Analysing population and societal response to natural hazards

Project title: Analysing population and societal response to natural hazards

Director of Studies: Dr Alan Smith 

2nd Supervisor: Professor Ralph Fyfe 

3rd Supervisor: Professor Iain Stewart 

Applications are invited for a three-year PhD studentship. The studentship will start on 1 October 2018.

Project description

Social media feeds such as Twitter have been proposed as ‘distributed sensor systems’ (Crooks et al. 2012). This tool has the potential to help determine perceived risk, hazard footprint and temporal characteristics from extreme events. Near real-time and big data feeds have a powerful potential to provide a greater understanding of the spatiotemporal impact of hazards on humans. This project will utilise spatiotemporal population estimates and big data feeds (e.g. Twitter) to monitor human responses to selected large-scale sudden onset events such as earthquakes or major flooding. Such data may also have applications beyond this immediate field to other areas within geography or the social sciences.  

Assessing human exposure and vulnerability are important factors for disaster risk management and reduction. Spatiotemporal changes in human populations across hourly, daily and seasonal cyclical periods mean that exposure to natural hazards constantly fluctuates (Smith et al. 2016). Low frequency, high magnitude as well as sudden onset events such as earthquakes and some types of flood risk. This project would suit a candidate with a background in geography and GIS or aligned subjects. Programming skills are not essential as training can be provided but would be complimentary. Informal enquiries are welcome. 


Crooks, Andrew, et al. # Earthquake: Twitter as a distributed sensor system. Transactions in GIS 17.1 (2013): 124-147.

Smith A, Martin D & Cockings S 2016 'Spatio-Temporal Population Modelling for Enhanced Assessment of Urban Exposure to Flood Risk' Applied Spatial Analysis and Policy 9, (2) 145-163


Applicants should have a first or upper second class honours degree in an appropriate subject and preferably a relevant MSc or MRes qualification.

The studentship is supported for 3 years and includes full Home/EU tuition fees plus a stipend of £14,553 per annum. The studentship will only fund those applicants who are eligible for Home/EU fees with relevant qualifications. Applicants required to cover overseas fees will have to cover the difference between Home/EU and overseas tuition fee rates (approximately £10,350 per annum).

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Dr Alan Smith. However, applications must be made in accordance with the details shown below.

General information about applying for a research degree at Plymouth University is available at:  

Please apply via the online application form which can be found at: and select 'Apply'.

Please mark it FAO Sharon Healy and clearly state that you are applying for a PhD studentship within the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science. Please attach a covering letter detailing your suitability for the studentship, a CV and 2 academic references.

For more information on the admissions process please contact Sharon Healy.

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on 28 February, 2018. 

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview week beginning 19 March. We regret that we may not be able to respond to all applications. Applicants who have not received an offer of a place by 30 March should consider their application has been unsuccessful.