Project Description

This project will address the need for sustainable agricultural water management strategies under climate change. It will explore the trade-offs between (changes in) water availability, crop water demand, irrigation practices, and other socio-economic factors. Climate change has a multitude of direct and indirect impacts on Europe’s farming regions. Ultimately, they will result in shifts in the conditions under which crops can grow where, and how this may be supported by irrigation practices in areas where water demand will exceed water availability. Many of Europe’s farming regions depend on water resources originated in mountainous areas. For these regions particularly, we lack a good understanding of the (changes) in water resources and implications for agricultural management.  

This interdisciplinary project will address questions such as: 

  1. How will climate change impact water resources management in mountain dependent regions due to increased irrigation water demand across Europe? 
  1. How climate adaptation strategies differ across regions and how does this influence local and regional water resources management? 
  1. What are the trade-offs and synergies of climate adaptation between irrigated agriculture and water-use in other economic sectors? How can a better coordination and collaboration across sectors, in water resources management, can be supported? 
  1. Will the expansion of irrigated agriculture to new regions threaten the sustainability of their water resources supply? 

Are you interested in these questions? Then we are looking for you to join our team at the University of Aberdeen and Queen’s University Belfast. 

The project will aim to quantify the effect of climate change on irrigation water demand in different case studies in mountainous regions across Europe and subsequent operational and management challenges. Some regions of particular interest are the Spanish Pyrenees, Switzerland, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. These regions present various degrees of irrigation dependence forecasted climate change impacts, and adaptive capacity. The project will be mostly desk-based, but it will be possible to organise exchanges and/or visits to the regions of study for stakeholder engagement and scenario development. The supervisory team is well connected to stakeholders in the study regions. Data is available to develop regional and local hydro-economic models to assess and compare the costs (direct and indirect) of alternative climate adaptation strategies. It will be possible to organise exchanges and/or visits to the regions of study for stakeholder engagement and scenario development. 

The project will suit a student with a background in hydrology, geography/geosciences, natural resources management, agriculture or economics, and good numerical skills. The student will be given a thorough multidisciplinary training, including in the collection of hydrological and socio-economic data, statistical analyses, and modelling. There is also the opportunity to develop skills in stakeholder engagement and developing and translating research into practical water management solutions. The relative importance of the different project components will depend on the interests of the student.

Essential & desirable candidate skills

Essential: 2.1 BSc Hons or higher degree in Geography, Geosciences, Agricultural Sciences, Environmental Economics, or similar. Excellent written and oral English. 

Desirable: Basic data analysis e.g. with R, Stata, SPSS and/or Python. Basic spatial data handling with GIS software.


David Haro Monteagudo

Primary Supervisor:

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

Martina Bozzola

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Martina Bozzola
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Josie Geris

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Josie Geris
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Geosciences

Research Methods

Spatial and temporal data analysis: The student will collect historical climate, hydrology, agricultural and socio-economic data at European and case study level. Basic and advanced statistical analyses will be implemented in this database to identify relevant trends and patterns on current climate change effects on irrigated agriculture across case studies. 

Hydro-economic modelling: Hydro-economic models represent spatially distributed water resource systems, infrastructure, management options and economic values in an integrated manner. In these tools water allocations and management are either driven by the economic value of water or economically evaluated to provide policy insights and reveal opportunities for better management. It is expected the student builds a model for each case study to assess the effects of climate change and the trade-offs of different climate adaptation strategies using the same architecture to allow intercomparison. 

Stakeholder engagement, survey instruments design, data collection and analysis: the design of climate adaptation strategies in increasingly influenced by public participation, whose attitudes towards climate change, and adaptation preferences vary from one site to another. The student will have the opportunity to develop stakeholder-defined scenarios and adaptation portfolios to later implement in their modelling, as well as to assess different attitudes towards climate adaptation in irrigated agriculture across regions. 

Expected Training Provision

Training will be provided on all the research methods, focusing on the interests of the student. During this project, the student will also have many opportunities to develop and train their soft skills like time management, project management, presentation and writing skills, collaboration, communication, leadership, critical thinking, and problem solving. 

The student will work together with other PhD students at the University of Aberdeen and Queen’s University Belfast, which will open opportunities for collaboration and exchange of ideas. 


