University of Exeter funding: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship

Near Real-Time Multiscale Hybrid Surface Water Flooding Risk Forecasting. PhD in Engineering (NERC GW4 + DTP) Ref: 3674

About the award


Lead Supervisor 

Dr Albert Chen, Department of Engineering, Centre for Water Systems, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors 

Dr Steven Cole, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Prof Slobodan Djordjevic, Department of Engineering, Centre for Water Systems, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

Mr Robert Moore, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology 

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter, EX4 4QJ

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
  • Tavel and accomodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events.
  • No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter


Students who are resident in EU countries are eligible for the full award on the same basis as UK residents.  Applicants resident outside of the EU (classed as International for tuition fee purposes) are not eligible for DTP funding. Residency rules are complex and if you have not been resident in the UK or EU for the 3 years prior to the start of the studentship, please apply and we will check eligibility upon shortlisting.

Project Background

Flood impacts over the past two decades have affected 2.3bn people resulting in an estimated total damage cost of £500bn. The Committee on Climate Change estimates that total expected annual damages from flooding and coastal change (for the whole UK, excluding groundwater) for the present day as £1.1bn, which could increase to £1.7bn and £2.8bn by the 2080s under 2°C and 4°C climate change projections, respectively, assuming no population growth and continuing adaptation at current levels.

To mitigate the impact of flooding, various measures have been proposed to enhance the preparedness and protection of societies against flooding. Most of these measures rely on flood forecasting to deploy resources and implement actions at the right locations and times. 

The Grid-to-Grid (G2G) model has been adopted operationally for countrywide fluvial and pluvial flood forecasting across Britain. Surface water flooding risk is evaluated based on matching the G2G modelled surface runoff with a pre-simulated Impact Library.

Project Aims and Methods

The project aims to develop a hybrid modelling approach, coupling with environmental observations and weather forecasting, to nowcast and forecast flooding and its impact across multiple scales (national, regional, catchment-wide, and local community) to support decision-making for different stakeholders.

The aim of the project is to dynamically link the national-scale Grid-to-Grid hydrological model (typically applied at a 1km resolution) with the detailed urban flood model (with 10m or finer spatial resolution) in highly urbanised areas to better simulate the influences of urban features (e.g. drainage network, buildings) on surface water propagation. Further, the flood modelling results will be combined with socio-economic datasets to forecast flood risk - to human safety, critical infrastructure and services, properties and communities - to develop prototype tools for alerting the public that are at high risk and support emergency response actions to mitigate the hazard impact.

The candidate will be able to discuss with the supervisors how to shape the final research direction of the project and co-design the hybrid modelling framework for real-time applications.


Modelling surface water flooding and impact to transportation network in Torquay 


Flash flooding simulation in Coverack

Candidate Requirements

The candidate must have a good fundamental understanding of mathematical modelling, hydrology and hydraulics. Strong knowledge and skills in computer science, including programming, parallel and cloud computing, and GIS spatial analysis are also desirable. The candidate should be capable of learning new skills, interacting and collaborating effectively with diverse partners.

CASE or Collaborative Partner 

The Grid-to-Grid model is developed by the CEH co-supervisors through whom the candidate will receive insight knowledge and advice in hydrological modelling. CEH is also a key member of the Natural Hazards Partnership (NHP) and has been leading the development of its Surface Water Flooding Hazard Impact Model (SWF HIM). The candidate will engage with the NHP to communicate research progress of practical relevance. 

It is anticipated that candidate will spend up to 2 months per year working at CEH (Wallingford) to co-design the model components for multi-scale analyses.


The University of Exeter is offering a wide range of transferable skills and personal development courses to help students and researchers in building academic research capacity, as well as providing the guidance to work effectively with non-academic partners. CEH hosts over 150 postgraduate researchers and also offers a range of bespoke training and support activities.

The student will have opportunities to attend international conferences or workshops, to visit the University’s strategic partners (e.g. TUM in Germany, Tsinghua University in China) and the CWS’s overseas industrial partners (e.g. KWR in The Netherlands, DHI in Denmark), or to participate in international projects to gain experience and knowledge via these activities.

References / Background reading list 

  1. Cabinet Office (2016) National Flood Resilience Review. 
  2. Chen et al. (2012) Multi-layered coarse grid modelling in 2D urban flood simulations. Journal of Hydrology, 470–471, 1-11. 
  3. Chen et al. (2016) From hazard to impact: flood damage assessment tools for mega cities, Natural Hazards, 82(2), 857-890. 
  4. Chen et al. (2016) Modelling the discharge via displacement of manhole covers during extreme flood events with dual drainage simulations. Urban Water Journal, 13(8), 830-840. 
  5. Cole et al. (2016) Real-time forecasts of flood hazard and impact: some UK experiences [in special issue: 3rd European Conference on Flood Risk Management (FLOODrisk 2016)] E3S Web of Conferences, 7, 18015. 11pp. 
  6. Cole and Moore (2008) Distributed hydrological modelling using weather radar in gauged and ungauged basins. In: International Symposium on Weather Radar and Hydrology, Grenoble, 10-12 March 2008. 
  7. Cole et al. (2010) The Grid-to-Grid Model for nationwide flood forecasting and its use of weather radar. In: Workshop on Polarimetric weather radar for quantitative precipitation estimation, University of Bristol, 28 July 2010. 
  8. Flack et al. (2019) Recommendations for improving integration in national end-to-end flood forecasting systems: an overview of the FFIR (Flooding From Intense Rainfall) Programme. Water,  11, 725. 
  9. Guidolin et al. (2016) A weighted cellular automata 2D inundation model for rapid flood analysis. Environ. Modell. & Soft., 84, 378–394. 
  10. Risk of flooding from surface water - understand and using the map 

Useful links

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


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.

Reference information
You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process, however we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the, 7 days prior to the interview dates.  Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is 1600 hours GMT Monday 6 January 2020.  Interviews will be held between 10 and 21 February 2020.  For more information about the NERC GW4+ DPT please visit

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

Data Sharing
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.


Application deadline:6th January 2020
Value:£15,009 per annum for 2019-20
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries