Identifying a Topic for DPhil Research

Applicants are encouraged to develop their own research topic with the relevant staff members listed below. In discussion with the School's research staff you will be able to refine your own ideas and develop a project that we can effectively supervise. Research staff will be happy to discuss potential DPhil topics in human, physical and environmental geography.

Potential Supervisors

A list of potential DPhil supervisors at the School of Geography and the Environment is provided below. Please note that research staff from the School's research centres: the Environmental Change Institute (ECI), Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment (SSEE), and Transport Studies Unit (TSU) can also be contacted with regard to supervision but are only able to co-supervise with a main supervisor from the list of academic staff members below.

NameCollege(s)Summary of Research Interests
Professor Myles AllenProfessor Myles Allen
Professor of Geosystem Science
Linacre College, OxfordLinacre CollegeHow human and natural influences on climate contribute to observed climate change and risks of extreme weather and in quantifying their implications for long-range climate forecasts.
Dr Elizabeth BaigentDr Elizabeth Baigent
University Reader in the History of Geography
Wycliffe Hall, OxfordWycliffe HallHistory of cartography, history of exploration, history of travel, history of Scandinavia, biography, with special interest in how all of these things affect women.
Dr Richard BaileyDr Richard Bailey
Associate Professor in Geochronology
St Catherine's College, OxfordSt Catherine's CollegeQuaternary palaeoclimate; geochronology (particularly luminescence-based methods) associated with environmental change, archaeology and palaeoanthrolpology; modelling luminescence processes; observations and modelling of vegetation patterning and critical thresholds in semi-arid systems; critical thresholds in environmental systems.
Dr Christian BrandDr Christian Brand
Senior Research Fellow and Associate Professor at the ECI and TSU
Linacre College, OxfordLinacre CollegeTransport, energy and climate change policy. Systems modelling. Carbon effects of walking and cycling. Socio-technical transitions towards low-carbon, energy efficient transport systems. Measurement and evaluation of policy measures and interventions. Christian encourages graduate projects that address current challenges in the fields of 'transport and health' and 'transport and energy'. For instance, the PASTA project is producing a stream of good survey and 'objective' data, which presents a great opportunity for an analytical mind to answer research questions on key determinants of active travel and its wider transport, health and carbon impacts.
Dr Katrina CharlesDr Katrina Charles
Senior Research Fellow
No college affiliationImproving access to and sustainability of water supply and sanitation systems; Stimulating demand for sanitation; Fate and transport of viruses in the environment.
Dr Simon DadsonDr Simon Dadson
Associate Professor in Physical Geography
Christ Church, OxfordChrist ChurchProcesses that link climate, hydrology, and geomorphology.
Professor Patricia DaleyProfessor Patricia Daley
Professor of the Human Geography of Africa
Jesus College, OxfordJesus CollegeSub-Saharan Africa, especially topics on issues of forced migration; humanitarianism; gender; militarism; violence and ethnicity; as well as on aspects of political ecology in relation to land tenure; natural resource exploitation; community management of natural resources; forestry; indigenous knowledge; and wildlife conservation.
Dr Sarah DarbyDr Sarah Darby
Associate Professor, ECI
No college affilicationThe potential for demand response in electricity systems; electricity grids as dynamic socio-technical systems; smart metering; implications of 'smart grids' for daily life, governance and environmental impact; energy feedback and advice.
Professor Danny DorlingProfessor Danny Dorling
Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography
St Peter's College, OxfordSt Peter's CollegeIssues of housing, health, employment, education, wealth and poverty.
Professor Nick EyreProfessor Nick Eyre
Jackson Senior Research Fellow in Energy and Professor of Energy and Climate Policy
Oriel College, OxfordOriel CollegeLow carbon energy transitions and policy, particularly inter-disciplinary approaches to energy demand and energy efficiency.
Dr Dustin Evan GarrickDr Dustin Evan Garrick
Departmental Research Lecturer in Environmental and Resource Management
No college affiliationProperty rights and resource allocation; collective action and the commons; environmental governance; water allocation reform and water markets; decentralisation and disaster risk governance with an emphasis on drought; the institutional analysis and development (IAD) framework.
Dr Beth GreenhoughDr Beth Greenhough
Associate Professor in Human Geography
Keble College, OxfordKeble CollegeSocial implications of scientific innovations in the areas of health, biomedicine and the environment; Social, cultural and ethical processes through which humans and animals are made available as experimental subjects for biomedical research; New theoretical and methodological approaches within Geography better able to capture the material and affective dimensions of human-environment relations and how these are being reconfigured through biotechnological innovation.
Dr Richard GrenyerDr Richard Grenyer
Associate Professor in Biodiversity and Biogeography
