Global Landscapes & Climate Change

Global Landscapes & Climate Change

We address complex and challenging problems related to how the Earth’s surface evolves spatially and temporally and particularly how it interacts with the atmosphere and hydrosphere to influence processes that sustain life. Our multidisciplinary expertise allows us to address scientific and societal challenges including: a) How resilient are landscapes to major disturbances (e.g. landslides) and what are the implications for land use (e.g. flood risk)? b) How will landscapes adjust to future environmental change and what are the implications for biodiversity and food security? c) How can we best implement adaptation to climate change? d) Improving our capacity to understand and predict landscape responses to flood and storm pressures. We examine how landscapes respond to environmental change, how we can overcome the hazards and minimise societal risks that arise from these responses. Our quantitative approach draws on our strengths in coastal and fluvial geomorphology, Earth observation, geomatics, numerical analysis and advanced analytical techniques through our links with the Life & its Interactions with Chnaging Environments and Dynamic Earth & Planetary Evolution Themes, as well as, our links with SUERC and the School for Interdisciplinary Studies.

Keywords: geomorphology, coasts, rivers, sustainability, tipping points, ecosystem services, Earth observation, remote sensing, geomatics, geospatial, carbon cycle, sustainable development goals, computational modelling


Theme members

Prof Trevor Hoey, Dr Jim Hansom, Dr Cristina Persano, Dr Larissa Naylor, Dr Rhian Thomas, Dr Thorsten Balke, Dr Elizabeth Petrie, Dr Martin Hurst,  Dr Brian Barrett, Dr Richard Williams, Dr Amanda Owen


Current MSc by Research Opportunities (non-funded)

Ground motion measurements for Earth Science using precise Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) techniques

Supervisor/s: Dr Elizabeth Petrie and collaborators


GNSS has many applications in Earth science, from monitoring tectonic motion and deformation around volcanoes, to measuring glacial isostatic adjustment. A variety of projects would be possible and I would be happy to discuss possibilities. However, below is an example of one potential project:

The number of GNSS sites being operated in Antarctica has increased sharply in the last few years, and their record lengths are becoming potentially viable as robust indicators of vertical motion. However, the available Antarctic dataset is highly variable in terms of operator, equipment, collection purpose, and data quality. The project will assess the effects of snow cover on the antenna on the Antarctic GNSS time series. This will be done using Signal to Noise ratio data (SNR). SNR data consist of measurements of GNSS signal power relative to a receiver-calculated noise floor and are commonly reported by geodetic quality GNSS receivers and output to GNSS format RINEX files (Larson, 2013). Once the effects have been assessed, a set of improved timeseries will be generated.

Specific and transferrable skills:

The student will develop skills in using one of the major scientific GPS software packages to process GNSS data to high precision. The student will also develop skills in Linux, data analysis and scientific writing, and gain experience of GNSS data collection.

Required background:

The ideal situation would be for the student to have a background in the relevant area of Earth science to which they would like to apply the GNSS monitoring, as well as experience in using Linux, basic programming skills, maths, statistics, and an understanding of GNSS. In practice, a student who has experience in some of the areas should be able to learn the remaining ones (potential degree backgrounds - Earth Science, Physics, Mathematics, Computing Science, Geospatial & Mapping Sciences).


If interested, please contact Dr. Elizabeth Petrie at:

Coupling short-term processes and long-term landform evolution on Scottish rocky coasts

Supervisor/s: Dr. Larissa Naylor, Dr. Martin Hurst and Dr. Jim Hansom


One of the big conundrums in geomorphology science is coupling of short-term processes with longer-term landform evolution. In the case of rocky coasts, there are two potential models of these interactions: a) where landform evolution at current sea level is quite short-term (i.e. in the last 6000 years) and thus short-term processes (annual to decadal) are crucial in driving landform evolution, and these coastlines are more at risk of further erosion/evolution as our climate changes or b) where landforms change very slowly and are inherited from former sea-level, and where short-term processes are thus less crucial for landform evolution. To answer this question, we need to know: a) what the rate of current shore platform change is over the short-term (i.e. years to decades) and b) how slow platform change is at the landform evolution scale. In a one year MRes project, you will answer question A using existing and new data you would collect and by plugging these data into existing models, you will predict the rate of B. Understanding these systems is particularly important in a changing climate, in terms of accelerated erosion risk and the potential loss of ecosystem services such as rocky shore habitat provision if these coastlines change more rapidly than expected.

Specific and transferrable skills:

Field surveying: Field surveying of the study sites (1-2 sites) would involve conducting semi-quantitative surveys to document shore platform erosion and validate geospatial datasets. Where possible, the student would also conduct repeat surveys of shore platform change either using a drone or differential GPS, adding one year of new data to an existing dataset.

Geospatial Analyses: The student would handle historic (maps, aerial photos, ground surveys such as TLS) datasets to compile decadal scale analysis of rock coast change.

Modelling: The student would gain experience in using models to understand landscape change and evolution over time, by applying existing modelling frameworks to the field sites studied in their MSc. This would give them a foundation in state of the art modelling approaches, and in the computer packages (e.g. python) used. As the proposed software is open-source, it would provide useful transferable quantitative skills for a range of sectors.

