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Overview

Project Highlights:

  • There is an urgent need to inform river and land managers about optimal riparian tree planting to promote further resilience of Scottish rivers and fisheries to climate change
  • This project will model the physical processes that drive river temperature to shed new light on the locations in which bankside tree planting will have the greatest impact on moderating stream high temperature extremes during summer.
  • The findings of this project will allow CASE partner The Scottish Government (Marine Scotland Science) to inform national policy development while also providing applied management tools for use by fisheries boards and trusts.

  

Overview

Background

It is expected that climate change will impact UK river ecosystems (Hannah & Garner, 2015) as a consequence of extreme low-flows and high river water temperature events (Garner et al., 2017a). The survival and growth of salmonid fish are influenced strongly by river temperatures raising concern that the thermal suitability of rivers could be reduced (Malcolm et al., 2008). As a result, river managers in Scotland have implemented bankside tree planting as a technique to help river ecosystems adapt to climate change by providing increased shading, especially in summer (Garner et al., 2017b). Recent research by the University of Birmingham (UoB) and Marine Scotland Science (MSS) has led to the development of statistical models capable of identifying areas where rivers are hottest and most sensitive to the impacts of climate change (Jackson et al., 2018). However, these models are unable currently to identify precise locations where bankside tree planting will have the greatest benefits in terms of river temperature. Consequently, there remains an urgent need to inform river and land managers about optimal tree planting to promote further resilience of Scottish rivers and fisheries to climate change. The findings of this project will allow CASE partner MSS to inform national policy development while also providing applied management tools for use by fisheries boards and trusts.

Aim

In this context, this CENTA2 PhD project aims to use process-based river temperature models to determine how near-stream tree cover, landscape and other environmental factors interact to control river water temperature. These models, which function by simulating the physical processes that drive stream temperature, will shed new light on the locations in which bankside tree planting will have the greatest impact on moderating stream high temperature extremes during summer. The model outputs will be integrated with existing large-scale river temperature monitoring initiatives coordinated by MSS with partners, helping to identify optimal locations for tree planting across Scotland as a climate change adaptation strategy.

 

Methodology

The project is composed of three interconnected parts. First, a process-based river temperature model capable of simulating river temperatures under different tree planting, landscape and environmental conditions will be developed for the upper Aberdeenshire Dee, Scotland, one of MSS' core monitoring sites. Second, the model will be used to simulate water temperatures in the upper Dee under a range of different tree planting scenarios, environmental conditions and future climate change projections. The outputs of these simulations will yield new scientific understanding of how tree shading and other environmental factors interact to mitigate high water temperatures. Third, the findings of the above will be used to develop a new index summarising the physical processes and environmental conditions by which tree planting moderates high river temperatures. This index will be added as a model input to the Scotland-wide statistical model of river temperature developed by MSS in collaboration with UoB to generate a ‘planting opportunity’ GIS metric identifying the locations where tree planting will have the greatest benefits for fisheries in terms of moderating thermal extremes.

Training and Skills

The PhD student will receive training in field instrumentation (inc. met. stations, temperature loggers, survey equipment), data exploration and modelling (inc. multivariate analysis, spatial statistics) and scientific computing (inc. R, MATLAB). Training will come from UoB staff, the CASE MSS partner and attendance at training courses (inc. Introduction to R, Numerical modelling; see centa.org.uk). The student will gain scientific knowledge of advanced hydrology, hydroclimatology and ecology from the supervision team, giving them a strong grasp of the challenges facing UK freshwater environments. This theoretical grounding will provide the student with knowledge necessary for thesis completion and to manage water resources in a changing climate. This will enhance their future employability by addressing the UK’s strategic need to plan for climate change. The student will also receive transferable skills training from soft-skills courses offered by CENTA2. While on secondment at MSS, the student will gain valuable insights into this policy and management-facing element of scientific research, helping gain a greater understanding of the role of science organisations in shaping UK environmental policy.

 

Timeline

The project is planned for 42 months: M1-3 training needs analysis, lit. review, assess existing river temperature models; M3-6 coding/temperature modelling training and prelim. fieldwork; M6-12 apply river temperature model to trial site, test using data from UDRPS monitoring programme; M12-16 develop methods for upscaling model inputs from point locations to river network scale; M16-28 secondment with MSS; field collection of additional data necessary for model implementation; implement full upper Dee temperature model with aid of MSS staff; submit as journal paper; M28-34 conduct sensitivity testing to understand roles of riparian vegetation and other landscape controls on river temperature variability by simulating changes to landscape properties (eg. topography, land-use), submit as paper; M34-36 use new knowledge of river temperature controls to develop riparian planting index; M36-40 integrate riparian planting index with other covariates from MSS statistical models; generate 'planting opportunity' GIS metric identifying where riparian planting will have greatest impact on Scottish rivers, submit as journal paper. M40 – 42 finish PhD thesis and submit.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

CASE partner Marine Scotland Science (MSS) provides expert scientific advice on aquatic environments to the Scottish Government, supporting its policy-making and regulatory activities. This collaboration represents a unique PhD training opportunity and will ensure research findings are put directly into practice. The key project deliverable (‘planting opportunity’ GIS metric) will be immediately used by MSS to support river management efforts. The collaboration between UoB and MSS will ensure that the research represents the ideal balance of scientific rigour and real-world utility, enhancing process-based knowledge of river temperatures while delivering a timely and desirable river management product. Without access to MSS’ river temperature data and modelling expertise, model implementation and testing would be challenging in a realistic field setting. The student’s training experience will be of much greater substance than a similar non-secondment PhD and the experience gained from working in an applied research environment will mean that their employment prospects will be greatly enhanced.

Further Details

Please contact Professor David M. Hannah (d.m.hannah@bham.ac.uk; t: 0121 414 7931)