena. Experiments will be carried out in a purpose-built debris-flow flume (length 11m, width 1 m). The project will test some basic questions about how debris flows behave and results will be of considerable benefit to environmental managers in upland and mountain regions of the world.