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Research that changes how the effects of human activity on the environment is managed and the relationships between environment and society


Research in the environmental sciences is key to sustainable economic and social development through influencing and supporting the regulation and assessment of the impact of human activity on the environment and also to considering the relationships between environment and society, including heritage.

The University welcomes applicants interested in researching these areas, particularly: management, techniques and technologies in coastal geomorphology and ecology, including human adaption to sea level and climate change and exploitation of marine resources, sustainable coastal management, humanitarian emergency planning and response, sustainable land use management, freshwater quality risk assessment and integrated ecological modeling, the co-production of local heritage initiatives to enhance community sustainability and peace building, the effects of past and future climate change on sea levels and densely populated coastal zones.

The key disciplines are physics, chemistry, biological sciences and mathematics, including geography and environmental science.

About this course

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Through this research we help society manage and adapt to the effects of climate change, pollution, natural hazards, land use change and waste on land and water environments, including related societal issues and maritime heritage. We influence policy, management, techniques and technologies and key examples of the research are: understanding the spatial and temporal variability in coastal geomorphology and ecology and mechanisms for sustainable coastal management; aftershock modelling tool to inform humanitarian emergency planning and response; freshwater quality risk assessment and integrated ecological modelling for policy implementation and management; the co-production of local heritage initiatives to enhance community sustainability and peace building; the effects of past and future climate change on sea levels and densely populated coastal zones and; investigating and modelling the coastal landscape in order to understand human adaption to sea level change and exploitation of marine resources and to document and conserve the archaeological record.

The main beneficiaries of the research are companies, organizations and local and central government agencies concerned with policy development and delivery in the environmental sector and local and international Non-Governmental Organizations and community groups.


As a full time student, the expectation is that you will work on your project on a daily basis, either on or off campus as agreed with your supervisor. You will be entitled to 40 days holiday per annum.

Part time students are expected to meet with their supervisors on a regular basis, most usually this would be monthly but this is dependent on the project area.

How to apply

Entry conditions

We recognise a range of qualifications for admission to our courses. In addition to the specific entry conditions for this course you must also meet the University’s General Entrance Requirements.

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Entry Requirements

You will need to hold a First of Upper Second Class Honours degree (or equivalent) in an area relevant to your chosen project to be able to apply.

If you have obtained an undergraduate degree from a non-UK institution, we can advise you on how it compares to the UK system.

English Language Requirements

English language requirements for international applicants

The minimum requirement for research degree programmes is Academic IELTS 6.0 with no band score less than 5.5. This is the only acceptable certificate for those requiring to obtain a Tier 4 visa.

Ulster recognises a number of other English language tests and comparable IELTS equivalent scores.

Careers & opportunities

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Career options

Although academia is considered to be the most obvious path for any PhD holder, with around two thirds of our graduates remaining in the Higher Education or Research sectors, the degree also paves way for a career in industries centred on research and innovation.

PhD graduates are recognised by employers to hold valuable transferrable skills, as the nature of the degree trains candidates in creativity, critical inquiry, problem solving, negotiation skills, professionalism and confidence.

The most recent Ulster survey of PhD graduates found that 92% had secured employment within the first year since graduation (HESA Destination of Leavers Survey 2015).


Ulster University welcomes applications from all sections of the community and from persons with disabilities. It is University policy to assess all applications using academic criteria and on the basis of equality of opportunity and you should be assured that reasonable adjustments will be made should you require them.

Once you have selected your chosen project from the lists available on the Faculty pages, you are advised to make contact with the named supervisor on the project as they will be able to guide you in writing your research proposal.

You should then apply using our online application system:

How to apply

Fees and funding

A number of funded scholarships are available across the University each year for PhD projects. Applications for studentships will be considered on a competitive basis with regard to the candidate's qualifications, skills, experience and interests.

Sources of funding

Fees (per annum)

Full Time:

Home and EU £4195

Overseas £13760

Part Time:

Home and EU £1490

Home and EU (with External Sponsor paying fees) £2130

Overseas £7840

Distance Research Study (Home and EU) £6390

Research facilities and groups

Centre for Maritime Archaeology

The Centre brings together science and the humanities to investigate evolving maritime and freshwater cultural landscapes - extending from riverine and lacustrine environments to the open ocean, with emphasis on coastal and nearshore archaeology. It recognises that coasts are complex, dynamic, open systems whose archaeology is influenced by a range of interacting variables. Current concerns over the influence of climate change and sea level rise are particularly pertinent at submerged and subaerial coastal archaeological sites. The work is based on a wide range of techniques, including sonar mapping of the seabed to identify and evaluate wrecks, mapping of archaeological finds, modelling past sea level change, etc., along with the standard archaeological methods. Recent research led to the discovery of a buried and forgotten 17th-century town of international importance adjacent to Dunluce Castle on the north coast of Ireland. In addition, the work led to the development of school and community based archaeological initiatives, changes in school curricula and significant investment in heritage preservation and tourism.

