Project Description

Project Summary 

Robust appraisals of climate impacts at varying levels of global mean temperature increase (GMTI) are important in assessing the resilience of many sectors to climate change and planning appropriate adaptation strategies. At the 21st Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Paris in December 2015, 195 countries pledged to contain GMTI to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and pursue efforts to further limit warming to 1.5°C (UNFCCC, 2015). Examining the environmental impacts of these GMTI targets for specific regions has now become a pressing research area for many vulnerable sectors. Among these is the water sector, with some of the most adverse impacts of climate change manifest through changing hydrological extremes. About half the world’s ~ 8 billion people are estimated to experience water scarcity for at least part of the year. At the same time, a warming atmosphere has led to more intense rainfall in many regions, with 44% of all disaster events since the 1970s flood-related. There is high confidence that limiting GMTI to 1.5°C would reduce water-related risks, with a potential doubling of agricultural drought and flood risk projected across many regions at 2°C and 3°C GMTI respectively compared with 1.5°C GMTI (Caretta et al, 2022). Changes to the hydrological cycle are regionally varied, however, as are vulnerabilities to water-related hazards such as flooding and drought. It is therefore important to examine the resilience of the water sector to varying GMTI in specific regions. In Northern Ireland (NI), flood risk to communities, business and infrastructure, and risk of shortages in the public water supply have been identified as high risk areas in the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (ASC, 2016). These risks have been in sharp focus in recent years, with a hosepipe ban introduced in June 2018 – the first in 23 years – following a long dry spell, while an estimated 200 properties in the northwest region were flooded following heavy rainfall in July 2022. Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches, this project aims to examine the resilience and adaptation of the water sector in NI to climate change, specifically in the context of the 1.5°C and 2°C GMTI targets. A key aspect in fulfilling this aim will be engagement with water sector stakeholders from the outset through interviews and/or focus groups in a ‘bottom up’ manner, while computer modelling will be employed to assess the impacts of climate change on surface water and groundwater for a selection of catchments. The project will be ideal for a student with a background in climate science and/or hydrology who is interested in how we can manage our precious water resources and who is keen on using a range of methods to address the research aim and objectives. In addition to the range of transferable skills a QUADRAT DTP project provides, this project will ensure the student will graduate a versatile and well-rounded researcher with expertise and skills applicable to both the physical and social sciences. 

Project Aim and Objectives 

Aim: to examine the resilience and adaptation of the water sector in NI to climate change. 


O1. Identify research gaps, user needs and communication preferences among key stakeholders in the NI water sector in the context of climate change. This will be conducted based on interviews and/or focus groups, and will help shape the scope and style of the outputs created in subsequent objectives.* 

O2. Develop baseline projections of river flows and groundwater for a selection of representative catchments across NI using appropriate models. GIS will be used in catchment selection and model parameterisation. Baseline modelled projections will be calibrated against observed records.  

O3. Develop future climate scenarios downscaled for selected catchments. This will be conducted using statistical downscaling techniques. Climate models projecting GMTI of 1.5°C and 2°C will be identified and the corresponding temperature, precipitation and potential evapotranspiration scenarios extracted for downscaling. Climate models will be taken from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6) driven by a selection of shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs) – scenarios used by the IPCC in their Sixth Assessment Report (IPCC, 2021). 

O4. Develop future projections of river flows and groundwater for the selected catchments. The models used in O2 will be perturbed with the future downscaled climate scenarios from O3 to generate the future projections. 

O5. Present findings in an accessible manner to key stakeholders in the NI water sector as identified in O1 and discuss potential adaptation options, both in terms of their effectiveness and feasibility.  

O6. Develop future projections of river flows and groundwater for the selected catchments, with the addition of adaptation options as identified in O5.  

O7. Present findings in an accessible manner to key stakeholders in the NI water sector as identified in O1 and discuss research gaps and future challenges to the resilience of the NI water sector to climate change. 

*Subsequent objectives subject to revision depending on outcomes of objective 1. Note: any revisions are expected to be minor based on scale and presentation rather than any fundamental methodological changes. 

Essential & desirable candidate skills

Essential: 2.1 degree or higher in an earth/environmental sciences subject (e.g. environmental science, geology, geography); some subject background in climate science and hydrology; some practical experience in using computer models and/or analysing quantitative data. 

Desirable: An undergraduate dissertation in some area of climate science and/or hydrology; A Master’s degree in an earth/environmental sciences subject (e.g. climate change, water resource management); some experience in using programming languages such as Python or R; some experience in qualitative research methods including interviews and/or focus groups. 


Donal Mullan

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Donal Mullan
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Natural and Built Environment

David Haro Monteagudo

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: David Haro Monteagudo
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Geosciences

Ulrich Ofterdinger

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Ulrich Ofterdinger
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Natural and Built Environment

Additional Supervisor:

Prof. Conor Murphy (Maynooth University) – Conor is an expert on hydroclimatology and climate adaptation, and has extensive contacts in the Irish water sector. His input would therefore be highly valuable for this project. The lead supervisor, Dr Donal Mullan, has collaborated with Prof. Murphy on a range of projects, with an established working relationship. 


ASC (2016) UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 Evidence Report – Summary for Northern Ireland. Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change, London. Available at:, Date Accessed 30/08/2022. 

Caretta, M.A., A. Mukherji, M. Arfanuzzaman, R.A. Betts, A. Gelfan, Y. Hirabayashi, T.K. Lissner, J. Liu, E. Lopez Gunn, R. Morgan, S. Mwanga, and S. Supratid, 2022: Water. In: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA, pp. 551–712, doi:10.1017/9781009325844.006.  

IPCC, 2021: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change[Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S.L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M.I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J.B.R. Matthews, T.K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu, and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, In press, doi:10.1017/9781009157896. 

UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) (2015) Adoption of the Paris Agreement, 21st Conference of the Parties, Paris: United Nations. Available at:, Date Accessed 30/08/2022. 


The project has direct significance for long-term planning of water resources and flood risk management in NI since the key findings will include a set of revised adaptation options designed to make the NI water sector more resilient to climate change. The research has wider international significance since lessons could be applied to adaptation planning in other countries. Finally, there is more general significance for the field of climate adaptation, since the project proactively builds climate scenarios into future natural resource and disaster planning. 

Proposed Supervision

Dr Donal Mullan (QUB) is the principal supervisor. His research focuses on the development of regional and site-specific future climate change scenarios using statistical downscaling techniques, and their application to a wide range of environmental and socio-economic impact sectors. 

Dr David Haro Monteagudo (UoA) is the second supervisor. His research focuses on water risk analysis and societal perception of risk for the development of appropriate measures, spatial and temporal propagation of risks in natural and human systems, and development of decision support systems for improved assessment and management of available resources and adaptation. 

Dr Ulrich Oftderdinger (QUB) is the third supervisor. His research focuses on the characterisation of complex geohydrological and environmental systems across multiple scales with an emphasis of better understanding the underlying governing processes and the potential impacts to the environment and human health.   

Prof. Conor Murphy (Maynooth University) is an external supervisor. His research interests are interdisciplinary and focus on hydroclimatology, historical climatology and adaptation to climate change. 


  • earth-systems
  • environmental-management


Not applicable at this time.

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