African Humid Period floods on the Sahara Desert margins


African Humid Period floods on the Sahara Desert margins


Project Description


Dr Martin Stokes, University of Plymouth – Contact Me

Professor Anne Mather, University of Plymouth, SoGEES

Dr Sarah Boulton, University of Plymouth, SoGEES

Professor Fin Stuart, University of Glasgow, SUERC

Project Description

This project investigates the size, timing and impact of African Humid Period (AHP) floods on upland landscapes along the Sahara Desert margins. Wobbling of the Earth’s axial spin alters atmospheric circulation patterns every ~20,000yrs, repeatedly bringing wetter climates and flooding (~5,000yr duration) to continental Africa (‘Greening’ of the Sahara). Investigations will analyse mountain fronts from different latitudinal and continentality contexts using Quaternary-Recent alluvial fans (cone-shaped sediment bodies formed on valley sides and mountain fronts). These landforms possess flood-related sedimentary and geomorphological records with significant but unrealised large spatial and long temporal potential to inform on climate change sensitive drylands; areas of early human occupation (archaeology) and modern population pressures (flood hazard).

The PhD research will investigate key sites along the western Saharan Desert margin (offshore islands [humid], coastal [arid] and inland [hyperarid]: Cape Verde-Morocco: 14-28°N). Flood size quantification will involve measurement of flood sediments (boulder size) and geomorphology (slope and flood inundation area). This uses fieldwork and satellite analysis of palaeoflood and modern (for comparison / calibration) flood sites using hydrological modelling approaches (e.g. flood regime). The timing of flood events uses cosmogenic exposure dating techniques (i.e. 3He, 10Be, 26Al) applied to boulder surfaces deposited from different flood events. The impact of localised alluvial fan AHP flooding will utilise inter-site comparisons and comparisons with hydrological change datasets from other AHP archives (rivers, lakes, marine cores).


The PhD student will become a flood scientist with a field-laboratory-computing skillset of relevance to environmental government agencies or industry consultancy employment. Specialist training in remote sensing, fieldwork, geochronology, and hydrological modelling will utilise Plymouth/Glasgow expertise and laboratories (SUERC). Generic research training skills will be undertaken via the ARIES/Plymouth doctoral training colleges (project management, health and safety, data management, research communication / publishing). The student will become a member of international flood science networks (INQUA) for conference results communication and advanced training workshop opportunities.

Person Specification

This PhD is suitable for candidates with degrees in Geology / Earth Science / Physical Geography / Environmental Science. Fieldwork and GIS experience is desirable. Willingness to travel and undertake fieldwork in hot / remote desert locations is advantageous.


  • deMenocal, P.B., Tierny, J.E., 2012. Green Sahara: African Humid Periods Paced by Earth's Orbital Changes. Nature Education Knowledge 3, 12.
  • Larrasoaña, J.C., et al., 2013. Dynamics of green Sahara periods and their role in hominin evolution. PloS one, 8(10), p.e76514.
  • Stokes, M., Mather, A.E., 2015. Controls on modern tributary-junction alluvial fan occurrence and morphology: High Atlas Mountains, Morocco. Geomorphology, 248, pp.344-362.
  • Mather, A., Stokes, M., 2016. Extracting palaeoflood data from coarse‐grained Pleistocene river terrace archives: an example from SE Spain. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 41(13), pp.1991-2004.
  • Stokes, M., Gomes, A., 2020. Alluvial fans on volcanic islands: A morphometric perspective (São Vicente, Cape Verde). Geomorphology 368, p.107356.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2023. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 11th January 2023.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£17,668 p.a. for 2022/23) and research funding. International applicants are eligible for fully-funded ARIES studentships including fees. Please note however that ARIES funding does not cover additional costs associated with relocation to, and living in, the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences, on top of all Research Costs associated with the project. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship follow the instructions at the bottom of the page or click the 'apply now' link.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.

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