Within the next decades, effects of climate change and population growth are expected to worsen availability and quality water resources supply, particularly through altered discharge patterns from mountains and increasing demand for food production. Many agricultural regions in Europe are starting to experience the effects of climate change, with altered streamflow and longer, more persistent, and more frequent drought events. The forecasted increase in irrigation water demand across Europe may threaten the sustainability of agricultural systems, have adverse effects on the economy of farmers, and potentially trigger/exacerbate inter-sectoral conflicts, e.g., between agriculture, energy, and residential sector. Also, with the expansion of irrigation it is almost certain that circulating flows in rivers will be greatly reduced, potentially threatening the supply to other water uses or the environmental quality of rivers. Optimal policies should respond to both the existing institutional characteristics, as well as future climatic trends.  There is a need to understand the effect of these potential new pressures on water resources systems and to revise current water management and operation strategies for a sustainable adaptation to climate change. 

This project will assess the different effects of irrigation expansion as a climate adaptation measure across Europe, focusing on mountainous regions. The use of hydro-economic modelling will allow comparison against other climate adaptation measures as well as to evaluate necessary management changes. Focusing on various case studies will help understanding regional differences in climate adaptation for (irrigated) agriculture and potential management changes needed. This is an aspect of novelty as most of this kind of studies normally focus on a single catchment and the different approaches make it difficult regional intercomparison.   

Proposed Supervision

Dr. David Haro-Monteagudo is a Lecturer in Global Hydrology and Water Security at the School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen. Dr. Haro-Monteagudo’s main research and teaching focuses on integrated water resources management, hydrological and water allocation modelling, climate adaptation and decision making. Dr Haro-Monteagudo has extensive experience in hydrological modelling of mountainous regions and climate adaptation for irrigated agriculture. Dr Haro-Monteagudo will be the principal supervisor of this project, and he will provide training in hydrological and water allocation modelling, and advanced data analysis. 

Dr. Martina Bozzola is a Lecturer in the economics of agriculture, food and health, at the School of Biological Sciences, Queen’s University Belfast. Dr. Bozzola’s main research and teaching focus is on agricultural and environmental economics (decision making under risk, technology adoption,), climate change economics and environmental management. Dr Bozzola academic record includes research and outreach activities to analyse the policy implications of changing hydro-climatic conditions for water management in European Mountainous regions. She will provide training in survey design and implementation, economics, and stakeholders engagement. 

Dr Josie Geris is a senior lecturer in Hydrology at the School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen. Her research focusses on the impact of different land and water use/management strategies on water resources. Dr Geris will provide training in process understanding of water availability and plant water use under changing climatological conditions and transferring this knowledge into modelling scenarios.  

Proposed Timetable

The funding will allow the student to develop their research for three and a half years (full-time) starting in October of academic year 2023-2024. The student will have access to data from the beginning of their project, ensuring they can conduct analyses and start an initial publication, whilst also developing their ideas and planning future work. 

Year 1 

Months 1-4: Literature review, initial exploration of existing data at European and case study scales. Engagement with study regions and stakeholders. 

Months 4-6: Initial training in methodologies and development of project plan for modelling. 

Months 7-12: Beginning of hydro-economic modelling works. Analysis of historical data, model calibration and uncertainty evaluation. 

Year 2  

Months 13-15: Continuation of hydro-economic modelling works. Analysis of historical data, model calibration and uncertainty evaluation. 

Months 16-18: Selection and evaluation of future climate data for implementation in the calibrated models. 

Months 19-24: Identification of climate adaptation trends and modelling implementation options for each case study. Design of future scenarios through stakeholder participation. 

Year 3  

Month 25-27: Model running under climate change scenarios, extraction of results, and identification of best intercomparison approaches. Sharing of results with stakeholders. 

Months 28-33: Further analyses / modelling. Implementation of stakeholder-defined options. Several options depending on interest of student – e.g. trade-off analysis between measures and water uses, modification of water management and operation activities, etc. 

Month 34-36: Finalise manuscripts 

Year 4 

Month 37-40: Working with stakeholders at case studies in the practical implementation of the identified adaptation strategies. 

Month 40-42: Thesis write up and additional papers 


  • earth-systems
  • environmental-management


Not applicable at this time.

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