Coastal and Marine Systems

Coasts are complex environments and the science underpinning this research focuses on understanding the spatial and temporal variability in coastal geomorphology and ecology and the linkages between them, as well as developing mechanisms for sustainable coastal management. The group’s work contributes directly to the societal debate on responding to the impacts of future climate change and sea-level rise and contributes to sustainable coastal management, locally and internationally. The research currently helps to advise local authorities and European and other international organizations particularly on natural environment-human interactions.

Coastal geomorphic change is described at timescales from millennia to seconds, with a focus on the decadal to centennial scale, and spatial scales of a few metres on a single beach, to regional and global comparisons of coastal landforms. The results of this research are used to develop societal approaches to Coastal Zone Management within the context of evolving legislative drivers at national and European Union level. The ecological research extends from the coastal to the subtidal marine environments and includes functional ecology of the benthos and the interactions between geomorphology and ecosystem processes at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. Understanding these interactions informs future conservation and management decision making on the conservation of priority habitats at a European and International levels. The group continues to successfully attract funding from the Natural Environment Research Council, EU programmes and research charities.

Freshwater Sciences

This focus of this research is freshwater quality risk assessment and management. The broad aim is to understand the behaviour of rivers and lakes in catchments in order to model their important physicochemical and biological properties. There are three research themes: catchments and river quality, including groundwaters; fate of chemicals in lakes and; lake ecology. The group co-operates with UK and Irish end-users of the research and all the three areas support the management of rivers and lakes, particularly the implementation of the Water Framework Directive and the effects of climate change on water resources.

Staff members have research funding histories from UK Research Councils, EU (including H2020 and INTERREG), charities and national and international government department. The four highest-ranking recent papers from the group have an average journal impact factor of 5.00 Some of this research formed one of the REF2014 impact case studies, which showed a significant influence on Irish government water policy relating to the European Union’s Water Framework Directive and Waste Directive compliance.

Quaternary Environmental Change

The aim of research in this group is to understand the processes of large-scale and long-term global change that occurred during the Quaternary Period. An important focus is understanding the nature and timing of past glaciation because of the complex linkages between ice ages and the global climate system. The group conducts research on reconstructing Quaternary ice sheets, ice-marginal fluctuations, ice-sheet dynamics, bedform generation and other landscape changes using terrestrial and marine remote sensing techniques, sedimentary analysis and cosmogenic isotope surface exposure dating. Quaternary climatic change has also left an imprint in deep water sediments and one of line of research includes the study of deep sea cores in relation to the alternation of glacial and interglacial cycles. Understanding the processes and timing of these changes provides support for evaluating and managing how the Earth may respond to climate and environmental change in the future.

Society and Environment

This interdisciplinary group investigates the interconnections between the environment, society and space. Key priorities are the analysis of marginalised groups and divided societies, as well as exploring the dynamics of conflict and peacebuilding. Other research focus on knowledge exchange between experts and knowledge users and in particular on the social and institutional contexts that enable and hinder effective knowledge exchange and the links between the latter and community resilience and sustainable development. Research is also conducted on fuel poverty. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have been used to create an area-based model that has been used by government and local authorities to target intervention strategies for those experiencing high levels of fuel poverty. The beneficiaries of the work include community groups, local and central government and national and international Non-Governmental Organizations.

Recently, group members have led and participated in six UK Research Council funded projects. They have included the development of an aftershock forecasting tool to inform humanitarian emergency planning and response activities in real-time after a large earthquake and community-led heritage projects to enhance the sustainability of vulnerable and contested communities in the Western Isles of Scotland. Recent PhD projects include: community vulnerability to earthquake hazard; community-led environmentally friendly behavior; fisher communities and well-being; socio-cultural dimensions of household energy use; environmental dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; geo-science-humanitarian knowledge exchange; place and belonging in Palestinian Refugee Camps and; education for sustainable development.


Professor Adrian Moore

Director of Environmental Sciences Research Institute

Tel: +44 (0)28 70123947