Postgraduate Diary

Fiona Thompson is studying the effect of climate change on Scotland's rivers

While many parts of the UK have had one of the driest starts to the year on record, reservoirs in other parts of the British Isles are well served by rain. In fact, away from the arid South-east, a different problem is occupying academic minds, namely predicting the detailed effects on river flows caused by the increased amounts of rainfall.

In particular, in Scotland, authorities are trying to gather more scientific evidence to increase their knowledge about when a river might burst its banks at times of heavy rain.

And that's what has led research student Fiona Thompson to spend much of her time wading across rivers, carrying a sophisticated GPS device, and recording information about the depth and contours of the river bed.

"I have always wanted to work with rivers," says Thompson, 25, who is in the middle of a PhD at Stirling University on the "morphological adjustment and societal response to channel instability resulting from increased flood frequency in Scotland" – or, put simply, "the effect of climate change on Scottish river channels".

"I've liked rivers since high school, because they have a personality of their own. So if man tries to control them by straightening a channel, for example, the river fights back by depositing more sediment downstream and thus increasing flood risk to lower reaches."

The PhD is jointly funded by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and Scottish National Heritage, an arrangement that represents more than just a financial advantage for Thompson.

"Since it's funded by SEPA," she explains, "you know you are working on something that might make a big difference."

Unlike many postgraduates, Thompson is not part of a team within a research group, but works alone, albeit under the guiding eye of her supervisor. And much of the time, she's out walking down and across the River Dee. "I am trying to validate a model that has been produced by SEPA, and to do that I have to do field work. So a lot of my time is spent wading across rivers, in high boots, or dry suits, measuring the width of channel, and the slope of the river bed. From that I can draw a series of cross sections of the channel, which in turn helps calculate the capacity of water it can carry without bursting its banks."

The second strand of her PhD – involving that phrase "societal response" – concentrates on how swollen rivers might affect Scotland's native mussel colonies.

"I do flume work in the laboratory to investigate the threshold flow and velocity at which mussels can no longer remain on the river bed and get flushed to downstream reaches," she explains. In her PhD, she'll be concentrating on just two rivers, but with the intention of extrapolating her findings to make predictions for all Scottish water courses.

Another reason Thompson is enjoying being a postgraduate student is that she'll be getting the chance to compete in an athletics event in the Olympic Stadium in London. As an accomplished runner, she's got a place to compete in the 1500m event at the annual British Universities and Colleges athletics championships, which are being staged in London next month in front of a crowd of tens of thousands of people. Usually the event takes place at far more modest venues.

So, for the next couple of weeks at least, her mind will transfer from river bed behaviour in Scotland to preparing to run on the same track that Usain Bolt and Jessica Ennis will grace later this year. "How many people can say they've run in an arena of this kind," she asks?

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Data Analyst - Essex - £25,000

£23500 - £25000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Data analyst/Sys...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Account Manager

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Account Manager is r...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Manager / Sales Executive

£18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Account Man...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore