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Department of Geography

4 Fully Funded PhD Positions in Monitoring and Modelling of Coastal Processes

We are seeking to recruit 4 fully funded PhD students to work on the COastal Behaviour and Rates of Activity (COBRA) project, from September 2014. The outputs of the four PhD projects will be used to develop a new understanding of rocky coast processes and will feed into local and regional shoreline management.

The 4 new PhDs are a new addition to COBRA, an ongoing collaborative research project between Durham University and Cleveland Potash Ltd (CPL). The overall aim of the project is to understand the past, present and future controls on coastal erosion within the North York Moors National Park. This stretch of coastline varies dramatically, with some of the UK’s highest near-vertical rock cliffs, softer glacial tills, extensive rocky foreshores and sandy beaches. CPL operate the Boulby Mine - the UK’s most important non-hydrocarbon mineral operation. The coastline presents a fascinating natural laboratory for key research questions into: i) rockfall and erosion, ii) nearshore sediment dynamics, iii) coastal rock weathering, and iv) post-glacial coastal evolution.

Currently available PhD projects

  • High-resolution monitoring of rocky coast landscape dynamics
    Since 2003 we have collated an extensive dataset on erosion of coastal rockslopes. We now seek to extend the coverage of our data collection and increase the frequency of data capture, by combining real-time terrestrial monitoring with airborne and satellite remote sensing, allowing us to consider the short- and long-term nature of coastal cliff change. The initial stages of this project will involve methodological development with the ultimate aim of capturing data to allow the detection, characterisation and modelling of 3D changes to coastal rockslopes and relating these to geomorphic, geological and oceanographic controls. This project will involve the commissioning and capture of repeat aerial surveys, including LiDAR, UASs and satellite data. The project will focus upon 3D modelling of topographic data for multi-temporal change detection, to extract 3D rockfall geometry, erosion and wide-area coastal change. This PhD project would be suitable for candidates trained in remote sensing, mathematics / topology, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), geomatics and/or numerical modelling. A background in geology, geomorphology and/or rock mechanics would be advantageous.

  • Monitoring & modelling: Sea-bed deformation, waves & sediments
    Conventional models of cliff erosion are driven by tidal inundation and wave energy delivery to the coast. This project aims to address a key knowledge gap in the understanding of the influence of relative sea-level change on near-shore wave climate and sediment dynamics. This project builds upon recent work monitoring coastal cliff microseismics and erosion. We seek to develop a robust methodology for undertaking repeat high-precision bathymetric mapping of the nearshore seabed to unpick the relative contributions to water-depth change arising from sediment versus bedrock movements. This project will use a combination of geomatics and hydrographic techniques, including high-resolution multibeam, airborne mapping, GPS and seabed instrumentation. Second, combining repeat bathymetry with near-shore wave climate modelling, the project will model wave energy transfer to the coastline. This PhD project would be suitable for candidates trained in oceanography, hydrographic survey, remote sensing, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), geomatics, hydraulics, mathematics and/or numerical modelling. A background in geology, engineering and/or physical oceanography would be advantageous.

  • Upscaling weathering & rock mass strength degradation to coastal cliff erosion
    The coast presents an aggressive environment for weathering and rock mass strength degradation. Whilst much previous work has been conducted on individual weathering effects, this project seeks to develop a rock weathering budget for hard rock cliffs, and to examine in particular the role of weathering in promoting and triggering failure. The project will represent an important step in quantifying the role of weathering in the iterative and episodic erosion and collapse of rocky coastal cliffs, providing improved constraint on the importance of weathering relative to wave action, progressive rockfall failure and/or kinematic block release. This project will integrate innovative field instrumentation and monitoring, laboratory testing of rock deformation, laboratory simulation of field weathering environments, and numerical modelling. Durham University has non-destructive and destructive rock test equipment, an environmental chamber for weathering simulation, plus extensive geochemical analysis facilities that will be central to this project. This PhD project is suitable for candidates trained in geology, geomorphology, rock mechanics, geochemistry and/or numerical modelling.

  • Nature or nurture? Controls on long-term evolution of rocky coasts
    The Durham University/CPL coastal erosion dataset is arguably the longest of its kind, and combined with Departmental research on the post-glacial evolution of this coastline, a unique opportunity arises to inform models of long-term evolution from short-term process monitoring. This project will use numerical modelling, constrained by our 10-year field data archive, to develop understanding of previous recession rates and the associated macro-scale environmental, oceanographic and geomorphic controls. Palaeoenvironmental data will be combined with an interpretation of onshore and nearshore glacial geology to constrain current coast planform configuration and likely alterations to future coastal morphology. This PhD project would be suitable for candidates trained in geology, glacial chronology, geomorphology, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), mathematics and/or numerical modelling.

Studentship Information

4 fully-funded PhD students to work with us on the COBRA project, with an anticipated start date of September 2014. These projects are each supported by full fees at EU rates,* and an RCUK equivalent tax-free stipend.**

PhD funding is available for a period of 3.5 years. Projects will be supported by supervision by the COBRA research group, in addition to input from other academics at Durham University. The projects will benefit from access to our dedicated Laithwaite Landslides Laboratory, plus our excellent IT and field-data capture facilities.

We seek to recruit highly-motivated doctoral researchers to join our research group, and to benefit from working in the vibrant academic community at Durham University. We currently have a range of researchers working on both blue-skies and industry-linked projects, supported by a number of doctoral and masters students working on various aspects of landslide mechanisms, and hazard and risk, both in the UK and beyond. Our work in the Department of Geography and the Institute for Hazard Risk and Resilience at Durham University is highly interdisciplinary, and so we are particularly interested in candidates from a range of academic disciplines and backgrounds.

We seek PhD researchers to lead the intellectual development of the following four topics to begin in Autumn 2014. We are particularly interested in developing these fields to have future wider ranging outputs and impact, both within and beyond our study area. The projects are tied by a broad interest in understanding the physical mechanisms of mass movements, coupling novel laboratory and field-based approaches with numerical modelling, to allow assessment of geomorphic change at societally-relevant scales.

* We are keen to hear from all potential applications, so even if you do not qualify for EU fees rates, please get in touch.
** Current stipend rates.

Additional Information

Additional information can be obtained from Dr Nick Rosser, email:

How to Apply

Details of the application process are provided on our How to Apply page.

The research proposal should be formulated by the candidate based upon the outline above.

The application should clearly specify the project being applied for (Project 1, Project 2, Project 3 or Project 4), as detailed above.

Application Deadline

The closing date for applications is: 17:00 (GMT), April 27th, 2014.