The split between these tasks would be approximately: Fieldwork and analysis (25%); Geospatial Analysis 50%; Modelling (25%), including your interpretation and writing.

Required background:

The prospective applicant would need a good foundation in geospatial data collection and processing and experience of using GIS and other forms of remotely sensed data. They also should be numerate and have experience of collecting/analysing more than one type of data.


If interested, please contact Dr. Larissa Naylor at:

Quantifying tropical river morphological change using satellite remote sensing

Supervisors: Dr. Richard Williams, Prof Trevor Hoey, Dr Brian Barrett


The aim of this project is to quantify rates of morphological change for a tropical river in an island archipelago.


Rivers in South-East Asia are under considerable pressure from climate change, land use change and rapid urbanisation. Rivers in this part of the world also pose considerable risks to people, property and infrastructure, due to both flooding and morphological change from channel scour and bank erosion. A recent workshop that was held between the University of Glasgow, and universities and consultancies from Indonesia and the Philippines, has revealed that there have been no studies to quantify rates of morphological change along tropical rivers in either of these archipelago nations. This represents a considerable gap in the global understanding of river morphodynamics across a representative set of rivers with different controls and styles. Moreover, this dearth of knowledge poses a considerable challenge for river managers in these countries since land use planning and natural hazard management decision making is not based upon knowledge of the natural active width of these river systems. A first step in addressing this knowledge gap is to quantify morphological change by assessing river change using multi-temporal remote sensing imagery for a river that exemplifies tropical archipelago fluvial systems.


The project will focus upon the Cagayan River, which drains the northern island of Luzon in the Philippines. The Cagayan River is 520 km long with an estimated annual discharge of 53,943 million m3. The objectives are: 1) to collate annual time-series satellite imagery for the Cagayan River and its major tributaries, 2) to develop a volumetric sediment budget for the Cagayan River, using field estimates of river bank height and bar thickness, together with the map of river erosion and deposition, and 3) to assess the Cagayan River’s rates and style of morphodynamic change as an exemplar of a tropical archipelago river, in the context of a continuum of global rivers with different rates of morphological change. Techniques for automatic extraction of the water areas will be investigated and evaluated against manually digitised boundaries. Maps of planimetric erosion and deposition will be produced, taking into account the uncertainty in the delineation of features through digitisation. Field measurements of representative bank erosion and bar thickness heights will be used to produce estimates of morphological change volumes, for each zone of erosion and deposition. These will be used to calculate a sediment budget and analyse longitudinal trends in sediment transfer or accumulation.

Knowledge background of student

Enthusiastic/ motivated individuals with a background in Geography, Earth Science, Environmental Science/Geosciences, Statistics or a related discipline with a minimum of 2:1 (or equivalent) in their bachelor degree and a willingness to learn new techniques are encouraged to apply. Some experience in image processing and/or scripting (e.g. Python, R) is desirable.

Career prospects

The successful applicant will be equipped with a broad range of skills (e.g. programming, image interpretation and analysis, GIS, statistics, effective communication, report writing), knowledge (e.g. fluvial geomorphology, remote sensing) and also benefit from the disciplinary expertise of the supervisory team. The aforementioned skills are highly sought after by employers in environmental, energy, conservation and information science sectors. Graduates would also be well prepared to pursue further studies, e.g. PhD.


If interested, please contact Dr. Richard Williams at:

The effect of invasive Spartina anglica on biogeomorphology of Scottish salt marshes

Supervisor: Dr Thorsten Balke


Spartina anglica is an invasive grass growing at the seaward edge of British salt marshes. This species is very common across Europe and England and thought to currently spread in Scotland, with large patches already found in Argyll and the Solway Firth. The spread of this warmth-loving species may accelerate with climate change.

Spartina is a perennial clonally expanding species which will change the biogeomorphic dynamics of the salt marsh after invasion. The student will conduct repeated field surveys and manipulative field experiments to survey the spatial pattern of Spartina spread in Argyll and to assess how this will change sediment dynamics and biodiversity of the existing marsh.

Specific or transferable skills

The student will gain experience in botanic mapping of salt marshes, quantifying salt marsh sediment dynamics in the field and laboratory analysis of sediments. Advanced statistical analysis of vegetation surveys, times series analysis and GIS skills will be further developed.

Required background

Undergraduate degree in physical geography, ecology or environmental sciences. Basic knowledge of GIS, levelling, plant identification and sedimentology.

If interested, please contact Dr Thorsten Balke at:

Measuring rocky shore ecology recovery and landform evolution rates post-disturbance

Supervisor: Dr Larissa Naylor (

A new flood defence scheme is under construction in Hartlepool, UK, where the foreshore has been impacted by construction processes. This provides a unique opportunity to measure the rates of bioerosion on landform evolution - as the platform surface has been exposed to the sea for < 2 years. The results of this study would help us better quantify bioerosion rates, their contribution to landform evolution and also inform the local council and Natural England of the rate of ecological recovery post-disturbance.