Department of Geography

Masters by Research (MRes) supported by the Environment Agency (EA)

Patterns of soil instability and sediment delivery from Red House Gill, Durham

Background: Urban expansion modifies surface drainage and can lead to greater surface runoff. If unchecked, enhanced discharge may lead to erosion downstream. Anecdotal evidence from Redhouse Gill, a small, deeply incised tributary of the River Wear in County Durham, suggests surface runoff from local urban areas may be contributing to accelerated rates of erosion observed in the catchment. High flow events in recent years have resulted in severe erosion in the Redhouse Gill catchment resulting in impacts on invertebrate communities and fisheries in the stream and downstream of the confluence with the River Wear. An important question is to determine whether the observed patterns of erosion are simply attributed to heavy rainfall events or partly caused by increased urban runoff.

Aim & Objectives: The aim of this project is to assess the dynamics of fine sediment delivery from Redhouse Gill catchment to the River Wear. This will be achieved through the following six key objectives:

  1. Produce a time series of fine suspended sediment output from the catchment to the River Wear. This will be instrumented with a pressure transducer (stream stage), turbidity probe (fine sediment monitor); temperature probe and rain gauge.
  2. Carry out terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) of hotspots of slope instability / bank collapse and channel erosion at the beginning and end of the project to assess the importance of these as sediment sources. Intermediate surveys can be undertaken to document storm changes.
  3. Map out patterns of catchment wide slope instability and soil movement using evidence from tree collapse and displacement. Displacement of trees by slow or rapid mass movements provides evidence of slope instability and soil movement patterns. Tree coring will be used to estimate the age of displacements based on the patterns of old/ new tree growth.
  4. Install flood stage fine sediment samplers on the ‘West’ and ‘East’ side streams to assess their relative contributions during high runoff events. Carry out additional storm sampling throughout the catchment at high flow (including outfalls).
  5. Produce a geomorphological map (GIS map series) showing key geomorphological attributes of the catchment.
  6. Integrate this data to determine the temporal and spatial patterns of sediment delivery from the catchment and assess the longer-term context for the observed sediment delivery patterns.

Project Management: The MRes student will be supervised by Dr Jeff Warburton in the Geography Department at Durham University. The studentship will pay postgraduate fees at Home / EU rate for the successful applicant, provide a £5000 student stipend and cover fieldwork costs. The successful applicant will work closely with the Environment Agency and other partners. Start date: January 2013.

Person Specification: Applicants need a good first degree in a relevant discipline. Relevant work experience will also be considered. Applicants should have a commitment to fieldwork, a full driving licence and be keen to learn new skills in spatial survey / field monitoring. This is a full time (1 year) study programme. Please contact Jeff Warburton (jeff.warburton@durham.ac.uk) or (geog.pgadmissions@durham.ac.uk) for further information.

To Apply: Please send a CV and a covering letter outlining any relevant experience and your interests in this topic, along with references from two academic referees, certificates of qualification and academic transcripts, to Veronica Crooks, Research Office, Department of Geography, Durham University, South Road, Durham DL1 3LE, UK (geog.pgadmissions@durham.ac.uk). If your referees have any queries they should contact geog.pgadmissions@durham.ac.uk.

Deadline for Applications: 4th December, 2012.