Dr Robert Schindler
School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences (Faculty of Science and Engineering)
I have a broad background in the geomorphology and hydrodynamics and have studied or worked in the academic sector for over 16 years. My principal interest is geomorphology, and I specialise in fluvial systems and sediment transport. I have authored multiple peer-reviewed articles, most recently on the transport dynamics of complex bio-mediated sediments, and regularly present at international conferences. My research work has spanned a range of experimental facilities and field environments and I have expertise in an array of specialist instruments for measuring flow & sediment properties. I have co-authored successful research grants including RCUK standard grants, the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) for innovative collaboration with industry, and for the development of novel instrumentation.
I have undertaken field-based research campaigns in the UK, Canada, Iceland and the High Arctic in rivers, lakes, estuaries, the littoral zone and glaciers. I have undertaken experiments in several of the UK’s principal hydrodynamics facilities including Plymouth’s COAST Lab, The Total Environment Simulator at Hull University, the Sorby Environmental Dynamics Laboratory at Leeds University and CEH Dorset’s Fluvarium. I specialise in physical modelling experiments and have previously undertaken scaled studies on sediment transport, flow around in-stream vegetation and the undermining of engineered structures through scour.
I have constantly sought to combine experimental rigour with innovation throughout my career and strongly believe in a multi-disciplinary approach to tackling contemporary environmental issues. Since arriving in Plymouth in 2009 I have forged links with different research groups across the University including biologists, geochemists, engineers, geologists and geographers. In addition, I have worked with the Plymouth Electron Microscope Centre to develop their ability to characterize complex sediments using microscopy.
I currently work for the Marine Institute leading a project that examines the potential for‘bio-seeding’ of sediment as an alternative to hard-engineering approaches to scour and erosion. This patent-protected technology takes a holistic approach that aims to simultaneously protect infrastructure and minimize the anthropogenic disturbance of natural habitats. The work encompasses multiple disciplines (structural engineering, hydraulics & sediment transport, the biology and ecology of benthic communities) which we are actively developing in partnership with environmental and commercial sectors. This exemplifies the real-world, problem-solving nature of my work.
School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science, Plymouth University (June 2018- )
I co-ordinate two related projects that focus on the mitigation of environmental hazards resultingfrom miningoperations. Both projects are supported by the Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT) who area charity that work to protect and restore the rivers of the South West, primarily by promoting changes to land use that impact on water quality. WRT are involved in several initiatives to reduce sediment andcontamination from historic mining sites.
Biostablisation of Mining Spoil for Heathland Regeneration (with Sibelco UK)
Re-establishing heathland in former mining areas is problematic due to the losses of surface soil on treated slopes. Further, the loss of solid material from mine spoil in the Southwest contributes substantially to thesuspended sediment load in river catchments, reducing habitat function and light at channel boundaries. Mining spoil erodes rapidly as it is unconsolidated and devoidof microbes and vegetation that protects from wind, rain and frost, andstrengthens soil with roots and organic matter.
We are working inconjunction with Sibelco UK and the Westcountry Rivers Trust to pioneer anovel, cost-effective and ecologicallysustainable method of stabilizing minewaste slopes. This project, based at a trial slope at Sibelco's chinaclay (kaolin) mine at Lee Moor, Devon, was initiated in June 2018 and willrun for 12 months. The approach uses a natural biopolymerthat binds sediment particles together very efficiently to improve resistance to erosive forces.
Results will be used to inform future remediation of mining spoil and assist erosion prevention & re-vegetation efforts. In particular, fine sediments offer a mechanism to disperse potentially toxic elements(PTEs). If successful, the proposed biostabilisation method can be applied to sites exhibiting toxicity to reducing further dispersal towater courses from which water is abstracted for domestic and agricultural purposes, and which may be remobilised from long-term storage by increasing storm frequency and sea level.
From spoil heap to ocean: Metal pollutant partitioning in coastal catchments
The geology of the SW of England is rich in potentially toxic elements (PTEs) which arereleased through transport of particles and leaching into ground and surface waters. Over 90% of SW mining pollutant dispersal occurs in sediment-associated form, leading to the diffuse accumulation of metal-rich muds in rivers and estuaries since the Bronze Age.
