Our doctoral students are as diverse as the ECI itself, and conduct their research across the world. We have students carrying out primary data collection on the functioning of forest ecosystems in pristine rainforests in remote Amazonia; developing frameworks for climate change adaptation costings in farming communities in Kenya; alongside projects in the UK, Europe, Asia as well as those undertaking theoretical desk-based studies here in Oxford.


Doctoral topics for 2021

The following projects are proposed DPhil opportunities within the ECI. Please contact individual supervisors for more information and to check whether the projects are still available. Funding opportunities for each DPhil are specific to the project and will be outlined in the descriptions below.

Enquiries about these projects should be directed to the named supervisor below.

National infrastructure systems (energy, transport, digital communications, water, waste management) provide essential services for people and the economy. They are increasingly interdependent, so performance of one system relies on others. Infrastructure is widely regarded as an essential pillar for economic competitiveness and as a contributor to sustainability (Thacker et al. 2019).

The Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium has over the last ten years developed a unique modelling capability, called NISMOD (Hall et al., 2016), for simulating Britain's infrastructure systems. NISMOD contains modules to simulate Britain's energy, transport, digital and water supply systems. It uses scenarios of population and the economy to estimate future demand for infrastructure services and explore the performance of infrastructure policies and investments to meet those needs. The various simulation models are integrated with a model coupling framework called smif (Usher and Russell, 2019), which orchestrates model coupling, scenario analysis and optimisation.

Now that NISMOD is fully operational there are exciting opportunities for generating new scientific insights and results to guide decision making about national infrastructure systems in Britain. The types of questions that could be explored include:

  • Examination of the implications for infrastructure service provision of different scenarios for population and economic growth;
  • Evaluation of alternative strategies to achieve net zero carbon emissions from infrastructure;
  • Quantification of the most efficient strategies for providing essential services given constraints on infrastructure investments;
  • Examination of the implications of interdependencies between infrastructure sectors, for example due to the electrification of transport;
  • Strategic planning of infrastructure at a sub-national scale e.g. the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.

The research will particularly focus on the application of multi-objective optimisation methodologies to problems of infrastructure planning. We will explore the use of robust control methods and real options analysis to test and compare adaptive strategies for national infrastructure provision.

The project will therefore involve using and adapting existing simulation models of infrastructure systems and development of methods for optimisation and adaptive planning. It will suit students from any quantified background, including engineering, mathematics, economics and the physical 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 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

  • Otto, A., Hall, J.W., Hickford, A.J., Nicholls, R.J. A quantified systems-of-systems modeling framework for robust national infrastructure planning. IEEE Systems Journal, 10(2) (2016): 385-396. DOI: 10.1109/JSYST.2014.2361157
  • Hall, J.W., Tran, M., Hickford, A.J. and Nicholls, R.J. (eds.) The Future of National Infrastructure: A System of Systems Approach, Cambridge University Press, 2016.
  • Hall, J.W. Using system-of-systems modelling and simulation to inform sustainable infrastructure choices, IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Magazine, DOI:10.1109/MSMC.2019.2913565.
  • Hall, J.W., Thacker, S., Ives, M.C., Cao, Y., Chaudry, M., Blainey, S.P. and Oughton, E.J., Strategic analysis of the future of national infrastructure, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers: Civil Engineering, 170(1) (2017): 39-47. DOI: 10.1680/jcien.16.00018
  • Thacker, S., Adshead, D., Fay, M., Hallegatte, S., Harvey, M., Meller, H., O'Regan, N., Rozenberg, J. and Hall, J.W. Infrastructure for Sustainable Development, Nature Sustainability, 2 (2019):324-331. DOI: 10.1038/s41893-019-0256-8.
  • Usher, W. and Russell, T., 2019. A Software Framework for the Integration of Infrastructure Simulation Models. Journal of Open Research Software, 7(1), p.16. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/jors.265