Jesus College, OxfordJesus CollegeConservation - in particular conservation strategy, systematic conservation planning, biodiversity measurement and valuation. Biogeography, ecology and evolutionary ecology - particularly of mammals and plants. Phylogeography and phyloinformatics.
Dr Philipp GrünewaldDr Philipp Grünewald
EPSRC Fellow
No college affilicationUnderstanding patterns of electricity consumption, activities and their flexibility through app-based large scale data collection. Energy systems: modelling, integration of renewables, role of electricity storage, demand response options, system flexibility, strategic transition towards a low carbon future.
Professor Robert HahnProfessor Robert Hahn
Senior Research Fellow and Professor of Environmental and Regulatory Economics, SSEE
Nuffield College, OxfordNuffield CollegeEnvironmental economics, regulatory economics, behavioral economics (nudges), climate change policy, innovative approaches for wildlife conservation, markets for environmental protection and water markets, improving biodiversity, energy policy, improving the sharing economy (think Uber / AirBNB), measuring the benefits of the sharing economy, improving the structure of regulated markets, politics and economics of environmental policy, cost-effective nudges for energy and water conservation, evidence-based policy (Prof Hahn serves on the US Commission for evidence-based policymaking appointed by President Obama and leading legislators), improving regulatory processes, improving the use of benefit-cost analysis, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches to making policy, understanding how to make employees more productive through experimentation, improving health outcomes through experimentation, promoting safety through experimentation and better data analysis, making recruiting processes fairer and more efficient, understanding how to move climate policy and energy policy forward, especially in the U.S., inter-country comparisons of regulatory policy, comparing instruments for environmental protection.
Professor Jim HallProfessor Jim Hall
Professor of Climate and Environmental Risks,
Director of the ECI
Linacre College, OxfordLinacre CollegeWater resource systems, flooding and adaptation to climate change. Resilience of infrastructure systems modelling and policy analysis. Decision making under uncertainty. Risk analysis.
Dr Paul JepsonDr Paul Jepson
Course Director - MSc/MPhil in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management
No college affiliationConservation governance; especially the role of measurement and categorisation schemes in assembling the institutions and practices of conservation, the agency of species and concepts in conservation networks, and the transformative potential of new media technologies.
Dr Ian KlinkeDr Ian Klinke
Associate Professor in Human Geography
St John's College, OxfordSt John's CollegeGeopolitics and political geography, Germany, the Cold War, military landscapes, biopolitics, far-right politics, intellectual history, European integration.
Dr Anna Lora-WainwrightDr Anna Lora-Wainwright
Associate Professor in the Human Geography of China
St Cross College, OxfordSt Cross CollegeEnvironmental justice, environmental health controversies, transition and social change in China, anthropological theory and ethnography. More specific topics: political ecology with particular interest in pollution and rural China, popular epidemiology and perceptions of risk, questioning the lay-expert divide, grassroots responses to health inequalities (especially in China and the developing world), cross-cultural environmental activism and environmental health activism, controversies in cancer epidemiology and lay cancer epidemiology.
Dr Jamie LorimerDr Jamie Lorimer
Associate Professor in Human Geography
Hertford College, OxfordHertford CollegeMore-than-human geographies. Cultures and politics of Nature, especially in relation to wildlife conservation and rewilding. Social studies of the microbiome. The cultures and politics of the Anthropocene. Animal studies and nonhuman charisma. Elephants.
Dr Marc Macias-FauriaDr Marc Macias-Fauria
Associate Professor in Physical Geography
St Peter's College, OxfordSt Peter's CollegeAn ecologist with a special focus on cold environments, his research is directed at understanding the coupling of physical and biological systems over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. Understanding ecological and biogeographic processes - such as species range shifts through local extinction and migration - through the use and interpretation of long-term and palaeoecological records (e.g. fossil pollen, tree-rings, macrofossils), and modelling.
Professor Yadvinder MalhiProfessor Yadvinder Malhi
Professor of Ecosystem Science
Oriel College, OxfordOriel CollegeInteractions between forest ecosystems, climate change and land-use change, including the utility of forest protection in mitigating climate change. Techniques applied in this research include plant ecophysiology, long term forest monitoring and short-term expeditions, forest micrometerological and flux measurements, manipulative experiments, and satellite remote sensing of intact forests and deforestation. His interests are global, but particularly focus on tropical forests, especially in the Andes and Amazon, and more recently on the woodlands of the Upper Thames.
Dr Fiona McConnellDr Fiona McConnell
Associate Professor in Human Geography