Metals exist in two phases within a river’s discharge:
(1) particulates adsorbed onto sediments or (2) dissolved in the water column. However,thereis no current understanding of the degree that metals adsorb onto muddy sediments. Because mud is only mobilized under certain flow conditions we hypothesize that the ratio of transported metals inparticulate vs. dissolved state varies dramatically in response to local hydrodynamics, principally because sediment is only mobile under certain flows and in certain locations.We will use laboratory flume experiments to determine how particulate metals will be released and transported in unsteady quantities as currents varywith weather and tidal conditions.
The work will improve our ability to predict and monitor contaminant transport from source to sink.It is highly relevant to theaims of the WRT, EA and local government/conservationin meeting thestandards of the EU Water Framework Directive. Locally, it will inform important industries such as agriculture, mining, fisheries,aquaculture& marine engineers on the presence of metal contamination, and the impacts of bioavailability of metals in the local aquatic environment. Findings are applicable to all areas experiencing mining pollution, historically or contemporaneously.
Department of Geography, University of Exeter (Jan - July 2017)
Associate Lecturer - Physical Geography
Undergraduate teaching comprising lectures, tutorials, environmental modelling practicals,coordination of the 2nd year fieldtrip to California and pastoral support. I initiated a new field work component forCatchment Hydrology & Geomorphology to improve student field skills and initiate a long-term monitoring programme in conjunction with the NationalTrust. I also completed additional training inprofessional practice.
Marine Institute,University of Plymouth (2015-6)
Marine Institute Research Fellow , HEIF-funded project, “Scour in Complex Cohesive Sediments”.
I secured funding from two rounds of the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) to initiate and develop a project with HR Wallingford that examines how scour dynamics are modified by physical and biological cohesion. The experiments address a significant flaw in current engineering guidelines and results will be integrated into existing guidelines.
I designed the experiments, acquired instrumentation, and undertook the experiments at Plymouth University's COAST Lab. In addition, I helped design, fabricate and retro-fit a sediment scour pit in the flume facility.
Furthermore, the results indicate that cohesive, bio-engineered sediments may have a new, previously unrecognised role in scour management.This has culminated in a patent application for this emerging technology and a forthcoming EPSRC standard grant proposal.
School of Marine Science & Engineering,University of Plymouth, UK (2014-5)
Specialist Technician, COAST Laboratory.
As specialist technician in one of Europe's most sophisticated ocean basin laboratories I worked first hand with scientists and engineers at the cutting-edge of coastal structure design and renewable energy devices. My role was split between teaching and consultancy. I worked with undergraduate, MSc & PhD students in the development of their research programmes, advised on experimental design, taught then specialized technique sand use of instrumentation, and mentored them during lab times.
I assisted visiting academics and commercial bookings in experimental design; deployed wave energy deviceS; installed scaled models & precision instrumentation, and; monitored data collection.
As a specialist in sediment transport I led the drive to re-configure the laboratory to better undertake sediment transport studies, ultimately culminating in the installation of a scour pit and collaborative projects with industry.
School of Marine Science & Engineering,University of Plymouth, UK (2012-4).
PDRA (Research Co-supervisor), NERC-funded COHBED project.
I developed the project from its inception; responsible for project coordination at Plymouth University;responsible for the planning and completion of large-scale flume experiments at the University of Hull as Visiting Researcher. Specific responsibilities were student training and support, fieldwork planning and coordination, project outreach and authorship, and MSc thesis supervision.
Coasts& Estuaries Group, HR Wallingford Ltd (April – July 2011)
Visiting Researcher, HEIF 3 funded project, “Parameterisation of Floc Settling Velocities in a Telemac-DelWAQ Framework”.
I secured Higher Education Innovation Fund ( HEIF)3 funds for a collaborative project with HR Wallingford that assessed settling velocity parameterisations for cohesive sediments in coupled 3D Telemac /DelWAQ modelling frameworks. I was primary researcher responsible for collation of field data collected during previous research campaigns (including FLOCSAM,below), model setup, model runs, post-model comparison and authorship.
School of Marine Science& Engineering, Plymouth University, UK (2009-12).
Post-Doctoral Research Fellow , NERC-funded FLOCSAM project.
NERC Standard Grant for improvement of measurement and parameterization of flocculated suspended sediments in muddy estuarine and coastal environments via the development of acoustic backscatter (ABS)algorithms. Responsibilities included field preparation, field data collection,student supervision, analysis of multi-instrument deployments, floc camera development, floc processing techniques, authorship and future grant proposals.
Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Canada (2007-9)
Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, NSERC-funded project,“Near-Field Scalar Dispersion in Rough Boundary Layers”.