Thanks to a successful collaboration with the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) we have developed methodology for sustainable infrastructure planning in developing countries. Our approach examines the current state of infrastructure service provision; assesses further needs for infrastructure services, guided by the UN Sustainable Development Goals; and explores future strategies that combine investments with policy reforms. The approach has successfully been applied in the Caribbean islands of Curacao (Adshead et al., Oxford, 2018) and St Lucia, where it has resulted in national infrastructure plans and identification of quick wins for infrastructure service provision. The next significant step will be to adapt, apply and test the methodology in a large rapidly urbanising country, where the challenges of infrastructure provision are most urgent. This will bring several significant new research challenges:

  1. Infrastructure provision in large urban areas: Our research has focussed on national infrastructure networks. Urban infrastructure provision in rapidly expanding megacities and secondary cities provides a new set of challenges for our methodologies in system-of-systems modelling. Yet we do not believe cities should be dealt with in isolation from the hinterlands and catchments upon which they depend for resources. This therefore demands a multi-scale approach and a tractable methodology for dealing with the spatial complexity of cities.
  2. Navigating trade-offs between multiple policy objectives: Large countries have complex governance infrastructure arrangements. A focus of the research will therefore be upon the exploration of multiple objectives within multi-actor problems. Those multiple objectives may be framed in terms of the global agendas of the SDGs and the Paris climate agreement, but will doubtless entail other political goals. We propose to explore the trade-offs and feasibility of future provision and prosperity through infrastructure simulation modelling. In particular, we wish to demonstrate how multi-criteria methods can be used to plot out pathways for climate-compatible development.
  3. Adaptive planning to deal with future uncertainties: Countries face large uncertainties about the trajectory of development, technological innovation and climate change, amongst other factors. Infrastructure planning decisions often involve making decisions with very long legacies, which may lock in patterns of development for years to come. Infrastructure planning therefore needs to rigorously account for future uncertainties, for example using the methodologies of adaptive management (Hall et al. 2019). This can be combined with simulation modelling, which estimates infrastructure system performance and service delivery for a given future state of the world.
  4. Social infrastructure provision: Health, education, housing, emergency services etc. need to be planned alongside networked economic infrastructure. We will examine how these essential services can be better integrated with investments in economic infrastructure provision.
  5. Sustainable infrastructure financing: National infrastructure plans need to be converted into investment plans that can be used to attract finance from a variety of different sources. The existence of national infrastructure plans can help to manage risks for investors and build confidence that investments will secure sustainable benefits. We will develop processes for addressing the information needs of investors and ensuring alignment with sustainability objectives.

These topics (or some selection thereof) will be explored in the context of a large rapidly urbanising country, chosen in collaboration with our partners in the UN Office for Project Services. The precise focus of the project will be driven by specific country needs.

The project will involve using a variety of decision analysis methodologies, along with qualitative methods for analysis of infrastructure objectives and governance contexts. It will therefore require a student with an interdisciplinary outlook and a wide range of capabilities. Students should be able to demonstrate aptitude for computer modelling and an ability to address critically with major policy challenges.

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 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. Additional funding may be available from the UN Office for Project Services. 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
  • Adshead, D., Fuldauer, L.I., Thacker, S., Hickford, A., Rouhet, G., Muller, W.S., Hall, J.W. and Nicholls, R.J. Evidence-Based Infrastructure: Curacao.: National infrastructure systems modelling to support sustainable and resilient infrastructure development. University of Oxford and UNOPS. May 2018, 60pp.
  • Adshead, D., Thacker, S., Fuldauer, L.I. and Hall, J.W. Delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals through long-term infrastructure planning, Global Environmental Change, in press.
  • Hall, J.W., Harvey, H. and Manning, L.J. Adapting London's flood protection to multi-centennial sea level rise, Climate Risk Management, 24(2019): 42-58. DOI:10.1016/j.crm.2019.04.001.
  • Thacker, S., Adshead, D., Morgan, G., Crosskey, S., Bajpai, A., Ceppi, P., Hall, J.W. and O'Regan, N. Infrastructure: Underpinning Sustainable Development. UNOPS, Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • Thacker, S., Adshead, D., Fay, M., Hallegatte, S., Harvey, M., Meller, H., O'Regan, N., Rozenberg, J. and Hall, J.W. Infrastructure for Sustainable Development, Nature Sustainability, 2 (2019):324-331. DOI: 10.1038/s41893-019-0256-8.

