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Salt Lake City skyline, mountains in the background


Gain specialist experience and supervision by getting involved in one of our current projects.

We're already researching urban and business climates, as well as conducting physical investigations around the world.

Explore our ongoing projects below, and contact the team to find out how you could get involved as part of your PhD.

Austerity urbanism


Mechanisms to stabilise fiscally distressed cities have centred upon transforming the practices and objectives of public expenditure.Social programs and services have been slashed, while new forms of local debt-financing have replaced traditional block-grant revenues, all of which have engendered novel geographies of municipal governance and representation.


This project is designed to develop research into the movement and mutability of austerity urbanism from a diverse range of political, economic, cultural, and social perspectives and spaces. In so doing, our objective is to understand the consequences of austerity on the geographies of contemporary urban theory. 

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Benchmark urbanism


The last few decades have seen a growing amount of what cities do being subject to benchmarking. Across a range of spheres, such as crime, education, and housing, data are calculated and collected, indicators generated and then arranged in tabular form. Cities are benchmarked against each other as a way of evaluating and judging their performance, often by external investors, authorities and interest groups, and increasingly by urban authorities, residents and migrants themselves. A range of technologies of various sorts have emerged to make this possible, including a range of elected and non-elected, public and private sector actors.


This project will explore the history behind the emergence of benchmarks in city decision-making and their role in a number of important areas of policy.  

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Climate and tectonic linkages in the Himalaya


Paradigm shifting hypotheses – such as Molnar and England’s (1990) chicken and egg, Brozovic et al’s (1997) glacial buzzsaw hypothesis, Zeitler et al’s (2001) tectonic aneurysm, Korup and Montgomery’s (2008) edge stabilization – has lead to the development of tectonic geomorphology as a discipline.  This newly emerged field focuses specifically on the linkages between climate tectonics and erosion, with emphasis on modern quantitative methods combined with a wide range of fieldwork. 

There are several mountain ranges in the Indian Himalaya in need of detailed investigation, any one of which can easily encompass an entire PhD.  Thus, the opportunity for thesis ideas is boundless.

The following are just some general starting points for discussion:

  • How do geomorphic processes (glacial, fluvial, and mass movement systems) respond to changes in climate/uplift through time?
  • How does climate influence uplift through erosion?
  • Why is it so much fun to ride a yak at 5000 metres above sea level?
  • How do geomorphic processes limit topography or maintain and preserve landscapes? 
  • New ideas are welcome as well!

The fast rates of erosion and exhumation throughout most of the Himalaya can provide the resolution necessary to examine existing complex feedbacks and decipher new ones!  See Dortch et al. (2011) for an example.

What will you receive?

Gain skills

  • Train the PhD candidate in cutting edge geomorphic techniques
    • MATLAB, ArcMap, and Cosmogenic radionuclide dating
    • Develop new methods as needed
  • Mapping experience on imagery and in the field

Top end outputs

  • Quantify rates of geomorphic and tectonic processes (incision, exhumation, sediment evacuation)
  • Link complex feedback systems together and quantitatively determine which process is the principal driver


  • Brocklehurst, S.H., Whipple, K.X., 2002. Glacial erosion and relief production in the eastern Sierra Nevada, California. Geomorphology 42, 1–24.
  • Brozovic, N., Burbank, D.W., Meigs, A.J., 1997. Climatic limits on landscape development in the northwestern Himalaya. Science 276, 571–574.
  • Dortch, J.M., Owen, L.A., Scheonbohm, L.M., Caffee, M.W., 2011.  Asymmetrical erosion and morphological development of the central Ladakh Range, northern India.  Geomorphology, 135, 167–180.
  • Korup, O., Montgomery, D.R., 2008.  Tibetan plateau river incision inhibited by glacial stabilization of the Tsangpo gorge.  Nature, 455, 786–790.
  • Molnar, P., England, P., 1990. Late Cenozoic uplift of mountain ranges and global climate change: chicken or egg? Nature 346, 29–34.
  • Zeitler, P.K., Meltzer, A.S., Koons, P.O., Craw, D., Hallet, B., Chamberlin, C.P., Kidd, W.S.F., Park, S.K., Seeber, L., Bishop, M., Shroder, J., 2001. Erosion, Himalayan geodynamics and the geomorphology of metamorphism. Geologic Society of America Today 113, 1443–1455.

