Overview

Project Highlights:

  • Opportunity to quantify trends in river water temperatures in the world’s most international river basin;
  • Assess the balance between river regulation & hydropower in the catchment headwaters and land-use changes in the riparian corridor downstream

Water temperature is critically important for riverine physical, chemical, and biological processes. There are many potential societal benefits if we can advance our understanding of: i. spatial and temporal dynamics and sensitivity of river temperature to catchment management and climate change, and ii. potential future trajectories given anticipated environmental change. While climate change can be expected to have a significant impact on riverine temperature, the effects will be spatially variable, with marked differences between the catchment headwaters and large alluvial reaches downstream.

At present, most river temperature studies have been conducted at the sub-basin scale; and there has been a marked lack of large-scale analyses of the thermal trends that are essential in developing assessment and management tools. The problems are compounded in trans-boundary basins, such as the River Danube, where the effects of flow regulation (for hydropower, navigation) in upper reaches have yet to be quantified.

This studentship will address these critical research gaps for the world’s most international river basin as it seeks to: 1) to characterise spatial and temporal variability in the thermal regime of the Danube in Austria, Hungary and Romania; (2) to quantify the impacts of hydropower and river structures on upper reaches; and 3) identify long-term trends in river temperature in unregulated reaches downstream. Information from 2 and 3 will be used to attribute trends in river water temperature to catchment / river management and long-term climate change.

The project will ultimately lead to the development of models to predict future river temperature changes based upon currently available catchment descriptors thereby enhancing our ability to identify viable mitigation and adaptation strategies for anticipated future increases in river temperature.

Methodology

The project will use available secondary data to characterise the thermal dynamics of selected reaches, and determine the impacts of hydropeaking and the propogation of thermal impacts downstream. There will be opportunities to quantify trends by Wavelet analysis and forward model to derived scenarios of anticipated future changes in river temperature hydrogeomorphology (snow and ice cover; basin hypsometry; geology and landform units).  Characterisation of organic matter and biogeochemical analysis will be used to determine seasonal changes in organic and inorganic geochemistry, and its relation to the hydrogeomorphology of the catchment.  This will enable a quantitative evaluation of the extent to which fluxes of DOC influence ecological communities.  This is an area of active interest in the international research community and will allow a scaling up of the role of these tributaries in influencing DOC concentrations in large rivers.

Training and Skills

CENTA students are required to complete 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10 day placement. In the first year, students will be trained as a single cohort on environmental science, research methods and core skills. Throughout the PhD, training will progress from core skills sets to master classes specific to the student's projects and themes. 

The research student will benefit from designing a field programme and working in a multidisciplinary team and from participating in a large and active graduate research school within Birmingham’s School of Geography and Environmental Sciences. The research programme will provide the student with training in hydrology; biogeochemistry; ecology; desk-based research methods; and analysis of environmental data.

The project would have links with institutions in Austria and Romania: specifically two Flagship research projects: DREAM (led by Boku University, Austria) and DANUBIUS (led by GeoEcoMar, Romania).

Timeline

Year 1: Literature synthesis and analysis of secondary data; identify potential field sites.

Year 2: Two fieldwork campaigns focussing on headwater and downstream reaches

Year 3: Focus on downstream trends: large alluvial reaches of the Danube and the Danube Delta; assessment of long-term trends.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

The project will link with a flagship EU project: DANUBIUS-RI that seeks to enhance process-based understanding of the freshwater-marine interface. The Danube catchment has three ‘supersites’ within this infrastructure project in Austria, Hungary and Romania.