MPhil : Improving flood extent mapping in urban areas

Qualification: MPhil

Department: Geography

Application deadline: 17th September 2020

Start date: 1st November 2020



Dr Sarah Johnson

Prof Heiko Balzter

Project description 

Project Ref ERDF LIH539

Around 1 billion people globally are exposed to flooding. This can devastate homes and businesses and lead to significant loss of life. It is therefore critical that timely information on flooding events is made rapidly available enabling emergency responders to move or rescue vulnerable populations.

Satellite imagery provides an effective way of monitoring flood events by mapping the extent and evolution of flood waters. In particular, radar imagery which can penetrate cloud cover and can see at night is especially valuable in these scenarios. However, radar imagery is acquired obliquely and since the greatest risk to life generally occurs in urban areas, shadows from tall buildings, urban vegetation and underlying terrain may obscure the visibility of the flood waters. This often leads to incorrect classification of water in these areas.
Hence, there is an urgent need to improve flood mapping in urban environments and provide enhanced reliability in the flood extent retrieval algorithms.

This project seeks to enhance the existing flood extent retrieval approaches by including knowledge of the satellite viewing parameters along with knowledge of topography and lidar-derived building height into existing flood mapping retrieval algorithms to significantly enhance the accuracy of urban flood maps. By modelling the relationship between the satellite viewing parameters and the structure and layout of the urban environment, areas of low confidence can be identified and removed from the prediction. 
The project also provides an opportunity to explore and characterise how the algorithm is affected by the height, separation, and structure of local buildings, under different topographic scenarios and in urban areas in different countries with significantly different structural forms. 

The student will work closely with flood modelling specialists at Previsico Ltd, to support improvement of existing flood mapping approaches, leading to enhanced validation of their flood models.

Applicants will be expected to have a good numerate first degree with excellent programming skills (ideally Python but R might be considered). Some experience with two or more of the following is required: image processing, remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS), radar. We are looking for someone with excellent team working skills who is happy to collaborate with partners in industry as well as academia.



This Industrial MPhil is funded by the Leicester Innovation Hub (through European Development Fund monies) and the sponsoring organisation, Previsico Ltd.

The studentship provides:

Stipend of £1,166.67 per month for 12 months (total Stipend £14,000 pa)

Tuition Fees at UK/EU rates for 12 months.

Entry requirements

Entry requirements

UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject (e.g. engineering, physics, computer science or physical geography) or similar or overseas equivalent.

Experience in working in a business environment is an advantage.

The University of Leicester English language requirements apply where applicable.

Skills needed to Deliver the Project Objectives:

Applicants will be expected to have excellent programming skills (ideally Python but R might be considered). Some experience with two or more of the following is required:

  • image processing
  • remote sensing
  • geographic information systems (GIS)
  • radar

The Leicester Innovation Hub is part-funded by European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The MPhil student: 

  • must be a UK or EU (European Union) national;
  • have graduated within the last 3 years in a related discipline;
  • sign a contract with the University before the start of the project which sets out the project obligations, including but not limited to confidentiality and assignment of the intellectual property generated during the project;
  • base their MPhil degree thesis on the research outcomes of the project; 
  • work closely with the SME company to undertake the research project; 
  • deliver monthly progress reports and a comprehensive project report to the University and sponsoring SME in addition to the MPhil thesis. 

Informal enquiries

Informal enquiries

Project enquiries to Dr Sarah Johnson

Application enquiries to  

How to apply

How to apply

Please use the 'Apply button' at the bottom of the page and select January 2021 entry.

In the funding section of the application please indicate you wish to be considered for the ERDF LIH539 MPhil.

In the proposal section please provide the name of the supervisors and project title  (a proposal is not required).

With the application, please include:

  • CV
  • Personal statement explaining your interest in the project, your experience and why we should consider you
  • Degree Certificates and Transcripts of study already completed and if possible transcript to date of study currently being undertaken
  • Evidence of English language proficiency if applicable
  • In the reference section please enter the contact details of your two referees in the text boxes provided or upload letters of reference if already available.



This project is available to UK/EU applicants only.