Devo Manc: Continuities and changes in the restructuring of the state


Greater Manchester is at the centre of a political experiment. The Coalition Government has announced that in 2017 the city region will elect a mayor. In return, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) - an unelected organisation that draws representation from ten local authorities - will have a greater say over how a number of budgets are spent. This includes areas such as crime, health, and skills.

Quite what this will mean for democracy is not yet clear, and is likely to remain unclear for a number of years to come. Of course, while there is much that is new in these changes, there is also a long history to the centralization and decentralization of powers and responsibilities between central and local government.


This project will explore the details of the devolved powers to the Combined Authority, situate it in the context of the on-going restructuring of the British state, and employ a number of case studies to explore what decision making looks like in a number of areas of urban policy following devolution.   

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Do wildfires act to mobilise heavy metals in polluted upland landscapes?


The UK uplands provide a range of ecosystem services such as water provision, carbon sequestration, and cultural amenity. They are also impacted by a range of pressures including legacy pollutants, inappropriate land management, and acid deposition. In many of these regions, the carbon-rich peat soils act as a store of industrially-derived, atmospherically transported pollutants. However, concern has been raised over the long-term stability of legacy metals in these systems (e.g. Rothwell et al., 2007) and the response of peatlands to external pressures. 

Wildfires are an episodic hazard in the UK and recent extreme wildfire seasons have led to renewed interest in how these events affect ecosystem services such as carbon (Clay and Worrall, 2011). In 2003, a major wildfire affected 8km2 of the Bleaklow Plateau in the Peak District National Park leading to wide scale erosion and damage. Ongoing work in the Department of Geography is looking at the long-term recovery and restoration efforts in the Peak District. Heavy metals have been used to trace sediment movements on the plateau (c.f Shuttleworth et al., 2014), though less is known about the direct mobilisation (volatilisation and leaching) of metals during a wildfire (including direct combustion of the peat), as well as the spatial variation in fire severity and erosion following a fire.  This project will therefore assess the impact of wildfires on peatlands metal mobilisation at a range of temporal and spatial scales. 

Aims and methods

The aim of the project is to better understand the role of fire in heavy metal mobilisation in contaminated upland peats. Specifically the project will:

  • Investigate the role of direct peat combustion on metal volatilisation and leaching.
  • Use heavy metal contamination to trace sediment movements and erosion patterns surrounding fire scars.
  • Assess the full life-cycle of a wildfire with respect to heavy metal mobilisation. 

Research design

The project will make use of existing monitoring sites in the Peak District National Park (PDNP), as well as working on existing wildfire scars that have been mapped by the PDNP Ranger service.  In combination with field-based surveys of metal contamination from these fire scars, it is anticipated that laboratory scale experiments would allow a detailed analysis of the processes mobilising metals during and after fire.  A range of methods would be utilised including: CVAFS; ICP-OES; ICP-MS; field portable XRF; and elemental analysis.  Further methods could be developed from existing protocols and novel techniques could be established. 


The project would suit a student with a strong interest in field and laboratory work, and an interest in environmental processes. The student will be joining a research team working on a range of environmental issues and would be expected to contribute to the team.  The supervisory team will provide training in the laboratory and field data collection techniques. 


  • Clay, G.D., Worrall, F., 2011. Charcoal production in a UK moorland wildfire - how important is it? Journal of Environmental Management, 92: 675-681.
  • Rothwell, J.J., Evans, M.G., Liddaman, L.C., Allott, T.E.H., 2007. The role of wildfire and gully erosion in particulate Pb export from contaminated peatland catchments in the southern Pennines, U.K. Geomorphology, 88(3–4): 276-284.
  • Shuttleworth, E.L., Evans, M.G., Hutchinson, S.M., Rothwell, J.J., 2014. Assessment of Lead Contamination in Peatlands Using Field Portable XRF. Water, Air, & Soil Pollution, 225(2): 1-13. 

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Financing urban futures


UK cities, like a number around the world, are increasingly being forced to seek out alternative ways to finance their infrastructure needs. Cuts in public budgets and more risk-averse private sector investors, have together left those who govern cities with some thinking, and innovating, to do. How are they better able to instigate economic development and growth through investing in infrastructure?

Developing riskier, more experimental and innovative financial vehicles that manage and mediate 'risk' is one way forward for some cities. In this vein, a number of possible models have been circulating amongst the UK financial practitioner community over the last few decades.


This project will explore how a number of cities are approaching the financing of their infrastructure, the range of expertise that is involved in the process and what this says about the notion of 'urban' politics in the twenty first century. 

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Ice Age glaciers in the Mediterranean mountains


The mountains of the Mediterranean world are now largely ice free, but many were repeatedly glaciated during the Quaternary ice age. This created spectacular glaciated landscapes with a rich array of glacial deposits and landforms forming a unique archive of Quaternary environmental change of global significance (Hughes and Woodward, 2017). In the east–central Mediterranean, the largest glaciations occurred during the Middle Pleistocene when ice caps and ice fields formed in the Dinaric Alps in the north to the Pindus Mountains in the south. This pattern contrasts markedly with Turkey where only Late Pleistocene glaciations have been found (Akçar et al. 2016; Sarıkaya and Ciñer 2016). The Late Pleistocene in many parts of the east-central Mediterranean was characterised by much smaller ice masses with glaciers restricted to the high mountains. Nevertheless, these glaciers were still substantial and were active in shaping much of the high mountain morphology that we see today.

Our understanding of the timing of Quaternary glaciation across this region has very recently been transformed through the application of dating methods utilizing uranium-series and cosmogenic isotopes. Glacial records from the Mediterranean now boast some of the most robust chronologies for mountain glaciation anywhere in the world. The timing of glaciation during the last cold stage shows considerable variability around the world with glaciers responding to moisture supply as well as air temperatures. In some areas, glaciers appear to have been smaller at the global Last Glacial Maximum than at earlier times in the last cold stage. For example, in several parts of the Mediterranean mountains, glaciers were actually larger during marine isotope stage (MIS) 5, 4 and 3 than in MIS 2. Even within the Mediterranean region itself, there is much evidence showing that glaciers reached their maxima at different times (Hughes and Woodward 2008; 2017). Understanding where, when and why glaciers reached their maximum during the last glacial cycle is important for understanding the dynamics of the glacial climate in this region (and its relationship to the North Atlantic) as well as the timing of sediment and meltwater delivery to river systems downstream (Woodward et al. 2008; Bonneau et al. 2014). It is also important to better understand the dynamics of Mediterranean refugia as well as the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic archaeological records.


Despite many years of research in the limestone mountains of Greece, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, and neighbouring areas, there is only very limited dating control for the last glacial moraines (Woodward et al 2004; Hughes et al. 2006).  Our knowledge of the timing of glacier maxima and retreat phases is restricted to just a few sites. In Greece, for example, preliminary data suggest that glaciers were larger before the global LGM. Increased aridity at the global LGM may have caused glaciers to retreat (Hughes et al. 2006; Pope et al. 2016) resulting in the formation of rock glaciers in some cirques (Hughes et al. 2003). This pattern may be widespread across the region, but new research is needed to test this and to better understand the Late Pleistocene glacial history and climate of this part of the Mediterranean.        

This PhD will combine fieldwork, remote sensing, and cosmogenic dating (36Cl on limestone) to provide a new regional synthesis of Late Pleistocene glaciation in the central Mediterranean. A primary aim is to develop a robust dating framework for the Late Pleistocene glacial records using 36Cl. This project will:

  • Compile the first regional database of glacial erosional features, including cirques, to build upon recent research in Greece where 265 cirques have been studied (Bathrellos et al. 2014).
  • Establish the spatial extent of Late Pleistocene glacial moraines and related landforms, such as rock glaciers, using both fieldwork and remote sensing.
  • Apply cosmogenic dating (36Cl) to establish the age of Late Pleistocene glacial surfaces at selected sites in the region including those areas – such as Greece and Montenegro – where Middle Pleistocene moraines have already been dated. 
  • Reconstruct and model Late Pleistocene glaciers and climates using advanced glacier-climate modelling and GIS techniques (e.g. Pellitero et al. 2015).

Mentoring and training

The successful candidate will join a dynamic group of geomorphologists and Quaternary scientists as part of the Quaternary Environments and Geoarchaeology (QEG) Research Group in Geography at The University of Manchester. The supervisors have long experience of fieldwork in the mountains of the Mediterranean with excellent local contacts. Training will be provided in a range of field skills, laboratory analyses, and GIS. Cosmogenic dating will be carried out in collaboration with David Fink at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and it is anticipated that the PhD student will spend a period of time at the ANSTO cosmogenic dating laboratory near Sydney. There will also be opportunities to contribute to the teaching programme in Geography in Manchester.


The School of Environment, Education and Development (SEED) will fund a number of postgraduate research studentships for September 2017 entry.