Planning national infrastructure, in all parts of the world, involves difficult choices about where infrastructure is located in order to efficiently provide services whilst minimising negative impacts on people and the environment. Versions of this spatial allocation problem exist in many situations. New spatial datasets from satellites, sensors and crowd sourcing are providing information that can enable better navigation of the trade-offs associated with spatial allocation.

We are currently working on two versions of this spatial allocation problem in the context of developing countries:

  1. Optimisation of drinking water supplies in coastal Bangladesh: There is extensive experience of providing drinking water infrastructure (tube well, pond sand filters) for communities in the coastal zone in Bangladesh (Flanagan et al., 2012). There is also growing interest in whether more centralised piped systems might help to improve water quality, helping to address severe problems with arsenic and saline contamination. One of the lessons that has been learnt is that different systems perform well in different circumstances.
    Thanks to the work of the REACH project, we have growing understanding of the spatial heterogeneity in Polder 29 in Bangladesh, including GIS of population of 59,000 people, a household survey and audit of water supply infrastructure. That provides evidence to develop methodology for prioritising water supply interventions in a way which is tuned to local conditions. Using a combination of GIS and optimisation (in terms of cost-effectiveness with respect to multiple criteria) it is possible to explore options for prioritising drinking water infrastructure interventions to achieve the water supply targets in SDG6. We will then seek to generalise the method to a scalable methodology that can be applied extensively in Bangladesh.
  2. Electrification of transport is widely regarded as an opportunity for developing countries to 'leapfrog' fossil-fuel dependent transport and associated infrastructure networks, by co-developing renewable energy supplies and vehicle charging points. There are however many different versions of how such systems might develop (e.g. with centralised electricity grids, or with micro-grids). What system is viable depends, in part, on local context (population density, building density, wealth, existing infrastructure), but is also subject to other big uncertainties, such as the relative price of technologies and the business models that are adopted for service provision.
    We have developed unique datasets of road infrastructure globally (Koks et al., 2019) and methodology for simulating electricity transmission and distribution networks all over the world. This is coupled with population datasets for analysing energy and transport demand and global datasets of potential for renewable energy supply. We propose to combine these datasets with different scenarios of the costs and business models of renewable energy and electric vehicles to generate efficient scenarios for roll-out of these technologies.

These are just two examples of the sorts of problems that could be addressed with methodologies for spatial allocation and optimisation (Faiz and Krichen, 2012). We expect that other opportunities will materialise during the course of the research, so the thesis will combine methodological development with a series of case studies. Overall, we would like to develop a broad framework to characterise different infrastructures and their relationship with the space and people around them. We wish to incorporate multiple sustainability indicators which can help to inform decisions about infrastructure provision to achieve the SDGs. We aim to demonstrate how market forces in infrastructure service provision (for example the proliferation of private tube wells in rural Bangladesh) can be combined with targeted development assistance and public investment to provide networks that leave no one behind.

The project will involve statistical analysis of survey data and application of methods for spatial optimisation. The derived solutions need to take account of local economic, societal and governance conditions, so the student should also study these important contextual issues. Thus the student should have a strong quantified background (e.g. engineering, economics, physics, geostatistics) but should also have a good appreciation of the wider societal context of infrastructure service provision.

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 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
  • Faiz, S. and Krichen, S., 2012. Geographical information systems and spatial optimization. CRC Press.
  • Flanagan, S. V., Johnston, R. B. and Zheng, Y. (2012). Arsenic in tube well water in Bangladesh: health and economic impacts and implications for arsenic mitigation. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 90, 839-846.
  • Koks, E.E., Rozenberg, J., Zorn, C., Tariverdi, M., Vousdoukas, M., Fraser, S.A., Hall, J.W., Hallegatte, S. A global multi-hazard risk analysis of road and railway infrastructure assets. Nature Communications, 10(1) (2019): 2677. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-10442-3.

The relationship between infrastructure provision and spatial patterns of 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 strengths.

Vast investments in infrastructure, in particular in Asia, mean that there are large-scale changes in the spatial structure of global networks and the economies that they serve. This means that there are new empirical data to characterise these phenomena and parameterise models.

