Soil as a core infrastructure to support catchment and water supply resilience

A PhD project at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Water Infrastructure and Resilience (WIRe)

Soil is a fundamental component of the water cycle. Thus, from field to catchment scale, soils should be regarded as vital assets that water companies must consider when planning their investments. Pervasive soil compaction compromises soil health and profile hydraulic connectivity, directly impacting on groundwater recharge, runoff generation and water quality. There is a diverse, and at times contradictory, evidence base on the impacts of soil and rotational management interventions (e.g. cover crops and minimum tillage) on soil profile structural regeneration and soil compaction remediation across soil types, rotational contexts and temporal scales. There is also a lack of understanding of scale effects from plot to catchment that entails significant simplifications and assumptions in the parameterisation of hydrological models, which are needed to identify the strategic extent and location of such interventions in the catchment. This limits the credibility of the quantitative evidence available on the efficacy of these interventions to inform decisions of water companies, hindering their wider deployment

We are an inclusive and diverse doctoral centre and welcome applications from all highly motivated individuals, regardless of background, identity or disability.

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This thrilling fully funded four-year PhD will combine field experiments, laboratory analyses and modelling work to deliver insights into the efficacy of soil management interventions to promote soil profile to aquifer connectivity and nutrient retention across a range of crop rotation and field-scale contexts and their impacts at a catchment scale. Close collaboration with Affinity Water will allow the research outputs to support better informed investments in soil management to relieve the pressure on their water supply and treatment infrastructures. Developing this knowledge base and quantitative evidence could also inform the development of intervention options within forthcoming Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMs) and delivery of the 25 Year Environment Plan. Upon successful application, you will be part of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Water Infrastructure and Resilience (WIRe), a world leading collaboration between Cranfield University, University of Sheffield and Newcastle University. The WIRe programme includes bespoke training in technical and personal skills development, and provides opportunities for research placements and access to world leading experimental facilities. Therefore, this PhD will help you develop into a highly competent researcher with a range of transferable skills (communication, project management and leadership), a solid national and international network, and advanced knowledge to support the implementation of key environmental policies. This will provide you with a privileged position from which to launch a highly successful career in the water sector, either in academia, consultancy or industry.

The project will be developed in collaboration with Cranfield Water Science Institute, Cranfield Soil and Agrifood Institute and Affinity Water Ltd’s Catchment Management team, and will enable Affinity Water to design and prioritise field-scale interventions to enhance the water quantity and quality of their groundwater sources, thereby, increasing the resilience of their water supply.

At a glance

  • Application deadline30 Jun 2021
  • Award type(s)PhD
  • Start date27 Sep 2021
  • Duration of award4 years
  • EligibilityUK, EU, Rest of World
  • Reference numberSWEE0136


Academic supervisors: Dr Andrea Momblanch and Dr Robert Simmons

Industrial supervisor: Shaun Dowman (Affinity Water)

Entry requirements

Applicants should have:

  • A first or upper second-class UK honours MSc degree, or equivalent, in geomorphology, soil or hydrological sciences.
  • A full-UK driving license is essential.
  • Experience in process-based modelling of soil-water processes is highly valued (not essential).
  • Previous experience of establishing and monitoring field trials (not essential).
  • Excellent communication skills for regular interaction with industrial sponsors, farmers and supervisors.
  • Be self-motivated and with an interest in applied scientific research.

We particularly welcome applications from diverse and under-represented backgrounds and can offer flexible working arrangements.


Sponsored by EPSRC and Affinity Water Ltd, this studentship will cover:

  • A stipend of £19,000 per annum.
  • PhD fees.
  • Research equipment and consumables to the value of £19,000.
  • Research Training Support Grant of £20,000 over the duration of the PhD for research-related personal development activities such as conference attendance and national or international research placements.

The studentship is open to UK and international students (including EU countries) however due to funding rules, no more than 30% of the projects in this cohort can be allocated to international students.

Cranfield Doctoral Network

Research students at Cranfield benefit from being part of a dynamic, focused and professional study environment and all become valued members of the Cranfield Doctoral Network. This network brings together both research students and staff, providing a platform for our researchers to share ideas and collaborate in a multi-disciplinary environment. It aims to encourage an effective and vibrant research culture, founded upon the diversity of activities and knowledge. A tailored programme of seminars and events, alongside our Doctoral Researchers Core Development programme (transferable skills training), provide those studying a research degree with a wealth of social and networking opportunities.

How to apply

For further information please contact:

Name: Dr Andrea Momblanch 


Skype ID: andrea.momblanch

If you are eligible to apply for the PhD, please complete the online PhD application form stating the reference No. SWEE0136