St Catherine's College, OxfordSt Catherine's CollegePolitical geography and critical geopolitics. Specifically the everyday construction of statehood and sovereignty in cases of tenuous territoriality (e.g. unrecognised/de facto states, exile governments, stateless nations). Theories of sovereignty, and the relationship between territory and authority. Theories of the state and the use of ethnographic methods to uncover everyday state practices. Diplomacy, minority communities and the UN system.
Dr Derek McCormackDr Derek McCormack
Associate Professor in Human Geography
Mansfield College, OxfordMansfield CollegeGeographies of: air/atmosphere; the body, performance and movement; affect and emotion; art, experiment, and creativity; material cultures. Social/cultural theories and philosophies of space and time, particularly non-representational theory and post-structuralism.
Professor Gillian RoseProfessor Gillian Rose
Professor of Human Geography
St John's College, OxfordSt John's CollegeGeographies of contemporary visual culture, digitally-produced images and visual methodologies. I'm particularly interested in how new forms of digitally-mediated imagery and practices are emerging in both popular practices and in new design professions; in smart cities; and in critical modes of investigating and theorising these shifts.
Dr Tim SchwanenDr Tim Schwanen
Associate Professor in Transport Studies,
Director of the TSU
St Anne's College, OxfordSt Anne's CollegeThe everyday mobility of people, goods and information, and in particular: transitions to low carbon mobility and living in cities, with a specific focus on questions of social justice and governance; the rise and governance of smart, shared or autonomous mobility; the interactions between transport infrastructure development and socio-spatial inequalities; the effects of urban contexts on individuals' practices and experiences of mobility; the relationship between mobility, power and subject formation.
Professor David S.G. ThomasProfessor David S.G. Thomas
Professor of Geography
Hertford College, OxfordHertford CollegeQuaternary environments in the low latitudes, especially Africa; luminescence dating applications; aeolain systems; land degradation and human-environment interactions in drylands and Africa; climate change impacts and adaptation.
Dr Tom ThorntonDr Tom Thornton
Director of the MSc/MPhil in Environmental Change and Management, Senior Research Fellow and Associate Professor
No college affiliationHuman ecology, adaptation, local and traditional ecological knowledge, conservation, coastal and marine environments, conceptualizations of space and place, and the political ecology of resource management among the indigenous peoples of North America and the circumpolar North.
Dr Alex VasudevanDr Alex Vasudevan
Associate Professor in Human Geography
Christ Church, OxfordChrist ChurchCritical urban geography: alternative urbanisms, radical politics and the geographies of protest: contemporary urbanisation and precarious living: the history of squatting and its relationship to broader currents in contemporary urban thinking: spatial theory and experimentation: cultural geographies of artistic practice: historical and cultural geographies of performance.
Professor Heather VilesProfessor Heather Viles
Professor of Biogeomorphology and Heritage Conservation,
Head of School of Geography and the Environment
Worcester College, OxfordWorcester CollegeGeomorphology and environmental change (especially in arid and karst environments); building stone deterioration and conservation; weathering and rock breakdown (especially in arid, coastal, karst and other extreme environments); rock breakdown on Mars and other planets.
Professor Richard WashingtonProfessor Richard Washington
Professor of Climate Science
Keble College, OxfordKeble CollegeAfrican climate science; climate change and variability in Africa; rainfall variability and prediction in Africa; mineral aerosol (dust) production and transport in Africa.
Dr Johanna WatersDr Johanna Waters
Associate Professor in Human Geography
Kellogg College, OxfordKellogg CollegeInternational and transnational migration, young people and international higher education, and educational mobilities. Understanding the ways in which experiences of (higher) education and subsequent employment are being transformed through internationalisation, and the relationship to (im)mobilities.
Professor Robert J. WhittakerProfessor Robert J. Whittaker
Professor of Biogeography
St Edmund College, OxfordSt Edmund HallIsland ecology and biogeography; conservation biogeography; diversity theory; macroecology. I have particular interests in the islands of the Macaronesian biogeographic region, and in themes connected with habitat island ecology and using islands as model systems in conservation.
Professor Giles WiggsProfessor Giles Wiggs
Professor of Aeolian Geomorphology
Brasenose College, OxfordBrasenose CollegeMeasuring and modelling aeolian processes in deserts with an emphasis on aeolian sediment transport; sand dune dynamics; dynamics of aeolian dust; desert geomorphology; and low latitude environmental change. Research techniques include fieldwork in southern Africa, Middle East, Central Asia and Australia in combination with wind tunnel and computer modelling. Enquiries concerning any aspect of desert geomorphology are welcomed.
Professor Dariusz WójcikProfessor Dariusz Wójcik
Professor of Economic Geography
St Peter's College, OxfordSt Peter's CollegeGeographies of finance, economic geography, financial centres and global cities (including Shanghai and Dubai), emerging market economies, corporate governance, environmental finance (including carbon markets), varieties and models of capitalism, geography of advanced business services (including finance, law, management consultancy and accountancy).

