Geography (MSc by Research)

2021-22 (also available for 2022-23)

This course is eligible for Master's loan funding. Find out more.

Start date

1 October 2021

17 January 2022

25 April 2022


The maximum duration for a full-time MSc by Research is 1 year (12 months) or part-time is 2 years (24 months) with an optional submission pending (writing up period) of 4 months.

Sometimes it may be possible to mix periods of both full-time and part-time study.

If studying on a part-time basis, you must establish close links with the University and spend normally not less than an average of 10 working days per year in the university, excluding participation in activities associated with enrolment, re-registration and progression monitoring. You are also expected to dedicate 17.5 hours per week to the research.

Application deadlines

For October 2021

02 July 2021

For January 2022

22 October 2021 International and Scholarship students

19 November 2021 Home students

For April 2022

28 January 2022 International and Scholarship students

25 February 2022 Home students

About the research degree

A Master's by Research (MSc) allows you to undertake a one year (full-time) research degree. It contains little or no formal taught component. This type of study gives you the chance to explore a research topic over a shorter time than a more in-depth doctoral programme.

Research Master's students choose a specific project to work on and have a greater degree of independence in their work than is the case with a taught Master’s course.

You’ll be expected to work to an approved programme which you will develop in conjunction with your supervisor within the first few months of starting your studies. Whilst undertaking the research project you will also have the opportunity to develop your research skills by taking part in training courses and events.

At the end of the project you write up your findings in the form of a short thesis of around 25,000 words, which will then be examined.

On successful completion, you will be awarded your degree and if you have enjoyed this taste of research you may then decide to apply for the full research doctoral degree (PhD).

You will be appointed a main supervisor who will normally be part of a supervisory team, comprising up to three members. The research supervisor will advise and support you on your project.

Entry requirements

The normal entry requirements for enrolment on a MSc by Research is an upper second honours degree (2.1) from a UK university or a qualification of an equivalent standard, in a discipline appropriate to that of the proposed programme to be followed.

If your first language is not English, you will need to meet the minimum requirements of an English Language qualification. The minimum for IELTS is 6.0 overall with the written element at least 6.0 with no element lower than 5.5, or equivalent will be considered acceptable. Read more about the University’s entry requirements for students outside of the UK on our Where are you from information pages.

What can I research?

There are several research topics available for this degree. See below examples of research areas including an outline of the topics, the supervisor, funding information and eligibility criteria:


Anthropogenic litter (i.e., solid manufactured waste items, including plastic pollution) is a growing environmental risk to aquatic ecosystem functioning (van Emmerik and Schwarz, 2020). Plastic production rates are increasing globally with approximately 300 million metric tons produced annually (UNEP, 2014). Plastic products have been defined based on size (i.e., the largest dimension). Macro-plastics are typically defined as plastic particles > 5mm (Wright et al., 2013; GESAMP, 2015), microplastics occupy a size range of 101nm to 5mm, and nanoscale plastics are particles of 1-100nm (European Commission, 2011). All types of plastics have been found in marine and freshwater ecosystems (Barnes et al., 2009; Windsor et al., 2019); including in river sediments (Nel et al., 2018), ponds and canals.

Inputs of anthropogenic litter to freshwaters include food and drink containers (which often breakdown from macro to microplastics), fibres from synthetic clothes, industrial waste, and cosmetic products (Kershaw and Rochman, 2015; Biginagwa et al., 2016). The impacts of anthropogenic pollution to river system functioning, processes and aquatic biota were raised in the late 1970s (Gregory, 1978; Laist, 1997), but increasing public and political interest has prompted studies to examine the ecological effects of anthropogenic litter in freshwater systems. Although, the impacts of anthropogenic litter have been recognised, previous research has largely concentrated on marine ecosystems and organisms rather than on multiple freshwater ecosystems that are closely connected to terrestrial anthropogenic litter sources (Wagner and Lambert, 2017; Santillo et al., 2019). Therefore, a fuller understanding of the different types of anthropogenic litter and their effects of freshwaters ecosystems is needed. In the UK, anthropogenic litter is widespread in freshwaters (Santillo et al., 2019), but its effects on physical habitat characteristics and macroinvertebrates are largely unknown. In freshwaters, increased physical habitat offers a wider range of niches for more species and more habitats for breeding and foraging, and typically leads to higher biodiversity (Ward and Tockner, 2001). Anthropogenic litter may increase physical habitat heterogeneity to homogenised bed sediments, especially in urban freshwaters. Wilson et al., (2020) found anthropogenic litter supported more diverse macroinvertebrate communities than rocks, in urban gravel-bed rivers in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, UK. However, no study has explored the effects of anthropogenic litter on physical habitat and macroinvertebrate diversity in multiple urban freshwater ecosystems.