These PhD awards will cover tuition fees and include annual stipends of approximately £14,210 for a period of three years, subject to satisfactory progress. Studentships are open to home / EU and overseas students.

The deadline for applications is Friday 24 March 2017.


  • Akçar, N., Yavuz, V., Yeşilyert, Ivy-Ochs, S., Reber, R., Bayrakdar, C., Kubik, P. W., Zahno, C., Schlinnegger, F., Schlüchter, C. 2015. A synchronous Last Glacial Maximum across the Anatolian peninsula. In: Hughes, P. D. & Woodward, J. C. (ed.) Quaternary Glaciation in the Mediterranean Mountains. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 433, 251-269.
  • Bathrellos, G.D., Skilodimou, H. D., Maroukian, H. 2016. The spatial distribution of Middle and Late Pleistocene Cirques in Greece. Geografiska Annaler 96, 323-338.
  • Bonneau, L.,Jorry, S.J., Toucanne, S.,Jacinto, R.S., Emmanuel, L., 2014. Millennial-scale response of a western Mediterranean river to late Quaternary climate changes: a view from the deep sea. The Journal of Geology, 122, 687-703
  • Hughes, P.D., Woodward, J.C. (eds), 2017. Quaternary glaciation in the Mediterranean Mountains. Geological Society of London Special Publications 433, 315 pp. 
  • Hughes, P.D., Gibbard, P.L., Woodward, J.C., 2003. Relict rock glaciers as indicators of Mediterranean palaeoclimate during the Last Glacial Maximum (Late Würmian) of northwest Greece. Journal of Quaternary Science 18, 431-440.
  • Hughes, P.D., Woodward, J.C., Gibbard, P.L., 2006. Late Pleistocene glaciers and climate in the Mediterranean Region. Global and Planetary Change 50, 83-98.
  • Pellitero, R., Rea, B., Spagnolo, M., Bakke, J., Hughes, P.D., Ivy-Ochs, S., Lukas, S., Ribolini, A., 2015. A GIS tool for automatic calculation of glacier Equilibrium Line Altitudes. Computers and Geosciences 82, 55-62.
  • Pope, R.J., Hughes, P.D., Skourtsos, E., 2015. Glacial history of Mt Chelmos, Peloponnesus, Greece. In: Hughes, P.D., Woodward, J.C. (2016) Quaternary glaciation in the Mediterranean Mountains. Geological Society of London Special Publications 433, 211-236.
  • Sarıkaya, M.A., Çiner, A. 2015. Quaternary glaciations in the eastern Mediterranean. In: Hughes, P.D., Woodward, J.C. (eds) Quaternary Glaciation in the Mediterranean Mountains. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 433, 289-305.
  • Woodward, J.C., Macklin, M.G., Smith, G.R., 2004. Pleistocene Glaciation in the Mountains of Greece. In Ehlers, J. and Gibbard, P.L. (eds) Quaternary Glaciations - Extent and Chronology. Part I: Europe. Elsevier, p. 155-173
  • Woodward, J.C., Hamlin, R.H.B., Macklin, M.G., Hughes, P.D., Lewin, J., 2008. Glacial activity and catchment dynamics in northwest Greece: Long-term river behaviour and the slackwater sediment record for the last glacial to interglacial transition. Geomorphology 101, 44-67.

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Landscape dynamics in the Namib Sand Sea


The Namib Sand Sea (NSS), covering ~34,000 km2 on the west coast of Namibia, is a UNESCO World Heritage Listed Site, containing one of the world’s most impressive array of dune features, which have accumulated during the Quaternary.  It has a modern-day west-east precipitation gradient of 10-20 mm/y to ~ 200 mm/y and a unique influence of fog within a sand sea.

Our current understanding of the Quaternary dynamics of the NSS are drawn from: (i) cosmogenic dating, coupled with sediment provenance, which suggests the desert is a wind-displaced delta of the Orange River and that it takes at least 1 million years for sand to be transported to the sand seas northern edge; (ii) luminescence dating of dune sediments, which reveal a number of significant phases of late Quaternary aeolian deposition and (iii) inferences based on dune patterning within a self-organised complex system. There are also palaeohydrological reconstructions at low spatial resolution for two key former river channels, which reveal wetter conditions particularly during MIS 5 followed by progressive aridification.