Examples of Specific Research Topics

Below is a list of topics which applicants might like to consider and discuss further with the relevant staff. This list is not exhaustive, however, if you wish to develop a research topic outside of this list then please feel welcome to contact a relevant member of staff for discussion. These topics do not have funding attached.

Building a sustainably energy future is a system challenge. Alongside technical solutions, such as renewables and storage, the demand side may play an increasingly important role. Reducing or potentially shifting the timing of demand to better suit the availability of wind or solar energy could make an important contribution. By 2030 new forms of flexibility are said to have the potential to reduce UK energy system costs by up to 8bn annually. However, the evidence for contributions from demand shifting is still weak and requires new data and interdisciplinary approaches.

The METER project is the first study of its kind to collect electricity use information from thousands of UK participants. We combine time-use, socio-demographic information and survey material with electricity readings. These multivariate data can reveal patterns of activity and may explain why electricity consumption peaks at certain times. Such novel insights may support the evidence base for demand side flexibility, inform policy and help to create new business models.

The candidate is expected to work alongside a small team and to develop the qualitative and quantitative methods to analyse the project's data and combine or contrast these with other studies.

We therefore seek a candidate with:

  • excellent analytical skills
  • good grasp of statistical methods
  • good data handling skills
  • highly self motivated
  • clarity of vision and ability to identify new avenues for exploration
  • a willingness to develop a broad understanding of systems challenges.

This project may attract funding from a range of sources. A successful applicant will be given advice in arranging this funding. Applicants in need of financial support are also encouraged to apply for one of Oxford's several doctoral scholarship schemes for UK or overseas students and the EPSRC doctoral training awards.

Closing dates apply on these schemes and students are encouraged to apply early.

Applications are made through the School of Geography and the Environment.

For more information about the project, visit http://www.energy-use.org or contact Dr Philipp Grünewald.

Multivariate electricity use data analysis

Supervisors: Prof Malcolm McCulloch (Engineering Science) and Dr Philipp Grünewald

Find out more

Effective integration of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, calls for new forms of system flexibility. Solutions such as storage and demand shifting are said to contribute towards 8bn of annual savings for the UK energy system by 2030. Storage is already attracting much attention, while the evidence base for demand shifting potential is still weak.

The EPSRC funded METER project is the first study of its kind to collect high resolution electricity profiles from thousands of UK participants. We combine electricity readings, time-use data, socio-demographic information and survey material. The relationship between these multivariate data can be complex and requires a high level of computational and analytical skills.

The data will provide novel insights into the relationship between activities and electricity use and support the evidence base for demand side flexibility, inform policy and help to create new business models.

The candidate is expected to develop and apply analytical tools and methods to identify sequences, patterns and visualise relationships emerging from the data.

This project therefore seeks a candidate with:

  • excellent analytical skills
  • programming and data handling abilities
  • good grasp of statistical methods
  • highly self motivated
  • clarity of vision and ability to identify relevant avenues of exploration
  • a willingness to develop a broad understanding of electricity systems

This project may attract funding from a range of sources. A successful applicant will be given advice in arranging this funding. Applicants in need of financial support are also encouraged to apply for one of Oxford's several doctoral scholarship schemes for UK or overseas students and the EPSRC doctoral training awards.

Closing dates apply on these schemes and students are encouraged to apply early.

Applications are made through the School of Geography and the Environment.

For more information about the project, visit http://www.energy-use.org or contact Dr Philipp Grünewald.

Managing water resources inevitably involves trade-offs between human and environmental needs for water. In recent years significant steps have been taken to limit unsustainable water withdrawals in England that are potentially harming the natural environment. This has been based upon assessments of environmental water requirements. In practice the sensitivity of the aquatic environment to altered flow regimes is not fully understood. We know that water bodies in a healthy condition are more able to recover from occasional shocks like droughts. However, knowledge of the resilience of aquatic ecosystems is limited. There have been many studies of restoration projects, but the evidence base is difficult to generalize. Evidence of ecosystem response to droughts is bound to take a long time to acquire because these are rare events. In the meantime, decisions have to be made about the management of water resources. There may be more opportunities for enhancing ecosystems, for example through constructed wetlands, which may also contribute to the resilience of water supplies for human consumption. Given our ignorance about the potential effectiveness of these schemes, the approach needs to be one of 'adaptive management' - of piloting schemes and embedding learning from monitoring programmes in future cycles of decision making.

We have done extensive research on the risk and resilience of water resource systems1,2,3. We now wish to extend that analysis to incorporate ecosystem resilience. The approach will be to develop and test by simulating an adaptive management approach. The research will involve identifying a range of possible ecosystem restoration interventions and assembling evidence on their hydrological performance and ecosystem response. In the context of a case study catchment (possibly a lowland groundwater dominated chalk stream) we will propose a sequence of possible ecosystems interventions and explore their potential effect on the resilience of water supplies for human and ecological purposes. We will simulate how learning from system response could be incorporated in future cycles of decision making. This will help to make the case for catchment restoration schemes and the monitoring programmes with which they will need to be accompanied.

The project will involve a combination of catchment modelling and decision analysis4. It will suit students from any quantified background, including engineering, economics, physical and environmental sciences. Students should be able to demonstrate aptitude for computer modelling and enthusiasm to address real-world problems of great policy significance.

This project is advertised as part of Oxford University's Doctoral Training Partnership in Environmental Research, so UK and EU applicants will be eligible for full or part funding. Overseas applicants in need of financial support are encouraged to apply for one of Oxford's several doctoral scholarship schemes for UK or overseas students. Closing dates apply on these schemes and students are encouraged to apply early. Applications are made through the School of Geography and the Environment.

