Postgraduate research opportunities Effects of climate change on minewater geothermal prospects: An assessment of minewater resource climate resilience and implications for decarbonising heating and cooling


Key facts

  • Opens: Thursday 9 December 2021
  • Deadline: Sunday 13 February 2022
  • Number of places: 1
  • Duration: 4 years
  • Funding: Home fee, Equipment costs, Travel costs, Stipend


Flooded former coal mines provide a potentially valuable low carbon geothermal heat source. Climate change is projected to cause a cascade of impacts on water resources in Scotland. It is poorly understood how evolving factors such as rainfall, atmospheric temperature and changing demand for heat could affect recharge and supply of mine water geothermal developments. This PhD project will address this critical gap, ensuring that developments are fit for purpose, resilient and sustainable.
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Essential: The applicant should hold (or expect to get) a minimum of an upper second class BSc Honours degree, MSc or MRes (or equivalent) in subjects relevant to Physical Sciences.

The candidate should ideally:

  • have a desire to work in an interdisciplinary environment
  • be a practical self-motivated person who will lead the development and direction of their project and will ideally have research experience
  • have hydrological modelling experience, and an interest in developing these skills further

Additional experience or skills development relevant to geoscience are welcome.

THE Awards 2019: UK University of the Year Winner
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Project Details

Decarbonising heat remains challenging: energy for heat accounts for ~half of Scotland’s carbon emissions. Disused mines, filled with water, are a potentially valuable untapped low carbon heat source. Scotland’s history of coal mining is extensive, especially across the Central Belt (the most populated region of Scotland) and the British Geological Survey estimates that minewaters could provide 8% of Scotland's domestic heating requirement, and up to 40% of Glasgow's heat demand, for at least 100 years. As well as emission reduction, minewater geothermal (MWG) provides a substantial socioeconomic opportunity; it is an emerging sector for geoscience skills, and transition of UKCS knowledge to new, low-carbon, applications. Further, ex-mining communities are proportionally more deprived, with more households in fuel poverty (Coalfield Regeneration Trust, 2020), which MWG heating could help tackle. However, any such infrastructure must be resilient to the effects of climate change, which includes the cascade of projected impacts on water resources in Scotland. Change in the magnitude, frequency and seasonality of rainfall will have ramifications for recharge and flood dynamics in disused mine systems. Further, our temperature changes (as well as mitigation measures such as retrofit and smart systems) could change the demand profile for heating and cooling. However, to date, there has been no research on how such direct and indirect impacts of climate change could affect the medium to long term sustainability of MWG resources.

This PhD will address this critical gap via the following aims:

  • assess the vulnerability of minewater geothermal systems to climate change impacts
  • identify optimal minewater geothermal systems resilient to, or enhanced by, environmental change due to climate change
  • evaluate the medium-long-term socioeconomic value of minewaters for heating and cooling

Further information

This PhD is part of the GeoNetZero CDT (the Centre for Doctoral Training in Geoscience and Low Carbon Energy). As well as the community and opportunities offered within the CDT, you'll join the lively Faults and Fluid Flow (FAFF) research group in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Strathclyde, and the Global Environmental Monitoring and Policy PhD community.

You'll join the active and growing multidisciplinary Faults and Fluid Flow (FAFF) research group within the Centre for Ground Engineering & Energy Geosciences, in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Strathclyde. You'll be supported to attend and present at conferences, and to undertake research placements if desired.

This project will allow you to develop your GIS, qualitative and quantitative research, environmental and social impact and risk assessment, hydrological, and energy modelling skills. The candidate would be well placed for career in the renewable energy, hydrology, engineering consultancy, regulatory agency or governance sectors.

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Funding details

This is a fully funded studentship; successful applicant will enter the GeoNetZero (GNZ) Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) and its associated geoenergy training program.

The studentship includes a £5,000 per annum Research and Training Support Grant to maximise the student’s development and opportunities by supporting e.g. equipment facilities, data collection, and conferences and other training and development opportunities.

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You'll benefit from a varied cross-departmental supervision team who enjoy working together. Neil and Jen are based in Civil & Environmental Engineering and Scott is based in Economics.

Dr Neil Burnside is a Chancellor’s Fellow in Geoscientific Engineering. His research focuses on low carbon resource characterisation and environmental impact assessment. Neil will be the primary supervisor and main point of contact for this studentship.

Dr Jen Roberts is a Chancellors Fellow in Energy. She is an interdisciplinary scientist with expertise on socio-technical risks. Ultimately her work aims to inform a sustainable transition to net zero carbon future. 

Dr Scott McGrane is a Chancellor’s Fellow in Society and Policy. He is a hydrogeologist and economist, specialising in climate risk to water resources.

Dr Burnside

Dr Neil Burnside

Strathclyde Chancellor's Fellow
Civil and Environmental Engineering

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Dr Roberts

Dr Jennifer Roberts

Senior Lecturer
Civil and Environmental Engineering

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Dr McGrane

Dr Scott McGrane

Senior Lecturer

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Number of places: 1

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