This PhD offers an opportunity to add a substantial dataset on landscape dynamics in this fascinating and globally important region. Suggested project ideas include:

  1. a detailed spatial reconstruction of the palaeohydrological response of the former Tsondab River
  2. a study of landscape response since the last glacial maximum to explore ideas around the dominant north-south sediment flux model and landscape response across the east-west  climate gradient
  3. an investigation into recent (last 2,000 year) landscape dynamics to provide the necessary nuanced understanding of the spatial complexities of desert landscape response to climate forcing in a region where human land-use activities are effectively zero.

Methods and training

The successful applicant will receive full training in sedimentary analysis and luminescence dating. The intention is for the project(s) to utilise both full-laboratory dating protocols and the rapidly-advancing field of portable luminescence reader analysis to facilitate a spatial-scale of analysis and volume of samples that cannot be sensibly achieved using time- and resource-intensive laboratory protocols. The laboratory analysis is supported by the opportunity to be hosted at Risø in Denmark for access all laboratory facilities and additional training in luminescence dating.

The applicant will be eligible to apply for the University of Manchester Faculty studentship competition for funding. Deadline 24 March, 2017.  Further details.


  • Stone, A. (2013) Age and dynamics of the Namib Sand Sea: A review of chronological evidence and possible landscape development models. Journal of African Earth Sciences 82, 70-87.
  • Stone, A., Thomas, D. S. G. (2013) Casting new light on late Quaternary environmental and palaeohydrological change in the Namib Desert: A review of the application of optically stimulated luminescence in the region. Journal of Arid Enviroments 93, 40-58.
  • Stone, A., Thomas, D. S. G., Viles, H. A. (2010) Late Quaternary palaeohydrological changes in the northern Namib Sand Sea: New chronologies using OSL dating of interdigitated aeolian and water-lain interdune deposits. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 288, 35-53.
  • Vermeesch, P., Fenton, C. R., Kober, F., Wiggs, G. F. S., Bristow, C. S., Xu, S. (2010) Sand residence times of one million years in the Namib Sand Sea from cosmogenic nuclides. Nature Geoscience 3, 862-865.  

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Large landslides in the Himalaya


Large rock avalanches (> 1 million m3 of debris; Korup et al., 2006) in northern India are fascinating because many of them trap air underneath as they fall, compress the air, and them proceed to “ride” this frictionless bed of air down valley 1 to 10s of kms!  Moreover, mass movement is the primary process that can limit topography and link climate controlled erosion (glacial and fluvial) to tectonics.  In spite of this, the rate and frequency of mass movement processes, including large rock avalanches, is poorly constrained (Burbank et al., 1996; Mitchell et al., 2007; Weidinger et al., 2009).  These landslides can be “caused” by several factors (glacial debuttressing, lithology, structure, tectonic formation, and monsoon precipitation) but are “triggered” by specific events such as cloud burst and seismic activity (see Dortch et al., 2009 for examples).  There are several large rock avalanches in need of detailed investigation already identified. 


This project aims to:

  • find more large rock avalanches in the Himalaya;
  • map avalanche extent;
  • determine “causes” of rock avalanches by examining hill slopes in the field;
  • define the timing of the avalanche through cosmogenic radio nuclide (CRN) dating
  • quantify frequency and erosion rate of rock avalanches (compare to glacial and fluvial processes);
  • identify potential rock avalanche triggers (monsoon, seismic, something else?) 

Further possibilities

PhD candidate could expand this project by: producing landslide hazard maps; identifying susceptible villages or population centres; disseminating hazard maps to Indian policy makers and the general population; etc.


  • Burbank, D.W., Anderson, R.S., Brozovic, N., Duncan, C., Fielding, E., Leland, J., Reid, M.R., 1996. Bedrock incision, rock uplift and threshold hill slopes in the northwestern Himalayas. Nature 379, 505–510.
  • Dortch, J., Owen, L.A., Haneberg, W.C., Caffee, M.W., Dietsch, C., Kamp, D.U., 2009. Nature and timing of large-landslides in the Himalaya and Transhimalaya of northern India. Quaternary Science Reviews 28, 1037–1054.
  • Korup, O., Strom, A.L., Weidinger, J.T., 2006. Fluvial response to large rock-slope failures: examples from the Himalayas, the Tien Shan, and the Southern Alps in New Zealand. Geomorphology 78, 3–21.
  • Mitchell, W.A., McSaveney, M.J., Zondervan, A., Kim, K., Dunning, D.A., Taylor, P.J., 2007. The Keylong Seri rock avalanche, NW Indian Himalaya: geomorphology and palaeoseismic implications. Landslides 4, 245–254.
  • Weidinger, J., Korup, O., 2009. Frictionite as evidence for a large Late Quaternary rockslide near Kanchenjunga, Sikkim Himalayas, India.  Implications for extreme events in mountain relief destruction. Geomorphology,130, 57–65.

