Project Highlights:

  • Explore state-of-the-art approaches to quantify climate change impacts;
  • Generate novel information in a major UK river basin, extending to the freshwater – marine transition zone;
  • Work at the interface between science and policy



River flow and water temperature are 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, alluvial reaches downstream and extending into the freshwater – marine transition zone.

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 basins, such as the River Thames, where flow regulation and groundwater abstraction in the upper catchment affect flows downstream.

This studentship will address these critical research needs by generating novel information on future changes in UK river temperature and ecosystem health. Specific aims are to:


  1. Assess the sensitivity of the River Thames to projected climate change using a coupled river flow and water temperature model.
  2. Quantify the impacts of these projections on ecosystem health (e.g. dissolved organic matter dynamics).
  3. Assess the impacts of catchment interventions on the freshwater – marine transition zone.


Information from 1 and 2 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.

Figure 1: R. Thames basin and major aquifers


The project will explore different approaches to generating decision-relevant information on climate change impacts, decision-scaling (Brown et al., 2012).

Specific methodologies will depend on the approach, but key requirements are to:


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

Training and Skills

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.


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)

The project will link with a flagship EU project: DANUBIUS-RI that seeks to enhance process-based understanding of the freshwater-marine interface.