References
  1. Borgomeo, E. Mortazavi-Naeini, M., O'Sullivan, M.J., Hall, J.W., and Watson, T. (2016) Trading-off tolerable risk with climate change adaptation costs in water supply systems. Water Resources Research, 52(2): 622-643.
  2. Borgomeo, E., Pflug, G., Hall, J.W. and Hochrainer-Stigler, S. (2015) Assessing water resource system vulnerability to unprecedented hydrological drought using copulas to characterize drought duration and deficit. Water Resources Research, 51(11): 8927-8948.
  3. Borgomeo, E., Hall, J.W., Fung, F., Watts, G., Colquhoun, K. and Lambert, C. (2014) Risk based water resources planning, incorporating probabilistic nonstationary climate uncertainties. Water Resources Research, 50(8): 6850-6873.
  4. Poff, N.L. et al. (2016) Sustainable water management under future uncertainty with eco-engineering decision scaling. Nature Climate Change, 6: 25-34.

A major collaborative research project led by the University of Oxford1 demonstrated the global risks of water insecurity from droughts, floods and inadequate water supply and sanitation. It thereby helped to make the case for investment in water security. There were however a number of limitations in the analysis. The research did not explore the potential benefits of changing agricultural practices on water conservation; the treatment of groundwater in the study was rather limited; it did not address the distribution of water-related risks across society. Recent developments in water resource system modelling at a global scale have provided the potential for a more complete understanding of the risks of water insecurity and the benefits of adaptation. These studies have addressed flooding2 and droughts3 but have not explored what a package of water-related adaptations might look like, and how these could be implemented.

This project will develop a much improved global view of the benefits of water security. It will take a bottom-up approach using global modelling capability to simulate a combination of interventions in water resource systems to reduce water-related risks. This will include policy instruments and changing practices alongside infrastructure investments. The effects of these interventions will be simulated in order to develop insights regarding packages of interventions that might be developed in particular contexts. The analysis will be supplemented with case-study work to ground-truth insights.

The project will involve data analysis, geospatial analysis, computer model development and use of the model to generate innovative insights. Candidates must therefore be ready to take on a highly interdisciplinary analysis and modelling task, including computer modelling and GIS. It will suit students from any quantified background, including engineering, economics, physical and environmental sciences. Students should be able to demonstrate aptitude for computer modelling and enthusiasm to address real-world problems of great policy significance.

Candidates for this project from an engineering of physical sciences background would be eligible to apply for funding from Oxford University's EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership. Successful UK and EU applicants will be eligible for full or part funding. Overseas applicants in need of financial support are encouraged to apply for one of Oxford's several doctoral scholarship schemes for UK or overseas students. Closing dates apply on these schemes and students are encouraged to apply early. Applications are made through the School of Geography and the Environment.

References
  1. Sadoff, C.W. et al. (2015) Securing Water, Sustaining Growth: Report of the GWP/OECD Task Force on Water Security and Sustainable Growth. University of Oxford.
  2. Winsemius, H.C. et al. (2016) Global drivers of future river flood risk. Nature Climate Change, 6: 381-385.
  3. World Bank (2016) High and Dry: Climate Change, Water, and the Economy. World Bank, Washington, DC.
  4. Hall, J.W., Grey, D., Garrick, D., Fung, F., Brown, C., Dadson, S.J. and Sadoff, C.W. (2014) Coping with the curse of freshwater variability, Science, 346(6208): 429-430.

Failures within infrastructure networks, including energy, transport and digital communications, can result in major disruption to the economy and society. During disruptions, the use of infrastructure networks can be adapted, for example by rerouting traffic, in order to preserve some level of service. This dynamic adaptive response, which is not well understood, is fundamental to ensuring network resilience. This project proposes the development of an integrated system-of-systems methodology for understanding infrastructure network resilience to failures. Resilience here is defined in terms of the ability to maintain functionality when shocked, and the speed of recovery from shock.

The aim will be to model the dynamics of resource flows across interdependent national infrastructure networks, providing new tools to understand network disruption and failure over range of scales. The analysis will take in account the linkages between infrastructures, customers, and businesses, to test the dynamics of infrastructure failure propagation and subsequent recovery for the socio-economic systems. The study will examine how business supply chains make use of infrastructure networks and hence are vulnerable to network disruptions. There will also be the opportunity to examine how embedded digital technologies influence system resilience.

The developed system models will be used to inform resilience planning, by testing alternative strategies to avoid and cope with disruption. The research will combine interdisciplinary theories and methods from network science, fluid dynamics, probability theory, statistics, demographics, economics, decision science, and simulation.