Aims and Objectives The aim of this research project is to examine the effects of anthropogenic litter on physical habitat and macroinvertebrate diversity and community composition in multiple urban freshwater ecosystems, including rivers, ponds, and canals. Macroinvertebrates inhabiting anthropogenic litter will be compared to those on natural gravel/cobble substrates in rivers, and different mesohabitats in ponds and canals. The objectives are: 1. Identify the macroinvertebrate diversity (alpha diversity) and community composition (beta diversity) of different types of anthropogenic litter in urban rivers, ponds, and canals. 2. Quantify the contribution of macroinvertebrate diversity in urban river, ponds, and canals at a landscape level (gamma diversity). 3. Characterise the heterogeneity of macroinvertebrate communities inhabiting different anthropogenic litter between urban rivers, ponds, and canals. 4. Identify the importance of urban rivers, ponds and canals to landscape-scale biodiversity conservation and management.

References GESAMP (2015) Sources, fate and effects of microplastics in the marine environment: a global assessment. In: Kershaw, P.J. (Ed.), (IMO/FAO/UNESCO-IOC/UNIDO/WMO/IAEA/UN/UNEP/ UNDP Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection). Rep. Stud. GESAMP No. 90. 96.

Nel H. A., Dalu T. & Wasserman R. J. (2018) Sinks and sources: Assessing microplastic abundance in river sediment and deposit feeders in an Austral temperate urban river system. Science of the Total Environment. 612: 950-956.

Santillo D., Brigden K., Pasteur V., Nicholls F., Morozzo P. & Johnston P. (2019) Plastic pollution in UK’s rivers: a ‘snapshot’ survey of macro- and micro-plastic contamination in surface waters of 13 river systems across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Greenpeace Research Laboratories Technical Report 04-2019, June 2019. Available at: [Accessed 14/05/2021].

Van Emmerik T. & Schwarz A. (2020) Plastic debris in rivers. WIREs Water, 7 (1): e1398/

Wagner M. & Lambert S. 2017. Microplastics are contaminants of emerging concern in freshwater environments: an overview. In: Wagner M. & Lambert S. (Eds.), Freshwater Microplastics. The Handbook of Environmental Chemistry vol. 58. Springer, Cham.

Ward J. V., Tockner K. & F. Schiemer F. (1999) Biodiversity of floodplain river ecosystems: ecotones and connectivity. Regulated Rivers: Research & Management, 15: 125–139.

Wilson H. L., Johnson M. F., Wood P. J., Thorne C. R. & Eichhorn M. P. (2021) Anthropogenic litter is a novel habitat for aquatic macroinvertebrates in urban rivers. Freshwater Biology, 66 (3) 524-534, DOI: 10.111/Feb.13657

Windsor F. M., Tilley R. M., Tyler C. R. & Ormerod S. J. 2019. Microplastic ingestion by riverine macroinvertebrates. Science of the Total Environment. 646, 68-74.


Self-funding applicants are welcome. In addition to tuition fees, bench fees of between £3-£15,000 per annum are required depending on the nature of the project.


Our standard University deadlines apply. Please see our Deadlines for Applications page to find out more


How to apply


Research context Natural flood management (NFM) wood structures are often used to reduce the rate of water flowing from headwaters to lowland systems (Dadson et al., 2017; Lane, 2017). Wood acts as a ‘leaky barrier’ by retaining water upstream of the structure and ‘slowing the flow’ downstream (Grabowski et al., 2019). NFM wood structures comprise a wide range of different designs and permeabilities (Wen Lo et al., 2021), and the type of design can include structures fully or partly spaning the channel with differing degrees of contact with base flows and the stream bed (Wen Lo et al., 2021).

Installation of NFM wood structures can have strong effects on local geomorphic, ecological and biogeochemical procceses (e.g. Gurnell et al., 1998, Pilotto et al., 2014; Short et al., 2019). The formation of pools (ranging from plunge, underflow or deflector pools), sediment storage, and changes in bank morphology are common geomorphic effects of NFM wood structures. These geomorphic effects drive changes in hydraulics, which partly diversifies local habitat heterogeneity (Corenblit et al., 2007).

The introduction of in-stream wood can also cause ecological benefits for aquatic macroinvertebrates, fish, amphibians, and riparian vegetation. Submerged wood surfaces often contain a high diversity of aquatic macroinvertebrates (Benke and Wallace, 2003). Wood structures provide a food source for xylophagous species who ingest wood fragments as part of their diet (Steedman & Anderson, 1985; Collier and Halliday, 2000). Community composition on wood surfaces are often different from invertebrates inhabitating nearby inorganic substrates (Shields et al., 2008; Dossi et al., 2018). NFM wood structures that fully span a channel can also alter water table levels in the river banks and in the riparian zone as soils become more saturated with water (Gurnell et al., 1995). The increase in water table levels may cause riparian plant communities to be dominated by water-tolerant species (Wen Lo et al., 2021).

