Unravelling the role of oil palm expansion and topography on coral reef sedimentation, Borneo

Trees and a river in Borneo

A forest and river in Borneo, image by Bluyten, public domain

This PhD utilises a unique field site on the east coast of Borneo, where number of short catchments, with a gradients in the amount of deforestation and topographic conditions, discharge sediment into coral reef and mangrove systems. 

Background

Rapid deforestation associated with the expansion of oil palm agriculture is associated with negative environmental impacts such as increased sediment loads in river systems, increased anoxia and chemical pollution of freshwater and saltwater systems.

Increased sediment loading negatively affects coral reefs and other downstream coastal systems by clouding the reef systems.

This 'source to sink' problem requires an integrated understanding of the mechanisms of sediment generation, transport, and deposition across tropical catchments.

The key challenge here is understanding and tracing how excesssediment generated by oil palm agriculture is  transport the the fluvial and shallow coastal system.

This PhD utilises a unique field site on the east coast of Borneo, where number of short catchments, with a gradients in the amount of deforestation and topographic conditions, discharge sediment into coral reef and mangrove systems.

Using this unique field site, this PhD will model sediment generation and discharge for the catchments using a python-based landscape evolution model and couple this with a shoreline sediment transport model.

The student will collect records of sedimentation in salt marshes along the coast, comparing this to sedimentation records on coral reefs. The project is designed to tackle the problem of source-to-sink sediment transport using a wide range ofmethods and techniques.

As this work represents and interdisciplinary collaboration, the PhD student will have a lot of autonomy to design the project and incorporate their own ideas.

The project will have three major aims:

  1. Investigate the competing roles of topography and oil palm expansion on sediment generation: Here you will using analysis of Landsat imagery to map the expansion of oil palm agriculture through the region over time. Supporting this you will develop models of sediment transport using LandLab.
  2. Investigate how salt marshes act to trap sediment within the coastal system: Here local depocentres, primarily salt marshes act to trap sediment. You will investigate how salt march extent haschanged across the region using remotely sensed data. This will be coupled with sediment coring and stratigraphic analysis of field samples from key salt marshes in the region.
  3. Investigate the pathways of sediment through the shallow coastal system and how these affect coral reef sedimentation. Here we will couple records of sedimentation with a coastal modelling tounderstand how and where sediment generated terrestrially is deposited within the coral reef system.

How to apply

Apply for this course through the GW4+ website

The deadline for applications is 8 January 2021.

Apply for this project

Apply for this course through the GW4+ website

Application deadline: 8 January 2021

Any questions?

Cardiff University

Main supervisor: Dr T.C. Hales

Supervisors

The Natural History Museum

Dr Kenneth Johnson

Dr Nadia Santodomingo

Cardiff University

Dr Daniel Hobley

Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership

Joint PhD training partnerships between the Natural History Museum and the Great Western Four, Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter universities.

Funded by