Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

Studentship Opportunities for 2016

Research Proposal: Adaptive water resources planning to manage future risks to London’s water supply


Thames Water faces strategic challenges with water resources, due to increasing population, changes to abstraction licensing and the uncertain impacts of climate change. A number of new methodologies have been under development in the UK and internationally to analyse climate risks to water resources systems and appraise planning options under uncertainty. Thames Water has supported studies to explore the potentially applicability of these methodologies for water resources management planning.

For the last four years Thames Water, in partnership with the Environment Agency and with co-funding from EPSRC, have been supporting a DPhil studentship in the University of Oxford on “Climate change and water resources: risk-based approaches for decision-making”. The doctoral student, Edoardo Borgomeo, passed his DPhil examination in August 2015. The research:

The research resulted in four significant papers on water resources planning and analysis of the vulnerability of water resources to extreme droughts:

Meanwhile, the MaRIUS (Managing the Risks, Impacts and Uncertainties of droughts and water Scarcity) project, which is led from the University of Oxford and also involves Thames Water on the stakeholder advisory group, is:

Thus the University of Oxford, in partnership with Thames Water, has developed sophisticated capability to analyse risks to water supply and appraise alternatives for water resources management. However, significant research challenges remain for Thames Water, in particular relating to:

There is considerable potential to combine the more sophisticated process understanding being developed in the MaRIUS project with the risk and decision analysis methodologies that the Oxford team are developing, building on the previous work by Edoardo Borgomeo. We therefore propose a new phase of research that will explore the challenges outlined above, via a doctoral studentship.

Proposed research

The proposed research will bring together three methodological strands:

  1. We propose to statistically analyse and simulate hydrological variability (in surface and groundwater) on a range of spatial scales, up to coupled analysis of the Thames and Severn basins. This will be combined with an extended version of the MaRIUS water resources system model to simulate the availability of water for present and future configurations of supply infrastructure.
  2. We will make use of new scientific understanding of water quality from the MaRIUS project. That will help us to identify critical thresholds for water quality in terms of a small number of indicators (biochemical, temperature, flow). The analysis of risk of shortage will thereby be supplemented with analysis of risk of water quality conditions that might lead to outages of supply infrastructure.
  3. We will combine extensive stochastic simulation of risks of water shortage and outage with analysis of adaptive decision pathways. Our previous research has used multi-objective optimisation to identify optimal investment pathways. We will replace that with appraisal of adaptive strategies that might keep options open in order to cope with future uncertainties.

As with the previous studentship, the scope and direction of the doctoral studies can be adapted in the light of emerging research challenges and new opportunities for innovation that might arise.

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