The proposed research will take a combination of a model-based and empirical approach to understanding the relationship between infrastructure and economic development at broad scales. The model-based analysis will start with stylised models, possibly reproducing the insights from NEG models, but introducing other functions of infrastructure (e.g. energy and water as factors as production; roads as factors of access to economic activities). Meanwhile, we will seek datasets that can be used to characterise spatial changes. The analysis will be used to understand future demands for infrastructure services and how patterns of economic development may evolve in future. The work will be applied to a large geographical region, such as a national-scale or multi-national scale to see how infrastructure developments can create positive and negative effects for different regions.

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
  • Venables, A., Laird, J. and Overman, H. Transport investment and economic performance: Implications for project appraisal. (Department for Transport, 2014).
  • Bird, J. H. and Venables, A.J. Growing a Developing City: A Computable Spatial General Equilibrium Model Applied to Dhaka. The World Bank, 2019.
  • Lall, S. V. and Mathilde S. M. L. "Who Wins, Who Loses? Understanding the Spatially Differentiated Effects of the Belt and Road Initiative." 2019.
  • Hall, J.W., Tran, M., Hickford, A.J. and Nicholls, R.J. The Future of National Infrastructure: A System of Systems Approach, Cambridge University Press, 2016.

There is growing concern about the resilience of water supplies in Britain in the context of climate change and increasing population in some parts of the country. These risks have been studied in Water UK's National Water Resources Long-Term Planning Framework study, in the National Infrastructure Commission's study on water scarcity and the Environment Agency's study Meeting our Future Water Needs. The water group in the Environmental Change Institute made significant contributions to each of these studies. In the first of these studies a unique national water resource systems model was developed, which has since been extended and improved. The model represents all of the main water users in England and Wales. It is driven by a unique event set of simulated droughts (Guillod et al., 2018). The simulation model is combined with an economic model to estimate the impacts of droughts on the economy (Friere et al. 2017, 2018). This model now provides a powerful platform for exploring a range of questions about the resilience of Britain's water supplies in the face of uncertain future conditions, and for assessing the potential effectiveness and trade-offs associated with alternative policies and investments, such as water storage, water transfers and water reuse. These possible decisions will be explored using methods for multi-objective optimisation and robustness analysis (Borgomeo et al 2016, 2018). The research is likely to result in new insights into the conditions in which severe water shortages might occur in Britain and the associated scientific uncertainties. It will go on to evaluate possible responses to enhance the resilience of water supplies for a range of different users, including public water supplies, farmers and industrial users of water. The project will in particular examine the benefits and impacts of water transfers between river basins in the UK.

The project will involve a combination of water resource systems modelling, hydrology of climate change 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
  • Borgomeo, E., Mortazavi-Naeini, M., O'Sullivan, M.J., Hall, J.W. and Watson, T. Trading-off tolerable risk with climate change adaptation costs in water supply systems. Water Resources Research, 52(2) (2016). DOI: 10.1002/2015WR018164.
  • Borgomeo, E., Mortazavi‚ÄźNaeini, M., Hall, J. W. and Guillod, B. P. Risk, Robustness and Water Resources Planning Under Uncertainty. Earth's Future, 6(2018): 468-487. DOI:10.1002/2017EF000730
  • Guillod, B.P., Jones, R.G., Dadson, S., Coxon, G., Bussi, G., Freer, J., Kay, A.L., Massey, N.R., Otto, F.E., Sparrow, S.N., Wallom, D.C.H., Allen, M.R. and Hall, J.W. A large hydro-meteorological dataset of potential past, present and future time series over the UK, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 22(1) (2018): 611-634. DOI: 10.5194/hess-22-611-2018
  • Ives, M.C., Simpson, J.M., Hall, J.W. Navigating the water trilemma: a strategic assessment of long-term national water resource management options for Great Britain, Water and Environment Journal, DOI: 10.1111/wej.12352.
  • Freire-Gonzáleza, J., Decker, C. and Hall, J.W. A linear programming approach to water allocation during a drought. Water, 10(4) (2018):363. DOI:10.3390/w10040363.
  • Freire-Gonzáleza, J., Decker, C. and Hall, J.W. A scenario-based framework for assessing the economic impacts of potential droughts. Water Economics and Policy, 3(4) (2017) 1750007 DOI: 10.1142/S2382624X17500072.
  • Freire-Gonzáleza, J., Decker, C. and Hall, J.W. The economic impacts of droughts: a framework for analysis. Ecological Economics, 132 (2017): 196-204. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2016.11.005.