Politicising the urban: Post-democracy and urban political ecology


Prof Swyngedouw welcomes PhD proposals that focus on radical political theory, critical analysis of the political-economy and political-ecology of planetary urbanisation, and the spatiality of democratic and progressive politics. In particular, Prof Swyngedouw welcomes a focus on two key areas of political and environmental concern: 

Politicising the urban: Post-democracy and the return of the political urban

This project would seek to revisit political theory from an urban perspective and would seek to examine whether politics needs the city in its contemporary guise, and in what ways. Asking centrally what is the relationship between the city as a public space and the process of politicisation in different urban contexts, this project would seek to establish creative and emergent ways to apprehend the relationship between theories of political transformation and processes of urban change.

In examining modes of urban insurgency and moves towards the progressive re-politicisation of urban life, this project would be open to a range of empirical cases, from movements such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, to articulations of The Right to the City in Poland and Civic Platforms in Italy.

In asking how varied forms of urban insurrection, revolt and politicisation reshape cities and urban life, this project would ask how cities have responded to the post-democratic closures of neoliberal consensus.   

Re-politicising urban political ecology

This project would focus on a theoretical and empirical analysis of the relationship between socio-ecological change, theories and processes of planetary urbanisation and contemporary radical urban politics. Whilst being open to specific case studies drawn nationally or internationally, this project would ask a series of questions, such as; what is the relationship between urbanising nature and urban socio-ecological politics? How does the environmental condition we are in relate to political-economic processes of planetary urbanisation? How is urban environmental politics mobilised in processes of accumulation by greening the city? To what uses are apocalyptic imaginaries of climate change, environmental catastrophe and ecological risk put in political and economic discussions of urban and environmental futures?

Through exploring these questions, this area of work would draw together discussions of urban nature, political mobilisation and political ecology to examine how theories of urban politics intersect with practices and experiences of socio-ecological change.   

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Sustainable consumption and production: Water, energy and transitions in everyday life


Research from geography and sociology has in the last decades become increasingly interested in applying theory (such as theories of practice) to new ways of knowing and understanding transitions towards more sustainable consumption of water, food, energy, and mobility. Such research moves the focus of study (and unit of analysis) from the resource being used to the practices of everyday life that underpin them – laundry, eating, mobility, cleanliness (of self, homes, clothes), and gardening amongst other practices! There are three areas of development in this field that I would be interested in supervising PhDs in:

  1. The application of quantitative and population level methodologies for understanding the diversity and patterns of practice related to resource use in everyday life (e.g., quantitative and clustering methods, time use studies, GIS etc)
  2. The development of theories of practice and social change with a specific focus on resource and sustainable consumption in the Global South. There has been a dearth of empirical studies using these theoretical and methodological perspectives (such as theories of practice) to study the sorts of unique consumption challenges being faced in the Global South, and in particular the rapid transitions of countries such as China, India, Indonesia etc.
  3. Disrupting and experimenting with transitions to sustainable consumption and production in homes and urban spaces (e.g., Urban Labs, Living Labs, Home Labs). I have an interest in the materiality of such transitions (the physical and social infrastructure), as well as the ways that social norms and meanings change around such activities.

More specifically some research topics of interest in this field are:

  • resource consumption, theories of practice and social change;
  • historical, existing, and evolving practices of food, water and energy consumption in everyday life in these contexts;
  • how everyday practices changed over time in relation to social norms/meanings, changing material infrastructures in the city, communities and in the home;
  • how the practices of laundry, personal washing, cooking, gardening and cleaning – are influenced, and changed, by social meanings and norms, and transformations of urban infrastructure;
  • links between water consumption, infrastructure and governance;
  • comparative research on socio-cultural change and trajectories of consumption (e.g., between areas of the Global South);
  • links between agendas of health, hygiene (dirt, cleanliness), and sustainability;
  • research exploring gendered perspectives on these topics (e.g., menstruation and hygiene, mothering and sustainability, etc);
  • What can we learn from in-situ experiments and apparent flexibilities in practice e.g., festivals, camping experiences? What do these ‘natural’ experiments tell us about the combination of infrastructures, the emergence and circulation of new norms and ways of doing in these spaces, that can provide ideas for the governance of resources and infrastructure more generally?