Aims and Objectives The main effects of NFM wood structures in decreasing downstream flood risk and altering local geomorphology are well known. However, less research has examined the ecological effects of NFM wood structures. The aim of this MRes project is to examine the ecological effects of NFM wood structures on aquatic macroinvertebrates and terrestrial plant diversity in the riparian zone. The following objectives are:

  1. Identify a) aquatic macroinvertebrate diversity and community composition, b) the hydraulic and sedimentary of different meso-habitats, and c) terrestrial vegetation diversity in the riparian zone in 3 headwater streams in Hebden Water and Crimsworth Dean Beck catchments prior to and after installation of NFM wood structures*.

  2. Characterise the longer term ecological effects of NFM wood structures by examining aquatic macroinvertebrate diversity between newly created and established NFM wood structures.

*Dr Milner has carried out aquatic macroinvertebrates and terrestrial vegetation sampling on 3 headwater streams in the Hebden Water/Crimsworth Dean Beck catchments in October 2021.


Self-funding applicants are welcome. In addition to tuition fees, bench fees of between £3-£15,000 per annum are required depending on the nature of the project.


Our standard University deadlines apply. Please see our Deadlines for Applications page to find out more


How to apply


Computational fluid dynamic (CFD) modelling of wind flow has become a common tool in aeolian geomorphology over the last decade. Initially used as a method to calculate wind flow over simple two-dimensional dune shapes (Parsons et al., 2004), it is now employed over a range of complex aeolian landforms (Smyth, 2016). However, despite increasing computational capabilities and accurate modelling, its use remains confined to only modelling near-surface wind flow dynamics. The utility of CFD to assist better understanding and modelling of topographic surface change and sediment transport over a range of dune forms remains untested. The key foci of this project are to expand the usage of CFD beyond near-surface wind flow and develop CFD as a tool to understand and predict sediment transport in regions of complex secondary wind flow, to further understand the dynamics of sand dunes and the processes that drive those dynamics.


Self-funding applicants are welcome. In addition to tuition fees, bench fees of between £3-£15,000 per annum are required depending on the nature of the project.


Our standard University deadlines apply. Please see our Deadlines for Applications page to find out more.


How to apply

To find out more about the research we conduct, take a look at our Research, Innovation and Skills webpages, where you will find information on each research area. To find out about our staff visit ‘Our experts’ which features profiles of all our academic staff.

You should enter the project title and supervisor in the online application form.

No research proposal is necessary in your application.

Student support

At the University of Huddersfield, you'll find support networks and services to help you get ahead in your studies and social life. Whether you study at undergraduate or postgraduate level, you'll soon discover that you're never far away from our dedicated staff and resources to help you to navigate through your personal student journey. Find out more about all our support services.

Researcher Environment

The University of Huddersfield has a thriving research community made up of over 1,350 postgraduate research students. We have students studying on a part-time and full-time basis from all over the world with around 43% from overseas and 57% from the UK.

Research plays an important role in informing all our teaching and learning activities. Through undertaking research our staff remain up-to-date with the latest developments in their field, which means you develop knowledge and skills which are current and relevant to your specialist area.

Find out more about our research staff and centres

Important information

We will always try to deliver your course as described on this web page. However, sometimes we may have to make changes as set out below.

When you are offered a place on a research degree, your offer will include confirmation of your supervisory team, and the topic you will be researching.

Whilst the University will use reasonable efforts to ensure your supervisory team remains the same, sometimes it may be necessary to make changes to your team for reasons outside the University’s control, for example if your supervisor leaves the University, or suffers from long term illness. Where this is the case, we will discuss these difficulties with you and seek to either put in place a new supervisory team, or help you to transfer to another research facility, in accordance with our Student Protection Plan.

Changes may also be necessary because of circumstances outside our reasonable control, for example the University being unable to access its buildings due to fire, flood or pandemic, or the University no longer being able to provide specialist equipment. Where this is the case, we will discuss these issues with you and agree any necessary changes.

Your research project is likely to evolve as you work on it and these minor changes are a natural and expected part of your study. However, we may need to make more significant changes to your topic of research during the course of your studies, either because your area of interest has changed, or because for reasons outside the University’s control we can no longer support your research. If this is the case, we will discuss any changes in topic with you and agree these in writing. If you are an international student, changing topics may affect your visa or ATAS clearance and if this is the case we will discuss this with you before any changes are agreed.

When you enrol as a student of the University, your study and time with us will be governed by the University’s Terms and Conditions and a framework of regulations, policies and procedures, which form the basis of your agreement with us. It is important that you familiarise yourself with these as you will be asked to agree to abide by them when you join us as a student. You will find a guide to the key terms here, along with the Student Protection Plan, where you will also find links to the full text of each of the regulations, policies and procedures referred to.

The Office for Students (OfS) is the principal regulator for the University.