Jobs - PhD position in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of South Carolina, USA

CAREER: Quantifying the response of rivers and floodplains to changes in climate and land use

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that 212 weather and climate disasters with a damage/cost exceeding $1 billion occurred in the United States since 1980 for a total number of fatalities of 9,680 and a total cost exceeding $1.2 trillion.  The average number of events between 1980 and 2016 is 5.5, and the annual average for the most recent five years, 2012-2016, is 10.6.  In addition, recent research shows that due to changes in climate and land use ~80% of the world population is at risk for water security and river biodiversity.  Numerous studies clearly illustrate that a thorough understanding of how rivers respond to changes in climate and land use is fundamental to prevent weather and climate disasters associated with flooding, to design and maintain structures such as water intakes and bridges, to protect and restore fluvial and riparian ecosystems, and to manage water resources in general.  The research part of this proposal is specifically designed to quantify how river channels and the adjoining floodplains respond to natural and anthropogenic changes in climate and land use.  The proposed integration of research and education is motivated by recent data showing that ~80% of U.S. adults is influenced by incorrect or outdated information about environmental issues, and by the need to educate adults and younger generations in protecting and improving the environment in its full dimension, as first recognized by the United Nation Conference on Human Environment in 1972.  The educational plan of the proposal has thus been designed with formal learning activities (i.e. field work at the Congaree National Park, design and construction of experimental installations for education, and the introduction of a new undergraduate level course on sustainable river engineering practices in the curriculum) to build an educational environment using collaborative learning pedagogy in which students learn how to work in a diverse, interdisciplinary and international group.  This will prepare the next generation of civil engineers to tackle scientific and professional problems associated with water resources management.  Informal learning activities, such as the creation of an interactive digital platform for the Congaree National Park and summer camps for high school students, will inform the general public on the effects that humans and a changing climate can have on the environment in which they live in. 

The main objective of the proposed research is to advance our knowledge on river morphodynamics and quantitatively predict the changes in channel geometry and pattern observed in the field but not reproduced with the current approaches.  It is hypothesized that the mode of bed material (sand or gravel) transport and the exchange of sediment between the river and the floodplain are key processes controlling river morphodynamics at spatial scales ranging from 10s to 100s of kilometers and at temporal scales ranging from few decades to several centuries.  This hypothesis will be tested with laboratory experiments to gain insight into the role of sediment grain size on channel morphology, mathematical modeling to provide physics-based quantitative tools of river morphodynamics, and fieldwork to characterize the annual variability of channel geometry on a reach of the Congaree River in the Congaree River National Park, USA, that is responding to changes in hydrology and land use since the 1700s.  Three additional field sites that are being affected by human-induced changes in land use will be considered.

For more information, please contact