My name is Victoria Coates and I am a NERC funded PhD student at Loughborough University in the School of Civil and Building Engineering. This blog is about my experiences as a researcher in the field of Catchment Hydrology, Land Management and Rural Infrastructure. You can follow me on twitter @GeoHazards
The focus of my PhD is river flow extremes. Floods and droughts are perceived to be becoming more frequent and severe in recent decades. This was illustrated by the widespread droughts caused by below average rainfall and the floods during April 2012, making this research particularly timely. The impacts of land management and climate change have been hypothesised as potential causes of these trends.
Intensification of agricultural practices have been linked to flood risk at the local scale, however this link is more uncertain at larger scales. Modern practices, including monoculture and overstocking, have increased soil compaction. Until the 1970’s farmers were encouraged to remove field boundaries, this increased field sizes. These changes have altered rainfall pathways through and over the soil, potentially changing catchment scale flood risk.
Analysis of historical maps has shown that field size has doubled in the Skell catchment since 1910. I have designed conceptual models to identify the effect of field boundaries on hydrological processes and connectivity. Hedgerows increase root uptake and transpiration. Furthermore, they improve soil structure allowing rainfall to infiltrate and flow through more developed macropores thus decreasing surface runoff. Theoretically, stone walls may cause compaction, reducing infiltration and increasing runoff.
My research will consist of a series of experiments to determine soil characteristics which will allow analysis of compaction levels under different practices. Also, I will be undertaking long-term monitoring of individual hydrological processes, by installing equipment both within and at distances away from field boundaries. This will allow me to determine how field boundaries modify the local hydrological cycle. Field data will then inform the parameters of a hydrological model, which will be applied to test the impacts of rural management scenarios on flood risk at a range of spatial scales.