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 systems. 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 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
  • Borgomeo, E. Mortazavi-Naeini, M., O'Sullivan, M.J., Hall, J.W. and Watson, T. Trading-off tolerable risk with climate change adaptation costs in water supply systems. Water Resources Research, 52(2) (2016). DOI: 10.1002/2015WR018164.
  • Borgomeo, E., Pflug, G., Hall, J.W. and Hochrainer-Stigler, S., Assessing water resource system vulnerability to unprecedented hydrological drought using copulas to characterize drought duration and deficit, Water Resources Research, 51 (2015), 8927-8948. doi:10.1002/2015WR017324.
  • Borgomeo, E., Hall, J.W., Fung, F., Watts, G., Colquhoun, K. and Lambert, C. Risk based water resources planning, incorporating probabilistic non-stationary climate uncertainties. Water Resources Research, 50 (2014): 6850-6873.
  • Lake, P.S. 2003. Ecological effects of perturbation by drought in flowing waters. Freshwater Biology, 48(7), pp.1161-1172.
  • Poff, N.L. et al. Sustainable water management under future uncertainty with eco-engineering decision scaling. Nature Clim. Change 6, 25-34, doi:10.1038/nclimate2765 (2016).

There is growing interest in the potential for Nature-Based Solutions (NbS) to substitute for or complement conventional 'grey' infrastructure. This could include:

  • Ecosystem restoration, afforestation and changes to land management practices to reduce flood risk, substituting for conventional flood defences;
  • Creation or restoration of wetlands to enhance the recharge of groundwater supplies, substituting for dams and reservoirs;
  • 'Blue-green' infrastructure in cities to help address the risks of surface water flooding, substituting for piped urban drainage, whilst also providing cooling during heatwaves substituting for air conditioning;
  • Mangrove and coastal ecosystem restoration to protect against storm surges and hurricanes, substituting for coast protections;
  • Restoration of catchment vegetation to purify water, substituting for water treatment.

As well as providing ecosystem services that may enhance or even improve on 'grey' infrastructure, these Nature-Based Solutions (NbS) provide multiple co-benefits, including carbon sequestration, natural habitats for biodiversity that can support agricultural productivity (pollination, pest control and soil formation), and spaces for recreation that support mental and physical health. There is a growing number of examples of implementation of these NbS, though the evidence for their effectiveness usually comes from relatively small case studies (see; www.naturebasedsolutionsevidence.info).

The Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium has over the last ten years developed a unique modelling capability, called NISMOD (Hall et al., 2016), for simulating infrastructure systems in the UK and in several other countries around the world, including St Lucia and Ghana. We wish to take NISMOD a significant step further by incorporating NbS as an infrastructure option and comparing the costs and benefits of NbS with 'grey' infrastructure. We would like to conduct a large-scale assessment so we can compare national infrastructure plans with integrated pathways that incorporate NbS to the greatest possible extent. We wish to demonstrate how nature can be preserved and restored whilst delivering the infrastructure services that people need and plotting a pathway of climate-compatible development.

The research will involve analysis of the evidence for the socioeconomic and ecological effectiveness of the full range of NbS and then development of methodology to identify how and to what extent NbS might substitute for or complement conventional grey infrastructure investments. We will examine ways of quantifying the costs and benefits of NBS alongside grey infrastructure. We will identify a large-scale domain, which may be at national or continental scales, and apply spatial optimisation methodology to incorporate NBS in infrastructure investment programmes.

The project will involve a combination of evidence review, geospatial analysis, decision analysis and multi-objective optimisation. It will suit students from any quantified background, including environmental sciences, engineering or economics. Students should be able to demonstrate aptitude for computer modelling and geospatial analysis, 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.

