The University of Southampton
Engineering and the EnvironmentPostgraduate study

Example MSc Civil Engineering projects

You can select your MSc Civil Engineering research project from an extensive list or you can generate your own. The projects can either be laboratory or desk based and they will be carried out during the summer months, with the completion date set for the end of September. Projects vary considerably as they are connected to our research, below are a few examples of projects offered to students this year.

Modelling groundwater flow in an unconfined sand dune aquifer. 

We have 30 years of daily rainfall data and monthly water levels in the sand dune area 30km north of Liverpool. We also have a groundwater recharge model which predicts the amount of water which will recharge into the dunes. This project will use these data as inputs to a 2-D groundwater flow model such as MODFLOW to predict the seasonal and long term changes on the groundwater contours in the area. The effects of anticipated climate change and sea level rise will also be investigated. You will have to learn how to construct steady state and non steady state MODFLOW models using manual provided.

Settlement of peat 

Peat is a notoriously difficult soil from an engineering point of view. It is highly compressible, has a very high water content and is particularly susceptible to creep and possibly biodegradation. The aims of the project will be to carry out a quantitative review of the engineering properties of peat, with a particular emphasis on its compressibility and susceptibility to creep, and to assess the engineering implications of this, with reference to real projects including the construction dewatering for The Brooks retain centre in Winchester, the foundations of Winchester Cathedral, a proposed development in Newbury. 

Depending on progress and time constraints, it may also be possible to investigate the behaviour of peat in railway and flood embankments in the Netherlands. The project could also involve laboratory testing, for example to investigate the constitutive and stress/density/water content relationships of the material.

Changes to the frequency of landslide activity on the Isle of Wight under the influence of climate change

Present climate change scenarios indicate that the south of England will experience warmer wetter winters, and hotter drier summers than at present, and that rainfall will arrive in more extreme events. Ground displacements, including deep-seated landslide movements, can be linked to both long and short-term changes in groundwater, in turn often linked to patterns of rainfall and evapotranspiration. There is a strong possibility that the size and frequency of movements in groundwater levels will change with the climate. A new set of climate scenarios was released in 2009/10 (UKCP'09) which are probabilistic in nature (based on large ensembles of global circulation model runs) and at the base level have good spatial and temporal scales. Using available field monitoring data, the project will develop a semi-empirical model of the movement of a large landslide complex at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, in relation to measured rainfall and evapotranspiration. Future climate scenarios will be applied to the model to understand possible changes in frequencies of landslide movement.

Cracking and permeability in clay slopes

Infiltration of rainfall into the surface zone of engineered clay slopes is aided by clay cracking which occurs as the soil dries out during the summer. If infiltration can occur rapidly, high pore water pressures are likely to occur in the surface zone of the slope, often as a perched groundwater surface, above the intact/uncracked soils beneath. These high near-surface pore water pressures are the likely cause of many shallow surface slides that regularly occur in highway earthworks (cutting and embankment slopes). In development of numerical models of the infiltration process, the bulk permeability of the soil, likely dictated by the depth and extent of summer cracking, is difficult to define. This project will develop suitable techniques for and take field measurements of near-surface permeability at a clay highway slope near Newbury. Measurements of permeability can then be assessed in light of other field measurements from the same site (particularly soil water content, rainfall, and runoff).

Investigation into concrete carbonation using Microtomographic Volume Imaging 

Microtomography uses x-rays to create 3D virtual models of solids without destroying the original structure. The resolution can be down to as low as 3 microns, although a realistic resolution for pore structure would be 15 microns. Southampton University has recently commissioned a multi-million pound state-of-the-art Microtomographic Imaging laboratory ( Your project will be to investigate if Microtomographic Volume Imaging can be used to investigate the phenomena of carbonation in concrete. Carbonation is a reaction between carbon dioxide and calcium hydroxide. This leads to a lowering of the pH as well as an increase in porosity and carbonation is the major factor in the deterioration of concrete structures. This project is in collaboration with Professor Basheer Mohammed and will involve a visit to his laboratory at Queens University Belfast where the samples will be prepared. The samples will comprise of four concrete cubes each approximately 5mm square. These will be prepared with varying degrees of carbonation. You will then use Microtomographic Volume Imaging to determine the porosity and pore size distribution to understand the microstructure and inform on the mechanism of carbonation. You will research previous investigations into concrete micro-structure and carbonation in an effort to determine if Microtomographic Volume Imaging of concrete is worthy of further investigation beyond the life-time of your own project. 

Moment-resisting bolted timber joints 

Bolted timber connections with slotted-in-steel plates are simple and elegant solutions commonly used by designers. Recognising that timber is weak in longitudinal shear and tension perpendicular to the grain, this type of connections is typically used to transfer shear forces while ignoring its limited capacity to carry moments. However, in practice, such connections can experience moments not intended for design. In particular in seismic areas,  this type of  connection can be prone to premature brittle failure when subjected to earthquake excitation. This project involves an investigation of this type of connection strengthened with self-tapping screws to enhanced is moment carrying capacity by testing in the laboratory.

The impact of road salting on the dispersion of colloidal material from roadside soils

Contaminants deposited in roadside environments are often associated with particulate materials. Stormwater may wash the particles off the road into adjacent receiving waters presenting a potential pollution problem. In cold climates the use of de-icing salt has been shown to increase metal mobility and facilitate transport of organic carbon and nitrogen.  The project will examine particle distribution in roadside soils and the potential for dispersion of colloidal and organic material due to the use of de-icing salts. Samples will be collected and particle size analysed using sieving and ultrafiltration techniques. Controlled addition of salt will be used to assess colloid dispersion. Limited chemical characterisation of the particles will be carried out.  By examination of the particle size distribution, the potential for increased pollution due to the use of de-icing salts will be assessed.

Assessment of source-segregated food waste collection from a major hospitality chain

Separate collection of food waste is becoming increasingly common in the UK and elsewhere, as a result both of policies aimed at diverting biodegradable materials from landfill and growing awareness of the potential of this material as a source of second generation biofuel. The current study focuses on a source-segregated food waste collection service offered by a leading waste management contractor to a major UK company in the hospitality sector. The scheme initially operated on a trial basis and has now been rolled out nationwide, with the collected material going to anaerobic digestion and in-vessel composting.  The research will involve a critical appraisal of the scheme in terms of its overall energy balance, impact on greenhouse gas emissions and potential for nutrient recovery.  The work may include analysis of data from collection rounds to match tonnage quantities, types of vehicle and bin system used. Efficiency will be assessed in terms of energy inputs based on collection frequency, vehicle type, and mileage; economic factors to be considered may include number of crew, use of shared or dedicated vehicles. The research will also consider the influence of the collection system used on the quality of the material collected and on any downstream sorting or processing requirements for both the food waste and any remaining recyclable streams.  The work will involve analysis of existing data, and will also present opportunities for collection of primary data in conjunction with the waste management contractor and the company.

Numerical modelling of tree branch joint failure

We are currently involved in research on the structural strength of tree branch/trunk junctions, which is a subject of interest due to the possibility of climate change in the future causing increased storminess leading to greater wind loading on trees, causing branch failures that are a particular problem in urban areas.

Laboratory testing of branch/trunk junctions is being carried out, but to complement this there is a need to develop a numerical simulation (using finite element analysis) of a tree branch/trunk junction subject to load, in order to develop a predictive tool in the future for use by arboriculturalists and surveyors. Timber is a fibre composite material, and therefore it is proposed to develop a model using the fibre modelling capabilities of a commercial finite element package such as ANSYS. Simpler models such as of a branch only or a branch/trunk junction in 2D rather than 3D will be analysed and understood first before moving to 3D modelling. The model will be verified against available laboratory test data (the tests themselves will be carried out by others). Previous experience of numerical modelling with finite elements would be desirable for this project.

Settlement risk due to tunnelling for CrossRail in London

CrossRail will be the largest tunnelling project in an urban area in Europe when construction commences on site later this year. One of the main risks of tunnelling in dense urban areas is the settlement caused by the tunnelling affecting nearby buildings and other underground structures and tunnels. The aim of this project is to carry out a general settlement risk assessment for the project. This will consider the ground conditions, likely methods of tunnelling and the proximity of the tunnelling to key buildings and tunnels (it will probably be necessary to focus on just one part of this large project). The literature will be consulted for appropriate methods of prediction of settlement including effects on structures. Where appropriate methods do not exist, the need for them will be highlighted as a subject for future research.


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