Methodology and skill development

Applicants with a range of methodological skills are encouraged to apply. While single methods may be useful for some research questions, applicants are also encouraged to think about ways to ‘mix methods’ in order to provide deep reflections through qualitative research (interviews, policy analysis, ethnography, focus groups etc), and reflections of population level change through various combinations of quantitative work (quantitative surveys, GIS, time use data etc). I have a wide range of experience with methodology, and will work with you to get the best training and support and skills development for your specific research project. =

Knowledge exchange and impact

I am the Knowledge Exchange Co-ordinator for the Sustainable Consumption Institute (SCI) and have a specific interest in doing policy relevant social scientific/geographical research. Students will be encouraged and supported to develop their skills in science communication, stakeholder and policy engagement, and impact generation throughout their PhD which is becoming an increasingly important part of academic research. 

Connecting geography, SEED and the SCI

As well as connecting into the activities in Geography/SEED (and potential co-supervision in Geography/SEED), doing a PhD with Alison Browne will also mean connecting in with the activities (both general research, and specific PhD training) of the cross-Faculty Sustainable Consumption Institute (SCI), where appropriate. The SCI aims to bring insight and clarity to a key part of the sustainability challenge: the role of consumption. It takes original insights from across the Social Sciences and subjects them to critical empirical scrutiny in order to advance fundamental understandings about processes of consumption and innovation, and to consider their implications for transitions towards more sustainable societies.

Co-supervision is also possible between Alison Browne and other researchers in the SCI (with David Evans, Dale Southerton, Alan Warde – Sociology; Frank Geels, Frank Boons, Andrew McMeekin – Alliance Manchester Business School).


  • Browne, A.L., Medd, W., Anderson, B., & Pullinger, M. (2015). Method as intervention: Intervening in practice through qualitative and mixed methodologies. In Y. Strengers & C. Maller (Eds.)., Social practices, intervention and sustainability: Beyond behaviour change. (pp. 179-195). Routledge.
  • B. Campkin & R. Cox (Eds). (2007). Dirt: New geographies of cleanliness and contamination. London: IB Tauris
  • R. Lane & A. Gorman-Murray (Eds). (2011). Material geographies of household sustainability England: Ashgate.
  • Shove, E., Pantzar, M., & Watson, M. (2012). The dynamics of social practice: Everyday life and how it changes. London: Sage.

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Topographic evolution of mountains


Landscape evolution – teasing out how high mountain landscapes erode and evolve through time – is a central theme in modern geomorphology and tectonics.  It is currently in vogue, will remain a hot topic for at least 10 years, can be quite controversial, and can lead to well cited Nature and Science articles.  Topography and landforms are typically investigated through analysis of imagery (DEMs and visual data such as Landsat) to determine what processes are acting on mountains and in field sample collection to determine rates of those processes. 

These projects can have a significant field component or no field component at all depending on the interest of the PhD candidate; i.e. if you want to fight off mosquitoes the size of small birds in Alaska while standing knee-deep in a beaver pond, you can do that; if you want to study remote Himalayan mountains from an air-conditioned office, you can do that too.  

Specific topics are limitless and can take various forms, including: case-studies and analysis; methods development; modeling; and to paradigm shifting conceptual models.  Potential candidates should contact Jason Dortch to start a dialogue about ideas you already have and general themes you are interested in.  The following are just some starting points for discussion.


Himalayan-Tibetan Orogen; UK mountain ranges; Andes; Alaska (various ranges); Others?


Remote sensing; Modeling; MATLAB; ArcMap; Cosmogenic radionuclides; Optically stimulated luminescence; Mapping; Others?

Research themes

  • How does glacial and/or fluvial incision shape mountain systems?
  • Which is more important?
  • How long does it take for mountain systems to respond to changes in incision rate?
  • Over what time period does topography record or “keep track” of erosion/incision before it is lost forever?