Infrastructure systems that deliver essential services to society (e.g. energy, water, transport and telecommunications) are increasingly regarded as being cyber-physical systems, as they are controlled by digital networks and depend upon software and digital communication systems. The risks to these systems have been widely studied, but from rather different perspectives. There has been extensive research, much of it by our group, on physical risks to infrastructure networks, with a focus on weather-related extremes (Koks et al., 2019, Lamb et al., 2019) but also including terrorist threats (Oughton et al., 2019). Meanwhile, there has been extensive research on questions of cyber security for infrastructure networks, for example relating to the security of the Internet of Things (IoT). Our aim in this project is to bring these perspectives together.

In the first instance the focus will be on modelling the networks of interdependent electricity and telecommunications systems. We have a fairly complete model of electricity transmission and distribution networks in Britain, and recently as part of research with the National Infrastructure Commission we coupled this with a representation of telecommunications networks in Britain.

The DPhil project will involve modelling of electricity and digital communications networks (including SCADA systems), which we will seek to validate with data on faults in the electricity and telecommunications networks. This will be used to model possible interdependent and cascading failures. The analysis will be used to identify how these interdependent networks can be made more resilient. For example, what is the potential benefit of increased connectivity or backup capacity within the network? We also wish to examine how technological trends (like electrification of transport and the proliferation of renewable energy supply technologies) could impact the resilience of infrastructure networks.

The project will therefore involve using and adapting existing simulation models of infrastructure systems and development of methods for vulnerability analysis and optimisation. It will suit students from any quantified background, including engineering, mathematics and the physical 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 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:
  • Koks, E., Pant, R., Thacker, S., Hall, J.W. Understanding business disruption and economic losses due to electricity failures and flooding, International Journal of Disaster Risk Science, 10(2019): 421-438. DOI:10.1007/s13753-019-00236-y
  • Lamb, R., Garside, P., Pant, R. and Hall, J.W. A network-scale analysis of the risk of railway bridge failure from scour during flood events in Britain. Risk Analysis, 39(11) (2019): 2457-2478. DOI: 10.1111/risa.13370.
  • Oughton, E., Ralph, D., Leverett, E., Pant, R., Thacker, S., Hall, J.W., Copic, J., Ruffle, S. and Tuveson, M. Stochastic counterfactual analysis for the vulnerability assessment of cyber-physical attacks on electricity distribution infrastructure networks, Risk Analysis, 39(9) (2019): 2012-2031. DOI: 10.1111/risa.13291.
  • Thacker, S., Barr, S., Pant, R., Hall, J.W., and Alderson, D. Geographic hotspots of critical national infrastructure. Risk Analysis, 11(1) (2018): 22-33. DOI: 10.1111/risa.12840.
  • Thacker, S., Kelly, S., Pant, R. and Hall, J.W. Evaluating the benefits of adaptation of critical infrastructures to hydrometeorological risks. Risk Analysis, 38(1) (2018): 134-150. DOI: 10.1111/risa.12839.
  • Thacker, S., Hall, J.W. and Pant, R. Preserving key topological and structural features in the synthesis of multi-level electricity networks for modeling of resilience and risk. Journal of Infrastructure Systems, ASCE, 24(1) (2018): 04017043. DOI: 10.1061/(ASCE)IS.1943-555X.0000404
  • Thacker, S., Pant, R. and Hall, J.W. System-of-systems formulation and disruption analysis for multi-scale critical national infrastructures, Reliability Engineering and Systems Safety, 167(2017): 30-41. DOI: 10.1016/j.ress.2017.04.023.

With the growth of investment in distributed electricity generation, the number of potential sellers of electricity to final consumers has hugely increased. This is potentially destabilising for electricity markets. In most jurisdictions, the majority of the electricity that is generated is sold in wholesale markets to 'suppliers' or 'retailers', who then sell the electricity to final users. 'Self-supply' of electricity generated on site is widely allowed, but there are generally regulatory barriers to selling electricity on a small scale, either to neighbouring properties or, via the grid, to a wider market. These relate in part to the structures of the market, designed for large scale generation, but also to the need to protect electricity users, especially vulnerable customers. However, there is now widespread demand for, and increasingly examples of, 'peer to peer' electricity sales.

