Project Highlights:

  • Explore state-of-the-art approaches to producing decision-relevant information on climate change impacts
  • Generate novel information on the effects of future climate change on a major UK river basin
  • Assess impacts of existing and new potential climate change adaptation strategies for the UK water environment
  • Work at the interface between science and policy

River flow and water temperature are key variables determining the health of river ecosystems. Climate change (driven by increased greenhouse gas concentrations) is anticipated to alter the hydrological processes that determine river flow and temperature. This may be further compounded by human responses to reduced water security. Consequently, future climate changes should be anticipated to have profound potential consequences for freshwater ecosystems.

However, there is scarce evidence for future impacts of climate change in the UK water environment. This is especially true for river water temperature, water quality and aquatic ecosystems.  This lack of data is a major barrier to effective climate change adaptation (Watts et al., 2015).

In response to these urgent research needs, this project will generate novel information on future changes in UK river temperature, ecosystem health and the effects of potential adaptation strategies. Specific aims are to:

  1. Assess the sensitivity of the River Thames to projected climate changes using a coupled river flow and water temperature model. The Thames is a major UK river basin in which rapid changes driven by climate and multiple other pressures are anticipated.
  2. Assess the impacts of these projections on indicators of aquatic ecosystem health, such as nutrient and dissolved oxygen concentrations and phytoplankton biomass

Assess the impact of adaptation scenarios (i.e. riparian land use and water use) on river temperature and indicators of ecosystem

R. Thames basin and major aquifers (source: BGS)


The project will explore approaches to generating decision-relevant information on climate change impacts, adaptation and associated uncertainty e.g. scenario-neutral (Prudhomme et al., 2010) and decision-scaling (Brown et al., 2012). Specific methodologies will depend on the approach, but key requirements are to:

  1. Develop coupled river flow and water temperature models (e.g. van Vliet et al., 2012) for R. Thames sub-catchments and quantify responses to projected climate change using CMIP5 datasets (Taylor et al., 2012).
  2. Use a semi-empirical, process-based water quality model of the River Thames (Waylett et al., 2013) to quantify responses of indicators of aquatic ecosystem health to changes in flow and temperature.
  3. Implement adaptation scenarios in the coupled models (e.g. Whitehead et al., 2013; Sun et al., 2015; Hutchins et al., 2010) to assess responses of water temperature and aquatic ecosystem health to changes in riparian land- and water use, and to identify the most efficient scenarios.

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 project provides an excellent opportunity to address urgent research needs in the UK water environment. The researcher will collaborate with project partners to identify timely, pertinent research questions, develop and implement numerical models, and disseminate new knowledge to the wider scientific community. Consequently, the researcher will gain advanced understanding of hydroclimatological and hydroecological processes, develop sophisticated technical skills in programming, modelling and data analysis, and become familiar with the research process and its role in informing adaptation decisions. These skills will be beneficial for multiple future career pathways.


Year 1: Visit project partners, data collation, model development & testing

Year 2: Model calibration, validation, application & data analyses

Year 3: Prepare journal articles & write thesis

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

University of Birmingham, UK

Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, UK

Environment Agency (Evidence Directorate), UK

Further Details

David M. Hannah


+44 (0)121 414 6925