  • Bookhagen, B., Thiede, R.C., Strecker, M.R., 2005. Late Quaternary intensified monsoon phases control landscape evolution in the northwest Himalaya. Geology 33, 149–152.
  • Brocklehurst, S.H., Whipple, K.X., 2006. Assessing the relative efficiency of fluvial and glacial erosion through simulation of fluvial landscapes. Geomorphology 75, 283–299.
  • Dortch, J.M., Owen, L.A., Scheonbohm, L.M., Caffee, M.W., 2011.  Asymmetrical erosion and morphological development of the central Ladakh Range, northern India.  Geomorphology, 135, 167–180.
  • Dortch, J.M., Owen, L.A., Dietsch, C., Caffee, M.W., Bovard, K., 2011a. Episodic fluvial incision of rivers and rock uplift in the Himalaya and Transhimalaya. Geological Society of London. doi:10.1144/0016-76492009-158.
  • Granger, D.E., Kirchner, J.W., Finkel, R., 1996. Spatially averaged long-term erosion rates measured from in situ-produced cosmogenic nuclides in alluvial sediment. Journal of Geology 104, 249–257.
  • Whipple, K.X., Kirby, E., Brocklehurst, S.H., 1999. Geomorphic limits to climate induced increases in topographic relief. Nature 401, 39–43.

The construction of a good business climate


In the US the notion of a 'business climate' has been around since the late 1970s. Cities, competing with each others to secure inward investment, began to work with consultants and think tanks to generate a number of indicators that spoke to what they understood as the needs of capital. The precise mix of factors differs from one version to another but in general includes issues such as labour regulation, multiple tax rates, unemployment levels and zoning ordinances. Drawing upon the notion of the climate from the natural sciences, giving the measures a sense of objectivity, these indicators are generated, circulated and represented in documents and press releases and on websites.


This project will explore the genealogy of the notion of a 'business climate' and its role in shaping the politics of US economic development.  

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Vegetation and climate dynamics during the cool MIS 15 interglacial at Tenaghi Philippon, NE Greece


Recent coring at Tenaghi Philippon in the Northeastern Mediterranean region provides the opportunity to develop unparalleled records of centennial-scale vegetation and climate history extending back for more than 1 million years. This project focuses on the Middle Pleistocene interglacial corresponding to Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 15 (between approximately 560 and 630 thousand years ago), an interval of particular palaeoclimatological and biogeographical interest in the Mediterranean region and for which few continuous terrestrial records are available. From a palaeoclimatological perspective, MIS 15 is an unusual, "cool" interglacial characterised by a weak global greenhouse effect (low atmospheric CO2) and low temperatures at high latitudes, but strong expression of monsoon dynamics at tropical latitudes. As such, this interglacial provides an important opportunity to test theories of climatic teleconnections and forcing factors on the Mediterranean climate. From a biogeographical point of view, this interglacial follows one of the most intense episodes of glaciation in the Quaternary record, and new palynological data is needed to understand the nature of vegetation response and ecological succession following this glacial, with implications for the understanding of glacial refugia and population extirpations during MIS 16. Overall, an important opportunity is available to extend and refine the knowledge of climate-biosphere dynamics on centennial to millennial timescales under diverse interglacial boundary conditions.


The PhD research will focus on microscopic pollen analysis to develop a centennial-scale pollen record for MIS 15. The PhD will also provide opportunities to explore novel aspects of cutting edge palaeoecology including image analysis, pollen isolation and geochemical characterisation, and to apply and/or develop skills in multivariate statistical analysis. It is anticipated that the PhD student will contribute to a wider collaborative research effort with Heidelberg University, Germany (Prof. J. Pross, Dr A. Koutsodendris) and Royal Holloway, UK (Dr A. Milner), including inter-laboratory visits and international conference participation. The PhD student will benefit from postgraduate research training in the School of Environment, Education and Development, specialist training in microscopy and analytical facilities in the Physical Geography Laboratories, and integration into the Quaternary Environments and Geoarchaeology research group.

An undergraduate background and master’s degree (MSc or equivalent) in a relevant subject area (e.g. Quaternary Science, Physical Geography, Geology, Environmental Science) are essential. Previous experience of pollen analysis or other micropalaeontological techniques is desirable. The School of Environment, Education and Development is pleased to announce a number of postgraduate research studentships for September 2017 entry. These awards will cover tuition fees and include annual stipends of approximately £14, 210 (subject to final confirmation) for a period of three years, subject to satisfactory progress. Studentships are open to home / EU and overseas students. A first class undergraduate degree and/or distinction at MSc are necessary to be competitive for PhD funding. Applicants should have received an offer of a place for September 2017 entry on the PhD programme by Friday 21 April 2017. In order for your PhD application to be processed in good time you are advised to apply for the PhD programme no later than Friday 24 March 2017. Successful applicants will be notified by the end of May 2017.

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