National Science & Environmental Research Council of Canada (NSERC) funded examination of bed roughness effects on 3D dispersion for prediction of near-field transport of biological and toxilogical scalars. I led a team of undergraduate and MSc students in fieldwork that characterized the effects of boundary roughness on turbulence modification and dispersion over rough-bedded rivers and lakes using ADV, ADCP & fluorometry. Ultimately, this information was used by Fisheries & Oceans Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to deploy traps for invasive fish species in the Great Lakes system.
Parish Geomorphic Ltd., Georgetown, Ontario, Canada(2005-7)
Consulting Fluvial Geomorphologist.
Project planning, data analysis, primary authorship of reports, technical report and guidance, fieldwork coordination, data collection, mentoring junior staff and devising learning strategies. The work included: Restoration of urban channels; Environmental risk assessment, conceptual design, technical evaluation, implementation & monitoring; Storm water management; Sewer & bridge crossing assessments; Developing protocols for municipal & conservation authorities; Innovation: field techniques,instrumentation and analytical techniques; mentoring and training of junior staff.
Modification of Three-Dimensional Turbulence by In-Stream Macrophytes.
Rivers & Catchments Group, Geography, University of Leeds, (2001-2005)
Study of the role of vegetation in modifying 3D flow and turbulence structure, with the primary aim of improving CFD parameterization. Field and flume experiments were used,including particle imaging velocimetry (PIV). Emphasis was placed on the effects of different macrophyte morphologies and flow depth revealing significant differences in hydrodynamics between flood vs. baseflow conditions and submergent vs. emergent species. I developed an initial hydrodynamic classification of macrophytes.
Flow & Turbulence Structure across the Ripple-Dune Transition
Department of Geography, York University, Toronto (1999-2001)
Detailed evaluation of 3D turbulence dynamics across mobile ripple-dune bedforms in a re-circulating flume. Results revealed new information regarding flow separation, modification of 3D turbulence structure and suspended sediment regime culminating in a revised conceptual model of bedform transition under increasing velocity.Thesis nominated for University Graduate Research Award.
Geography, University of Durham, UK (1996-1999)
Awarded 1st Class degree including Robin Mills Prize for Research in Geomorphology based on dissertation work, “Seasonal Evolution of Supra-Glacial Channels on Kokbreen Glacier, Svalbard.”
Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society
Challenger Society for Marine Science
British Sedimentological Research Group
British Society for Geomorphology
My teaching roles have spanned first year undergraduate to PhD level; ranged from individual mentorship to large classes, and; have been undertaken in classroom,seminar, field and laboratory environments.
Specialist Technician, COAST Laboratory, Plymouth University (2014-5).
Management of research across multiple facilities,including undergraduate & post-graduate; one-on-one and group instruction on use of facilities & instrumentation; teaching methodological practice;experimental planning and optimization; analytical techniques.
MSc Supervisor: Applied Marine Science, Plymouth University (2013).
Joint-supervised Pernille Forsberg on her thesis, “Temporal and spatial variations of suspended particle matter and flocculation properties in a shallow mixed-sediment estuarine environment, The Dee Estuary, UK”. I guided her experimental design, taught key field techniques, supervised in the field,tutored her in analytical techniques and writing skills. She was awarded 67%.
MSc Tutor: Geology, Geophysics & Oceanography of Coasts, Plymouth University (2009-12).
Supervised fieldwork (boat time), taught instrumentation, IT practicals,marking.
Professional Lecturing, Plymouth University (2011).
“Estuarine Classification as Management Tool”, Short Course in Coastal Geomorphology for the Environment Agency
Teaching Demonstrator: Biosphere Institute, Leeds University (2001-5).
Taught lab and computer practicals across all undergraduate levels in Catchment Processes, Fluvial Geomorphology,Mechanics of Sediment Transport;Fieldwork supervision.
Teaching Assistant, Department of Geography, York University (Toronto) (1999-2001).
Lecturing, fieldwork supervision,classroom and computer practicals, group work, marking, exam supervision, personal tutelage & pastoral guidance.
My primary research interests centre around the flow properties of turbulent boundary layers and the resulting effects on sediment mobility and transport. My research can be divided into these areas.
- Scour in complex, cohesive sediments
- Bedform evolution in sand/mud channels
- The suspension and modification of particles in environments dominated by cohesive, flocculated sediments.