The project builds on pioneering work done in the Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC) on risk analysis of spatially explicit representations of Great Britain's infrastructure networks such as electricity and dependent transport, water, waste and ICT systems (see references). The theoretical modelling is supported by a unique geospatial dataset that was developed and includes systems data from multiple companies and organizations. The prospective candidate will build their methods on this data, and provide novel developments.

The prospective candidates should have an undergraduate degree in engineering, physics, mathematics or another quantitative science subject. They should have a keen interest in the long-term sustainability of infrastructure systems.

Candidates for this project from an engineering of physical sciences background would be eligible to apply for funding from Oxford University's EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership. Successful UK and EU applicants will be eligible for full or part funding. Overseas applicants in need of financial support are encouraged to apply for one of Oxford's several doctoral scholarship schemes for UK or overseas students. Closing dates apply on these schemes and students are encouraged to apply early. Applications are made through the School of Geography and the Environment.

References
  1. Thacker, S., Kelly, S., Pant, R. and Hall, J.W. (2017) Evaluating the benefits of adaptation of critical infrastructures to hydrometeorological risks. Risk Analysis.
  2. Pant, R., Thacker, S., Hall, J.W., Alderson, D. and Barr, S. (2017) Critical infrastructure impact assessment due to flood exposure. Journal of Flood Risk Management.
  3. Thacker, S., Barr, S., Pant, R., Hall, J.W., and Alderson, D. (2017) Geographic hotspots of critical national infrastructure. Risk Analysis.
  4. Thacker, S., Pant, R. and Hall, J.W. (2017) System-of-systems formulation and disruption analysis for multi-scale critical national infrastructures. Reliability Engineering and Systems Safety, 167: 30-41.
  5. Pant, R., Hall, J.W. and Blainey, S.P. (2016) Vulnerability assessment framework for interdependent critical infrastructures: a case study for Great Britain's rail network. European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research, 16(1): 174-194.

Critical infrastructure systems form the backbone of modern society, facilitating the distribution of goods and services across broad spatial extents, transcending the boarders of regions and countries. The increasingly global nature of these networks and complex interdependencies that have emerged between them have created a number of systemic vulnerabilities, creating a situation where local failures can result in cascades of disruption, resulting in far reaching and large scale losses.

One important example of this is port infrastructure which, besides being an infrastructure hub itself, is also a location in which multiple global infrastructure systems converge. This includes energy, transportation and digital communications network systems and a variety of traded commodities that support other critical infrastructures including water supply and waste water treatment systems. The vulnerability of ports and its interconnected infrastructure have been highlighted numerous times in the past years, including through the 2011 Thailand floods and the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. With the installation of new infrastructure that is required to satisfy an ever increasing and consuming global population and a climate system that is changing, this vulnerability is only set to increase into the future. Despite their importance, the vulnerability of, and solutions for building resilience in, interdependent global infrastructure networks, remains poorly understood.

The aim of this research project is twofold: (i) to develop a deeper understanding of the current and future vulnerabilities of global infrastructure networks, with a focus upon major ports, and (ii) to develop and test (through simulation modelling) a range of possible interventions that could reduce infrastructure network.

One approach to addressing these challenges would be to develop a nested network model, which combines global representation of supply chains and transport networks, and then nests more detailed modelling of the vulnerability of specific ports within that global framework. The first step of the study would therefore be to develop a state-of-the-art methodological framework to map and integrate the interdependent critical infrastructures at an international scale. This will require using and adapting a combination of methodologies from engineering systems, reliability theory, network science and risk analysis. It will also require making use of the latest global infrastructure databases and, where necessary, development of innovative methodologies to augment existing datasets from a variety of sources (e.g. satellite imagery, crowd sourced datasets). The developed framework will allow identification of vulnerable points in global networks due to failure of critical infrastructure systems converging in ports. This will provide an important platform to estimate present and future impacts on these global networks and to develop measures for improving their resilience. The outcomes will be at the cutting edge of international global risk and resilience research and will also be of interest to businesses and government including risk managers in high-level multilateral organizations, such as the OECD and the World Bank, as well as port authorities and national governments.

It will suit students from any quantified background, including engineering, physics, mathematics, or another quantitative science subject. Students should be able to demonstrate aptitude for computer modelling and enthusiasm to address real-world problems of great policy significance. Experience of high level programming (e.g. Python), GIS and geospatial databases is desirable. Candidates for this project from an engineering of physical sciences background would be eligible to apply for funding from Oxford University's EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership. Successful UK and EU applicants will be eligible for full or part funding. Overseas applicants in need of financial support are encouraged to apply for one of Oxford's several doctoral scholarship schemes for UK or overseas students. Closing dates apply on these schemes and students are encouraged to apply early. Applications are made through the School of Geography and the Environment.

