Maximising urban green infrastructure for surface water flood management: an evidence-based approach

Urban flooding is caused by heavy rainfall and is a growing global challenge. Many cities are rethinking their approach to flood risk management by using green infrastructure (GI) and Nature-based Solutions (NbS) to complement traditional hard engineered approaches. GI, NbS and Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) are a series of innovative and novel solutions and/or techniques to bring hydrological responses closer to pre-urbanised conditions.

It is often difficult to determine the effectiveness of SuDS and this depends on both the magnitude of storm events and the spatial scale of the intervention. Further, monitoring of the successes and failures of SuDS schemes is not routinely conducted. Thus, it can be difficult to determine whether SuDS provide a sustainable solution to manage urban flooding. We need to collect a strong evidence base to maximise urban green infrastructure. This IAPETUS2 PhD project will address this critical research gap through the development of pioneering solutions to answer critical research questions within the field of green infrastructure and urban flood risk management.

This PhD project will focus on the collection, analysis and interpretation of field-monitored data to assess and maximise bioretention performance of green infrastructure. The project will involve the design, commissioning and analysis of novel laboratory and field experiments based at Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh campus and within the City of Edinburgh. The PhD will also leverage two fully-commissioned, state-of-the-art instrumented vegetated bioretention cell lysimeters based at the UKCRIC National Green Infrastructure Facility (NGIF), with the opportunity to conduct discrete experimental tests on these systems. Further, there is scope to complement and upscale field approaches using hydraulic-hydrological modelling approaches (i.e. SWMM, HYDRUS-1D, etc.) to understand the impact of NbS at larger scales. This project will focus predominantly on the attenuation of surface water flows (i.e. flood risk reduction), but the project may also consider the influence of SuDS on water quality, biodiversity and public amenity.

The successful candidate will be based at Heriot-Watt University’s Edinburgh campus and will be required to visit the NGIF in Newcastle-upon-Tyne for experimental monitoring, maintenance and data collection approximately every 2-months. There will be opportunities to collaborate with international stakeholders and partners to realise the potential of NbS within different regions/climates.

Click on an image to expand

Image Captions

3D LiDAR scan of vegetated experimental lysimeter bioretention cell based at the National Green Infrastructure Facility, UK.


This project will feature novel experimental, field- and laboratory-based research and the analysis of experimental datasets. The overall scope of the experimental work is flexible but will have a stormwater, urban flood risk focus. The project may also incorporate additional elements, such as water quality analysis or biodiversity assessments.

Experimental work might involve some of the following aspects:

– Design, development and analysis of a research-based rainfall simulator or automatic irrigation system to apply controlled, artificial rainfall to SuDS.

– Instrumentation and monitoring of existing systems (e.g. NGIF lysimeters or SuDS/NbS schemes within Heriot-Watt University or the City of Edinburgh) and analysis of key hydrological, hydraulic and weather parameters (i.e. precipitation, volumetric water content, matric suction, outflow, etc.).

– Discrete laboratory testing, sampling and investigation of soil and vegetation parameters (i.e. soil testing of saturated hydraulic conductivity and particle size distribution, stomatal conductance of different vegetation types, etc.).

– Development and commissioning of smaller microcosm experiments (i.e. soil columns, hanging column, drainage testbeds, etc.).

– Monitoring of water quality indicators and conducting solute flushing experiments using NGIF lysimeters to determine effectiveness of SuDS at pollutant removal.

There will also be opportunities to incorporate numerical modelling components into this PhD Studentship. Numerical modelling using appropriate and relevant modelling packages (i.e. HYDRUS-1D, SWMM, MicroDrainage, FloodModeller) may be used to complement in-field monitored data, replicate physical system responses and upscale the effectiveness of monitored SuDS to the city- or landscape-scale, and/or determine the benefits of wider SuDS uptake/coverage.

Project Timeline

Year 1


– Attend core introductory induction programmes of IAPETUS2

– Meet supervisory team (Dr. Daniel Green [Heriot-Watt University], Dr. Ross Stirling [Newcastle University], Dr. Ian Pattison [Heriot-Watt University]) and external collaboration partner Prof. Jorge Isidoro [University of Algarve, Portugal].

