Durham University

Department of Geography

News Archive

PhD Project: Biogeomorphic Response of European Rivers to Small Barrier Removal

(12 July 2016)


The AMBER (Adaptive Management of Barrier in European Rivers) project seeks to appoint a full-time PhD candidate to a fully funded position at Durham University and operating at the interface of fluvial geomorphology and lotic ecology with a specific focus on the impacts of artificial barriers in European rivers. Barrier removal is increasingly recognised as a valid strategy capable of restoring connectivity and free-movement of biota, nutrients and sediment. In their impounded states, rivers and stream are adjusted to conditions of restricted flow and sediment transport. Whilst the broad assumption is that removal of the barrier will restore a natural flow regime, there is in fact little knowledge allowing us to predict the biogeomorphic trajectory of a river once a barrier has been removed (Pizzuto, 2002). Experience of large-scale removal projects in the USA, such as the demolition of Condit and Elwah dams, have indicated intensive sediment transport as the wedge of sediment trapped by the dam is released in the system (East et al 2015). However, in the case of smaller dams, there is a paucity of knowledge on the recovery processes of small streams and, crucially, on the associated ecologic recovery and transition of the stream catchment. Such small-scale impoundments are typical rivers in the EU where several thousands of small to medium impoundments with heights below 10m exist. Nevertheless, several EU countries such as The UK and Denmark are gradually adopting barrier removal as a restoration strategy despite some uncertainty on the impacts of removal on the planform shape modifications and on the changes in both riparian vegetation communities and in-stream biota.

Aims & Methods

The project aims to develop a process-based understanding of the recovery of small streams after barrier removals. Both biotic and abiotic elements of recovery will be considered. Study sites will be located in the UK and Denmark. Methods will include a strong use of fluvial remote sensing and GIS:

UAV Surveys
The primary data collection method of the project will be remote sensing from low-cost UAV platforms. These will be used to monitor kilometric-scale river reaches both before and after barrier removal. Using hyperspatial resolution imagery (<5cm) in visible colour and near-infrared, topography, grain size, depth and vegetation will be surveyed at monthly intervals. Analysis is expected to make heavy usage of object-based image analysis in order to assess the changing structure of habitat patches in these evolving systems. The candidate will be trained in UAV operations and is expected to plan and execute the UAV surveys.

Historic Reconstruction of Floodplain Morphology
War time imagery flown by the RAF will be acquired to reconstruct the planform, and if possible the topography and vegetation distribution, of the affected stream in past decades. The earlier status of the river will serve as an example of a potential end-point after stream recovery.

Biota Monitoring
The candidate is expected to contribute to biota monitoring programs which will track the change in fish diversity and abundance in the study sites. This program will be led by the biology department.

Financial Support & Eligibility

The PhD studentship will provide 3 years of funding through a tax-free maintenance grant of £14,296, with payment of tuition fees. The AMBER project will provide access to additional research support funding for data, fieldwork and travel.

The project is open to UK, EU and international candidates. The successful candidate will have achieved a 2(1) or better degree in physical geography (or earth sciences equivalents) with strong experience of fluvial geomorphology, biogeography (or biology / ecology) and GIS/remote sensing. MSc level qualifications as well of previous experience of UAV (drone) operations are desirable but not essential.

To Apply

Please send the following documentation by email to geog.pgadmissions@durham.ac.uk with the reference 'AMBER', by the deadline of 1st August, 2016 (5:00pm GMT):

  1. A current CV
  2. A cover letter (2 pages A4 max) which describes your motivation for applying for the project and your previous research experience
  3. Letters from two references (these can be sent directly to geog.pgadmissions@durham.ac.uk by referees if preferred)
  4. Transcripts of your previous qualifications

Interviews of shortlisted candidates will take place via SKYPE on the 8th and 9th of August. Applicants will be notified if they are successful by 12th August, 2016.