References
  1. Thacker, S., Kelly, S., Pant, R. and Hall, J.W. (2017) Evaluating the benefits of adaptation of critical infrastructures to hydrometeorological risks. Risk Analysis.
  2. Pant, R., Thacker, S., Hall, J.W., Alderson, D. and Barr, S. (2017) Critical infrastructure impact assessment due to flood exposure. Journal of Flood Risk Management.
  3. Thacker, S., Barr, S., Pant, R., Hall, J.W., and Alderson, D. (2017) Geographic hotspots of critical national infrastructure. Risk Analysis.
  4. Thacker, S., Pant, R. and Hall, J.W. (2017) System-of-systems formulation and disruption analysis for multi-scale critical national infrastructures. Reliability Engineering and Systems Safety, 167: 30-41.

The relationship between infrastructure provision and regional economic activity is only partially understood. Infrastructure serves multiple purposes, as a factor of production, providing access to markets and enabling agglomeration and innovation. Because of the complexity of these processes, the empirical evidence of the effects is often inconclusive. Theoretically, the relationship has been addressed through the frameworks of New Economic Geography, input-output modelling and spatial computable general equilibrium models. Each of these approaches has their limitations as well as their strengths1. An alternative approach is provided by agent-based modelling, which provides the possibility to represent a richer set of interactions between infrastructure systems and human behaviour, but is challenging in terms of data requirements for parameterisation and validation.

The University of Oxford leads the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC), which is a world-leading interdisciplinary programme developing new models and tools to support long term analysis and decision making for national infrastructure. As part of the second phase of the ITRC programme (called MISTRAL) the Institute for New Economic Thinking in Oxford is developing and agent-based model of the interaction between infrastructure and the economy, extending a previous model of the UK housing market. That model development is led by Prof Doyne Farmer. It is an ambitious project which is opening up new insights and modelling possibilities, which this doctoral project is intended to explore. The research will result in new theoretical, empirical and applied insights regarding the interplay between infrastructure and the economy. That will help to inform the long term planning of infrastructure and investment in infrastructure projects.

The doctoral student will become a member of the ITRC-MISTRAL research team, so will benefit from a vibrant research environment and exceptional links with government and business.

The project will involve computer model development, along with parameterization and validation using empirical data. Candidates must therefore be ready to take on a highly interdisciplinary analysis and modelling task. It will require a candidate with advanced computational and mathematical skills, coming from an engineering, economics or physical sciences background. Students should be able to demonstrate aptitude for computer modelling and enthusiasm to address real-world problems of great policy significance.

Candidates for this project from an engineering of physical sciences background would be eligible to apply for funding from Oxford University's EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership. Successful UK and EU applicants will be eligible for full or part funding. Overseas applicants in need of financial support are encouraged to apply for one of Oxford's several doctoral scholarship schemes for UK or overseas students. Closing dates apply on these schemes and students are encouraged to apply early. Applications are made through the School of Geography and the Environment.

References
  1. Venables, A., Laird, J. and Overman, H. (2014) Transport investment and economic performance: implications for project appraisal. Transport appraisal and strategic modelling (TASM) research reports. Department for Transport.
  2. Hall, J.W., Tran, M., Hickford, A.J. and Nicholls, R.J. (eds.) (2016) The Future of National Infrastructure: A System of Systems Approach, Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Deltas are amongst the most climate-vulnerable places in the world. The Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta in Bangladesh is the most populous delta in the world. Adaptation to climate change is therefore a priority, and a range of initiatives are under way, including a major programme of improvements to coastal embankments and many other initiatives to enhance the livelihoods of the inhabitants of the delta. However, it is still not clear what the most effective combination and sequence of interventions would be. Adaptation will involve cycles of learning from past experience and modifying future decisions in the light of that learning.

The Environmental Change Institute is engaged in a major research programme (REACH: Improving Water Security for the Poor) with an 'observatory' in the coastal polder areas of Bangladesh. This DPhil project would be associated with that programme.

The research will combine two strands of activity:

  1. Broad scale modelling of flooding, salinization and other water-related risks in the coastal zone
    Building upon the simplified model of flood risk and poverty (Borgomeo et al., 2017) the research will develop a more realistic broad scale model of the coastal zone in south-west Bangladesh, parameterising that model with field data. This will include biophysical variables relating to flooding, salinization, drainage and agricultural production and the linkages with socio-economic factors including household incomes, poverty and migration. The model simulations will demonstrate how socio-economic outcomes vary under different scenarios of sea level rise and other climatic changes. The research will involve modelling the dynamic interaction between water security, poverty and sustainable growth (Dadson et al., 2017). There will be a particular emphasis on the role of shocks (extreme events) and the human impacts of those shocks.
  2. Decision analysis, optimization and development of adaptation pathways
    This part of the research will examine combinations and sequences of interventions that could be used to adapt to changing risk. These might involve infrastructure interventions (embankments, drainage systems) or other policy instruments to enhance human resilience. Optimisation methods will be used to identify efficient sequences of interventions that can be adapted to changing future conditions. We will also focus on how new information would improve decision making. The outcome will be the development of adaptive strategies for coping with climatic changes in the coastal zone.

The research is highly interdisciplinary, so will require a student with aptitude and appetite for interdisciplinary research. It will suit students from any quantified background, including engineering, economics, physical and environmental sciences. Students should be able to demonstrate aptitude for computer modelling and enthusiasm to address real-world problems of great policy significance. The student should be willing to learn and apply new skills in system simulation and decision analysis.

The REACH programme will be able to support field work activities, but there is no funding for fees and maintenance in Oxford directly associated with this studentship. Applicants in need of financial support are encouraged to apply for one of Oxford's several doctoral scholarship schemes for UK or overseas students. Explore possible funding opportunities. Closing dates apply on these schemes and students are encouraged to apply early. Applications are made through the School of Geography and the Environment.

References
  1. Borgomeo, E., Hall, J.W. and Salehin, M. (2017) Avoiding the water-poverty trap: insights from a conceptual human-water dynamical model for coastal Bangladesh. International Journal of Water Resources Development.
  2. Dadson, S., Hall, J.W., Garrick, D., Sadoff, C., Whittington, D. and Grey, D. (2017) Water security, risk and economic growth: lessons from a dynamical systems model. Water Resources Research, 53(8): 6425-6438.

The last decade has seen major advances in our capacity for flood risk analysis on a national scale1. National flood risk assessment now forms the basis for planning investment in flood protection and for insurance pricing. It provides a platform for a much more systematic evaluation of options for adaptation to flood risk, and more rational allocation of scare resources, than has hitherto been possible.

Rapid developments in national modelling mean that it is now possible to explore a wide range of:

  1. scenarios of climate change and socio-economic change (including floodplain development); and
  2. adaptation options, including flood defences, managed retreat and property-level protection.

Thus flood risk analysis is now underpinning allocation of resources to flood risk management. Yet there are still significant gaps in our understanding of the combinations and sequences of interventions that will most effectively manage flood risk in the context of a changing climate2.

This doctoral project will analyze the ways in which scarce resources should be allocated to flood risk management at a national scale. It will explore the costs, benefits and uncertainties of different sequences of adaptation decisions, so will seek to identify adaptation options that are cost-effective in reducing risk whilst being robust to future uncertainties.

The doctoral student will become a member of the ITRC-MISTRAL research team, so will benefit from a vibrant research environment and exceptional links with government and business.

The project will involve a combination of risk and decision analysis. It will suit students from any quantified background, including engineering, economics, physical and environmental sciences. Students should be able to demonstrate aptitude for computer modelling and enthusiasm to address real-world problems of great policy significance.

This project is advertised as part of Oxford University's Doctoral Training Partnership in Environmental Research, so UK and EU applicants will be eligible for full or part funding. Overseas applicants in need of financial support are encouraged to apply for one of Oxford's several doctoral scholarship schemes for UK or overseas students. Closing dates apply on these schemes and students are encouraged to apply early. Applications are made through the School of Geography and the Environment.

References
  1. Hall, J.W. (2014) Editorial: steps towards global flood risk modelling. Journal of Flood Risk Management, 7: 193-194.
  2. Environment Agency. (2014) Flood and coastal erosion risk management. Long-term investment scenarios (LTIS) 2014. Environment Agency, Bristol.
Project area:

Island biogeography and conservation biogeography.

Project attributes:

The student will work on developments in island theory accounting for diversity variation in islands and/or habitat islands as a function of biotic and abiotic controls, involving the challenge of interconnecting varied forms of data (macroecological, metacommunity &/or phylogenetic data) within the framework of recent developments in mixed effect modeling, and potentially addressing both theoretical and practical conservation goals. The student will join an international collaborative network focused on a wide range of themes within island ecology and island biogeography, including species-area relationships, species incidence functions, species abundance distributions, development and testing of the general dynamic model of oceanic island biogeography. The project is likely to involve primary field data combined with analysis and modelling of secondary data sets.

The dry valleys of the Namibian Skeleton Coast are significant emitters of atmospheric mineral dust. Preliminary studies show that Holocene valley fills are the primary source of dust (Thomas et al., in press). There are however distinct spatial variations in both dust sources, revealed by remote sensing analysis, and the accumulation of fluvial valley deposits. The latter are a potentially significant source of Holocene palaeoclimatic data, but disparate studies to date reveal complex and sometimes conflicting records of climate change (Stone and Thomas, 2013). The aim of this project is to provide a robust, chronometrically controlled, record of extensive valley fill deposits and past fluvial system behaviour> This will involve examining the spatial variability in deposit characteristics and age that will allow potential dust emission sources and controls to be identified. The initial focus will be on the Huab Valley system, but this is extendable to other valleys as results emerge. The project will include fieldwork in the Skeleton Coast region that will examine and map sedimentary exposures and drill fill deposits , allowing sampling for sedimentary analyses including mineral properties, provenance work and age control through OSL dating. This project offers a unique opportunity to develop and apply field and laboratory skills, and will make a major contribution to southern African Quaternary research and investigations of atmospheric dust emissions, both major research themes in the School.