– Undertake research-specific start-up training and identify training opportunities/needs.

– Undertake systematic literature review of green infrastructure and flood risk management (Project aim and objectives report).


– Gain understanding of research needs, data requirements and methodological approaches to undertaking environmental research (Methodology review).

– Undertake practical fieldwork relating to field observation, sensing and measurement.


– Production of first-year report (Mini-thesis format) and formal Departmental research seminar presentation (Oral presentation).

– Compile data sources and conduct exploratory analyses.


– Attend relevant postgraduate national conference (Poster presentation).

– Complete preliminary literature review chapter.

– Refine methodological approach of modelling and monitoring and identify key data/parameters to study.

Year 2

– Refine study and undertake independent research programme, conducting field experiments of green infrastructure systems.

– Complete draft of methodology thesis chapter.

– Submission of thesis plan with Gantt chart for completion and submission.

– International visit (University of Algarve Hydraulics Laboratory).

Year 3

– Continue experimentation and modelling work.

– Write up of results and analyses chapter drafts.

– Submission of end of year report and route to completion roadmap document. Formal meeting with thesis committee for the official completion review.

– Oral presentation of PhD research at relevant international conference.

Year 3.5

Year 3.5 will focus on thesis writing and publication of original research articles relating to the PhD research programme. The student will finalise and formally submit the completed PhD thesis and will prepare for the final viva examinations. This stage will also be used to either seek follow-on postdoctoral funding relating to the PhD project or prepare the student for postdoctoral jobs within academia and/or industry.

& Skills

The successful candidate will be registered and based at Heriot-Watt University within the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society in Edinburgh. The successful candidate will also work closely with colleagues based at the National Green Infrastructure Facility, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

The IAPETUS2 DTP programme will provide cross-disciplinary training and development opportunities, most of which will be held at Heriot-Watt University. The student will also undertake an induction programme hosted at Heriot-Watt University. Dr. Daniel Green will act as the primary supervisor and the successful student will receive co-supervision from Dr. Ross Stirling (Newcastle University) and Dr. Ian Pattison (Heriot-Watt University). The supervisory team will jointly provide transferable research skills training (i.e. literature review, scientific writing/publication, oral presentation) and will signpost the successful candidate to relevant and timely support/training opportunities. Extensive and hands-on research-specific training relating to the fields of flood risk management, green infrastructure and environmental monitoring will also be provided by the supervisory team.

There will be opportunities for the student to present their research at relevant national and international conferences and to apply research in an industry context.

References & further reading

Green et al. (2021) ‘Green infrastructure: The future of urban flood risk management?’, WIREs Water, e1560, https://doi.org/10.1002/wat2.1560.

National Green Infrastructure Facility – Online Data App: https://ngif.newcastle.ac.uk/.

Green & Pattison (2022) ‘Christiansen revisited: Re-thinking uniformity assessment in rainfall simulator studies’, CATENA, 106424, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.catena.2022.106424.

Woods Ballard et al. (2015) ‘The SuDS Manual. CIRIA report C753’, https://www.ciria.org/Memberships/The_SuDs_Manual_C753_Chapters.aspx.

De-Ville et al. (2021) ‘Evaluating the potential hydrological performance of a bioretention media with 100% recycled waste components’, Water, 13, https://doi.org/10.3390/w13152014.

Al-Ameri et al. (2018) ‘Accumulation of heavy metals in stormwater bioretention media: A field study of temporal and spatial variation’, Journal of Hydrology, 567, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2018.03.027.

We are looking for enthusiastic, self-reliant and self-motivated candidates with a background in Physical Geography, Environmental Sciences, Civil Engineering, Computing or related disciplines. Previous experience in field data collection, data analysis and/or soil-water-plant interactions would be advantageous.

For informal enquiries, please contact:

Dr. Daniel Green (D.Green@hw.ac.uk), Heriot-Watt University

Dr. Ross Stirling (Ross.Stirling@newcastle.ac.uk), Newcastle University

Dr. Ian Pattison (I.Pattison@hw.ac.uk), Heriot-Watt University

Apply Now