Bridging the gap between academia and industry to understand how climate change is impacting our water resources

In 2012, following two dry winters, the UK experienced the driest spring in over a century. A full drought could have incurred losses of up to £1.5 billion.

Droughts and water scarcity pose a significant risk to society – from affecting agriculture and food supply, to impacting business and the economy by jeopardising the flow of goods and services.

Oxford DPhil researchers have been working with the Environment Agency and utilities companies including Thames Water since 2011 to develop new models to risk assess, plan, and prepare for future water scarcity brought on by drought.

Anna Murgatroyd is in the final year of her DPhil placement with the Environmental Change Institute; an EPSRC studentship supplemented by Thames Water. Her project is based on developing methodologies for water management and improving infrastructure resilience in the face of climate change over extended periods of time. Co-supervised by staff within the Environmental Change Institute, Environment Agency, and Thames Water, the insights from her research support the endeavours of all three partners.

DPhil student Anna Murgatroyd present her research poster

Anna Murgatroyd presenting the joint Thames Water/ECI DPhil project, which is developing methodologies for water management and improving infrastructure resilience

She said: 'I’m a physical geographer at heart, and as an undergraduate I was very interested in climate change, risk and resilience.

'I can bridge the gap between academia and industry. I am able to present my findings to industry experts at Thames Water. It’s hugely rewarding to get their feedback and also their scrutiny.

'I’ve also been given a lot of choice and freedom to take my research in the direction I want.

'As an academic, it’s very easy to get separated from the real world. The feedback I get from industry experts is invaluable.' 

Chris Lambert, Senior Technical Advisor in Supply Demand at Thames Water and one of Anna’s external co-supervisors said: 'Working with Oxford University academics and research students provides access to innovative concepts and new ideas which enable the company to help steer and lead the development of new industry approaches and methodologies to ensure improved and more efficient customer service.

'This in turn keep us at the forefront of the industry, particularly in the South East area. Pressures from growth and the impacts of climate change on water resource availability are most complex - regulators and stakeholders are expecting our company to take the lead in seeking out innovative and cost effective solutions.' 

Professor Jim Hall led the partnership between ECI and Thames Water: 'Through this partnership, we are able to connect with practitioners and grapple with real world issues that they need to resolve.

Professor Jim Hall

Professor Jim Hall

'This is of great interest to students who can frame their academic interest against contemporary issues. We’re able to get information and data that would not be otherwise possible. It gives students the ability to liaise with future employers and understand how their work may be of interest to non-academic sectors.

'Meanwhile, Thames Water is able to connect with intelligent and inquisitive students (who they may wish to employ) who can explore topics whilst keeping up to date with new or innovative ideas and methods in different sectors such as water resources, water quality and energy. We hope to continue their relationship where possible and enable more students to be part of such collaboration.' 


Could your business or organisation benefit from the research insights of an Oxford social scientist by co-funding a DPhil placement?

Contact: Dr Denitsa Filipova, Postgraduate Business Placements Officer:

To explore other ways of partnering with Oxford Social Scientists, visit the Business Engagement and Partnerships team.