How much can a landscape take?

  • Supervisors: Dr Robert Duller, University of Liverpool
    Dr James Lea, University of Liverpool
    Prof. Pete Burgess, University of Liverpool
    Dr Nicoletta Leonardi, University of Liverpool
  • External Supervisors:

  • Contact:

    Dr Robert Duller, University of Liverpool,

  • CASE Partner:

Application deadline: 10 January 2020


Periods of rapid global warming have a dramatic effect on the Earth System (Knight and Harrison, 2013, Carmichael et al., 2017). One major effect of global warming is a change to the hydrological cycle, which impacts the amount and seasonality of precipitation. This can have severe consequences for our landscapes in terms of bulk geomorphic change because sediment is more mobile. Recent work has hinted that the resilience or stability of our landscape is related to its ability to absorb and transmit sediment supply signals, driven by hydrological change, with minimal bulk geomorphic effect (e.g. Toby et al., 2019). The intention here to build on this theoretical understanding and define appropriate limits of landscape resilience for a given rate of hydrological change. This project will seek to address questions linked to (1) past landscape response to climate change; and (2) modern landscape response and resilience to current and future climate change. The outcome will be the ability to predict the resilience of landscapes to rapid climate driven hydrological changes, allowing us to plan ahead and mitigate against potential future landscape change.

Project Summary:

Project activity will comprise 4 components each constituting 4 main PhD chapters:           

1. Physical modelling: several experiments will be designed that build on the work of initial work of Toby et al (2019). (a) constrain parameter space that sets the limits of landscape resilience; b) define appropriate geomorphic metrics that can be used to measure landscape behaviour.

2. Numerical modelling: Delft3D (Storms) will be used to (a) explore further the parameter space described in (1) with different classes of signals and for different landscapes; and (b) refine appropriate geomorphic metrics that can be used to measure landscape behaviour.    

3. Remote sensing: Channel and river network change of 10-20 sites will be assessed over unprecedented temporal and spatial scales through analysis of optical and radar satellite imagery within the cloud computing platform Google Earth Engine. The background landscape behaviour (autogenics) and its response to known perturbations will be quantified using climate reanalysis data and digital elevation models.

4. Fieldwork: There will be the opportunity to visit one or two key field sites that have been previously studied as part of a long term, field-based monitoring campaign. Available high spatial and temporal resolution field datasets will supplement new field observations. These sites will be included in the remote sensing analysis.


Carmichael, M.J., et al., 2017, Hydrological and associated biogeochemical consequences 212 of rapid global warming during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Global and Planetary Change, 157, 114-138. 

Knight, J., and Harrison, S., 2013, The impacts of climate change on terrestrial Earth surface systems. Nature Climate Change, 3, 24-29. 

Toby, S., Duller, R.A., De Angelis, S. and Straub, K. (2019) A Stratigraphic Framework for the Preservation and Shredding of Environmental Signals.  Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1029/2019GL082555

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