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Award details

University of Exeter funding: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship

Near Real-Time Multiscale Hybrid Surface Water Flooding Risk Forecasting. Engineering PhD studentship (NERC GW4+ DTP funded) Ref: 4028

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Prof Albert Chen, University of Exeter.

Additional Supervisors

Prof Slobodan Djordjevic, University of Exeter.

Dr Steven Cole, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

Mr Robert Moore, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

Location: Streatham Campus, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon.

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 five Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,  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

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) 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.
  • Up to £750 for travel and accomodation for compulsory cohort events.

Project details


Modelling surface water flooding and impact to transportation network in Torquay



Flash flooding simulation in Coverack


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.

Further interactions will be arranged with the Natural Hazards Partnership (NHP), including the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on assessing impacts and the Flood Forecasting Centre (FFC) on operational challenges.

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.

Collaborative Partner:

The Grid-to-Grid model is developed by the UKCEH co-supervisors through whom the candidate will receive insight knowledge and advice in hydrological modelling. UKCEH 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) along with HSE for operational use by the FFC. The candidate will engage with the NHP to communicate research progress of practical relevance. It is anticipated that the candidate will spend short visits (subject to travel and office restrictions) up to a few weeks per year working at UKCEH (Wallingford) to co-design the model components for multi-scale analyses.


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. UKCEH hosts over 150 postgraduate researchers and 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.

Background reading and references:

[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 &d 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:

For information relating to the research project please contact the lead Supervisor via Prof Albert Chen (;

Prospective applicants:

For information about the application process please contact the Admissions team via

Each research studentship project advertisement has an ‘Apply Now’ button linking to an application portal. Please note that applications received via other routes including a standard programme application route will not be considered for the studentship funding.

How to Apply:

The application deadline is Friday 8 January 2021 at 2359 GMT. Interviews will take place from 8th to 19th February 2021.

For more information about the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership please visit


NERC GW4+ DTP studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals.  For further details please see the NERC GW4+ website.

Those not meeting the nationality and residency requirements to be treated as a ‘home’ student may apply for a limited number of full studentships for international students. Although international students are usually charged a higher tuition fee rate than ‘home’ students, those international students offered a NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership full studentship starting in 2021 will only be charged the ‘home’ tuition fee rate (which will be covered by the studentship). International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. More information on this is available from the universities you are applying to (contact details are provided in the project description that you are interested in

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.


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 Friday 8 January 2021 2359 GMT .  Interviews will be held between 8th and 19th February 2021.  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:8th January 2021
Value:£15,285 per annum for 2020-21
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries