Geographical Sciences (Physical Geography)

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Awards available PhD, MSc by research
Programme length PhD: Three years full-time, or part-time equivalent
MSc by Research: One year full-time, or part-time equivalent
Location of programme Clifton campus
Part-time study available Yes
Open to international students Yes
Start date Start dates flexible; usually September.

Programme overview

The School of Geographical Sciences is a leading international centre for research. It has been ranked the top geography department in the UK in every government assessment of research excellence, including the most recent Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 assessment. The graduate school is integral to this success. We have a large and vibrant graduate community, with students following PhD, MSc by research and taught MSc programmes. The graduate community has a strong international and interdisciplinary flavour, and offers an exceptional academic environment for postgraduate research.

Research opportunities encompass a wide range of subjects at the leading edge of geographical research. There are also many exciting possibilities for interdisciplinary research, spanning research groups and departments. Visit the School of Geographical Sciences web pages for more information about our research staff and collective research interests.

Alternatively, you may be interested in our PhD in Geographical Sciences (Human Geography).

Fees for 2017/18

Full-time fees


Part-time fees are charged on a pro rata basis

Fees are subject to an annual review. For programmes that last longer than one year, please budget for up to a five per cent increase in fees each year. Find out more about tuition fees.

Alumni scholarship

University of Bristol students and graduates can benefit from a ten per cent reduction in tuition fees for postgraduate study. Check your eligibility for an alumni scholarship.

Funding for 2017/18

Each year the school is awarded between two and six NERC studentships (including CASE awards), two CPOM NERC studentships, one to two EPSRC studentships, and EU-funded studentships. Applicants should also check the School of Geographical Sciences website.

Further information on funding for prospective UK, EU and international postgraduate students.

Entry requirements

An upper second-class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject or an equivalent qualification.

See international equivalent qualifications on the International Office website.

Application method Online application form
English language requirements Profile E
Further information about English language requirements
Admissions statement Read the programme admissions statement for important information on entry requirements, the application process and supporting documents required.

Research groups

The school's physical geography research is focused on a number of themes. These are based on UK Research Council priority areas and the interests of industrial and other stakeholders. Our three research groups are:

Global Environmental Change

The Bristol Research Initiative for the Dynamic Global Environment (BRIDGE) group aims to improve the understanding of natural climate and environmental variability and the relationship between global carbon cycling and climate. This knowledge is used to improve our predictions of future change and its impact on all aspects of ecosystems and human society.


The Bristol Glaciology Centre leads world-class research into ice sheet processes, subglacial environments and sea level change. Their aim is to increase understanding of the present, past and future behaviour of ice sheets and glaciers, and the links between the cryosphere, oceans and atmosphere under changing climatic conditions.


The Hydrology Research Group focuses on research into the modelling of hydrologic and hydraulic problems using advanced numerical methods. In particular, it specialises in modelling river flooding, water quality monitoring, uncertainty analysis techniques, catchment and hillslope transport processes combined with field monitoring and large-scale experimental work.


Students who complete a PhD in Physical Geography typically move on to careers in academia (postdoctoral research, lectureships), further research in government or private institutes, environmental consultancy, teaching, the civil service, computer programming or IT consultancy.

Staff profiles


Professor Alexandre Anesio, (Professor), Low-temperature biogeochemistry; photochemistry; polar microbiology; transformations of dissolved organic matter.

Professor Jonathan Bamber, (Professor), Applications of remote sensing data to problems in climatology, in particular, related to the polar regions.

Dr Rory Bingham, (Lecturer), Understanding the drivers of sea level change, including large-scale ocean dynamics, ocean heat changes and mass exchange with the ice sheets; using gravity to observe the ocean’s circulation, with a focus on the polar oceans.

Professor Antony Payne, (Professor), Numerical modelling of environmental systems and glaciology.

Professor Martyn Tranter, (Professor), Biogeochemical processes in the cryosphere, including those on the surface and beneath glaciers and ice sheets; impacts of glaciers and ice sheets on local, regional and global geochemical cycles.

Professor Jemma Wadham, (Professor), Geochemistry and hydrology of Arctic and Alpine regions; hydrochemistry of polythermal glaciers and chemical weathering mechanisms in subglacial runoff.

Global Environmental Change

Dr Sandra Arndt, (Lecturer), Biogeochemical modelling; diagenetic transformations.

Dr Rachel Flecker, (Reader), Ancient climates; environmental technology; isotope geochemistry; marginal marine systems; sedimentology.

Professor Dan Lunt, (Professor), The Earth system from the Pliocene to the Eocene, with a focus on Antarctica.

Dr Fanny Monteiro, (NERC Fellow), Linking marine ecosystem, biogeochemical cycles and climate.

Dr David Richards, (Senior Lecturer), Geochronology; isotope geochemistry; landscape evolution.; quaternary sea-level and climate change.

Professor Andy Ridgewell, Causes and consequences of past and future environmental change; earth system model development; relationship between global biogeochemical cycles and evolutionary innovation and extinction.

Professor Paul Valdes, (Professor), Climate and environmental change, with a particular emphasis on understanding past changes in the Earth system and how this relates to future environmental changes and their impacts.


Professor Paul Bates, (Professor), Hydraulic and hydrologic modelling; uncertainty analysis and fluvial geomorphology.

Professor Jim Freer, (Professor), Catchment hydrology; field experiments and computer simulations for hydrology and water quality; flood forecasting and flood inundation under climate change; hillslope processes; phosphorous and soil erosion modelling in agricultural systems; uncertainty analysis in environmental modelling.

Professor Penny Johnes, (Professor), Adaptation; biogeochemistry of inland and coastal waters; environmental pollution; policy and management; risk.

Dr Katerina Michaelides, (Senior Lecturer), Dryland processes; hillslope hydrology and geomorphology; laboratory experimentation; modelling; nutrient and contaminant transport; sediment transport.

Dr Jeffrey Neal, (Lecturer), Data assimilation; flood risk; hydraulic modelling.

How to apply
Application deadline:

Not fixed, but funding application deadlines occur between January and March.

International students

Find out more about becoming a student at Bristol, applying for a visa and the support we offer to international students.

I chose Bristol because of its outstanding academic reputation. It's reassuring to be taught by people who truly love their subject - their passion becomes contagious.


REF 2014 results

  • 51% of research is world-leading (4 star)
  • 33% of research is internationally excellent (3 star)
  • 14% of research is recognised internationally (2 star)
  • 2% of research is recognised nationally (1 star)

Results are from the most recent UK-wide assessment of research quality, conducted by HEFCE. More about REF 2014 results.

Bristol Doctoral College

The Bristol Doctoral College facilitates and supports doctoral training and researcher development across the University.

Get in touch

Phone: +44 (0) 117 331 7328 Email:

Postgraduate Admissions
School of Geographical Sciences
University of Bristol
University Road
Bristol BS8 1SS


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