Assessing the ecological vulnerability of natural defences and risks to agricultural land following seawater flooding

Director of Studies: Professor Richard Thompson

Second supervisor: Dr Mick Hanley

Third supervisor: Dr Iris Möller (Department of Geography, University of Cambridge)

Applications are invited for three and a half years fully funded, XL Catlin Ocean Risk Scholarship, PhD studentship. The studentship will start on 1 October 2018 and will be based in the School of Biological and Marine Sciences at the University of Plymouth.  

Project description

Habitats like salt marshes play a major role in providing coastal protection, but our ability to link inundation risk to ecosystem responses to flooding remains limited. This studentship combines flood risk prediction with research on biological responses to seawater immersion to better understand the likely biological and socio-economic consequences posed by storm-surge flooding. You will develop a systematic method to determine how flood scenarios impact the vulnerability of key coastal habitats, investigate their ability to contribute to coastal defence, and determine what happens when defences are breached and important economic activities inland (e.g. agriculture), are compromised.

The project combines several approaches including; manipulative experiments to determine the biological impacts of flooding on recipient systems, habitat-scale assessments of environmental vulnerability, and modelling to determine how key parameters (e.g. bathymetry, topography, wave and surge height, vegetation characteristics) enable prediction of flooding impact on coastal habitats.


The studentship will be hosted jointly by the University of Plymouth and the University of Cambridge (Coastal Research Unit), but based primarily at Plymouth. We are looking for a highly motivated person who is both collaborative and open-minded in their approach. 

Applicants should have a minimum of a first class or upper second class bachelor degree and ideally a relevant masters qualification. Essential requirements for this position are: strong knowledge of plant biology; the ability to conduct experimental work independently and as part of a team; excellent oral and written communication skills in English. Experience in statistical, graphical and modelling applications would be beneficial.

If you wish to discuss this project informally, please contact Professor Richard Thompson or Dr Mick Hanley. However, applications must be made in accordance with the details below.


The studentship will have a three year duration and will cover full-time Home/EU tuition fees plus a stipend of £14,777 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).

Further information

A new initiative, the XL Group Ltd’s insurance and reinsurance companies are funding three Ocean Risk Scholarships to examine and quantify risks to ecosystems, businesses and people from the changes taking place in the ocean. XL Catlin will act as a liaison throughout, providing risk supervision and allowing the student to work closely with industry professionals.

General information about applying for a research degree at the University 

You can apply via the online application.

Please mark it FAO Miss Aimee McNeillie and clearly state that you are applying for a PhD studentship within the School of Biological and Marine Sciences.

For more information on the admissions process contact Aimee McNeillie.

Closing date for applications: 12 noon, Friday 17 August.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview on 6 September. We regret that we may not be able to respond to all applications. Applicants who have not received an offer of a place by mid-September should consider their application has been unsuccessful.