The research will address questions related to the changes to electricity markets implied by more widespread 'peer to peer' sales. It will involve reviewing existing and planned business models; and interrogation of the market design and regulatory measures that encourage or discourage this practice. It is likely that this will involve research in more than one country. It is expected that there will be an emphasis on the policies required to allow commercial innovation whilst retaining acceptable levels of consumer protection, and therefore that the research has potential to inform energy policy.

The research is highly interdisciplinary, so will require a student with aptitude for and commitment to interdisciplinary research. The student should be numerate and be willing to learn and apply new skills in fields as disparate as technology assessment, regulatory economics and electrical engineering. It is expected that (s)he will undertake primary research with industry and policy makers in more than one country. The Environmental Change Institute is engaged in a number of related research programmes. These include the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS) and the Oxford Martin Programme on Integrating Renewable Energy (Integrate). It is envisaged that the student will be affiliated to these programmes and will have access to the range of broader research, e.g. on innovation, storage technology and demand response, being undertaken within them.

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.

If the world is to address climate change effectively, energy systems will need to be transformed in the first half of this century. It is now widely accepted that this will require massive adoption of renewable electricity sources, such as wind and solar power. Analyses also show that major improvements in the efficiency of energy use will be required. Usually, the two are considered separately, as 'supply side' and 'demand side' changes. However, such an approach is not satisfactory, as the type of fuels used affect energy efficiency significantly. The most obvious examples are in the electrification of heat and transport. These are usually thought of as 'supply decarbonisation', in that they enable low-carbon electricity to substitute for direct use of fossil fuels. However, they imply the use of technologies such as heat pumps and electric vehicles, which also enable large improvements in energy efficiency. There is greater complexity in end uses where electrification is problematic, such as industrial processes, freight transport and non-electric heating. In these cases, new energy vectors such as hydrogen are possible, and the implications for energy efficiency depend on the details of the energy conversion processes over the supply chain.

The research will address questions related to the change in energy efficiency driven by the decarbonisation of supply chains for different end uses of energy. It could involve reviewing the existing literature on decarbonisation scenarios and low-carbon energy technology options; the development of simple models of decarbonised energy systems and more qualitative assessment of technology costs and social acceptability on various timescales. The research could use cases studies of one or more country.

The research topic is interdisciplinary, so will require a student with aptitude for and commitment to interdisciplinary research. The student should be highly numerate and be willing to learn and apply new skills in fields as disparate as technology assessment, energy modelling and theories of energy transitions. It is expected that (s)he will work closely with analysts in industry and policy makers. The Environmental Change Institute is engaged in a number of related research programmes. These include the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS) and the Oxford Martin Programme on Integrating Renewable Energy (Integrate). It is envisaged that the student will be affiliated to these programmes and will have access to the range of broader research, e.g. on innovation, storage technology and demand response, being undertaken within them.

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.

Examples of current research

Scott Thacker

Reducing the risks associated with infrastructure system failures due to extreme climatic events.

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Abrar Chaudhury

Resilience and adaptive capacity of food systems to climate change.

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Chase Sova

A systematic framework for integrated climate change adaptation.

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Funding

Our students receive an impressive rate of funding through scholarships and bursaries from wide sources, including research councils, consulates and increasingly from industry. This rise in industry finance is a reflection of the applied nature and relevance of the subjects selected for supervision.

In 2013 we were selected to form part of the new NERC and ESRC Doctoral Training Programmes, offering new students the opportunity to pursue a comprehensive and fully funded doctoral training experience.

For details of the NERC Scholarships please see the Oxford Doctoral Training Partnership.

For details of the ESRC Scholarships please see the Oxford Doctoral Training Centre.

ECI doctoral students may also be eligible for funding from the EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership award to Oxford

Further information is available on the Research Councils UK website.

You can explore Oxford University's fees, funding and scholarship search for more information.


Finding a supervisor

DPhil students are required to identify primary and secondary supervisors. If you wish to work with an ECI researcher you should contact them directly to discuss your proposed topic. The following ECI staff are available as primary DPhil supervisors:

Many members of the School of Geography and the Environment's academic staff have environmental interests and may co-supervise with staff of ECI if they are interested in the project and are not already oversubscribed in terms of supervision.

A modest number of doctoral research positions and fellowships are associated with ECI research projects and in a few cases these may be accommodated within ECI research space.