Improved understanding of hazards along the Jurassic Coast from remote-sensing measurements of erosion. Geography NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship Ref: 3134

About the award

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

The Studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit and will commence in September 2018.  For eligible students the award will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum (2017/2018), research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.

Location: College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Geography, Streatham Campus, Exeter

Academic Supervisors:
Main Supervisor:  Dr Matteo Vacchi, Exeter
Co-Supervisor: Dr Steven Palmer, Exeter
Co-Supervisor: Dr Matthew Palmer, Met Office
CASE partner: Jurassic Coast Trust (Anjana Ford, Sam Scriven)

Project Description:
Erosion of the UK coastline presents major management issues given high coastal population densities, the high value of coastal land and its intensity and diversity of use. Transport interruptions (such as the washed out railway at Dawlish in early 2014), damage to coastal properties, beach erosion and widespread cliff falls represent hazards to local communities and beach/coastal path users. In addition, flooding related to storm surges poses a hazard to both coastal and inland communities, and the frequency and magnitude of these events is expected to evolve in response to a changing climate and sea level rise. 

Project Aims and Methods: This project will investigate the fastest eroding sections of coast in the southern UK, focusing on the Jurassic Coast in East Devon and Dorset - a UNESCO world heritage site of global importance. Meta-analyses of erosion records from newspaper archives and GIS analyses of historical maps with be combined with new data acquired from airborne LiDAR, Terrestrial laser scanners (TLS) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), to quantify the spatial-temporal variability of the rates of coastal erosion and deposition over the past century.  The 20th Century climate reanalysis (Compo et al., 2011) and tide gauge records will be used to characterise the prevailing environmental conditions during periods of enhanced erosion and explore connections to historical storm surge events. By considering both intrinsic (e.g. slope, aspect, lithology) and external forcings, we aim to improve understanding of the mechanisms and processes responsible for coastal landslides and other types of coastal erosion. In collaboration with the Met Office, UK Coastal Climate Projections (Lowe et al., 2009; updated report due 2018) will be used to investigate likely changes in the prevailing environmental conditions. These projections will be combined with improved understanding of erosion processes to indicate potential changes to erosion rates along the Jurassic Coast. 


Image 1: Point cloud data acquired using UAV photogrammetry during pilot study near Salcombe Regis, South Devon, showing a landslide which occurred in 2006.

Candidate: The project would suit a student with a first degree in the physical or geographical sciences and a desire to develop data analysis and visualisation skills. There are opportunities for fieldwork, and the balance of tasks can be adjusted to suit the background and interests of the candidate.

Case Award description: The project has CASE support from the Jurassic Coast Trust. Throughout the project the candidate will spend at least 3 months developing innovative, interactive visualisations to engage with coastal users and the wider public, in order to communicate coastal changes and their associated risks. This immersive content is expected to range from web-based 3D virtual environments to smart-phone accessible augmented reality.

Training:  Lead supervisor Dr Matteo Vacchi will provide training in coastal hydrodynamics as well as on the quantitative assessment of coastal hazards on the basis of geological and historical data.

Dr Steven Palmer will provide training in the GIS and remote sensing aspects of the project, including UAV deployment, TLS operation and LiDAR data analyses. He will also provide training in the photogrammetry techniques required to construct DEMs from UAV images.

Dr Matthew Palmer, who is leading work to update the UK Coastal Climate Projections, will provide training and supervision on the climate observations and modelling aspects of the project.

References / Background reading list

  • Compo, G. P. et al. (2011), The Twentieth Century Reanalysis Project. Q.J.R. Meteorol. Soc., 137: 1–28. doi:10.1002/qj.776
  • Lowe, J. A. et al. (2009), UK Climate Projections science report: Marine and coastal projections. Met Office Hadley Centre, Exeter, UK. Available from:  



Application deadline:11th May 2018
Value:£14,553 per annum for 2017-18
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

•       CV
•       Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to
        undertake the project.
•       Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript
        if you are still studying.
•       If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current
        proficiency in English.

You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process however we will not contact these people until the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 8th May 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter in the week commencing 21st May 2018.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;

• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.

Entry Requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.