- The modification of sediment transport and bedforms by benthic biota
- The role of in-stream macrophytes in the modfication of 3D turbulence structure
- Near-field dispersion in fluvial and near-shore lake environments over rough boundaries.
In addition, I am interested in the development of measurement of techniques including acoustic (ABS, ADV) and particle imaging techniques (PIV, floc cameras) for the quantification of turbulence and sediment suspensions, and the development of signal processing techniques.
Research degrees awarded to supervised students
Pernille Forsberg, MSc (Applied Marine Science): Temporal and sptial variations of suspended particle matter and flocculation properties in a shallow mixed-sediment estuarine environment, The Dee Estuary, UK (2013).
Grants & contracts
Higher Education & Innovation Fund 6.
Collaborationwith HR Wallingford Ltd. (£6,000).
Collaboration funded by the Higher Education & Innovation Fund (HEIF) for fostering partnershipsbetween research institutes & industry. This study provided an in-depthquantification of the role of biological cohesion in modifying scour dynamicsusing Plymouth University's COAST laboratory.
Higher Education & Innovation Fund 5.
Collaborationwith HR Wallingford Ltd. (£4,000).
Collaboration funded by the Higher Education & Innovation Fund (HEIF) for fostering partnershipsbetween research institutes & industry. This study, undertaken inpurpose-designed facilities in Plymouth University's COAST laboratory, examinedhow the presence of physical and biological cohesion influence scour rate andextent around coastal structures.
COHBED – “COHesive BEDforms”.
NERC-fundedStandard Grant (£220,000 to Plymouth; £965,000 total)
ResearchCo-supervisor & Co-author
A multidisciplinary team from theUniversities of Bangor, Plymouth, Hull, St. Andrews with the NationalOceanographic Centre (Liverpool). We examined the physics, biology,sedimentology and mathematics of ripple and dune bedforms to investigate, forthe first time, key factors that control the behaviour and properties ofbedforms in mixed cohesive and non-cohesive environments: (i) System energy:effects of flow velocity, bed friction and flow depth; (ii) Bed properties:particle size, proportion of mud and sand, and biological effects, (iii) Time:the speed of bedform growth and rate of change as flow energy changes; (iv)Particle erosion: changes in the bedforms as smaller particles are eroded away.Experiments were undertaken in flume and field and include the development ofcutting-edge technologies, yielding several high-impact papers. The study wasguided by a numerical modelling committee and has yielded new parameterisationsand predictive capability.
Higher Education & Innovation Fund 3.
Collaborationwith HR Wallingford Ltd. (£10,300).
Collaboration funded by the Higher Education & Innovation Fund (HEIF) for fostering partnershipsbetween research institutes & industry. This study developed new approachesto parameterising settling flux in cohesive-dominated flow environments withincoupled 3D Telemac / DelWAQ frameworks.
Schindler,R.J., Benson,T., Manning, A.J., Soulsby, R.L., Spearman, J.R. and Whitehouse, R.J.S.2011. Correction of Numerical Mesh for Telemac3D Modelling of the Upper-TamarEstuary (SiTE P57). HR Wallingford Technical Report DDK2092-01.
Schindler,R.J., Benson,T., Manning, A.J., Soulsby, R.L., Spearman, J.R. and Whitehouse, R.J.S. 2011.Testing of formulae for the settling flux estimation of natural estuarinecohesive sediment (SiTE P56). HR Wallingford Technical Report DDK2092-02.
Manning,A.J., Schindler,R.J., Benson,T., Soulsby, R.L., Spearman, J.R. and Whitehouse, R.J.S. 2011. Seedfunding ‘LabSFLOC’ - Paving the way for a strategic alliance with industry - C1Tamar Estuary COSINUS Floc data (SiTE P51 & D1). HR Wallingford TechnicalNote DDK2092-03
Manning,A.J., Schindler,R.J., Benson,T., Soulsby, R.L., Spearman, J.R. and Whitehouse, R.J.S. 2011. Seedfunding ‘LabSFLOC’ - Paving the way for a strategic
alliance with industry - C2 Tamar Estuary COSINUS Floc data (SiTE P52 &D2)HR Wallingford Technical Note DDK2092-04.
Schindler,R.J. et al., 2011. Capability of Remote Sensing andOcean Modelling to Providethe Underwater Recognised Environmental Picture(REP). Report Preparedfor the Osprey Consortium,Task 27, MUWE/05/22/42/261, Thain R.H.and A. D.Priestley (eds.) 63pp.
