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Funded PhD Opportunity

Source water vulnerability and protection in complex catchments

Subject: Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology



Drinking water treatment is an intensive process with high materials and energy costs incurred between raw water and consumer supply. Of particular concern to suppliers is the presence of human health and taste agents such as pesticides, sediments, nutrients, bacteria, viruses and colour. Land use upstream of raw water intakes in rivers is fundamental in driving these treatment needs with agriculture and forestry practices implicated. The selective herbicide MCPA is an issue in upland raw water catchments throughout Ireland and the UK and is linked to incentives to maintain a grass sward in marginal areas. Slurry management on intensive meadows and pastures increases total ammonia and pathogen vulnerability and toxicity in raw water and is related to changing storm runoff patterns as these are affected by climate change. Forestry felling and land drainage practices alter sediment mobilisation and organic carbon dynamics.


The overall project aim will be to develop risk assessments of raw water vulnerability and provide assessments of catchment management effectiveness. This will be based on analyses of extant long-term datasets and new datasets collected during the research. The objectives are: 1.Investigate MCPA vulnerability and mitigation effectiveness of catchment-pesticide measures 2.Determine sediment and organic matter vulnerability and mitigation effectiveness of catchment-forestry measures 3.Determine nutrient vulnerability in space and time and establish best practice. 4.Provide a catchment-modelling framework for risk, sensitivity and management.


The four objectives will operate at different scales but within a framework of important cross-border raw water supply catchments. Objective no1 will operate on extensive and mixed pasture areas using catchment scale data and soil scale process experiments; 2 will operate in afforested and deforested areas; 3 will operate on intensive pasture/meadow land. Risk assessments will be GIS based and numerical time series analysis will inform management effectiveness. Objective 4 will incorporate all extant and new data into a Bayesian modelling framework for risk and management.


This research is related to the needs of society through the sustainable provision of drinking water that is protected at source, with reduced treatment costs. Research impact is therefore explicitly part of the project structure and the Ulster University SUSTAINABILITY core theme. Northern Ireland Water, Irish Water, the Rivers Trust and AFBI are all major actors and stakeholders in the research and linked through the £5million 5year EU-INTERREG Va ‘Source to Tap’ project. Additionally, AFBI researchers will be part of the external supervisory panel with regard to objectives 1 to 4 and the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen, will provide specialist supervisory input to objective 4.


The PhD candidate will develop skills in spatial analysis, water quality and climate time series analysis, statistical modelling, environmental measurements using state-of-the-art techniques, field-work and scientific writing. There will be opportunity for international conference presentation, stakeholder engagement and a requirement for the preparation of manuscripts for scientific journals. Primary target journals will be relevant for Five and Fifty objectives including Water Research, Environmental Science and Technology and Environmental Modelling and Software.

Essential criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 65%
  • Research project completion within taught Masters degree or MRES
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Experience of presentation of research findings


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £14,777 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 14,777 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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I would highly recommend Ulster University as you get so much support.  Coleraine is a beautiful town and the people are so friendly. It was a really positive experience.

Carin Cornwall - PhD Environmental Sciences

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Key dates

Submission deadline
Monday 19 February 2018

Interview Date
March 2018

Contact supervisor

Professor Phil Jordan

Other supervisors


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