Catchment-scale hydro-geomorphological analysis of upland river restoration (with CASE partner SEPA)

Catchment-scale hydro-geomorphological analysis of upland river restoration (with CASE partner SEPA)

Supervisor: Dr Richard Williams, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow,; Dr Rebecca Hodge, Department of Geography, University of Durham,; Prof Trevor Hoey, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow,

Description: River restoration encompasses a wide variety of activities to improve physical, chemical and/or biological processes in rivers. Process-based river restoration is gaining prominence as a way to re-establish floodplain-channel connectivity, re-establish natural water and sediment fluxes, and improve aquatic and riparian ecosystems. Most UK catchments have long histories of human interventions that have modified channel morphology resulting in adverse ecological and flood risk impacts. A variety of stakeholders are now implementing river restoration schemes for natural flood risk management and hydro-geomorphological improvement purposes using a continuum of process-based options.

Restoration of high energy upland rivers often focuses on realigning straightened channels to reduce the need for active sediment management to manage flood risk.  Restoration practice has, however, outpaced scientific guidance which can result in unintended consequences (e.g. river avulsion). The relative dearth of guidance is particularly the case in upland gravel-bed rivers where there is a lack of research on the links between sediment transport and morphological change. There is a need to assess whether upland river restoration schemes are meeting their design objectives of reducing the need for long-term sediment management interventions. To achieve this, sediment connections and associated fluxes must be identified, quantified and modelled at the catchment scale to assess how river restoration may changes such fluxes. Linked to this, there is a need to quantify how changes in sediment dynamics influence patterns of flooding both within a restoration scheme and to reaches downstream, particularly in the vicinity of property and critical infrastructure.

The dearth of data on the morphodynamics and sediment fluxes through river restoration schemes reflects post-project monitoring being limited or piecemeal. Qualitative monitoring provides valuable information, but repeat three-dimensional (3d) surveys, which offer complete geographic coverage and sufficiently low vertical errors to map morphological change are now both technically feasible and cost-effective. Coupled with allied technologies to monitor sediment dynamics, such as time-integrated suspended sediment sampling and estimates of particle step lengths, there is thus potential to derive time-integrated sediment budgets of restored reaches, to input these into morphodynamics models, and to thus shed light on the hydro-geomorphological river response to restoration.


This project involves field data collection and its analysis. It also involves using the data to provide boundary conditions for hydraulic and morphodynamic modelling. The River Nairn river restoration scheme at Aberarder, Scotland, that was implemented in October 2017 will the focus for the project. The Nairn restoration is 3 km long; unprecedented in scale for a high-energy, sediment loaded UK scheme.

Field data collection and analysis:

  • Mapping catchment-scale sediment connectivity.
  • Fluvial audit.
  • Mapping bar and floodplain sedimentology, including quantifying grain size distribution  (physical sampling, automated grain size techniques)
  • Repeat topographic surveying of restored reaches (total station, RTK-GPS, Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS), UAV imagery for Structure-from-Motion (SfM) photogrammetry)
  • Particle tracing to establish sediment transport rates (could include RFID pebbles, painted pebbles, smart pebbles, bedload impact plates)
  • Time lapse photography to monitor morphodynamics


  • High-flow estimation modelling
  • 2D hydraulic and morphodynamic modelling (e.g. using Delft3D)


Training will depend on the prior skills of the student, but will include the following:

  • Field surveying and data analysis (differential GPS, use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Terrestrial Laser Scanning, Structure from Motion techniques, echo-sounding)
  • Hydrological modelling (e.g. Flood Estimation Handbook)
  • Hydraulic modelling (e.g. Delft3d)
  • Use of Matlab, R and/or Python for data processing and analysis. This may include the NERC Advanced Training Course ‘Statistics for Environmental Evaluation’ run by the School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Glasgow
  • Fieldwork safety (Swiftwater course run at Glenmore Lodge)

Transferable skill development: A full and progressive range of transferable skills training is accessible to the student through IAPETUS specific provision and the University of Glasgow.


This studentship will be delivered in collaboration with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). The student will spend one-month per year at SEPA to give them access to training, facilities and expertise beyond those available in an academic setting. SEPA will supplement the research support grant by £1,000 per year.


Funding notes: IAPETUS’ postgraduate studentships are tenable for up to 3.5 years, depending on the doctoral research project the student is studying and provides the following package of financial support:

  • A tax-free maintenance grant set at the UK Research Council’s national rate (£14,553 for 2017/18).
  • Tuition fees at the Home/EU rate;
  • Access to extensive research support funding (with an additional £1000 per year from SEPA); &

Support for an external placement of up to six months.

Eligibility: This project would suit a candidate with a background in physical geography, geology, environmental science, engineering, mathematics and statistics, or computing science.

IAPETUS is only able to consider applications from Home/European Union candidates. International candidates are not eligible to be considered and where an candidate from another EU country has not been resident in the UK for 3 years or more prior to the commencement of their studies with IAPETUS, they will only be eligible for a fees-only studentship.

IAPETUS is looking for candidates with the following qualities and backgrounds:

  • A first or 2:1 undergraduate degree, or have relevant comparable experience;
  • In addition, candidates may also hold or be completing a Masters degree in their area of proposed study or a related discipline; &
  • An outstanding academic pedigree and research potential, such as evidenced through the publication of articles, participation in academic conferences and other similar activities.

How to Apply: Please refer to the following website for details on how to apply: Please contact Dr Richard Williams if you have any questions about the project or your application.

Deadline: 19 January 2018

Start Date: 1 October 2018