Keylock,C.J.,Lawless, M. and Schindler,R.J.,2003.Postgraduate Studies in Canada. In ‘The Student’s Companion to Geography’(2nd Edition), Rogers, A. & Viles, H.A. (Eds.), Blackwell p.359-361.
Schindler,R.J., Whitehouse, R., Harris, J. and Stripling, S. (2016). The Influence of Physical Cohesion on Scour around a Monopile. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scour & Erosion,Oxford, September 2016 (in press).
D.R.,Parsons, Schindler, R.J., Hope, J.A., Malarkey, J. .,Baas,J.H., Peakall, J., Manning, A.J., Ye, L., Simmons, S., Paterson, D.M., Aspden, R.J., Bass, S.J., Davies, A.G., Lichtman, I.D. and Thorne, P.D. (2016). The role of biophysical cohesion on subaqueous bed form size. Geophysical Research Letters,43, 1566-1573, doi:10.1002/2016GL067667
Schindler, R.J.,Parsons, D, .R., Ye, L., Hope, JA., Baas, JH., Peakall,J., Manning, AJ., Aspden, R.J.,Malarkey, J., Simmons, S.,Paterson, D.M., Lichtman, I.D., Davies, A.G., Thorne,P.D., Bass, S.J., (2015)Sticky stuff: Redefining bedform prediction in modern and ancient environments, Geology, 43,pp.399-402. doi: 10.1130/G36262.1
Malarkey, J., Baas, J.H., Hope, J.A.,Aspden,R.J., Parsons, D.R., Peakall,J., Paterson, D.M., Schindler, R.J., Ye, L., Lichtman,I.D., Bass, S.J.,Davies, A.G., Manning,A.J., & Thorne, P.D. (2015). The pervasive role of biological cohesion in bedform development, Nature Communications, 6, doi: 10.1038/ncomms7257
Bass,S., and Schindler, R.J. (2013). Predicting mass concentrations of flocculating sediments using acoustic and optical backscatter. J. Coastal Research, 12th International Coastal Symposium, Plymouth University, 8-12 April 2013.
Schindler,R.J., Manning, J. and Bass, S.J.(2013). Cycles in suspended particle characteristics in a partially mixed estuary during spring tides. J. Coastal Research, 12th International Coastal Symposium, Plymouth University, 8-12 April 2013.
Schindler, R.J. and J.D. Ackerman (2011). Chapter 5: Environmental Hydraulics:Turbulent Boundary Layers. In: Advances in Environmental Fluid Mechanics, D.T. Mihailovic and C. Gualtieri(Eds.).World Scientific, London, 87-125.
Schindler,R.J. &Robert, A. (2004). Suspended Sediment Concentration Across the Ripple-Dune Transition. Hydrological Processes, 18, 3215-3227.
Schindler,R.J.,Lane, S.N., Keylock, C.J. & Naden, P.S., (2004). Characterisation of Stem Wake Effects Using PIV Imagery. In ‘Shallow Flows’, Jirka, G.H &Uijttewaal, W.S.J. (Eds), Balkema, p.275-285.
Schindler,R.J. &Robert, A. 2005. Flow and Turbulence Structure Across the Ripple-Dune Transition. Sedimentology,52, 627-649.
Reports & invited lectures
On the modification of boundary layer struture by in-stream macrophytes. Seminar series, School of Geography, University of Western Ontario, Canada, May 2006.
Invitation to speak on "Shear- and mixing-layer development around vegetation in atmospheric and open-channel flows". Joint annual general meeting of the AGU/CGU, Banff, Alberta, May 2008. Invitation declined due to other commitments.
Organising Committee , British Sedimentological Research Group Annual General Meeting, University of Leeds, UK(December 2003).
Event coordinator, British Hydrological Society Postgraduate Symposium, University of Leeds, (May 2003).
Other academic activities
Marine Scour Training Course, HR Wallingford Ltd. (July2014).
UK Polar Network Marine Sciences Workshop, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth, UK (October2009)
ARGUS video system for coastal monitoring workshop, University of Plymouth, UK (July 2009).
Credit Valley Conservation and the Centre for Watershed Protection, Mississauga, Canada (June 2006).
CanadianWater Network, Linking Watersheds Workshop, Fredericton, Canada(Feb 2006).
13th National Summer School in Geophysical and Environmental Flow Dynamics (National Environmental Research Council and University of Cambridge), Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge (September2003)
FLOCSAM Project website: